Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Landships Left In Port

Fosters of Lincoln Ltd. built tanks during the First World War, but returned to peaceful products after its conclusion, as the military no longer needed new tanks. When the situation began to change and the Mechanical Warfare Board was established in 1928, Sir William Tritton offered his help, but was rudely rejected. The reverse took place a few years later: when approached for help, Tritton refused. Fosters was doing fine without the army. Its factories were loaded with orders for consumer goods, and it was not worth his time to deal with the military for miserly contracts. However, peace did not last forever. 1939 came and with it, war.

A colossus from yesterday’s war

Talk of bringing seasoned tank designers out of retirement began in the summer of 1939. Words became actions in the fall. On September 5th, the Director of Mechanization Major General Davidson invited Sir Albert Stern, the designer of the famous British rhomboid tanks, to develop a “special tank”. On October 12th, 1939, the Minister of Supply Leslie Burgin created the Special Vehicle Design Committee within his fledgling ministry. The committee included Tritton, Ricardo (the developer of WWI era tank engines), and Major General Sir Ernest Swinton, among other engineers and soldiers. As many of these men had experience in designing tanks during the First World War, the committee was nicknamed TOG (The Old Group or The Old Gang).

The committee’s task was to develop a tank that could cross a 16 foot (4.9 meter) wide trench, climb 7 foot (2.1 m) tall wall, and have enough armour around the perimeter to protect from 37 and 47 mm anti-tank guns and 105 mm howitzers at 100 yards (91 m). The estimated mass of such a vehicle was 70-75 tons. This colossus would be armed with 2-pounder guns in sponsons and a field gun in the front of the hull capable of penetrating up to 7 feet (2.1 meters) of reinforced concrete as well as machine guns and smoke bomb launchers. The crew was composed of “just” 8 men. According to Sir Edmund Ironside, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, this tank would be needed at least a year from now, but work on it should start immediately. This project was designated “superheavy tank - land battleship”.

The tank was not created in an information vacuum. Members of the SVDC spent November 24th-30th in Paris, familiarizing themselves with the latest advances in French tank technology. Representatives of the British General Staff and others from the military were also present. The draft project of the new tank was ready soon after, on December 19th, 1939. Stern expected his tank to require 2.5-4“ (63-102 mm) of cemented armour and inquired at the admiralty about producing it.

The designers presented a model of their new tank to a military commission on December 21st. The tank was quite original for a group of old men, although not entirely satisfactory. The tank had a fairly large turret that could fit a 3” AA gun or 25-pounder. The tracks passed through an armoured conduit, which protected them from damage. The tank was rejected. The military requested a more conservative vehicle closer to old “rhombus” tanks. The new tank needed tracks that wrapped around the whole hull. No turret was needed; all armament would be installed in sponsons. The requirement for a field gun was removed, and no effort would be taken to equip the tank with a more powerful gun.

The designers began working on a new tank on January 11th. A model of the new vehicle was ready on February 29th. This is when the tank received a name: TOG 1. This tank weighed 55-60 tons with 2-4”(51-102 mm) thick armour. The armour was attached to a mild steel skin ⅜” (9.5 mm) thick. The committee estimated that such a tank could be built by June. Since the SDVC presented itself as a group of designers rather than manufacturers, there was no plan to build this tank at Fosters. The SVDC estimated that production of these tanks could reach 40 per month by November and a sufficient amount would be available “for the 1941 campaign”. No mention was made of what factory or factories was supposed to build them.

The TOG 1 was quite archaic. A 75 mm cannon was located in the front and 2-pounder guns in sponsons. The turret was not required by the customer.

Friday, 26 May 2023

German Tank Tactics, 1945

  "April 9th, 1945


To the commander of the Armoured and Mechanized Forces of the 2nd Shock Army
RE: #08562 dated March 20th, 1945

Report of the 46th Independent Guards Order of the Red Banner Order of Suvorov Tank Breakthrough Regiment on the study of tactics and combat use of heavy tank regiments in the Red Army as well as enemy tank tactics and use of tanks in combat from January 1st to April 1st, 1945. Map scale 1:50,000


2. Tactics and use of enemy tanks in combat

Recently, enemy anti-tank defenses rely more and more on close combat weapons, especially Panzerfausts, which are continuously improved. This is explained by the growth of the Red Army tank fleet and heavy enemy losses in tanks and anti-tank artillery. Because of this, the enemy compensates for a shortage of anti-tank weapons (especially tanks and anti-tank guns) with mass use of Panzerfausts. As before, the enemy creates ambushes using tanks and SPGs, chiefly heavy ones, which combat our tanks and SPGs in most likely directions of advance. The proportion of heavy and superheavy King Tiger tanks compared to the overall number of tanks continues to increase. 

In areas where the enemy could prepare anti-tank defenses, they include anti-tank ditches (Ciechanow, Mława, Graudenz, Danzig) minefields (bridgehead west of Narew), and anti-tank guns. Passive anti-tank obstacles were covered with direct fire artillery, tanks and SPGs, as well as small arms fire.

More recently, the enemy foregoes using tanks and SPGs in the front of their defenses and only uses them in the depth in order to avoid heavy losses.

During the mud season, the enemy expected our tanks to be bound to roads and constructed defenses around forks, crossroads, and major settlements, leaving anti-tank combat between these strongholds to Panzerfausts. 

In the January operation, up to 12 enemy tanks and SPGs were spotted in front of the regiment, most of them Tiger and Ferdinand types.

In the operation near Danzig up to 10 tanks and SPGs were spotted, of them 6 were Ferdinand type SPGs. 

The enemy clearly works on improvements and modernizations to the Panzerfaust to improve its effect and make it more convenient to use. Expect to see new Panzerfausts in action.

Commander of the 46th Independent Guards Order of the Red Banner Order of Suvorov Tank Breakthrough Regiment, Guards Lieutenant Colonel Parshev

Chief of Staff, Major Bannov"

CAMD RF F.46 Op.2404 D.30 L.30-31

Wednesday, 24 May 2023

The Last of Stalin's Robots

Unfortunately, museums frequently mislabel their own exhibits. The biggest problem with that is an incorrect information from a museum label is going to propagate. For example, Kubinka seriously thought that they had two BA-6 armoured cars, even though one was actually a BA-3M. The collection of the Patriot Park museum which used to be displayed at Kubinka has many downright unique exhibits, some of which were also misidentified. For example, this tank is called OT-130, but that is not the case.

TT-26 tank as displayed today.

In reality, the tank currently displayed in the pavilion depicting the war against Japan is the only surviving TT-26 teletank. This tank was once the subject of Yuri Pasholok's volunteer painting team. Let us tell the tale of this unique tank with a unique combat history.

Friday, 12 May 2023

Heavies in Action

 "April 9th, 1945

To the commander of the Armoured and Mechanized Forces of the 2nd Shock Army
RE: #08562 dated March 20th, 1945

Report of the 46th Independent Guards Order of the Red Banner Order of Suvorov Tank Breakthrough Regiment on the study of tactics and combat use of heavy tank regiments in the Red Army as well as enemy tank tactics and use of tanks in combat from January 1st to April 1st, 1945. Map scale 1:50,000

1. Tactics and combat usage of heavy tank regiments

From January 1st to April 1st, 1945, the 46th regiment took part in three operations. From January 15th to January 23rd it penetrated the enemy defenses around the bridgehead on the river Narew jointly with other units of the 2nd Belorussian Front.

From March 2nd to March 5th, 1945, the regiment fought to destroy the enemy garrison in Graudenz and take the city.

From March 17th to March 31st, 1945, the regiment fought to liquidate the encircled Danzig group and capture Danzig.

Wednesday, 10 May 2023

SU-122 Requirements

 "Approved by Deputy People's Commissar of Defense, Colonel General of Artillery, Voronov
October 17th, 1942

Tactical-technical requirements of a 122 mm self propelled howitzer on the chassis of the T-34 tank

1. Purpose of the self propelled howitzer

The self propelled howitzer is designed to accompany infantry and tank units, destroying dugouts and fortified firing positions with direct fire from short range or with indirect fire.

2. Requirements for the artillery component

The artillery component of the SPG is provided by the stock rotating part of the M-30 122 mm model 1938 howitzer. The mounting must meet the following requirements:

  1. Practical rate of fire of no less than 10 RPM in a direct fire role.
  2. Elevation of 25-35 degrees.
  3. Depression of -3 degrees.
  4. Traverse of +/- 10 degrees.
  5. The recoil buffer must be armoured. The armour must be at least 12 mm thick.
  6. The oscillating part of the howitzer with the recoil buffer armour must be completely balanced. Increase in effort required to aim cannot surpass 10%.
  7. The height of the bore axis must be no more than 1500 mm. To achieve this, a cutout in the front of the SPG is permitted.
  8. The gun port must be completely covered at a gun elevation of up to 12 degrees.
  9. The gun mount must allow for comfortable loading at all angles of elevation and traverse.
  10. The sight is the stock sight from the 122 mm M-30 howitzer with a Hertz panoramic sight.
  11. The gunner's seat must rotate with the gun. The seat's rotation in relation to the panoramic sight and aiming flywheels must allow for comfortable operation.
  12. The crew consists of five men, including the driver. All crewmen must have comfortable seats.
  13. The gun must have the ability to be reliably fixed for travel, preventing horizontal and vertical movement.
  14. Two PPSh submachine guns must be carried as auxiliary armament.

Monday, 8 May 2023

Sherman's African Debut

The Medium Tank M4A1 that arrived in the UK in the summer of 1942 was much more promising than the Medium Tank M3 that had arrived shortly prior. The layout of the armament was much more conventional, the armour was tougher, and the crew's workspaces were more comfortable. Before too long, these tanks were on their way to North Africa, where they would have to fight against the harsh environment in addition to an experienced enemy. The Sherman's career was not going to be an easy one.

First blood on the sand

The tanks that arrived in North Africa were not prepared for desert warfare. They were modernized in field workshops, where British technicians added dust shields, brackets for the Sunshield camouflage tarps, racks for canisters with water and fuel, stowage bins, and other equipment necessary for life in the desert. Desert camouflage was applied over top of the olive drab paint. 252 Shermans were ready by the Second Battle of El Alamein: 92 in the 1st Armoured Division, 124 in the 10th Armoured Division, and 36 in the 9th Armoured Brigade.

The situation with the delivery was far from ideal. The tanks arrived only weeks before the planned offensive. The lack of time to train had an impact not only on the skills of the crews, but also on the cohesion with the forces fighting alongside the tanks. Since the Shermans were going to attack at night through minefields, cooperation with infantry and engineers was quite important.

Shermans of the 9th Hussars, 9th Armoured Brigade, September 15th, 1942. The tank is likely already painted in desert yellow, but disruptive camouflage has not yet been applied.

Tuesday, 2 May 2023

Long Living T-50

1941 was a year of great calamity for the Red Army and for the USSR. The war that broke out on June 22nd was not at all like the war that was predicted. The Germans and their allies tore deep into the USSR with the Red Army suffering defeat after defeat. However, through great effort, the flywheel of the Blitzkrieg lost momentum. The enemy continued to move forward, but not at the rate predicted by Plan Barbarossa. The Germans were supposed to have reached the Archangelsk-Astrakhan line by September-October of 1941 at the latest, but they were far from their goal at that point. They were so sure in their victory that they did not even prepare for the arrival of winter, which then turned into complaints about "General Frost". Soviet tank forces also played a big role in stopping the Germans. At the cost of heavy losses, they managed to stop the German divisions moving towards Moscow and allowed a counteroffensive to begin on December 5th, 1941. Tank brigades played a key role in these battles.

One of the nine T-50 tanks delivered to Kubinka, fall 1941. It was used to test winter camouflage.

Heavy losses suffered by tank forces in 1941 meant that few tanks that fought at that time survived until today. Information about where and when certain tanks fought also were not preserved. Nevertheless, some witnesses of this difficult period survive to this day on display at Patriot Park. For example, a T-34 tank from the 6th Mechanized Corps that fought in June of 1941. BT-2, BT-5, and two T-26 tanks from the museum fought in besieged Leningrad. There is also a British Valentine II tank that reached the front lines in December of 1941. Not everything is known about these vehicles, but information is slowly coming to light.

Production tanks looked like this.

There are a number of unique vehicles on display at Patriot Park. Some are sole survivors that saw quite a bit of action. The T-50 tank is one of those relics. Only two tanks of this type survive to this day. One with serial number K-11217 was knocked out near Petrozavodsk in July of 1941 and captured by the Finns. Today it can be seen at the Parola tank museum. The fate of the second tank is more interesting. This tank fought for two years and its combat career ended in the North Caucasus in 1943. Before then, it took part in the early part of Operation Typhoon. 

The location of tools and observation devices changed compared to the prototypes.

By sheer coincidence, 50 T-50 tanks were finished in Leningrad. Most of them fought to defend the city. Only one shipment was made to the outside world. Train #20096 departed towards the NIBT Proving Grounds on August 13th, 1941. It carried 9 T-50 tanks. Before that, on August 10th, 1941, 8 T-26 tanks departed to Kubinka. Factory #174 didn't send any more tanks after that and prepared for evacuation.

The identity of the tank was established by the serial number of the gun.

The tanks sent to Kubinka belonged to late July-early August batches. 40 tanks were due in July, 10 of which were to be equipped with radios, but in reality only 15 were built, all with radios. Among them was tank K-11232, which was delivered on July 31st, 1941. This tank was identified thanks to the record keeping of the military acceptance department. Their documents recorded not just the tank's serial number, but the number of its engine and its gun. The location of the T-50's serial number is still a mystery.

Shipping manifest that includes T-50 tank K-11232. Almost all of them went to the 150th Tank Brigade.

The NIBT Proving Grounds turned out to be a hub for these tanks. One remained at the proving grounds and was used for winter camouflage trials. Photos from these trials are the only detailed photos of T-50 tanks known today. Most photos taken at the factory were of the prototype, which was different. For example, the production tank had no side observation devices, since there weren't any left at the factory. The driver could only see forward. The turret observation devices changed, the tools changed, there were plenty of changes compared to the prototype.

One of the four tanks from the brigade that were lost in battle between September 29th and October 3rd. This tank was hit in the rear.

The T-50 tanks did not stay long at Kubinka. The 150th Tank Brigade was formed out of the 50th Tank Division on September 7th, 1941. Colonel B.S. Bakharov was appointed as its commander. 12 T-34 and 8 T-50 tanks were assigned to this unit. The brigade formed in Deryugino (Kursk oblast) and moved out to the front as a part of A.N. Yermakov's operational group. The brigade met the start of Operation Typhoon here, fighting to defend Glukhov. The unit lost 4 tanks and claimed to have destroyed 9 German ones. After that, the brigade took part in a lengthy battle with the German 2nd Panzer Army. While breaking out of encirclement from September 30th to October 3rd, the brigade lost another 7 tanks, claiming to have destroyed 4 German tanks and 2 armoured cars. The brigade remained in Yermakov's group until October 25th, 1941. In this time, the brigade wrote off 4 T-50 tanks and 3 more were knocked out but later repaired. This was the end of the T-50's career in the 150th Tank Brigade. 

A brief report on the T-50's performance. This is one of the few known reports on the tank.

Despite such a brief fighting career, the brigade managed to compose a report on the T-50. It was, shall we say, mixed. About half of the tanks were undergoing repairs due to a number of defects. The transmission was the biggest problem, but there were also complaints about the engine and inertial starter. One can't blame inexperienced crews, since they arrived from the factory and were already familiar with their tanks. The losses of T-50 tanks took place between September 29th and October 3rd. At least one tank was destroyed after it was hit in the rear. There were other cases of tanks being destroyed that way reported in the summer of 1941. 

Location of the 22nd Tank Brigade's tanks as of November 28th, 1941. The camouflaged T-50 will be destroyed a few days later.

The story of the camouflaged T-50 tank that remained at the proving grounds also has an unhappy ending. The tank took part in the Battle of Moscow much closer to the capital. The tank was included in the 22nd Tank Brigade alongside the experimental A-20 tank. The T-50 burned out during fighting for Yuryevo-Chesnokovo on December 2nd, 1941. The A-20 was also knocked out here. By sheer coincidence, the brigade was also subordinate to Yermakov, but a different one, this time a Colonel.

Half of the T-50 tanks from the 150th Tank Brigade survived Operation Typhoon. One of them ended up in Chelyabinsk.

4 tanks out of the 8 that went into the 150th Tank Brigade survived: K-11232, K-11238, K-11239, K-11240. One of them settled at a tank school in Chelyabinsk, the rest were sent to factory #174 in Chkalov (modern day Orenburg). The tanks were modernized here. Scale model enthusiasts who want to see the original road wheels can still see them in Parola, although little else of the tank remains unchanged. Refurbishment was completed in March of 1942. These three tanks were delivered alongside 2 brand new vehicles. 

K-11232 as of 1943.

The tank was once again in a fighting unit in May of 1942: the 488th Independent Tank Battalion. Tank K-11232 was given to Lieutenant V.Ye. Yefimov, who himself was from Chkalov. The tank and its commander ended up in the North Caucasus by October of 1942, where the 488th ITB fought alongside the 152nd ITB and the 9th Rifle Corps as a part of the 44th Army. These tanks are sometimes mistakenly reported as T-60s. For instance, on November 21st, 1942, the battalion is described as having 20 T-60 and 2 T-34 tanks. In reality, it continued to use T-50s. The next time it's mentioned in reports was on December 3rd, when it had 16 T-50s and 1 T-34 left. The battalion was actively used in October-December 1942. By January of 1943 only three T-50s and one T-34 remained. Lieutenant Yefimov and his tank excelled in these battles, as a result of which he earned the Order of the Red Star.

The award order of the tank commander. He was born in the same city where factory #174 settled by 1942.

North Caucasus was the last chapter in this T-50s battle biography. The tank was repaired once more, but then sent to the NIBT Proving Grounds which was collecting armoured vehicles. The tank came to Kubinka in poor but running condition. It remained with the proving grounds until 1972, when it turned into a proper museum.

The tank was already quite worn, especially when it comes to the fenders.

The tank was treated in a typical Army fashion. Traces of similar treatment can be seen on a number of exhibits in the modern day Patriot Park and Technical Center. Since the front and rear fenders were very worn, they were simply cut off and new ones were attached in their place. Over the years, the tank lost its original toolbox and a number of other components that weren't nailed down. The exhibit spent almost 20 years as a gate guardian, which didn't help its condition.

The front and rear fenders were later replaced.

This tank was one of the subjects of the museum's volunteer painter brigade. Since rows of identical green vehicles is not the most appealing sight, a decision was made to apply appropriate camouflage and markings. Little was known about the T-50's career at the time, but it was known that it fought in the North Caucasus, and so turret markings could be found.

Application of a turret number, March 2007.

It is a mystery as to how closely these markings match this exact vehicle during its service with the 488th Tank Battalion, but tanks from that unit had white numbers and red stars like these. The result was quite good, but the museum invited a team from a repair factory that began to do its thing. Markings were applied in March of 2007, but by August the tank was repainted in primer, right over everything else. And then they wondered why the paint was peeling...

The tank looked like this until August of 2007.

The serial number of the gun was found during inventory carried out in 2011. This allowed us to more precisely determine the tank's origins. The T-50 remained outdoors until its turn for restoration finally came. The author has many questions about its details, for instance the toolbox that looks nothing like the original and the steel step instead of a rubber one in front of the driver's hatch. Nevertheless, it's better than nothing, and none of the changes are irreversible.

August came and the T-50 "ripened". The tank was primed right over the existing paint. And then the army wonders why its tanks start peeling so quickly...

The T-50 was restored to running order in 2020 and took part in the Army-2020 international technical forum as a part of the "100 years of tank building" exhibition. After that, it was installed as an exhibit at pavillion #1 at Patriot Park in the Battle of Moscow sector. In August, a decision was made to liven it up a little bit.

The tank as it stands today.

Since the tank's interior was preserved, a logical idea arose to open the driver's hatch and add lighting. The idea was voiced by Roman Alymov, who used to direct the repair group and now works at Patriot Park. Now visitors can see the T-50 from the inside as well.

The interior of the T-50 tank.

This T-50 got lucky three times. It survived Operation Typhoon, the Battle of the North Caucasus, and then survived to modern day with minimal damage. This is one of the few surviving tanks from the Battle of Moscow and deserves its honourable place at Patriot Park.

Original article by Yuri Pasholok.

Wednesday, 26 April 2023

Canada's Valentines

The British War Ministry had no illusions about how the situation in Europe would develop, even in 1938. The policy of appeasement was adopted to postpone the inevitable large conflict, which the kingdom’s military was not prepared for. The situation continued to escalate in the summer of 1939, but the British were still not ready for a full blown war. Cruiser tanks only entered service in 1939, and infantry tanks, with the exception of the Infantry Tank Mk.I, were not even in production. Meanwhile, observers from across the Atlantic Ocean monitored the situation in Europe carefully. The United States began production of the Medium Tank M2 and trials of the Light Tank M2A4. They knew that if a war broke in Europe, they would be drawn into it sooner or later.

Similar sentiments were not uncommon in Canada, but hardly any preparations were being made for war. Unlike the United States or Great Britain, Canada had no tank building tradition. The Canadian armoured battalions that were established during the First World War came too late to take part in the fighting. The Canadian army was not mechanized during the interbellum, and had almost no tanks of its own at the start of the Second World War. Nevertheless, a proposal was made to create a Canadian tank force once more after the fall of Poland in 1939. Mechanization of cavalry units, both of the Permanent and the Non-Permanent Active Militia, was on the table. It quickly became clear that it would be impossible to arm a tank force without setting up domestic tank production. 219 obsolete M1917 light tanks that were purchased from the United States at scrap value, but they were useful for training and not much else.

Facing a shortage of armoured vehicles of every kind, Canada purchased worn out and obsolete M1917 Light Tanks from the US at scrap value. These tanks were worth little more than scrap.

Friday, 21 April 2023

First KV-1S

 "To the Chief of the GBTU BTU, Major General of the Tank Forces, comrade Korobkov

I report that the Kirov factory presents two KV-1S tanks for trials.

First tank: #10279

  1. Engine: V-2KF #A-1401 650 hp at 2100 RPM
  2. Cooling system:
    1. Water radiators designed for the KV-3 tank
    2. Oil radiator from the RZT aircraft
  3. Gearbox: 8 speed with demultiplier, blueprint 21gr
  4. Main clutch: four disk, blueprint 110gr
  5. Fan with stamped blades and milled diffuser, blueprint 902gr
  6. Shifting gate blueprint 119gr and control rods blueprint 117gr
Second tank: #10334
  1. Engine: V-2KF #4ML-1669 650 hp at 2100 RPM
  2. Cooling system:
    1. Water radiators: production with additional radiators - blueprint
    2. Production oil radiator with extra radiator, blueprint 902gr. Air intake with deflectors.
  3. Gearbox: 8 speed with demultiplier, blueprint 212gr
  4. Main clutch: four disk, blueprint 210gr
  5. Fan blueprint 219gr
  6. Shifting gate blueprint 219gr and control rods blueprint 217gr
  7. Final drive blueprint 15gr (normal drive sprocket with 16 teeth)
By April 21st, 1942 trials of tank #10334 had started. It drove for 99 km on a highway. Linkage cones for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th gear control rods cut off.
Tank #10279 went on an initial run today (April 22nd) but was not accepted for trials since the air intakes on it are still wooden models.

The vehicles are not ready for checking the cooling system.

Senior Assistant to the Chief of the 5th Department of the BTU, Military Engineer 2nd Class [Signature]"

Wednesday, 19 April 2023

45 mm APCR Penetration

 "To the Chair of the State Committee of Defense, comrade I.V. Stalin

We present the main results of proving grounds trials of 45 mm subcaliber armour piercing shot designed by Military Engineer 1st Class comrade Burmistrov.

The shot with heavy and hard tungsten alloy shows the best results. This shot satisfies the requirement of penetrating at least 60 mm of armour with the resistance coefficient of at least 2400 at an angle of 30 degrees at a range of 300-500 meters. They considerably increase the power of the 45 mm model 1932/37 anti-tank gun.

Monday, 17 April 2023

Baby IS-3

The Second World War was a catalyst for the creation of many armoured vehicles, including heavy tanks. These vehicles were quite rare at the start of the war, but this changed radically in 1941-42. The Red Army was the most heavily invested in heavy tanks. At first, Soviet heavy tanks followed the classic path of gaining more and more weight, as a result of which the KV-1 became overloaded. The need for mobility led to the KV-13 and KV-1S. The result of this new branch of development was the IS-1 (IS-85) tank, which was quickly replaced with the IS-2 (IS-122). The tank combined powerful armament with sufficient mobility and high levels of protection. Nevertheless, work on modernizing the IS-2 began in the spring of 1944.

Kirovets-1 at the NIBT Proving Grounds, December 1944.

Friday, 14 April 2023

The Wehrmacht's Unplanned Workhorse

How the Pz.Kpfw.IV became Germany's most numerous and longest serving tank.

There are many cases in worldwide tank building where not everything went according to plan. Even the legendary T-34 was supposed to leave the stage in 1941 in favour of the T-34M. Only the start of the war saved it from replacement. A similar thing happened to the Medium Tank M4. It was supposed to be replaced in 1943, but the replacements didn't turn out well. This happened to every long-serving tank, and the Germans were no exception.

The Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf.C was the most common German medium tank at the start of the war.

Monday, 10 April 2023

Second Fiddle

Even though the German Pz.Kpfw.IV tank was originally created as a support vehicle (Begleitwagen) and fell short of its counterpart the Pz.Kpfw.III in many ways, it was still the heaviest tank in the German arsenal and mounted the largest caliber gun. Issues with Pz.Kpfw.III production also made it the most numerous German medium tank at the start of WWII. Despite its “secondary” designation, the Pz.Kpfw.IV did not evade the attention of the British. Intelligence agents and tankers alike strived to uncover its secrets.

A meeting in Africa

As with the Pz.Kpfw.III, the British only knew about the Pz.Kpfw.IV from rumours. There was little verified information, but one of the few things known for sure was that the tank was heavier than the Pz.Kpfw.III. Intelligence summaries referred to it as a medium tank, whereas the Pz.Kpfw.III was called a “medium-light tank”. Naturally, the British encountered the Pz.Kpfw.IV in France in 1940, but a sample could not be obtained for study due to the rapid defeat of the British Expeditionary Force. Even though there was no precise data about the armour or armament of the tank, an identification poster was still composed and distributed on December 16th, 1940.

A drawing of the Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf.C composed according to intelligence data showing distinguishing features of the vehicle. The antenna deflector, fixed gun mantlet, pistol port in the single piece front plate, and driver’s observation slit were among the features unique to this variant of the tank.

Friday, 7 April 2023

Heavy Trophies from Leningrad

There are plenty of armoured vehicles that had an impact on tank building worldwide. This list includes German vehicles, especially the Tiger tank. At the moment of its appearance, it was the best protected and most heavily armed tank in its weight class. Even though the effectiveness of Tiger crews is often exaggerated, this was indeed a very dangerous enemy, especially from 1943 to the spring of 1944. Tanks all over the world evolved to deal with Tigers.

Tiger 121 before winter camouflage was applied.

At about 9:30 am on January 18th, 1943, the Volkhov and Leningrad Fronts met at the eastern outskirts of Worker's Village #1. This was the first penetration of the Leningrad blockade. Another important event took place on the same day: Tiger tanks were captured in the vicinity of Worker's Village #5. Two samples were delivered to the NIBT Proving Grounds in Kubinka. Their study showed that the Soviet tank program requires some urgent changes. Today, we will discuss how the German tanks were captured and what were the first impressions regarding these tanks.

Monday, 3 April 2023

Heavy Without Alternatives

One can often encounter brainstorms about how individual vehicles or even entire tank building schools ought to have evolved. Most of these brainstorms are done by people that are far removed from the field of history, but sometimes even notorious historians take part in this exercise. Among Soviet tanks, the T-28 is a popular character in alternative history. Modern improvements to this tank know no bounds, but the fact that the T-28 was replaced by the KV-1 and not the T-34 is often ignored, as is the fact that a replacement for the T-28 by the name of T-29 already existed. 

Object 237 accepted into service with the Red Army as the IS-85 (IS-1).

The IS-85 heavy tank was accepted into service with the Red Army on September 4th, 1943. This was the finale of the program aimed at developing a successor to the KV. One can often hear claims that if the KV remained in production and was modernized then it could be made into a heavy tank that was no worse than the IS-85. You may laugh, but these claims were not just made by alternative historians. Attempts to preserve the KV-85 were made at the highest levels, even in 1944. Nevertheless, the KV had to make room on the assembly line for its successor. Read on to find out why this happened and why there was no alternative to the IS tank.

Saturday, 1 April 2023

Video: Is the KV-6 Real?

The KV-6 Behemoth is one of the most infamous fake tanks, but is there a kernel of truth inside the fiction? I take a look at the history of the KV-6 tank in my latest video. 

Friday, 31 March 2023

American Generals in King George's Court

The British found themselves in an undesirable situation in North Africa by 1941. Matilda and Valentine infantry tanks were quite modern and often vulnerable only to 88 mm AA guns, but cruiser tanks did not measure up to their opponents. Even the Crusader, the most modern vehicle of its class, was armed with the same 2-pounder gun as its predecessors. The armour was a little bit thicker than the last generation, but still only resisted the 3.7 cm Pak from long ranges. These tanks were outmatched when German Pz.Kpfw.III and Pz.Kpfw.IV tanks hit the battlefield in 1941. With the British “heavy cruisers” still in early stages of development, salvation came from the Americans with their Medium Tank M3.

Picky guests

The British first asked the Americans for tanks in the summer of 1940, after a large percentage of the British tank force was lost in France. The initial proposal was to build British tanks under license at American factories. This offer was rejected. The British would receive the same tanks as the American army used. However, the USA still had no modern medium tanks, and the British still had some influence on their creation. One of the aspects was the volume of production.

Assembly of the Medium Tank M3.

Wednesday, 29 March 2023

Pz.Kpfw.II Weaknesses

 "To Chemistry Chiefs of the 29th and 65th Rifle Corps, 21st Mechanized Corps, 46 [cut off]
July 28th, 1941

The most vulnerable locations on the German light tank are:

1. The open vision port on the right side of the fighting compartment (driver's port). It is fairly wide, but there is no triplex glass in it. The port on the right (the commander's port) has triplex glass.

2. The hatch under the turret next to the commander (on the front left part of the tank's fighting compartment) does not seal well.

3. Slits between the engine deck and engine deck hatches on the engine deck (in the rear).

Give your instructors that organize the use of Molotov cocktails these instructions to ensure more effective combat against tanks.

Chemistry Chief of the 27th Army, Colonel Novoselov"

CAMD RF F.957 Op.1 D.46 L.89

Friday, 24 March 2023

Panther's Ins and Outs

The Tiger tank no doubt holds the title of the most famous German tank of WW2. The tank is often mentioned as an example of the idea of “quality over quantity”, Tiger aces widely known, and the tanks and battles they fought in are often recreated in movies and video games. However, a more dangerous opponent appeared on the battlefield in July of 1943. The Panther tank had more effective front armour, a more powerful gun, and most importantly the odds of running into a Panther was much higher. The Allies spent a lot of time and effort on finding out its weaknesses. This article will cover the results of British investigations.

A mysterious enemy

Panthers first appeared on the Eastern Front. The Western Allies found out about it pretty quickly from the July 24th 1943 edition of the Red Star newspaper. The information contained in this article was imprecise, but the information exchange continued. More or less accurate information was available by September, and in December of 1943 the British came across a treasure trove. A notebook belonging to a scout from the 26th Reconnaissance Battalion that contained notes on the tank’s characteristics fell into the hands of the 8th Army in Italy. The British discovered that the tank fired three kinds of rounds: armour piercing, subcaliber, and high explosive. The armour piercing rounds were effective at a range of up to 2000 metres, but in some cases it was permitted to fire at a range of 2500 metres. The armour piercing shell penetrated up to 138 mm of armour at an angle (the angle was not noted). Subcaliber shot could be used to engage heavily armoured targets at a range of under 2000 metres. It penetrated up to 194 mm of armour. The high explosive round had a range of up to 4000 metres. The scout noted that the HE shell could not deal significant damage to an enemy tank but could still jam the turret of a Matilda or T-34 tank with a good hit.

 Panther Ausf.D tank #443. The British received a tank from the USSR for testing long before they found one on their own.

Thursday, 23 March 2023

Porsche and Militarism

It's no secret that the same people often build tanks and peaceful vehicles. For instance, the Kirovets K-700 tractor was designed by the same people who designed heavy tanks at the Kirov factory (including the IS-7). The same designers also produced the KT-12 skidder immediately after the war, and they were pulled off of military projects to do so. Harry Knox, the creator of American light and medium tank chassis, was a successful car designer before going into tanks. Even the famous John Walter Christie worked on (and drove) race cars as well as fire engines before building his tanks. There are plenty of examples where the same person created military and civilian vehicles.

Ferdinand Porsche reaching to touch his Tiger tank.

Ferdinand Porsche is perhaps the best known German tank designer. He is usually remembered for the Tiger (P), Maus, and other fighting vehicles that never made it into mass production. He is also well known for the "Beetle" (also known as the kDF-Wagen or Porsche Typ 60) and sports cars. While the former category of vehicles was unsuccessful, the latter is tremendously popular. Because of this, some claim that Porsche intentionally sabotaged the Third Reich. Let's take a look at what kind of pacifist Ferdinand Porsche turned out to be.

Monday, 20 March 2023

Prime Minister on the Front Lines

In 1941 it became clear to British tankers that the Churchill I armed with a 40 mm 2-pounder and 3” howitzer won’t remain competitive for long. Due to difficulties with developing a new weapon, the Churchill III armed with the more powerful 57 mm 6-pounder only entered production in March of 1942. These tanks gradually forced out the Churchill II, but some units kept the Churchill I as close support tanks. The low reliability of these tanks did not allow the British to test them in the desert, but an opportunity for a trial by fire soon arose.

If at first you don’t succeed…

The Churchill tanks first went into battle on August 19th, 1942, during the infamous Dieppe raid. A raid against German coastal defenses was risky, but after a series of raids including the famous raid on Saint-Nazaire, Lord Mountbatten’s Combined Operations Headquarters had all but carte blanche when it came to planning.

A Churchill II tank used in a practice amphibious landing.

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Tanks Worth Their Weight in Gold

Ways in which Germany could have been victorious in WW2 are still a popular topic of discussion in some circles. One can often hear the claim that the war on the Eastern Front would have ended in 1941 with the fall of Moscow if not for the timely appearance of Lend Lease tanks, issued to the USSR free of charge. As common as this argument is, it has little basis in the truth. Let us see what Western tanks appeared in the USSR and when, and what effect these vehicles had on the course of the war.

Before Lend Lease

For starters, let us clarify what Lend Lease actually was and what it had to do with military assistance to the USSR. The Act to Promote the Defense of the United States was signed into law by the 77th Congress of the United States on March 11th, 1941. It gave the president of the still neutral country the ability to supply weapons, transport, tools, raw materials, agricultural or industrial machinery to any nation whose protection was considered vital to the defense of the United States. The term “lend lease” was derived from the ability to “sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of” any of the aforementioned items to these nations granted by this act. While the president of the United States had the power to give them away for free, that was far from his only option.

Matilda tanks earmarked for the USSR.

Monday, 13 March 2023

Anti-Aircraft Lizard

The British began to build SPAAGs after the start of the Second World War. As soon as it became clear that the Light Tank Mk.VI was obsolete as a tank, it was converted to take a new turret with four AA machine guns. The same thing was done to the Crusader tank, but with two 20 mm Oerlikon autocannons. This armament upgrade did not resolve other issues with these tanks, namely thin armour and poor reliability. Finding spare parts for these out of production vehicles was not the easiest task either. It was clear that a SPAAG based on a chassis still in production was needed. Since Canada was just setting up production of the Grizzly tank, a variant of the American Sherman, this vehicle was chosen as the chassis. This was the start of the Skink AA tank, which was built and even saw battle, unlike the tank that it was based on.

Born to crawl

Work on mechanizing the 20 mm AA gun began in December of 1942. The AFV Users Committee suggested building an AA tank on the chassis of either Ram or Sherman tank for escorting armoured units on December 19th. The committee required the vehicle to be equipped with either two or four 20 mm guns, carry 600 rounds of ammunition, and be able to fire at targets moving at a speed of up to 350 mph (563 kph) at a height of 100 yards (91 meters). This required the turret to rotate a full 360 degrees in 4.8 seconds. The vehicle’s armour was required to withstand a hit from a 40 mm aircraft cannon at a range of 100 yards.

Development of this new vehicle began on March 19th, 1943. The initial variant called for a new turret welded together from 25-50 mm thick armour plates. The turret contained a quad Hispano-Suiza gun mount. Each gun was fed with a 50 round belt. The mount could be aimed vertically at a speed of 45 degrees per second and horizontally at a speed of 55 degrees per second. Production of such a vehicle was pitched to the Angus Shops and Montreal Locomotive works as well as the American General Motors company, but all three declined this project.

Skink AA tank with an early cast turret. This tank still has Hispano-Suiza guns.

Friday, 10 March 2023

How to Kill a T-34

Tank design is an endless battle not just against existing enemy tanks, but also prospective ones. No tank can stay at the top of the food chain forever. Even a vehicle with the most powerful gun and thickest armour will sooner or later face a weapon capable of penetrating this armour or an adversary that proves too tough for its gun to crack. Barring that, the enemy will come up with some clever tactics to overcome the tank’s technical advantages. This is what happened with the legendary T-34 tank that the Germans ran into in the summer of 1941.

Tough nut to crack

The Germans already had experience successfully fighting “invincible” tanks by the summer of 1941. The outcome of their first encounter with Matilda tanks in France was not what one would predict from looking at the order of battle on paper. Failure of communications resulted in British tanks going into battle without proper organization or infantry support. The German 3.7 cm Pak was of little use against these new tanks, but there were other weapons available. Some tanks ran into 8.8 cm Flak batteries that had no issue with the Matilda’s thick armour, others were immobilized by field artillery and had to be abandoned. British infantry arrived too late and could not hold ground without support from their tanks. As a result, no evacuation could be organized and the tanks were lost.

The first encounters of the German army with the T-34 tank were not too different in outcome, but left a different impression. German tank ace Otto Carius met these tanks in July of 1941 and remembered them like this:
“Another event hit us like a ton of bricks. The Russians showed up for the first time with their T-34s! The surprise was complete. How was it possible that those at the top hadn’t known about the existence of this superior tank?

The T-34 with its good armour, ideal shape, and magnificent 76.2 mm long-barreled cannon was universally feared and a threat to every German tank up until the end of the war. What were we supposed to do to these monstrosities that were being committed in quantity against us? We could only knock at the door with our cannons, inside the Russians were able to play an undisturbed hand of cards. At that time, the 37 mm Pak was still our strongest armour defeating weapon. If lucky, we could hit the T-34 on the turret ring and jam it. With a whole lot more luck, it became combat ineffective. Certainly not a very positive situation!

Our only salvation was the 88 mm Flak. Even this new Russian tank could be effectively engaged with it. We thus started paying the utmost respect to the Flak troops who previously had sometimes received a condescending smile from us.”
88 mm AA guns were indeed an effective weapon against the T-34. German instructions suggested firing the AP shell (Pzgr.Patr.) at the T-34’s turret from 1000 meters and at the hull from an even closer range: 100-800 meters. Other instructions suggested firing at 500-600 meters to be sure. 105 mm Flak 38 and Flak 39 guns could fire at the turret from 1200 m and at the hull from 800 m. The 105 mm leFH 18 howitzer and Kanone 18 gun could fire HE shells from any range. Smaller caliber guns had only a small chance to penetrate the turret armour and were only useful for suppressing inexperienced crews. 75 mm HE or larger had a chance of disabling the running gear.

Guide on dealing with a T-34 tank. Guns smaller than 88 mm in caliber could do little against its armour.

Monday, 6 March 2023

Video: IS-2 vs Panther, Math and Reality

I've frequently seen the claim that the front of the Panther tank was nearly invulnerable to the IS-2's 122 mm D-25T gun if correctly angled. Indeed, penetration equations suggest that would be the case, but reality is a lot more complicated than that. In this video I go into detail about how line-of-sight armour thickness doesn't tell the whole story.

Friday, 3 March 2023

A Firefly with a Stinger

Several variants of mechanizing the powerful 76 mm 17-pounder gun were developed by the end of 1943. One of them involved installing the gun on various types of Sherman tanks. The new Sherman Ic and Sherman Vc tanks passed trials at proving grounds in early 1944, but had yet to prove their worth on the battlefield.

Live and learn

To start, let us make a small note about the name of these tanks. The Sherman Ic and Sherman Vc (also stylized IC and VC) are commonly known under the name Firefly. This nickname did not come from official documents. Just the opposite, British commanders tried to fight it and mandated that these tanks be called only by their proper names. No one knows where the nickname came from, but it appears to have been British in origin. New Zealanders who used these tanks in Italy did not seem to ever use this name. These tanks were also called Sherman C and Sherman 17-pounder in official documents. Although unofficial, the name Firefly will be used in this article to refer to Sherman tanks equipped with 17-pounder guns.

A stowage sketch showing the tank’s official designation: Sherman V.C

Thursday, 2 March 2023

Book Review: Surviving D-Day Tanks in Normandy

The scale of the D-Day landings was truly epic, with Allied forces landing on a front some 70 kilometers wide. This introduced a considerable problem for the Germans 79 years ago, but also for visitors today, as  artefacts and battlefields are scattered across a large distance. Fortunately, a tourist armed with Surviving D-Day Tanks in Normandy by Craig Moore will be able to make the most of their trip.

Monday, 27 February 2023

Modernization in the British Style

Great Britain, the nation that was first to invent the tank, lost its first place in tank building by the end of WWII. Nevertheless, the British designed the 17-pounder, a first class tank gun, and put it to good use on a number of vehicles, both domestic and imported ones. The most famous such vehicle was the Sherman Firefly.

Chassis for a big gun

The main British tank gun at the start of WWII was the 40 mm 2-pounder. This gun was enough against German light and medium tanks at first, but enemy tanks encountered in North Africa already had thicker armour. At first, extra protection came from applique armour that would fall off after 1-2 hits, but soon tanks with 50 mm of monolithic armour appeared that could only be penetrated at point-blank range.

17-pounder gun, The 17-pounder anti-tank gun was a powerful weapon, but vulnerable on the battlefield due to its size and weight. The muzzle brake on this gun is not original.

The need for more powerful tank guns was discussed as early as the summer of 1941. Arrivals of Lee and Grant tanks with the 75 mm M2 gun helped, but not for long. The American gun was deemed to be an acceptable interim measure until the arrival of sufficient quantities of towed 57 mm 6-pounder and 76 mm 17-pounder guns. The 6-pounder was small enough to fit into a tank turret, but the 17-pounder was far too large.

Friday, 24 February 2023

Anglo-Canadian Cruiser

When the Canadians decided to produce their own armoured vehicles in 1940, they had a whole world of tanks to choose from. British, American, and even French vehicles were considered. A suitable infantry tank was quickly found, but not a single foreign cruiser tank was entirely satisfactory. As a result, the Canadians created a hybrid tank that combined American, British, French, and original solutions. This tank became known as the Ram.

War against bureaucracy

Selection of an infantry tank was simple for Canada. The Infantry Tank Mk.II was already unsatisfactory by 1940, and the Infantry Tank Mk.IV was too unrefined, plus the design was too complex and heavy for Canada’s fledgling tank industry. The choice was made in favour of the Infantry Tank Mk.III, which was successfully put into production in Montreal at the Canadian Pacific Rail company’s Angus Shops. The cruiser tank would have to be produced in greater amounts. Unlike the Infantry Tank Mk.III, which was produced for export, this tank was meant for Canada’s own army. It was decided on August 13th, 1940, that Canada would raise its own armoured force and it required 1100 cruiser tanks for this purpose.

On one hand, Great Britain was already working on the promising Cruiser Tank Mk.VI. On the other hand, the Americans had just designed the Medium Tank M3 to replace their unsatisfactory M2. The British initially insisted that all of their dominions must build British tanks, but after inspecting Canadian facilities Brigadier Pratt came to the conclusion that the chances of successfully producing the Cruiser Tank Mk.VI here were low.

The final decision was made in favour of cooperation with the neighbour to the south, even though their tank was not entirely satisfactory either. The Hyde Park Declaration signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King on April 20th, 1941, declared that “...each country should provide the other with the defense articles which it is best able to produce, and, above all, produce quickly, and that production programmes should be co-ordinated to this end.” This declaration bypassed the main obstacle for American-Canadian cooperation: a shortage of American currency in Canada. According to the declaration, Canadian industry helped the Americans, and the Lend Lease program was expanded to cover Canadian goods made for Great Britain.

Canadian women assembling a Ram tank.