Friday 24 November 2023

African Pz.Kpfw.III

The heavy Panthers and Tigers are the best known of Germany's tanks. The lion's share of discussions of armoured vehicles in the Second World War is dedicated to them, even though lighter tanks carried the Panzerwaffe through the majority of the war. The Pz.Kpfw.III tank proved itself to be a worthy opponent in the first half of the war. At the same time, it remained a mystery for the British for a number of years until the first trophies began arriving from North Africa in 1941-42. This is what the British learned from these studies.

Third time's the charm

The Pz.Kpfw.III medium tank was posed as Germany's main tank from the early days of the Nazis' reign, but development was slow. Only 120 tanks were in the field by the start of the Second World War and 381 by the beginning of the Battle of France. Serious losses among them prove that they were actively used and the British Expeditionary Force couldn't have avoided meeting them on the battlefield. However, even if a tank of this type was captured there was no opportunity to study it or send it back to Britain. The speed of the German offensive forced the British to abandon even their own tanks on the continent.

A column of Pz.Kpfw.III tanks in France prepares to move out. The British did not gather any detailed information on these vehicles in 1940.

Monday 6 November 2023

IS-2 in Combat

 "To the Commander of Artillery of the 5th Guards Tank Army

In carrying out your order, I present materials on experience of using IS-122 heavy tanks.

  1. During fording of water obstacles.
  2. Use of concentrated volley fire of IS-122 tanks (company and regiment).
  3. Examples of use of IS-122 heavy tanks in offensive combat.
1. IS-122 heavy tanks serve as support for medium tanks. During crossings, they support the medium tanks with their fire and cross the water after them.

Sunday 29 October 2023

Video: Can an IS-2 hit a target at long range?

The IS-2's can penetrate the Panther's armour at effectively any range, but can it hit? In my latest video, I take a look at the theoretical and practical precision of the IS-2's 122 mm D-25T gun to see if it could hit a Panther-sized target at long ranges.

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Roof for the SU-76M

A number of questionable publications on the SU-76 created the idea that the SU-12 (SU-76) initially had a roof over the fighting compartment, but it was later removed, never to return. This is far from the truth. The SU-12 prototype and a large number of production vehicles had no roof initially. Stalin personally demanded that a roof be installed on every vehicle starting with the first one, but this was only put into practice in the second half of March 1943. The claim that roofs were removed on the front lines is not supported by photographic evidence. Vehicles without roofs always have their headlights and other stowage in different positions, same as the prototype. The roof was also present on the SU-15 prototype, although the improved SU-15M (SU-76M) didn't have it.

SU-76M with a rigid roof developed at factory #40 in the summer of 1944.

Friday 6 October 2023

Americans in Africa

The trials of the American Medium Tank M3 in Great Britain gave mixed results. On one hand, the tank had no shortage of design defects. On the other hand, there was nothing else to choose from. The Americans refused to build British tanks under license and Britain's own factories could not meet its army's needs. However, British tanks were far from perfect themselves, and the American tank still had tough armour and a powerful 75 mm gun that outperformed both the British 2-pounder and 3" howitzer. As a result, the American tanks were sent to Africa to prove themselves in battle.

Eye of the hurricane

The North African front stood still after the British retreated to Gazala in February of 1942. This pause allowed to train crews for the new tanks. Small number of Grant tanks began arriving in North Africa back in late 1941, but now shipments really picked up. 666 vehicles of this type were in theater by the end of March.

An American instructor demonstrates the new tanks to British tankers.

Monday 25 September 2023

Two Tanks In One

A story of what a Main Battle Tank is and how it came to be.

Tanks evolved considerably over the course of over 100 years of service. The first tanks were built to break through enemy fortifications, but still ended up being much smaller than the landships that H.G. Wells dreamed of. Nevertheless, the effect they had was considerable. All armies of the world wanted to have their own tanks, but not all managed to create one. A tank only seems simple, but in reality is quite a complicated fighting machine that requires a powerful industry to produce. Far fewer nations managed to build their own tanks than their own aircraft. In addition, like any weapon individual tanks quickly became obsolete. It is only in the last few decades that tank development slowed down from its breakneck pace. Tanks remain one of the key types of vehicles on the battlefield. There have been many attempts to write them off as a relic of the past, but practice shows that this time has not yet come.

T-72, the most numerous Main Battle Tank. These tanks were developed in the late 1960s but continue to serve and will do so for decades to come.

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Smokescreens in the 31st Tank Corps

"Report on the use of smokescreen by the 31st Tank Corps in January of 1945

A. Preparation of tank and SPG crews to use neutral smokescreens in battle

Strong attention to the use of smokescreens was paid during training of all types of forces in the corps. Personnel of tanks, SPGs, and motorized rifle units was taught the rules of using smoke equipment and its tactical-technical data.

The following topics were practices during tactical training exercises held in November-December 1944:

  1. The use of the RDG and DSh smoke bombs by a single tank or SPG to conceal its maneuver in combat.
  2. The use of smoke launchers by infantry and tanks to signal aircraft.
  3. Deployment of a tank battalion under the cover of a smokescreen set by an advance force.
  4. Attack by a tank battalion through a corridor in the smokescreen created by MDSh bombs lit by flanking tanks as cover from anti-tank gun fire.
  5. Concealing anti-tank obstacles in front of a defending rifle battalion with smoke to make crossing them more difficult.

Monday 18 September 2023

Copper Horns

The need for communications equipment in armoured vehicles became clear soon after their creation. Semaphores and signal flags were just a half measure. It was necessary to equip tanks with radios, but the road to equipping even a part of them was a long one. The modern system with a radio in the turret and a whip antenna was also far from the initial norm. There were many alternative visions of how a tank radio antenna should look.

The rail antenna was a characteristic feature of Soviet tanks in the 1930s.
Rail antennas became one of the characteristic features of Soviet tanks in the interwar years. "Horns" around the turret became a calling card of this generation of tanks. Few people stop to consider where such a strange antenna came from and how it works, especially since their age was brief. They were no longer used by Soviet industry after 1939, as opposed to the nation that came up with them originally.

Monday 11 September 2023

Italian Cruiser Tank

Italian tank building developed along a fairly usual trajectory. Once a direction was identified, the Italian military tried to stay on course. Under their close guidance, Ansaldo developed a series of combat vehicles: first a tankette, then a light tank, a medium one, and a breakthrough tank. In almost all cases, success was based on a foreign idea, primarily the British one. At first the Italians further developed the idea of the Carden-Loyd Mk.VI tankette and then the Vickers Mk.E support tank. 

Captured Cruiser Tank Mk.IVA at trials in Nettuno. This tank was the inspiration for a "colonial" tank.

Combat in North Africa revealed a series of deficiencies, including insufficient characteristics of Italian medium tanks. One of the biggest issues was their low mobility. The increase in engine power was not an accident. British vehicles were studied in parallel. A Cruiser Tank Mk.IVA was among those examined. This was not the most successful tank, but it was fast. A captured tank was tested at Nettuno in May of 1941. The idea of creating an Italian cruiser tank came about around the same tank. This tank was later called Carro M Celere Sahariano.

Monday 28 August 2023

Alternative Heavy Tank

Factory #183 in Kharkov was the center of Soviet heavy tank development in the interwar period. The T-35 powerful (heavy) tank developed in Leningrad by N.V. Barykov was produced here. Production was set up with the participation of I.S. Ber, who was appointed as the head of HPZ (factory #183) Diesel Department design bureau T-35K. Iosif Solomonovich Ber played a key role in the fate of the T-35 tank. It was he who produced the technical documentation for the tank and further development of the design was done under his direction. Work to replace the T-35 moved to Leningrad in 1938 and Ber was promoted to the position of deputy chief of the KB-520 design bureau. Work on heavy tanks in Kharkov ended, but not for long.

I.S. Ber, a key player in the creation of T-35, T-34M, and T-44 tanks.

Tuesday 22 August 2023

Failed Modernization of the KV-1S

Evolutionary development is a common sight in tank development. The fact that engineers do not seek to make work for themselves should not be mistaken for laziness. This is often a necessary requirement set by the customer, especially when it is necessary to keep up the rate of production. For this reason, revolutionary projects were often vetoed from above. This happened with the KV-13 and T-34M in 1942 when both were put away until better days.

Object 238 on trials, August 1943.

Saturday 19 August 2023

Video: Almost an Hour of the T-34-85 at Capel

Didn't get enough of the T-34-85 tank shown at Capel? Enjoy almost an hour of glorious 4K footage from the event:

Monday 7 August 2023

Shermans in "August Storm"

In Soviet historiography, the Soviet-Japanese War of 1945 is overshadowed by grandiose operations against Berlin and Vienna earlier that year. However, Western historians pay close attention to this campaign and debates on whether it was the A-bombs or the Soviet invasion that forced the Japanese to surrender rage on to this day. Famous historian David Glantz even invented a grandiose name for this operation: August Storm. The Red Army's advance was indeed lightning fast, in part thanks to foreign vehicles. This included the M4A2(76)W HVSS, the most advanced Sherman variant sent to the USSR.

Clouds gather

Stalin promised to enter the war against Japan within three months of Germany's defeat at the Yalta conference in February of 1945. Colonel-General Alfred Yodl signed an order for unconditional capitulation of all German forces on May 7th, 1945, coming into effect at 23:01 on May 8th. This kicked off the countdown for a Soviet offensive against Japan. The Red Army had three months to move an enormous force to the other side of an equally enormous country.

Concentration of the 6th Guards Tank Army in the vicinity of Tamsagbulag. The army included the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps that used Sherman tanks.

The 6th Guards Tank Army was one of the units that was destined to transfer to the far east. On June 26th, 1945, the unit was reallocated to the Transbaikal Front. It would have to cover a distance of 9000 km to cross from Czechoslovakia to Choibalsan. 88 trains of 60 cars each were allocated for this journey. The full transfer took 30 days, but the first elements began to form up by July 17th. New tanks awaited them there: 100 M4A2(76)W including the latest tanks with HVSS suspensions. These tanks were described in documents as "M4A2 with wide tracks". The 46th Guards Tank Brigade was fully equipped with these vehicles. One company from each of the tank regiments of the 18th, 30th, and 31st Guards Mechanized Brigades that made up the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps also received new tanks.

From Choibalsan, the tanks would make a 300 km march to Tamsagbulag, where the army would prepare for the upcoming offensive. This march took place in extreme conditions. The temperature reached 45 C during the day, as a result of which marches took place only at night to avoid overheating the engines and running gear. This also helped hide the tanks from air reconnaissance, as there was nowhere to conceal them in the desert. The army's documents describe the M4A2 as less sensitive to hot weather than the T-34-85. The American tanks could cover more ground every day, but at the cost of increased fuel consumption. The Shermans normally burned 40 kg of fuel per hour, but this went up to 60 kg in Mongolia. Each tank could only run 90-100 km before refuelling instead of 150 km. The T-34-85 burned only 26 kg of fuel per hour.

M4A2(76)W HVSS, the newest tanks of the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps.

Wednesday 2 August 2023

Crewing the T-34-85 at Capel 2023

A month ago I joined the Capel Military Show as a T-34-85 tank crewman. With a full crew, hatches shut, and cannons firing outside, it was a great chance to experience what I've only read about. Watch my latest video for my impressions. 

Monday 31 July 2023

Soviet Armour for the British Valentine

History knows many tanks that were created from a grassroots initiative and treated with scepticism by the army, but evolved to become some of the most popular tanks. There are at least two such tanks that made their mark in the Second World War. The first was the Pz.Kpfw.IV. Krupp was originally only entrusted with the turret, but the conglomerate successfully pushed for permission to build two prototypes. As a result, the B.W. (Kp) easily demolished the B.W. (Rh) and survived several attempts to take it out of production. The first battles showed that the Pz.Kpfw.IV was the best tank Germany. had. In 1942 it also turned out that the Pz.Kpfw.IV could take on a long 75 mm gun, but the Pz.Kpfw.III could not. As a result, the Pz.Kpfw.IV became Germany's most numerous tank.

The second example is the Infantry Tank Mk.III or Valentine. Its creation was entirely opposed by the British army but in the end were forced to order it anyway. It turned out that Leslie Little, Vickers' main tank designer, made the right decisions. He successfully fought off the War Ministry's attempts to "improve" his creation and avoided overloading the chassis. The result was the most numerous British tank of the war. Formally, the British withdrew it from the front lines in the spring of 1943, but in reality it kept fighting until May of 1945, again against the army's best attempts.

A Soviet Valentine lost to a hit from a 75 mm Pak 40. The appearance of this gun was a big contribution to work on improving the tank.

Monday 24 July 2023

Between the Pz.Kpfw.III and the Panther

 German medium tanks that could not replace the Pz.Kpfw.III or IV

One might think that tank building developed very sluggishly in the interwar years. This is a mistake. Development continued even in the most difficult years when there was no money for tanks. Every 3-4 years tactical-technical requirements were revised and development of new prototypes began. Germany did not differ from the rest of the world in this regard. Since Germany was bound by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, this cycle was concealed, but the mask was dropped in the early 1930s even before the Nazis came to power. This is when the tanks that Germany entered the war with began to form.

A broken Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf.F. Frequent gearbox failures were the reason why production of the Z.W.38 fell behind schedule and the relationship between Daimler-Benz and Heinrich Kniepkamp was ruined.

There are many cases in tank building where a nation manages to catch one wave of trends and miss the next. The USSR managed to create a successful series of tanks in the early 1930s but failed to do so in the mid-30s. On the other hand, German tanks developed in the early 30s were failures, but the designers redeemed themselves a few years later. Subsequently, while the USSR got the successful T-40, T-34, and KV-1 at the end of 1939, the Germans entered the new decade with a completely different result. One example is the story of the tanks that was supposed to replace the Pz.Kpfw.III and the Pz.Kpfw.IV: the VK 20.01 and its relatives.

Friday 21 July 2023

Special Design Bureau

 "State Committee of Defense
to comrade L.P. Beria

Several major German small arms designers remain in the German territory occupied by Soviet troops.

  1. Stange, creator of the MG-34 and MG-42 machine guns as well as other systems. Stange worked at the Rheinmetall-Borsig design bureau in Sömmerda.
  2. Grune, creator of the MG-42 and MG-45 machine guns. He led the design bureau at the Johannes Grossfuss company in Döbeln.
  3. Horn, creator of a new automatic carbine. He worked together with Grune at the  Johannes Grossfuss design bureau in Döbeln.
  4. Schmeisser, creator of the MP-40 submachine gun, MP-44 automatic carbine, and a number of other systems. Schmeisser owns the Haenel factory in Suhl. 
  5. Barnitzke, creator of anti-tank rifles and a new automatic carbine. Barnitzke led a design group at the Gustloff-Werke factory in Suhl since 1925.
  6. Gropp, a specialist in automatic carbines and semiautomatic rifles, worked in Barnitzke's group at the Gustloff-Werke factory in Suhl.
  7. Ladek, a pistol specialist. Worked in Barnitzke's group at the Gustloff-Werke factory in Suhl.
  8. Lorentz, leader of the ammunition group at the Polte factory design bureau in Magdeburg. Creator of the model 1943 intermediate round. 
Due to the high level of qualification of the aforementioned designers, it is sensible to recruit them to work in a special design bureau.

Chief of the Red Army GAU, Marshal of Arillery, Yakovlev
September 4th, 1945."

Isayev notes that the descriptions of the German designers' achievements is not necessarily correct. For instance, Schmeisser didn't create the MP-40 (which is correctly reflected in lower level reports).

Monday 17 July 2023

A Big Insect from Alkett and BMM

The German army felt a dire need for self propelled guns early in the Second World War. The highest priority items were a motorized anti-tank gun more powerful than the 3.7 cm Pak and a more mobile 149 mm sIG 33 gun. This was a versatile weapon that could serve in several roles thanks to variable propellant loads, although the SPG would be used in direct fire. A 38 kg HE shell carrying almost 8 kg of explosives could demolish a brick house in a few hits. This ability was widely used in May-June of 1940 when the 15 cm sIG 33 (mot S) auf Pz.Kpfw.I Ausf.B went into battle. The first attempt at an SPG had issues. The vehicle was too tall and the Pz.Kpfw.I Ausf.B chassis was overloaded. Nevertheless, the tankers (as the 15 cm sIG 33 (mot S) auf Pz.Kpfw.I Ausf.B formed artillery batteries in tank divisions) appreciated this vehicle.

Geschützwagen 38 für sIG 33/1 (Sf.), the most common German SPG with a 149 mm sIG 33 gun.

Successful application of the 15 cm sIG 33 (mot S) auf Pz.Kpfw.I Ausf.B pushed German command to continue the work on light SPGs. The next step was the development of the 15 cm sIG 33 B Sfl. Initially the development used a stock Pz.Kpfw.II chassis, but trials of a prototype showed that this was too cramped. A converted chassis was introduced. The 15 cm sIG 33 B Sfl turned out to be a poor vehicle whose engine was wholly inadequate. This failure did not stop work. There was another chassis in reserve: the Pz.Kpfw.38(t). It was more suitable for this task, and so the Geschützwagen 38 für sIG 33/1 (Sf.) was born, becoming the most common German SPG with a 149 mm sIG 33 gun.

Friday 14 July 2023

More Tank Archives to Love

Some of you might already know that I've been experimenting with more social media platforms. If Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube aren't your cup of tea, I'm starting out on Instagram and Threads (since the platforms are joined at the hip). Check it out!

Monday 10 July 2023

A Medium Tank with a Heavy Burden

The heaviest American tank at the start of the Second World War was the Medium Tank M2. It looked like an anachronism compared to other tanks in the same class, and so it was quickly replaced by the Medium Tank M3. The M3 was also a temporary measure, and even having completed the Medium Tank M4 the American tank designers were not resting on their laurels. Work on the Sherman's successor began as the tank was just being put into production. The Medium Tank T26E1 was meant to replace the Sherman, but after a number of changes in its development cycle it entered production in a completely different weight class.

Origin of species

The concept of a new generation of tanks formed in May of 1942. The basic tank had a 76 mm gun and was lower than the M4, which allowed the designers to add more armour without exceeding the weight of its predecessor. The tank also used an automatic gearbox. The Ordnance Committee gave permission to build two prototypes indexed Medium Tank T20

The number of experimental tanks multiplied. Since it wasn't clear how well the idea of an automatic gearbox is going to work out, the army decided to play it safe and also build the Medium Tank T22 using components already tried and tested in the Sherman tank as well as the Medium Tank T23 with an electric transmission that showed itself well in the Heavy Tank T1E1. Each tank had three types of armament. The basic tank would get a 76 mm M1 gun, E1 variants were equipped with a 75 mm gun and an autoloader, E2 variants received the 3" M7 gun from the GMC M10. There was also an E3 variant. These tanks had the 76 mm gun but also a torsion bar suspension.

The Medium Tank T23 surpassed the Sherman in both armament and armour, but the army's appetites had grown beyond what it could offer.

Monday 19 June 2023

Assault Gun with Field Improvements

The situation with German military vehicles in museums, especially Russian ones, is difficult. The treatment of German armour in many countries during the Second World War and immediately afterwards is understandable. It was decades before anyone started to think about their historical value. It's hard to blame our ancestors for this, considering what these vehicles did to them. As a result, German tanks and SPGs are very rare today. Nevertheless, they are slowly reemerging in the hands of museums and private collections thanks to restoration workshops.

A new vehicle appeared on display.

Vadim Zadorozhniy's Technical Museum is one such organization. The museum restores military vehicles of the Second World War, including German ones. Recently, the museum put a new StuG III Ausf.E on display. This is a somewhat unusual vehicle and its story is worth telling.

Friday 16 June 2023

Light Tank Destroyer

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

Tactical-technical requirements for a 45 mm anti-tank SPG

1. Purpose of the SPG

The 45 mm anti-tank SPG is designed as a weapon for tank destroyer artillery regiments and anti-tank batteries in moto-mechanized units to combat enemy tanks and infantry.

2. Requirements for the SPG

The SPG uses the traversing part of the 45 mm model 1942 "M-42" anti-tank gun. The SPG must satisfy the following requirements:

  1. Muzzle velocity of 870 m/s when firing the 1.4 kg armour piercing shell.
  2. Ability to use armour piercing, high explosive, and subcaliber ammunition.
  3. The practical rate of fire in direct fire mode is no less than 15 RPM.
  4. The elevation angle is no less than +15 degrees.
  5. The depression angle is no less than -5 degrees.
  6. The traverse is at least 30 degrees(15 degrees per side).
  7. The rate of elevation and traverse is at least 1.5 degrees per turn of the flywheel.
  8. The bore axis height is no more than 1600 mm.
  9. The gun uses the AZP sight.
  10. The SPG is serviced by three crewmen (including the driver). The fighting compartment contains folding chairs for two men.
  11. During travel, the gun can be rigidly fixed in the horizontal and vertical plane.
  12. The gun mount must allow for comfortable loading at all elevation and traverse angles.
  13. The SPG can carry two PPSh SMGs.
  14. The ammunition capacity is 90 rounds for the 45 mm gun and 1000 rounds for the submachine guns. The ammunition stowage must be reliable and safeguard the ammunition during travel. It must be easy to extract the ammunition from the racks to load.

Tuesday 13 June 2023

Aquino Tank Weekend: T-34-85

Last weekend I had the pleasure of assuming the role of a T-34-85 tank commander during Aquino tank Weekend at the Ontario Regiment Museum. In this video, I cover what we know about the history of this particular tank and briefly show it in action. 

Monday 12 June 2023

Firefighters of the Fiery Salient

Supplies of M4A2 tanks to the USSR began in late 1942. Unfortunately due to technical defects (chiefly to do with injectors) they did not see service right away. Only a few units received these tanks in the spring of 1943, but one of them ended up fighting in the most famous tank battle of the Great Patriotic War.

Firefighters of the fiery salient

The 229th Independent Tank Regiment was one of the first Soviet tank units to receive the new American medium tanks. 31 tanks of this type were issued to the unit on April 10th, 1943, and by the start of July the regiment had 38 functional Medium Tanks M4A2. The regiment was assigned to the 48th Army at the time. As of July 1st it was located in reserve in the village of Perehozheye. The regiment was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Merkulov with Major Bogatyrev serving as the Chief of Staff.

A very early M4A2 tank in Soviet service. This vehicle still has the return roller in the middle of the bogey, M34 gun mount with a narrow external mantlet, and direct vision ports

The regiment was moved to the vicinity of Kazakovka by July 5th, 1943. At the start of the Battle of Kursk the regiment had 1.2 loads of fuel per tank, three refills of ammunition, and 4 days worth of rations on hand. The Shermans got lucky, as the German spearhead struck west of them.

Friday 9 June 2023

SU-76 Requirements

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

Tactical-technical requirements for a 76 mm assault SPG

1. Purpose of the SPG

The 76 mm SPG is designed to support moto-mechanized units to combat firing emplacements, tanks, and personnel both with direct and indirect fire.

2. Requirements for the artillery component of the SPG

The SPG uses the stock rotating part of the ZIS-3 76 mm model 1942 gun. The ability to install a 57 mm IS-1 gun must also be retained.

The SPG must meet the following requirements:

  1. Practical rate of fire of no less than 12 RPM in direct fire and at small elevations.
  2. Gun elevation of at least +15 degrees.
  3. Gun depression of at least -5 degrees.
  4. Traverse range of 30 degrees (15 in either direction).
  5. The rate of traverse must be about 1.5 degrees per turn of the flywheel. The effort on the flywheel must not exceed 4 kg.
  6. The rate of elevation must be about 1 degree per turn of the flywheel. The effort on the flywheel must not exceed 4 kg.
  7. The recoil brake must be armoured. The armour must be 8-10 mm thick.
  8. The oscillating part of the gun and the recoil brake armour must be fully balanced.
  9. The bore axis height must be no more than 1650 mm.
  10. The gun position must allow for comfortable loading at all angles of elevation and traverse.
  11. The gun sight must be a mass production type either from the 76 mm regimental gun or the ZIS-3.
  12. Crew of 4 (including the driver).
    During travel, collapsible seats for three men must be installed in the fighting compartment.
  13. The gun must be rigidly fixed in travel and not move vertically or horizontally.
  14. The SPG must carry two PPSh SMGs.
  15. The SPG must carry 60 rounds of ammunition for the gun and 1000 PPSh rounds.
    The ammunition must be stored in places that make it comfortable for the loader to work with, fix securely in its slots, and be easy to unlatch and retrieve.

Monday 5 June 2023

First Among Equals

The defeat of the British Expeditionary Force in France in 1940 was a wake-up call for British tankers. It was clear that their tanks were not suited for modern war. Light tanks had no chance to survive on a battlefield saturated with anti-tank guns, and even heavier infantry tanks were more vulnerable than expected. The Infantry Tank Mk.I armed only with a machine gun was discarded immediately. The Infantry Tank Mk.II proved itself better, but was still far from perfection. German forces were expected to cross the Channel any minute, and Britain had no modern tanks to repel them with. The only choice was to develop a new tank, and quickly. This tank was called the Infantry Tank Mk.IV or Churchill I.

A tank of compromises

Work on the new tank began in July of 1940. The A20 tank, a potential replacement for the Infantry Tank Mk.II, looked quite archaic compared to its German adversaries. However, the British were not prepared to give up on the concept just yet. Harland & Wolff built one prototype, but there were many issues with it, not the least of which was the insufficiently powerful Meadows DAV engine.

Experimental A20 tank, the Churchill’s predecessor.

The British were in a tough situation when it came to tank engines. The army didn’t want to spend money on engine development, expecting to be able to adapt an engine already in production. This is what happened in this case: the DAV was initially meant to go into the much lighter Cruiser Tank Mk.V. The Vauxhall company proposed their own engine, the Bedford Twin Six, to replace the troublesome Meadows DAV. As the name implies, it was composed of two six-cylinder engines produced by Bedford, a subsidiary of Vauxhall. These engines showed themselves well on trucks. Vauxhall’s proposal was so enticing that they ended up with a contract not just for the engine, but for the entire tank.

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.