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.