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.