06/18/14

Second Chechen War

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The BMP-1 is a Soviet amphibious tracked infantry fighting vehicle. BMP stands for Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty 1, meaning “infantry fighting vehicle”. The BMP-1 was the first mass-produced infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) of USSR. It was called the M-1967, BMP and BMP-76PB by NATO before its correct designation was known.

The Soviet military leadership saw any future wars as being conducted with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and a new design combining the properties of an armored personnel carrier (APC) and a light tank like the BMP would allow infantry to operate from the relative safety of its armoured, radiation-shielded interior in contaminated areas and to fight alongside it in uncontaminated areas. It would increase infantry squad mobility, provide fire support to them, and also be able to fight alongside main battle tanks.

BMP-1 and BMP-2 series vehicles share a major drawback with many Soviet tanks. Ammunition is stored near or even inside the fighting compartment which makes them more vulnerable to a hit from an anti-tank round or a missile across the side arc. If that happens, the ammunition often explodes, killing everyone and completely destroying the vehicle. During the fighting in Afghanistan and Chechnya, hits by rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) penetrated the BMP-1’s armor in 95% of cases. This often resulted in the vehicle burning until the ammunition exploded. Due to these limitations, Soviet/Russian soldiers customarily rode on the outside of the BMP-1, sitting on top of the hull while in combat zones.

The problem most often cited by western analysts is the design of the main fuel tank. Due to the low profile of the vehicle the designers have had to place the fuel tank between the two rows of outward-facing seats, meaning that the infantrymen sit very close to the bulk of the vehicle’s fuel storage, extra fuel is carried in the hollow armored rear doors. Therefore a hit by an armor-piercing incendiary round would set the fuel contained there (especially, if kerosene is used instead of diesel), on fire. The burning fuel would move into the crew compartment, resulting in the death or injury to the infantrymen (if they are unable to leave the vehicle via the roof hatches), and a possible explosion. However, the rear door tanks are almost always empty when the BMP goes into combat as they are only meant to increase the road travel range of the vehicle. In intense war areas where the BMP sees action often and it is relatively near to its base of operations, instructions highly recommend detaching the rear door tanks from the fuel system, filling them with sand as additional protection of the troop compartment and adding fuel to the internal main fuel tank from other sources when the need arises. This was not practiced by some crews of BMP-1s during a number of local conflicts, e.g., in Chechnya, which resulted in frequent attempts by the enemy to hit the rear doors of the BMP-1s. The inner fuel tank is more vulnerable than that of many modern IFVs – the thin side armor means that penetration is likely to occur to the inner fuel tank as well.

The BMP-1 was first tested in combat in the 1973 Yom Kippur War where it was used by Egyptian and Syrian forces. Based on lessons learned from this conflict and early experiences in the Soviet War in Afghanistan, a version with improved fighting qualities, the BMP-2 was developed. It was accepted into service in August 1980.

In 1987, the BMP-3, a radically redesigned vehicle with a completely new weapon system, entered service in limited numbers with the Soviet Army.

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The Russian military’s conduct of the Second Chechen War learned much from the first. In the initial stages of the war, the Russian army sealed off Chechnya’s borders and concentrated on controlling the open terrain north of the Terek River, avoiding hills and built-up areas. Russian forces sought to establish secure zones governed by loyalist Chechens to demonstrate the advantages of Russian rule and win acceptance from the Chechen population. The military also did a much better job of managing the Russian media. Some key Russian journalists had been kidnapped for ransom by Chechens between the wars and no longer had much sympathy for the Chechen cause.

Tactically, the Russian approach was to use overwhelming firepower to reduce losses among Russian troops, though this naturally increased civilian casualties. Standard tactics involved using artillery (quicker to respond than aviation) to pulverize suspected Chechen strongholds before ground troops approached. This extended to the use of fuel-air explosives in built-up areas. Groznyi, which had been badly damaged during the first war, was leveled in the second. For all these improvements, the Chechen conflict is still not over. At a cost of perhaps 25,000- 30,000 Russian soldiers dead, and 100,000 or more Chechens, any stability in Chechnya under Moscow-backed Chechens is exceedingly fragile. Horrific terrorist attacks continue, within Chechnya and outside it.

SECOND CHECHEN WAR

This pattern can be generally applied to Putin’s presidency, and the specific case of the Russian military. Putin has brought with him the perception of decisive action, stability, and competence. The question, with regard to Chechnya, economic reform, or the Russian military, is whether that perception is matched by reality or is only a well-crafted image. As Russia’s economy is propped up by lucrative oil and gas revenues, and Russia’s independent media are gradually brought under Kremlin control, the difference between reality and illusion is increasingly difficult to determine.

06/8/14

Normandy 1944: the RAF’s and USAF’s Story

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As a successor to the Hurricane, Hawkers had designed the Typhoon around the massive 24-cylinder Napier Sabre engine. The new fighter had a troubled gestation; engine and structural failures were all too frequent events. Although designed as a high-speed fighter, it lacked manoeuvrability, performance fell off with altitude, and at high speeds it became nose-heavy. In consequence, it was relegated to the close air support role.

If there was any campaign in WWII where conditions were perfect for airpower to demonstrate its ability to kill armour, it was in Normandy in the summer of 1944. The Allies had air supremacy (which is much more then just air superiority) and during daylight hours they could attack any target at will, with the single proviso of avoiding very nasty concentrated Flak guns. They had thousands of some of the best and most powerful ground attack aircraft available in WWII. They had virtually unlimited supplies of ammunition, fuel and huge amount of logistical ground support. Air bases were in easy range, targets were concentrated in a small front line area, and the weather could not realistically have been better.

According to the RAF, the Hawker Typhoon was the most effective ground attack and tank killing aircraft in the world in 1944, which may have been true. No fewer than 26 RAF Squadrons were equipped with Typhoons by mid-1944. These aircraft operated round the clock during the Normandy campaign operating in ‘cab rank’ formations, literately flying above the target area in circles, waiting their turn to attack. Official RAF and USAF records claim the destruction of thousands of AFVs in Normandy. There are many examples such as:

During Operation Goodwood (18th to 21st July) the 2nd Tactical Air Force and 9th USAAF claimed 257 and 134 tanks, respectively, as destroyed. Of these, 222 were claimed by Typhoon pilots using RPs (Rocket Projectiles).(2)

During the German counterattack at Mortain (7th to 10th August) the 2nd Tactical Air Force and 9th USAAF claimed to have destroyed 140 and 112 tanks, respectively.(3)

On a single day in August 1944, the RAF Typhoon pilots claimed no less than 135 tanks as destroyed.(4)

So what really happened? Unfortunately for air force pilots, there is a small unit usually entitled Research and Analysis which enters a combat area once it is secured. This is and was common in most armies, and the British Army was no different. The job of The Office of Research and Analysis was to look at the results of the tactics and weapons employed during the battle in order to determine their effectiveness (with the objective of improving future tactics and weapons).

They found that the air force’s claims did not match the reality at all. In the Goodwood area a total of 456 German heavily armoured vehicles were counted, and 301 were examined in detail. They found only 10 could be attributed to Typhoons using RPs (less than 3% of those claimed).(5) Even worse, only 3 out of 87 APC examined could be attributed to air lunched RPs. The story at Mortain was even worse. It turns out that only 177 German tanks and assault guns participated in the attack, which is 75 less tanks than claimed as destroyed! Of these 177 tanks, 46 were lost and only 9 were lost to aircraft attack.(6) This is again around 4% of those claimed. When the results of the various Normandy operations are compiled, it turns out that no more than 100 German tanks were lost in the entire campaign from hits by aircraft launched ordnance.(7) Thus on a single day in August 1944 the RAF claimed 35% more tanks destroyed than the total number of German tanks lost directly to air attack in the entire campaign!

Considering the Germans lost around 1500 tanks, tank destroyers and assault guns in the Normandy campaign, less than 7% were lost directly to air attack.(8) The greatest contributor to the great myth regarding the ability of WWII aircraft to kill tanks was, and still is, directly the result of the pilot’s massively exaggerated kill claims. The Hawker Typhoon with its cannon and up to eight rockets was (and still is in much literature) hailed as the best weapon to stop the German Tiger I tank, and has been credited with destroying dozens of these tanks in the Normandy campaign. According to the most current definitive work only 13 Tiger tanks were destroyed by direct air attack in the entire campaign.(9) Of these, seven Tigers were lost on 18th July 1944 to massive carpet bombing by high altitude heavy bombers, preceding Operation Goodwood. Thus at most only six Tigers were actually destroyed by fighter bombers in the entire campaign. It turns out the best Tiger stopper was easily the British Army’s 17pdr AT gun, with the Typhoon well down on the list.

Indeed it appears that air attacks on tank formations protected by Flak were more dangerous for the aircraft than the tanks. The 2nd Tactical Air Force lost 829 aircraft in Normandy while the 9th USAAF lost 897.(10) These losses, which ironically exceed total German tank losses in the Normandy campaign, would be almost all fighter-bombers. Altogether 4 101 Allied aircraft and 16 714 aircrew were lost over the battlefield or in support of the Normandy campaign.(11)

(2) P. Moore, Operation Goodwood, July 1944; A Corridor of Death, Helion & Company Ltd, Solihull, UK, 2007, p. 171.

(3) N. Zetterling, Normandy 1944, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc, Winnipeg, Canada, 2000, p. 38.

(4) S. Wilson, Aircraft of WWII, Aerospace Publications Pty ltd, Fyshwick, ACT, Australia, 1998, p.85.

(5) P. Moore, Operation Goodwood, July 1944; A Corridor of Death, Helion & Company Ltd, Solihull, UK, 2007, p. 171.

(6) N. Zetterling, Normandy 1944, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc, Winnipeg, Canada, 2000, pp. 38 and 52.

(7) N. Zetterling, Normandy 1944, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc, Winnipeg, Canada, 2000, p. 38.

(8) N. Zetterling, Normandy 1944, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc, Winnipeg, Canada, 2000, p. 83.

(9) C.W. Wilbeck, Sledgehammers, The Aberjona Press, Bedford, Pennsylvania, 2004, p. 131, table 4.

(10) N. Zetterling, Normandy 1944, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc, Winnipeg, Canada, 2000, p. 38. Note, these losses include losses sustained attacking vital rear areas including railroads and bridges, where the real damage to the German effort in Normandy was done. Nevertheless the majority of Fighter Bomber losses were due to Flak protecting combat units.

(11) S. Badsey, Normandy 1944, Osprey Military, London 1990, p. 85

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Air power cannot take and hold territory. The defeat of Nazi Germany demanded that the Allies invade the continent of Europe. The place selected was Normandy, the date was 6 June 1944, and the operation was called Overlord. Two essential preconditions were that army and navy invasion preparations should be concealed beforehand, and that absolute air superiority be maintained during and after the operation.

Preparations had been in hand since November of the previous year, with the formation of the 2nd Tactical Air Force RAF. This was later joined by the American 9th Air Force. As troops massed in southern England, and the invasion fleet gathered in the Channel ports, an air umbrella was thrown over the area. The Germans knew that an invasion was coming, they could guess at its timing, but with air reconnaissance made impossible, they completely failed to predict its location.

From D-Day onwards, the area of the landings and far inland was saturated with Allied fighters. For three months this intense pressure was kept up. Between 6 June and 5 September-by which time the German army was in headlong retreat-an incredible 203,357 Allied fighter sorties were flown; an average of more than 1,600 each day. After a slow start, the Luftwaffe put up 31,833 sorties during the same period. Outnumbered by more than six to one, 3,521 German aircraft were lost; an unsustainable 11%. Allied losses were a mere 516; one quarter of one percent.

At this stage of the war new fighter aces were very rare birds indeed. For the Allies, opportunities were lacking. In the period under discussion, it took nearly 58 Allied fighter sorties for each German fighter brought down. Under these circumstances, even experienced flyers had difficulty in adding to their scores.

As the tidal waves of Allied troops and armour rolled across France and up through the Low Countries, the Luftwaffe sought vainly to stem the advance in the face of overwhelming air superiority. Consequently they were generally to be found at medium and low altitudes, and this was where most combats took place. Many Allied fighter squadrons were also heavily committed to close air support and interdiction, to the disgust of many who now found their sleek Spitfires laden with bombs. However, this brought its own reward. ‘Johnnie’ Johnson’s 144 Wing discovered that bomb shackles could be adapted to carry beer barrels, and a service was laid on to keep the wing supplied.

Even at high altitudes, wing formations had been difficult to lead effectively. Lower down, in the tactical flying that now took place, they were far too cumbersome, and in addition were all too easy to spot from a distance. Most wing leaders now reverted to using single squadrons, albeit often with two or more in the same general area to give mutual assistance if the going got tough. The Luftwaffe also reverted to smaller formations than of yore, flying in Staffel strength and only rarely in Gruppen.

The ever-lengthening lines of communication made the problems of keeping such massive armies supplied too great until such time as the port of Antwerp could be opened. This was not done until early November, and the Allied offensive ground to a halt. This, coupled with worsening weather, gave the Luftwaffe a breathing space, in which the fighter arm was expanded using pilots from disbanded bomber units and re-equipped with new aircraft. At this stage the Jagdflieger was of very mixed worth; undertrained and inexperienced pilots, leavened with old stagers who were very dangerous but too few in number, equipped with fighters that were basically good, and in some cases excellent, but were only effective in the right hands. From October 1944, they were increasingly handicapped by a shortage of fuel.

Allied fighter units advanced to bases near the German border, which enabled them to range deep into Germany. From this point on, fighter operations became inextricably linked with the American long-range escort missions, even though they were not an integral part of them.

What amounted to the last throw of the Luftwaffe came at dawn on 1 January 1945, with Operation Bodenplatte. This was an all-out assault on Allied airfields on the continent by 800 or more fighters. While this destroyed almost 300 Allied aircraft, Jagdflieger losses were horrendous; many irreplaceable fighter leaders went down during this operation. The attack caused a hiatus in Allied fighter operations, the brunt of the air fighting for the next week or so being borne by the Tempests of 122 Wing, which had escaped the onslaught. The Jagdflieger never recovered. From this moment on they were encountered in the air only infrequently, though the fuel shortages meant that those met with were more than likely to be Experten. In spite of this, a handful of Allied fighter pilots managed to build up respectable scores, even though opportunities were few.

06/4/14

Japanese Armour WWII

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Some Chinese warlords and the Guomindang had a hodgepodge of tanks imported during the 1920s, notably several dozen Renault FT-17s (Model 1918). During the early 1930s, China acquired Carden Lloyd Mk VI patrol tanks, about 20 Vickers 6-ton light tanks, and several dozen Vickers medium tanks, as well as Italian L. 3/35 tankettes and German Pz-1As. The Guomindang acquired Soviet tanks and armored cars in 1938, mainly T-26s, BA-10s, and BA-20s. The United States provided some Lend-Lease Shermans to China from 1944 to 1945.

The Japanese were only marginally better off than the Chinese in terms of tank design, but they had many more tanks. Most were light or tankette types, copies of early French Renaults or British Vickers models. The standard Japanese tank from 1932 was the 10-ton Mitsubishi Type-89 Chi-Ro medium, which was basically an infantry assault vehicle mounting a small 57 mm gun. It was produced until 1942. A few Type-95 “heavy” tanks were built. The first Mitsubishi Type-97 Chi-Ha medium tank rolled off the assembly line in 1937. It weighed under 16 tons and mounted a small 57 mm gun. It became the standard Japanese model of the war. The Japanese Army also used its tanks differently. It deployed armor in “tank groups” (sensha dan) of three or more regiments of 80 tanks each. Japanese doctrine dictated that all armor act in an infantry support role, until the Japanese experienced what massed Red Army tank divisions could do at Nomonhan in 1939. It still took Japan until 1943 to deploy its first true armored division, which was sent to Manchuria and saw little to no action. Shortages of all critical materials meant that Japan only produced five light tanks in 1945. Despite improvements to Japanese tanks and doctrine, Soviet armor again rolled over the Japanese during the Manchurian offensive operation (August 1945).

The major Western Allied nations fighting in Asia used the same models built in abundance to fight Italy and Germany in Africa and Europe. The topography of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific was not generally conducive to armored warfare. The central plains of Okinawa saw more tanks used by both sides than in any other battle outside China.

With the exception of the remarkable Soviet T-34, Allied tanks, on a vehicle for vehicle basis, were generally inferior to German tanks. In the Pacific theater, however, the Allies, particularly the Americans, had the advantage. The Japanese militarists had created a formidable force in the Imperial Army, but they had largely neglected armor. As a result, they fielded only two major types of tanks, both outclassed by the American Sherman. The lack of emphasis on the tank is understandable, since the Japanese correctly envisioned fighting on Pacific jungle islands, not the open spaces of the European battlegrounds. What tank designs the military did order were light to medium, capable of being readily sealifted and landed.

Type 95 light tank (Ha-Go).

The Type 95 light tank, the Ha-Go, was developed in 1933 by Mitsubishi and was used throughout World War II. Light and durable, it could be readily landed during amphibious operations, and it performed well in the absence of roads and across marshy or monsoon- soaked ground. Its air-cooled, six-cylinder diesel performed well in Northern Manchuria as well as the Pacific jungles. Crewed by three or four, its small turret accommodated only a single man, so that, in addition to directing the driver, the commander had to load, aim, and fire the main 37-mm gun. Armor plating was very light, making the Type 95 extremely vulnerable to fire of all kinds. Although the Type 95 was a reasonable match for a U. S. M3 Stuart, it was readily outclassed by the Sherman.

Type 97 medium tank (Chi-Ha).

The Type 97 medium tank, called the Chi-Ha, went into production in 1937, just in time for use in the Sino- Japanese War. Heavier than the Type 95, it was a medium tank of reasonably advanced design, but it was too heavy for the jungle terrain of the Pacific. It therefore did not enjoy great success in that principal theater of the Pacific war. Nevertheless, Mitsubishi produced about 3,000 of the vehicles mounting a 57-mm main gun as well as specialized versions used as tank recovery vehicles, flail mine clearers, bridge layers, and self-propelled gun mounts for antiaircraft guns. Very late in the war, the Imperial Navy even installed a 120-mm gun on some Type 97s.

List of Japanese armored divisions of the Imperial Japanese Army. During World War II, the IJA only organized four divisions, these were:

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