10/16/14

Crusader Tank – British Cruiser Mark VI, A15

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Early in 1939, Nuffield Mechanization, Ltd. procured a Christie tank from the US and after studying the good and bad points produced a proposal for a heavy cruiser tank to the British Army. Nuffield proposed to use their version of the Liberty engine and gearbox, and the new tank was to be based on the previous A13 Mk. III, known as the Covenanter. This new A15 design (General Staff Specification A15) was quickly accepted by the War Office and in August of that year Nuffield received the first orders for production. This new tank was similar to the earlier A13 Cruiser but it mounted an auxiliary machine gun turret on the left bow of the hull, next to the driver. Thicker armour was installed and the hull was also lengthened; an extra pair of road wheels were added to carry the extra weight and reduce the overall ground pressure.

Initially, the Crusader armor had a maximum thickness of only 40mm, but in time a second version, the Mk. II, was produced with thicker 47mm armor. It is possible that some Mk. I vehicles were upgraded to the Mk. II armour standard with additional armour plates welded to the front of the hull and turret. Both the Crusader Mk. I and II utilized the Quick Firing 2pdr (40mm) anti-tank gun as the main weapon, along and a 7.92mm Besa machine gun in a coaxial position. Although the 6pdr anti-tank gun was brand new at that time, it was not originally planned to mount it in the Crusader because a new tank, the Cavalier, was slated to be the first with it. Due to delays with fielding the Cavalier however, Nuffield was asked to begin mounting the new 6pdr in the Crusader, and when these vehicles began rolling off the production line they had 51mm armor plating and were designated the Crusader Mk. III, delivery beginning in May of 1942. The turret crew of the Mk. I and II included a gunner to the left of the main weapon, a commander centered at the rear of the turret, and a loader to the right of the guns. This arrangement changed with the substitution of the larger 6pdr gun in the Mk. III, for then the turret only had room left for the commander/loader on the right and gunner on the left. There were major and minor differences in the exterior and interior of all three Marks. The raised driver’s hood was necessary due to the restricted space in the sloped bow area. Because of the well-sloped armour plates and the low stance of the Crusader, it looked very dangerous indeed. But, because of its thin armour and small 2pdr gun, the Crusader cruiser tank turned out not very well suited to fighting German Panzers on the deserts of North Africa. The first Crusaders (Mk. I) were delivered to British troops in the UK in late 1940/early 1941 and then arrived in Egypt with the Tiger Convoy on the 12th of May, 1941. The Mk. II versions began arriving in North Africa early in 1942, and the Mk. III Crusaders landed in the Middle East in time for the El Alamein battles in the autumn of ’42.

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10/8/14

Panzers in Action

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Tiger II (B)

The Tiger II resulted from the need to produce an even larger version of the Tiger, superior in armour and hitting power to anything the Soviets were likely to produce. Porsche and Henschel were asked to tender designs to the VK 4500 requirements, and Porsche’s first effort was simply a heavier version of his previously rejected VK 4501 design which had competed with Henschel’s VK 4501 for the Tiger I requirement. (The limited production run of VK 4501 (P) chassis has been developed into the panzerjager Tiger (P) Ferdinand as described in a previous section.) As redesigned, this chassis would have carried a 15 cm L/37 or a 10.5 cm L/70 gun. This design was discarded in favour of a much modified design, the VK 4502 (P) with re-shaped hull, and larger turret to mount the 8·8 cm L/71 which was not stipulated. Engines, electric transmission and suspension were similar to those of the VK 450 L (P). Subsequently, however, this project was cancelled, due mainly to the shortage of copper which was needed for parts of the electric transmission. At the time of cancellation turrets for the first 50 production vehicles were already in hand and these were subsequently fitted to early production Henschel vehicles.

The Henschel design VK 4503 (H) was formally ordered in January 1943, and work on this was finished in October 1943. As has been mentioned in the chapter on the Panther, the German Ministry of Production insisted that the Tiger II should incorporate as many common features and components of the projected Panther II as possible. This work, involving close co-operation between MAN and Henschel engineers, delayed completion of the Tiger II design by three months.

Production of the Tiger II started in December 1943 at Kassell on a parallel production line to the Tiger 1. The first 50 vehicles had the Porsche turret already mentioned, but all subsequent vehicles had the Henschel-designed turret intended for them. The Pz Kw VI Tiger II (Sd Kfz 182) had .the same HL 230 P 30 engine as the later production Panthers, and it weighed 68’4 tons, and had a crew of five. The road speed was about 42 kph and the cross-country speed 15-19 kph. Cruising range was up to 171 km. The Tiger II was massively armoured with 100 mm thickness on the turret front and lower hull front, 150 mm on the glacis plate, 80 mm at the sides, and 40 mm on upper surfaces. Hull layout was similar to that of the Panther, in fact, with the same radiators and engine deck fittings. Stowage for the 8·8 cm KwK 43 gun totalled 78 rounds of mixed HE, AP and Hollow Charge ammunition.

The Tiger II first went into action on the Russian Front in May 1944, and was first encountered on the Western Front by the Allies in August 1944. To the Allied troops it was known as the “Royal” or “King Tiger”, and the German nickname was the “Koenig Tiger”. The Tiger II was underpowered and mechanically unreliable, while its great bulk-it was the heaviest tank to enter service with any nation in World War II-restricted its operational use.

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The Jagdtiger B

The chassis differed from that of the Tiger II(B) battle tank only in the increased length (about 260 min), and certain unimportant track suspension changes connected with this. The structural parts were the same except for the armoured hull, whose side walls were extended so as to form the fighting compartment and provide the housing for the 12·8 cm L/55 gun. The superstructure front carried the mantlet and was made of cast steel 250 mm thick. The rear wall of the superstructure was 80 mm thick. It had a double flap door which served as an entrance and an exit and allowed access for gun maintenance. The superstructure was completed by a roof which was secured by bolts. Included in the roof were a hatch, roof ventilators, a revolving close-defence weapon and smoke equipment. The sighting equipment and vision devices were also fitted in the roof.

The fighting compartment was maintained under pressure by means of Drager apparatus.

The ammunition was of the “separate” type, projectile and charge, and 38 rounds was carried.

The gun carriage, armoured cradle, and elevating and traversing gear were all made by Krupp.

These vehicles were built at Nibelungen-Werk (Steyr-Daimler-Puch) of St. Valentin.

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The foundations on which the success of the German panzer arm was based were a clear and firm command, efficient training, and a core of experienced crews. Additional factors in its success were the tempering of commanders and crews in battle and the application of lessons learned in action.

In order to ensure success, every armored attack required thorough preparation. Briefings and exchanges of views with all participants had to be held and arrangements made with the other arms which were to provide support. All reconnaissance and intelligence information was evaluated prior to the attack.

Variations in the method of attack, flexible command in battle, deception and confusion of the enemy, the element of surprise: all were basic requirements for success. Other measures employed by armor commanders were diversionary attacks, assaults against the enemy’s flanks and rear, and the use of smoke.

Attacks against enemy tanks and antitank defenses called for the cunning of a hunter and the efficient use of terrain in their planning and execution.

Precise concentration of the panzer unit was a necessary requirement, especially when smaller or weaker units were involved. The employment of individual tanks was avoided, even on security duties, where a minimum of two vehicles was recommended. Operations at less than company strength generally led to heavy losses that were in no way comparable to the results achieved.

The timing of an armored attack was usually planned to begin as night was giving way to day, and not the reverse. Similarly, attacks were planned not to face into the sun.

Even when forced onto the defensive, tanks were to be used in an offensive manner. In this type of situation the normal assembly procedure was dispensed with, as this only presented the enemy with an opportunity to bring the assembly area under massed artillery fire.

Great pains were taken to identify mistakes made by panzer units and implement measures to avoid similar errors in the future. Two of the most common mistakes were the employment of individual tanks at the front as mobile “bunkers,” and the use of tanks as support weapons for the infantry in the role of escorts for combat patrols or as armored weapons carriers for reconnaissance purposes.

Any operation begun without a thorough scouting of the terrain and the necessary preparation carried a high risk of failure.

The independent operation of a panzer company without infantry support was generally avoided. Attacks against a prepared enemy without artillery support were usually fatal. Bunching up of the infantry behind the tanks was to be avoided, and it was vital that the infantry exploit any success by the tanks.

Another vital consideration was ensuring the availability of supply and repair facilities, so as to keep breakdowns to a minimum.

With the introduction of the Tiger heavy tank, several guidelines were added which applied only to this vehicle. Initial experience with the Tiger showed that it was no more suitable to the role of a mobile “bunker” than other tanks. Neither was it suited to strengthening the “backbone” of the infantry in the main line of resistance. The most suitable role for the Tiger was as a mobile reserve. Ideally they were held in concentration just behind the front, near the location of a likely enemy penetration. From there they launched counterattacks against penetrations by enemy forces together with grenadiers and assault guns and in close cooperation with the positional infantry and artillery.

Thanks to its outstanding weapon, the Tiger was able to engage the enemy from a great distance. Commanders who employed Tigers in situations where they could not make use of their long-ranging weapons were robbing them of their greatest advantage.

Employing its much-feared “eighty-eight,” the Tiger could pin down the enemy and provide decisive relief to the infantry. The infantry, on the other hand, kept enemy tank-killing squads away from the Tigers and provided cover during the repair of minor battle damage in the field. Pioniers cleared lanes through minefields, thus assuring a rapid advance.

The assignment of Tigers to rearguard duties was not recommended. It was always difficult, if not impossible, to recover damaged or broken-down machines under pressure from the enemy.

Whenever possible, Tigers were to be transported to the front by rail. In doing so they arrived at the front fully fueled and armed, ready to be used as a mobile reserve.

The rules concerning preparation were even more vital when a Tiger unit was concerned. Due to the vehicle’s great weight, thorough scouting of the terrain was vital. As with other tanks, swamps and streams were impassable obstacles. The commander of a Tiger unit had to brief his subordinates and tank commanders thoroughly. Any overhasty operation might lead to the loss or partial destruction of one or more of the heavy tanks, which were always in short supply and therefore especially valuable.

Tiger commanders were trained to withdraw or turn away immediately upon encountering a minefield, antitank ditch, or other obstacle. Remaining stationary only presented the tanks as “sitting ducks” and served no useful purpose.