Operation PLUNDER (Rhine River Crossing Operations)

Buffalo crossing the Rhine during PLUNDER, laden with British civilian and military leaders.

By March 1945, Allied forces were staged all along the west bank of the Rhine, prepared for one last, deep thrust into the heart of Germany. The Rhine River crossings, code-named PLUNDER by the British, were deliberately planned, rehearsed and executed, second only in scale to the Normandy landings. Through its training wings the 79th made intense efforts to train and rehearse Buffalo and DD-tank crews, in concert with the units to be supported. Maintenance of equipment was equally a concern, as many of the Sherman DDs had to be refitted with floatation gear that had long ago been discarded, or had fallen into disrepair. SHAEF message traffic from the period indicates that DD-tank maintenance status was also a concern for the U.S. command. Messages relayed between the War Department and the Army Group commanders (through Eisenhower) suggest a serious lack of visibility on not only DD-tank maintenance status, but questions how many of these tanks were still out in the field. It was also noted that repair parts and spares were lacking, and that Americans would have to rely on British holdings to get most of the U.S. DD-tank fleet operational.

These tanks were critical to both forces, especially for the British as their plan was similar to D-Day in that DD-tanks would lead the assault forces. Instead of Crabs and AVREs, Buffaloes would be the key piece of specialized armor provided by the division, as they would ferry waves of assaulting infantry to the far bank. On the night of 23 March, units marshaled and loaded Buffaloes as the assault across the river commenced.

As the assault unfolded, DD-tanks succeeded in crossing in great numbers, though some became bogged down on the muddy eastern embankments. The tank crews were able to accomplish their mission and provide direct fire support to the follow-on infantry force. It was during the night crossing that another “funny” would finally be employed, the CDL tank. The plan called for a CDL-equipped squadron to light the far bank during night operations on 24 and 25 March. The powerful lights would not only assist units as they ferried across the wide river, they would also deter mine and sabotage swimmer threats along the upstream (north) approach. These tanks became favorite targets of German gunners, although only one tank would be lost in action. In the end the CDL squadron successfully accomplished its unique mission, and could finally claim they had contributed to the division’s legacy.

From 24-26 March the four Buffalo-equipped regiments tasked with ferrying infantry made over 3800 trips, carrying most of the fighting soldiers of the Highland, 3rd Canadian, 43rd and 15th (Scottish) Divisions across the Rhine. This was accomplished with only thirty-eight casualties and nine destroyed Buffaloes. On 26 March, Prime Minister Churchill and Field Marshal Alan Brooke accompanied Field Marshal Montgomery and General Hobart across the Rhine in a Buffalo. Churchill addressed the men assembled, congratulating the Buffalo crews on a “splendid job of work.” It had been a monumental task, flawlessly executed.

The assault across the Rhine was the largest operation the 79th would conduct following OVERLORD, and certainly the most important too. The instructional wing concept had shown itself worthy of the investment of time, men and materiel. DD-tanks had once again proven their value in an amphibious assault, with much credit due the REME units for getting the tanks back into a mission capable status. The concept for the use of Buffaloes was also found to be sound, and the engineer squadrons that manned them deemed as capable at their employment as they had been the AVRE. Finally, CDL tanks had even provided a significant, although limited, contribution.

The 79th Division’s success during OVERLORD and on these subsequent operations through late 1944 and early 1945 would pique interest elsewhere. AVREs, ARKs and Crocodiles were all used in the Italian campaign beginning around August 1944. Use of ARKs and AVREs would steadily increase as they were found to be effective in supporting the numerous stream and gap crossings being conducted. An armored engineer brigade was organized in theater, consisting of two AVRE regiments, a Crocodile regiment, and a Crab regiment.

The U.S. Army also attempted to establish specialist armor units in northwest Europe. Three such specialist battalions were organized, the intent being an allocation of one battalion per Army. The units’ primary mission was to conduct mine and obstacle clearance, and to provide support to Corps and Divisions on request through the numbered Army staffs. Each battalion was to be outfitted with five tankdozers, eight rolling mine exploders (U.S. variants of the CIRD), three Crabs, and an undetermined number of Snakes. The mine exploders were never favorably received due to maneuverability limitations and a demonstrated inefficiency at the core task, exploding mines. These units saw limited action and were therefore not effective.

A key reason for continued British success in employing specialized armor, and a reason why the Americans continued to struggle, was that a purpose-built unit had maintained the strong thread of training and development begun well prior to the campaign’s commencement. From the beginning British leaders had agreed that the division was a required investment to help ensure success. The U.S. Army followed a much less structured, decentralized approach in its efforts, and as such often struggled to meet the needs of units through rapid, well synchronized combat developments.

The U.S. Army also lacked a leader, or leaders, that possessed the necessary experience, attitude and vision to shepherd these innovations. The strong-willed, yet highly capable Hobart was such an individual, and he built a cadre of like-minded officers that would be equally critical factors in the division’s success. As Montgomery noted in a post-war lecture, Hobart and his “competent advisors” enabled the success of this huge task in that, “It was found that centralization under him was essential in order to achieve flexibility and provide a controlled programme of workshops overhaul, rest and relief.” The strong influence of the 79th Division in the development and use of specialized armor had proven itself worthy of the investment.

The end of hostilities in Germany marked the end of the 79th Armoured Division. The division would disband, with its subunits to be parceled out to other British Army formations in various theaters. The division had acquitted itself well in its brief existence, accomplishing a great deal in terms of equipment, organizational and tactical developments. Units from the division participated in every 21 Army Group operation from Normandy onward, usually in the van of each assault, and had done so with the relatively modest losses of 379 tanks (approximately twenty-five percent of the frontline total) and just under 1500 soldiers killed, wounded or missing (approximately seven percent of the divisional strength at its high point). Perhaps the greatest contribution of the division (other than the myriad of armored vehicles in the inventory) would be in the detailed after action reports that would serve as the basis for future doctrinal and technical developments.

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Lord of the Blitzkrieg I

Poland

A few Panzer IIIs, largely the early models though including some Ausf E, had their baptism of fire in Poland in 1939. ‘In this campaign the quality of our materiel left much to be desired,’ wrote Major-General Friedrich von Mellenthin. ‘We only had a few Mark IVs with low velocity 75mm guns, some Mark IIIs carrying the unsatisfactory 37mm, and the bulk of our armoured strength was made up of Mark IIs carrying only a heavy machine gun.’

Guderian, by now a corps commander, insisted the Panzer Lehr Battalion that had the new Panzer III and IV be included in his 19th Corps for the invasion of Poland. This was a training unit but he was determined that they test out their panzers and tactical theories under combat conditions. Because both tanks were armed with shortbarrelled guns, they offered an indifferent anti-tank capability. Fortunately for the Germans, the Polish Army’s own tanks were little more than reconnaissance vehicles, making the panzers shortcomings of little significance.

Hitler visited Guderian in Poland to find out how the new panzers had performed. Guderian informed the Führer that their speed was fine but they needed better armour and guns. ‘I told him,’ wrote Guderian ‘that the most important thing now was to hasten the delivery of the Panzer III and IV to the fighting troops and to increase production of these tanks’, points which Hitler took on board. It was shortly after the Polish campaign came to an end that the Panzer III and IV were accepted as the standard equipment of all the tank battalions.

France

At the start of the campaign in the West in May 1940 a total of 349 Panzer IIIs and 278 Panzer IVs formed the core of the attack. There were also thirty-nine Panzer III command vehicles supporting them. Hitler fielded an overall force of 2,574 tanks. In France the Panzer III proved inadequate against the heavier British and French tanks. The Germans’ ready solution to this was using their flak guns in an anti-tank role and calling on their heavy artillery and dive bombers to deliver high explosives. Rommel was to repeat this highly successful tactic in North Africa.

In contrast, some 3,200 panzers were ready for the invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 with a high proportion of this number being Mk IIIs. By this point the 50mm gun had been introduce into the Panzer III, with the progressive replacement of the 37mm gun in existing vehicles, and as the standard weapon of the new ones being built from the latter part of 1940 onwards.

During the invasion of France, whilst commanding the 7th Panzer Division, Rommel became only too familiar with the capabilities of the Panzer III and IV. He almost lost his life in a Mk III. For the breakthrough on the River Meuse he directed operations from inside one. He does not relate whether he replaced the tank commander or whether he and the five crew were all squeezed into the tank together. Once on the move, his Panzer III was hit twice, once on the upper edge of the turret and once in the periscope. A splinter from the shell that hit the periscope wounded Rommel in the right cheek and he bled profusely. He could have lost an eye or even been killed. Trying to evade French artillery and anti-tank fire, the driver accidently slid the tank down a steep bank, where it became stuck on its side and dangerously exposed. Unable to rotate the turret, Rommel and the crew bailed out and only just escaped to safety. Rommel also briefly employed a Panzer III as an escort for his command vehicle at Le Câteau until it suffered mechanical problems. At Arras his tanks received a nasty surprise at the hands of the British Matildas. Rommel lost six Panzer IIIs and three Panzer IVs, but quickly restored the situation by deploying his artillery to support his tanks.

Had Operation Sealion and the invasion of England taken place, the Panzer III would have played a prominent role. Ultimately though, getting the panzers ashore was an insurmountable problem at the time. The war correspondent and historian Chester Wilmot observed that ‘the Germans would not have been able to land tanks in large numbers until they had captured and opened ports on the southeast coast. At the end of August [1940] the Wehrmacht had available for landing from the sea only 42 Mark IVs and 168 Mark IIIs.’ It was simply not enough.

North Africa

The Panzer III was the most widely-deployed German tank spearheading Rommel’s operations in North Africa, outnumbering the Panzer IIs and IVs by two to one. Until early 1942 the most potent versions available were the Ausf F, G and H with the 50mm L/42 gun. This was capable of penetrating 45mm of homogenous armour plate sloped at 60° at its effective range of 750 yards

The 5th Light Division’s (later 21st Panzer) 5th Panzer Regiment began landing in Tripoli in mid-February 1941, bringing with it an official tank strength of 165, comprising seventy Panzer I and IIs, seventy-five Panzer IIIs and twenty Panzer IVs. Beforehand, the division suffered a mishap in Naples where a cargo ship caught fire and sank with the loss of ten Panzer IIIs and three Panzer IVs. Rommel was fortunate to get the rest ashore unscathed, as shortly afterwards the RAF bombed Tripoli. In one attack on the harbour an ammunition ship was hit and exploded, destroying an entire block of buildings. This good fortune was of Rommel’s own making as he had insisted the tanks be unloaded during the night.

The replacements for the 5th Panzer Regiment did not reach them until the end of April. The 15th Panzer Division’s 8th Panzer Regiment was shipped to Libya in three convoys between 25 April and 6 May 1941. This unit initially fielded 146 tanks, comprising forty-five Panzer II, seventy-one Panzer III, twenty Panzer IV and ten command tanks.

The Panzer IIIs’ first role in Tripoli was to take part in a show of force and an act of duplicity on 15 February 1941. Rommel instructed ‘The moment every panzer is unloaded, the German 5th Panzer Regiment and the tanks of the Italian Ariete Division will parade in a fashion that will not escape the attention of, first the Italian civil population, and second the enemy’s spies. . . . On completion of the paraded the regiment will immediately proceed to the front . . .’

When the parade commenced having rolled down the main street they turned into a side street and circled back to create the impression that there were more panzers than there really were. Lieutenant Heinz Schmidt, who was on Rommel’s staff, was highly amused by the subterfuge when he realized one of the tanks ‘somehow looked familiar to me although I had not previously seen its driver. Only then did the penny drop, as the Tommies say, and I could not help grinning. Still more panzers passed, squeaking and creaking round that bend.’

German observers were disappointed by the Italian crowd’s complete lack of enthusiasm and utter silence. Tripoli’s officials cannot have been pleased that the panzers’ tracks were chewing up the road surface. It was only when the slower moving Ariete Division appeared that they began to cheer. The British, on the other hand, were suitably alarmed by the news of Rommel’s arrival.

Initially the Panzer III’s chief opponent in North Africa was the British Cruiser Mk IV (A13 Mk II), armed with the 2-pounder (40mm) gun capable of piercing 40mm of armour at the same range as the L/42. As neither tank had armour in excess of 30mm and as both had comparable speeds, they were largely evenly matched. Rommel was impressed by the Cruiser Mk VI Crusader which appeared in June 1941 as it was better armoured and much faster. Once again, however, it was only armed with the 2-pounder gun and at first proved very mechanically unreliable. It was later upgunned with a 6-pounder (57mm) gun.

Rommel’s Panzer III crews were photographed in the desert wearing a tropical sun helmet, called the Tropische Kopfbedeckung, which was issued to the Afrika Korps in early 1941. This was stowed on the outside of the turret because it was simply not practical to wear it inside the tank. Not surprisingly the crews soon abandoned them in favour of the more comfortable field cap and even captured South African Army sun helmets that were smaller (though they still ended up hung on the outside of the turret).

To fend off the British summer offensive in 1941, Rommel only had ninety-five Panzer IIIs and IVs. By the time of Operation Crusader, launched by the British on 18 November 1941, he could muster about 139 Panzer IIIs, but half of them were still armed with the 37mm gun, and just thirty-five Panzer IVs.

Views on the Panzer III’s performance differed greatly on either side. Mellenthin, who served as a staff officer with the Afrika Korps, recalled:

The Mark III used by the Panzergruppe in the Crusader battle only mounted a low-velocity 50mm gun, which British experts now admit had no advantage over their 2-pounder gun. Nor did we have any advantage in the thickness of armour. The British heavy infantry tanks – Matilda and Valentine – completely outclassed us in that respect, and even the Crusaders and Stuarts were better protected than our Mark III. For example the maximum basic armour of the Mark III in the Crusader battle was 30mm, while the Crusader nose and hull fronts were protected by 47mm, and the Stuart had 44mm protection there.

Interestingly, after talking to a British tank commander, the war correspondent Alexander Clifford took a very different view:

The Mark IIIs and Mark IVs both had more fire-power than anything we had got. We found ourselves up against the Mark IIIs’ 50mm guns firing four-and-a-halfpound shells and the Mark IVs’ definitely heavier type. It was like pitting destroyers against cruisers. It meant that the British had to start every battle with a sprint of half a mile under fire before they could fire back.

He calculated that 100 panzers could claim thirty British tanks before they could even get in range to engage. ‘It was absurd to pit British and American tanks with their 37mm guns against the Mark IIIs with their 50mm and the Mark IVs with their 75mm weapons and pretend that the terms were equal,’ concluded Clifford. ‘To do so was grossly unfair to our armoured brigades.’

Lord of the Blitzkrieg II

From the end of 1941 the next generation of Panzer III began entering service in North Africa. This was the improved Ausf J dubbed the ‘Mk III Special’ by the British. It was armed with the 50mm L/60 which could penetrate almost 54mm of armour at 900 yards; it could achieve a velocity of up to 3,930 feet per second that enabled it to engage most British tanks with success beyond 1,000 yards. This made it considerably superior to the British 2-pounder. From April 1942 spaced armour 20mm thick was also fitted to the gun mantlet and hull front of the Panzer III including those deployed to North Africa. This advantage was nullified by the 75mm gun on the American supplied Grant and Sherman tanks.

German intelligence on the arrival of the Grant prior to the Gazala battles was good. Mellenthin recalled that in May 1942:

Moreover the [British] 8th Army now had about 200 American Grant tanks, mounting the 75mm gun. These outclassed the 220 Mark IIIs which made up the bulk of our armoured strength, and the only tanks we had to compete with them were 19 Mark III Specials with high velocity 50mm guns. . . . The Panzerarmee also had four Mark IV Specials but these had no ammunition at the beginning of the battle.

Before the Shermans arrived, General Brian Horrocks recalled how grateful they were for the Grant. ‘These were the only tanks which could compete with the German Mk IIIs and IVs; they were known, in fact, as the ELH. Egypt’s Last Hope . . .

Unsurprisingly, British tank crews found it difficult to tell the Panzer III and IV apart at any distance due to their similar appear in terms of shape and general layout. The only give away was the Panzer IV’s stubby 75mm gun but by the time that was visible a tank commander was in trouble. For example, tanker B. H. Milner, who was a 75mm gunner, recalled in late October 1942 ‘I scored one direct hit on a Mk III or Mk IV and put it out of action and put down some very near shots on other tanks and transport. I had a shot at an 88 at long range, but didn’t wait to see if I was successful.’

In terms of firepower Rommel had to rely on his towed and self-propelled antitank guns plus the upgunned Panzer IV F2. Even after his defeat at El Alamein and subsequent long retreat, the Panzer III continued to support Rommel’s operations. During the battle of Tebourba fought in Tunisia at the beginning of December 1942 Captain Helmut Hudel commanded a battlegroup of forty tanks from a Panzer III Ausf N. During the same engagement, Group Djedeida included two Tigers supported by three Panzer IIIs. An abandoned Panzer III Ausf L belonging to the 15th Panzer Division was photographed with a dead crew member at Mareth in Tunisia, following the fighting there in late March 1943 just before the German surrender. By this point the division had only ten tanks left.

Russia

Hitler massed seventeen panzer divisions on the border with the Soviet Union ready for Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. Eleven of these were issued with the Panzer III and six with the Czech-built 38(t). Despite the previous production problems, every light armoured company had its full complement of seventeen Panzer IIIs. This meant that including regimental and detachment level headquarters Hitler had a total of 960 Panzer III Ausf E to J (he also had 438 Panzer IVs).

The Panzer III and IV could only fight the new Soviet T-34 and KV-1 tanks at very close range, but the latter were initially available in only limited numbers. In contrast the more numerous obsolete Soviet light tanks proved a different matter and were destroyed wholesale. During the winter of 1941 as the T-34 became more abundant, the Soviet 76.2mm tank gun showed just how inadequate the main armament was on both the Panzer III and IV. This and experiences in North Africa made it imperative to upgun both tanks.

By late June 1942, at the start of his summer offensive on the Eastern Front, Hitler had about 600 Panzer IIIs with the 50mm L/60 gun. At the end of the year the Panzer III played a prominent part in the failure to rescue the German 6th Army trapped at Stalingrad. When the 57th Panzer Corps launched its attack on 12 December 1942 to try and relieve Stalingrad, the weak 6th Panzer Division had sixty-three Panzer IIIs, twenty-three Panzer IVs and seven command vehicles, whilst elements of the 23rd Panzer Division had forty-six Panzer IIIs and eleven Panzer IVs. They were unable to cut their way through the Red Army.

The following summer, although the Panzer III had lost its effectiveness as a tank-versus-tank weapon, there were still 432 with the 50mm L/60, 155 with the 75mm L/24 and forty-one Panzer III flamethrowers with Army Groups Centre and South at the start of the Kursk offensive. As a result all the Army’s panzer and panzergrenadier divisions as well as the Waffen-SS SS panzergrenadier divisions fielded quite large numbers of Panzer IIIs. For example, 4th Panzer with Army Group Centre had forty while the 11th Panzergrenadier Division with Army Group South had fifty.

The Battle of Kursk marked the swan-song of the Panzer III. Predictably, losses were high and production of the Panzer III as a gun tank was subsequently stopped. In Sicily to try and fend off Operation Husky, Panzer Division Hermann Göring and 15th Panzergrenadier Division mustered forty-nine Panzer IIIs, constituting about a third of the German tank force on the island.

Normandy

Although superseded by the Panzer IV and Panther, remarkably some Panzer IIIs were encountered by the Allies in Normandy in 1944. In particular the Panzerbefehlswagen radio command vehicles continued to be of service with the panzer divisions. The headquarters units of the 21st Panzer Division’s 22nd Panzer Regiment had two Panzer III command vehicles and four Panzer III gun tanks.

When the 116th Panzer Division Windhund deployed to Normandy in July 1944, its armoured units included about ten Panzer IIIs (consisting of seven tanks with the long-barrelled 50mm L/60 and three with the short-barrelled version – the latter were F models) and six StuG IIIs. Some of these vehicles were largely considered cast-offs and were due to be issued to other units.

The Waffen-SS also retained some Panzer IIIs in Normandy. For example, the 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg had three Panzer III command vehicles on its books. Only a very few Bergepanzer IIIs served with some of the panzer regiments in Normandy. These included the 9th SS Panzer Division as well as the 2nd and 116th Panzer Divisions.

Norway

When German forces surrendered in Norway at the end of the war, their tank units included Panzer IIIs with 50mm and 75mm guns that had been relegated to garrison duty. Ausf Ns seized in Norway were late-production models with Schürzen and single-piece hatch covers. In total the Norwegians ended up with over thirty Panzer IIIs and StuG IIIs, some of which were repaired and used for airfield defence for a time.

German Exports

Hitler’s allies received very limited numbers of German-built tanks and these included a few Panzer IIIs. Hungary took delivery of just ten and Romania eleven in 1942. The following year Bulgaria received ten and Italy twelve. These along with deliveries of StuG IIIs, Panzer IVs and 38(t)s made very little difference to the Axis’s struggling war effort.

Most Prolific Panzer

In November 1940 the production target for the Panzer III was set at 108 per month. After the attack on the Soviet Union and the decision to increase the Panzerwaffe to thirty-six panzer divisions, it was decided that 7,992 Panzer IIIs were required. This target was never met, with around 6,100 produced, compared to 8,500 Panzer IVs, almost 6,000 Panzer Vs (Panthers) and 1,800 Panzer VIs (Tiger Is and IIs). However, about 10,300 Panzer III chassis were given over to assault-gun production. This means well over 16,400 Panzer III and its variants were built compared to 13,400 Panzer IV and variants. This clearly made the Panzer III Hitler’s beast of burden when it came to the Panzerwaffe, even if the Panzer IV did prove to be the best German gun tank of the Second World War.

Belgium 1940 Armour

M39 Pantserwagen: When the Battle of the Netherlands started on 10 May 1940, of the twelve vehicles manufactured, four were in Eindhoven with DAF, eight at Delft; of the last, two were still lacking their main armament and none were fully completed, though some had been equipped with machine-guns. No crews were fully trained. The base at Delft, in between the Dutch seat of government The Hague and the port of Rotterdam, had been seen as a safe rear-area location at the very heart of the Dutch National Redoubt, the Fortress Holland. On the early morning of 10 May however, these two major cities were assaulted by German parachutists and airborne troops attempting to capture the Dutch government. The attack did not come as a total surprise; as it had been feared that a German invasion was imminent, Supreme Command had ordered several security measures on 8 May, among which the formation of a small cavalry security force from Delft depot units, the Depotdetachement Bewakingstroepen Cavalerie, to guard The Hague, to which a DAF M39 platoon was added. In the night of 9–10 May, these three M39s were parked at a base in The Hague. As another base in the city had already been bombed, the cars were on 10 May initially ordered to seek cover from aerial observation in the Haagse Bos, a park.

The German attempt to seize The Hague failed, partly because Landsverk armoured cars destroyed many Ju-52 transport planes and thereby blocked the runway of the main city airfield, Ypenburg. As a result the next waves of planes landed on meadows and roads, dispersing the airborne troops into many small groups which, unable to be reinforced, in the following days tried to break out towards Rotterdam, the southern part of which city was firmly in German hands. In the confused situation the platoon in the afternoon of 10 May was ordered to convoy a munition truck to Delft. At a Dutch roadblock the commander of one car was killed, both sides mistaking each other for Germans. Finally arriving in Delft, two of the armoured cars were in the late afternoon ordered to support an advance of some depot companies to the south, in the direction of Rotterdam, that soon was blocked by enemy fire. Lacking bulletproof tyres, the cars were held back, only supporting the troops by shelling enemy positions at a distance. Though this was forbidden, one of the cars fired shells in a nine o’clock or three o’clock position of the turret; the lateral recoil forces distorted the front wheel suspension so severely that the car could no longer be steered. Repair proving impossible, the vehicle was, somewhat prematurely, on 11 May destroyed by its own crew to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. Later that evening the second car also showed a defect, probably a main armament malfunction, causing it to be withdrawn the next day to the base. In the same evening of 10 May the third car, III-2203, that experimentally had been fitted with bulletproof Michelin tyres, positioned itself on the southern edge of Delft, without making enemy contact, but in vain trying to shoot down a low-flying German aircraft with the main gun.

On 11 May III-2203 was ordered to support an advance over the Delft-Rotterdam highway. At first this met little enemy resistance, the main problem being that the car was fired upon by a fighter aircraft that the vehicle commander recognised as a Dutch Fokker G.1. Then several Junkers Ju 52s were encountered, that had landed on the road and were now used by the German airborne troops as cover in the open polder landscape. Of one undamaged plane the DAF M39 shot off the engine; another, stuck in a ditch, was put on fire by some 37 mm HE-shells, fired at distance. The fire generated an enormous black smoke cloud, forcing the armoured car to break off the attack. The armour of the car during the action easily deflected enemy machine-gun rounds. By noon most of the Dutch infantry was withdrawn to rest and eat; during the afternoon the armoured car again made a probing attack against the cluster of Ju 52s. The commander decided to hold his fire and approached within forty metres of the enemy position, to provoke a reaction. Suddenly the vehicle was hit from all sides by a hail of bullets, some of these penetrated the thinner turret armour. Now responding with its main gun and hull machine-gun the M39 forced the Germans to take cover, but the gunner suddenly reported: “I am wounded” and sagged bleeding to the floor of the fighting compartment. The car drove back to the Dutch positions to seek medical assistance for the gunner, who was hospitalised. At a civil garage in Delft some brake malfunction was repaired. Most ammunition had been expended.

On 12 May the commander of III-2203 discovered that all trained crews had been moved to The Hague. Most of that day and the morning of 13 May were used to find a truck and fetch a replacement gunner and new munition from The Hague. In the afternoon the vehicle protected the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division at Rijswijk. On 14 May the car supported an attempt to eliminate the largest remaining pocket of German airborne troops, that had gathered around Major-General Hans Graf von Sponeck at Overschie, together with a Landsverk M38 armoured car from 2e Eskadron Pantserwagens. During the advance the clutch of III-2203 malfunctioned and the car returned to Delft for repairs. Rejoining the fight in the afternoon, III-2003 first took a civilian, fled from the village, on-board to point out the exact German positions. Shortly afterwards the attacking Dutch troops witnessed the devastating bombardment of Rotterdam, just south of Overschie. Continuing to advance nevertheless, the two armoured cars were suddenly hit by antitank rifle fire and returned to the Dutch lines. It transpired that the M39 had been penetrated twice low in the side hull armour, without the projectiles doing any damage or even being noticed; a third round had been stopped by the thin strip of reinforcing steel around the turret base that doubled the normal armour thickness. Rotterdam capitulating as a result of the carpet bombing, III-2203 was withdrawn to The Hague.

In The Hague also the five DAF M39s were present, two of them without main armament that had not been used in the Depotdetachement Bewakingstroepen Cavalerie. In the morning of 10 May these vehicles had been readied and then moved to the headquarters of the Commander Fortress Holland. In the subsequent days they had remained in the city, sometimes patrolling the streets or responding to the many false alarms about presumed Fifth Column activities. In one incident, on 11 May, a M39 had set fire to some railway wagons where, probably groundlessly, German paratroopers were suspected to have hidden.

Fearing a further destruction of the Dutch cities, the Dutch supreme commander Henri Winkelman at 16:50 ordered his troops to destroy their equipment and then surrender themselves to the Germans. In the evening of 14 May it was accordingly attempted to disable some DAF M39s by driving them into the sea at Scheveningen. Two vehicles indeed reached the waves, a third got stuck on the boulevard stairway to the beach.

Besides the eight cars at Delft, on 10 May four M39s were present in the DAF factory at Eindhoven. In the morning Wim van Doorne, the brother of Hub, phoned the military authorities in The Hague to remind them of this fact, because the German invaders might soon overrun the area. He was advised to contact the military commander of the forces in North Brabant province. The latter asked DAF to drive the cars to Vught, where they were transferred to the 4e Compagnie Korps Motordienst, a motorisation unit of his main force, the Peeldivisie, that would remain in the province. As a result the vehicles were not evacuated to the Fortress Holland. A persistent story that the M39s had tried to reach the North but were blocked by the German paratroopers having captured the bridges at Moerdijk is thus likely apocryphal. Probably the armoured cars accompanied the Peeldivisie staff to Princenhage near Breda in the night of 10–11 May. Lacking full crews or munition they were apparently later abandoned in the west of the province when the remnants of the division withdrew to Zealand on 13 and 14 May.

Vickers-Armstrong Utility Tractor: These tractors were manufactured under license from Vickers-Armstrong by the Belgian company Familleheureux in two version, infantry and cavalry.

Renault FT: 1920-2 Two-man light tank Seventy-five vehicles acquired. Armed with either a 37mm gun or MG.

Carden-Lloyd M1934: 1935 Two-man light tank Forty-two vehicles acquired — High conical turret — Armed in Belgium with a 13.2mm Hotchkiss air-cooled MG Belgian designation: T15 France

AMC-35 (ACGI): 1937 Three-man medium tank Twelve vehicles acquired — Fitted with a Belgian-made turret housing a 47mm A/Tk gun and a 13.2mm MG. Belgian designation: Auto-mitrailleuse du Corps de Cavalerie

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The Development Of The Panther Tank Part I

The MAN design embodied more a conventional configuration, with the transmission and drive sprocket in the front and a centrally mounted turret. It had a petrol engine and eight torsion-bar suspension axles per side. Because of the torsion bar suspension and the drive shaft running under the turret basket, the MAN Panther was higher and had a wider hull than the DB design. The Henschel firm’s design concepts for their Tiger I tank’s suspension/drive components, using its characteristic Schachtellaufwerk format – large, overlapping, interleaved road wheels with a “slack-track” using no return rollers for the upper run of track, also features shared with almost all German military half-track designs since the late 1930s – were repeated with the MAN design for the Panther. These multiple large, rubber-rimmed steel wheels distributed ground pressure more evenly across the track. The MAN proposal also complemented Rheinmetall’s already designed turret modified from that of the VK 45.01 (H), and used a virtually identical Maybach V12 engine to the Tiger I heavy tank’s Maybach HL230 powerplant model.

The DB design resembled the T-34 in its hull and turret and was also to be powered by a diesel engine. It was also driven from the rear drive sprocket with the turret situated forward. The incorporation of a diesel engine promised increased operational range, reduced flammability and allowed for more efficient use of petroleum reserves. Hitler himself considered a diesel engine imperative for the new tank. DB’s proposal used an external leaf spring suspension, in contrast to the MAN proposal of twin torsion bars. Wa Pruef 6’s opinion was that the leaf spring suspension was a disadvantage and that using torsion bars would allow greater internal hull width. It also opposed the rear drive because of the potential for track fouling. Daimler Benz still preferred the leaf springs over a torsion bar suspension as it resulted in a silhouette about 200 mm (7.9 in) shorter and rendered complex shock absorbers unnecessary. The employment of a rear drive provided additional crew space and also allowed for a better slope on the front hull, which was considered important in preventing penetration by armour-piercing shells.

The development of the Panther was spurred by the appearance of the Russian T-34 tank in July of 1941, and until then, the German Army High Command saw no reason to develop a heavier tank. During the peacetime years the German Army looked at a few drawings for heavier tanks, but none had ever made it past the design of a prototype stage. The T-34 changed the German way of thinking. The Germans found that the T-34 was superior in almost every way to the current Panzerkampfwagen (PzKpfw) IV. The T-34’s higher power-to-weight ratio, lower ground pressure, higher muzzle velocity, and greater range was enough to shatter the idea of German armor superiority. The problem for the Germans was much greater than mere pride. The panzerwaffe was desperate to continue the fight against the Russians, but it needed superior equipment. Without this superior equipment, the clear decisive victory over the Soviets was in danger. If the panzertruppen were surprised and shaken by the appearance of the T-34, the German command was more surprised that the Russians could produce a tank superior to the PzKpfw IV in such a short period of time. In fact the Germans had enjoyed such success with their medium tanks from 1939 to 1941 that they had put plans for a heavier tank on the shelf. The T-34 made the Germans realize the error of their ways.

To get a first-hand look at the strengths of the T-34, the Germans sent a team to evaluate the situation and send back recommendations to the Ministry of Armaments. This team was composed of representatives from the Army Ordnance Office, the armaments industry, tank designers and tank building firms. They visited the 2nd Panzer Army in November of 1941. The team examined captured T-34s and talked with panzer troops to get their insights from doing battle against the Russian tank. The great respect the troops had for the Russian tank was evident when they suggested that the evaluation team take the T-34 back to Germany and copy it bolt for bolt. This was a high compliment to the Russian tank building industry, but it was not the German way. Germany would design and build its own tank that would be superior to anything the Russians would build.

At the time of the team’s visit, the 2nd Panzer Army was commanded by General Heinz Guderian. He too acknowledged that officers in the 2nd Army thought that just copying the T-34 was the thing to do. General Guderian pointed out several production and material reasons why this could not happen. He stated that,

“It was not the designers natural pride in their own inventions, but rather because it would not be possible to mass produce essential elements of the T-34-in particular the aluminum diesel engines-with the necessary speed. Also, so far as steel alloys went, we were at a disadvantage compared to the Russians owing to our shortage of raw materials. It was, therefore, decided that the following solution be adopted: the construction of the Tiger Tank, a tank of some 60 tons, which had recently been started would continue: meanwhile, a light tank, called the Panther, weighing between 35 and 45 tons, was to be designed.”

As early as spring of 1941 some Germans must have had a premonition that the Russians had the edge on them in tank technology. Guderian mentioned that Russian delegation had visited German tank production facilities, and as he related it, he (Guderian),

“. was quite startled, however, by an unusual event in connection with the tank in question (PzKpfw IV). In the spring of 1941 Hitler had given his express permission that a Russian officer’s commission be permitted to visit our tank training schools and armor production facilities, and had ordered that the Russians be allowed to see everything. During this visit, the Russians, when shown our Panzer IV, simply refused to believe that this vehicle was our heaviest tank. They repeatedly claimed that we were keeping our newest design from them, which Hitler had promised to demonstrate. The commission’s insistence was so great that our manufacturers and officials in the Waffenamt finally concluded that the Russians had heavier and better types than we did. The T-34 which appeared on our front lines at the end of July 1941 revealed the new Russian design to us .”

Once it was clear that there was a need for a new tank, the design and production of the Panther went forward. Two designs were considered for production. The first design was submitted by the Daimler-Benz (BD) company. This design resembled the T-34. The weight of the BD design was about 39 tons, roughly the same as the T-34 and this tank would mount a 75mm gun. The second design was from the Maschinenfabrik AugsburgNürmberg (MAN) company. This tank would be heavier, weighing 49 tons and also mounting a 75mm gun, but this gun would have a longer barrel giving it a higher muzzle velocity. Both designs copied some features of the T-34 such as wide tracks and the sloped armor. Both also used interleaved road wheels mounted on torsion bars. A Panther committee headed by representatives from the Inspector of the Panzer Troops was established to review the drawings and insure the requirement could be met by the two companies. The committee concentrated on two prerequisites. The first requirement was the ability of the company to place the vehicle into mass production by December 1942. This date was critical if the war industry was to get the tank to the troops in the field. The committee thought this ability to start production was so important it became the number one consideration. The second consideration was for the tank to be of “superior quality to counter the numerical material superiority of the enemy.” Early in the war with Russia this was a reasonable prerequisite. However, after Stalingrad the Germans could never build a tank of the quality necessary to overcome the numerical superiority of the Russians. The standardization of the T-34 allowed the Soviets to mass produce the tank in huge numbers. Russia suffered from no lack of raw material or production capacity as did the Germans.

The following excerpt of General Guderian’s memoirs shows why Germany had production problems with not only the Panther but all tank production. “On January 23rd, 1942, the design(s) for this (Panther) tank was submitted to Hitler. It was at this conference that Hitler ordered that German tank production be increased to a capacity of 600 units per month. In May of 1940 our (Germany’s) capacity, inclusive of all types, had been 125 units. So it can be seen that increased in productivity of an industry making one of the most vital weapons of war had been extraordinarily small during this period of almost two years of war; this surly provides proof that neither Hitler nor the General staff correctly estimated the importance of the tank to our (German) war effort. Even the great-tank victories of 1939-41 had not sufficed to change this.”

Not only would surging production of the PzKpfw III/IV’s been difficult, but Hitler was telling the tank producing industries to take the plans, produce the new tank, and do it in numbers five times that of the current production. This was a Herculean feat for any industry, much less for one at war and facing the shortages as noted by Guderian. On 11 May 1942 the committee made their choice. Professor Dr. Porsche announced the design choice stating “the committee evaluating the designs of the Panther tank… unanimously favors the proposal of the firm of MAN. and recommends that the Panzertruppe be equipped with the selected tank.” On 13 May 1942 the design was sent to Hitler and he agreed with the committee’s recommendation with some comments. He also ordered the construction of railroad flat cars capable of transporting the heavy tanks being produced, showing a good deal of forethought in getting the tank to the battlefield. In June 1942, Hitler was already asking about changing the requirements of the Panther. He wanted to change the frontal armor on the Panther from 80mm to 100mm and he ordered that all vertical armor on the tank be 100mm. In the meantime, the production numbers for the following May were fixed at 250 Panthers. In September 1942 production numbers for the spring of 1944 were set at 600 Panthers.

When Guderian warned of using the Panthers too soon he did this from a foundation of experience. He told of the first employment of the Tigers in September of 1942. “A lesson learned from the First World War had taught us that it is necessary to be patient about committing new weapons and that they must be held back until they are being produced in such quantities as to allow their employment in mass. In the First Would War the French and British used their tanks prematurely, in small numbers, and thereby failed to win the great victory which they were entitled to expect.” He went on to talk about how Hitler, aware of these facts, could not wait for the production of the Tiger in mass before employing them. After urgings, Hitler did agree to employ the limited number of Tigers in a “quite secondary operation”. The first attack with the Tigers occurred near Leningrad and the results foreshadowed what was to happen to the Panther at Kursk. The Tigers suffered not only “heavy, unnecessary casualties” but the Germans also lost the secrecy of the new weapon system. This same pattern was seen prior to Operation Citadel, but that time Guderian made his fears of employing the Panther too soon known to all who would listen.

Although General Guderian made his fears known to all, he still was not able to convince Hitler that the Panthers should not be employed. With the World War I historical example of how the French and British employed their tanks and the German experience of the Tigers, Hitler still let his fondness for new and bigger weapons get in the way of reason-of course this was not unusual for Hitler.

The Development Of The Panther Tank Part II

The first production Panther tanks were plagued with mechanical problems. The engine was dangerously prone to overheating and suffered from connecting rod or bearing failures. Petrol leaks from the fuel pump or carburettor, as well as motor oil leaks from gaskets, produced fires in the engine compartment; which resulted in the total writeoff of three Panthers due to fires. Transmission and final drive breakdowns were the most common and difficult to repair. A large list of other problems were detected in these early Panthers, and so from April through May 1943 all Panthers were shipped to Falkensee and Nürnberg for a major rebuilding program. This did not correct all of the problems, so a second program was started at Grafenwoehr and Erlangen in June 1943. Reliability improved with the Ausf. A and later G of the Panther, with availability rates going from an average of 37% by end of 1943 to an average of 54% in 1944. By mid-1944, the Panther was at its peak performance and widely regarded as the most formidable tank on the battlefield.

If production was rushed to get the Panther to the field, then the training had to suffer. Training in the field during war is difficult but must continue. At the Art of War Symposium mentioned earlier, when asked about what training was conducted prior to the Operation Citadel, Colonel Ritgen replied “. during the war, we actually used every free minute of the day to train the men and the crews again as soon as there was a little bit of rest.” Replacements “were distributed amongst the other crews so that never did a green crew come together. A crew had just one or two green people.” General Lingenthal answered the same question.

“We had, before ‘Citadel,’ three months when we were not involved in battle. Only part of our units were close to the front near Tomorovka and Golovchino as a reserve for the infantry divisions which had been there in their position. We could not move at this time because of a lack of fuel so we were forbidden to exercise with our tanks, and were forbidden to have full wireless training because of the Russian ability to hear our wireless transmissions. But we did firing exercises in training gunners and loaders and even to a certain extent training of tank drivers. We especially conducted training in map reading and orientation, and we made what I think is a very basic thing for all of us: we conducted maintenance on our equipment. It was not new equipment like in the Waffen SS but rather old equipment, and we brought it up to good standards so that it would work-all of our equipment, the tanks, guns, lorries, and so on. And then we had terrain exercises led by the divisional commander but only for the officers. One aim of this training and work in these three months was to bring the replacements from our reserve armies from home into our companies so that they became real members of tank crews and infantry companies. So after three months we had been very prepared at least at a level that could be reached at that time. We had all we needed. I believe we were correctly equipped, full with personnel, and most of the personnel were experienced in combat.”

While these commanders and their units took time in the operational pauses to continue the training of men and maintenance of equipment in the field, the Panther battalions were far from coming together as a unit. In February 1943, the trickle of Panthers being delivered to the Grafenwöfr training site continued with the arrival of twelve Panthers. A firing demonstration, with Panthers, was conducted for Albert Speer, Germany’s Minister for Armaments and War Production. “Both standing and towed targets were fired upon, but due to inadequate turret ventilation only a few rounds could be fired when the turret hatches were closed.” Poor ventilation in a tank is a significant problem. The smoke and fumes become oppressive very rapidly and the crew loses effectiveness after only one or two shots are fired. This has a negative impact on a crew’s ability to sustain a rate of fire required in the heat of battle. Because this ventilation problem in the Panther, gunnery training of tank crews was degraded. With the deployment date of the Panthers only five months away, the crews should have been working on their crew drill and proficiency and instead of conducting test demonstrations so close to the combat employment of the tank.

Another example of the training distracters faced by the Panther crews at Grafenwöfr occurred during visits from General Guderian between 1 and 15 June 1943, less than a month before the opening of Operation Citadel. Guderian visited both Panzerabteilung 51 and 52. He discovered that the Panther’s “final drive and engine still displayed serious deficiencies. Of the roughly 200 Panther tanks already produced, only 65 had been accepted as technologically sound.” To fix these and other lingering problems some of the tank’s components had to be sent back to the manufacturers. Other repairs were made in the Reichsbahn repair facility in the nearby town of Weiden. The crews of both Panzerabteilungens assisted in the overhauling of the vehicles and were once again taken away from their training on the vehicle.

The two examples above illustrate how the individual crew training suffered from the Panther being rushed through production. It should also be pointed out that it was not only the individual crews that suffered. Shooting and maneuvering a tank is difficult, but the ability to plan for and control the movement of a battalion takes more intensive training as the individual tank crews. With the testing of the vehicle continuing throughout the spring, only 65 Panthers had been accepted by the German Army as fully operational. Moreover, with over hauling of the vehicles taking place less than a month before deployment, the battalion’s staff never had a real opportunity to train. Sources documenting the training of the individual battalions during this time period are scarce, however, it is evident that the staffs went through a great deal of training prior to deployment. Neither the staffs, nor the companies for that matter, had the opportunity to maneuver and conduct training exercises on a large scale. Nothing matches actual exercises with the individuals and equipment one plans to fight with. Due to the testing nature of the training and the constant maintenance problems with the Panther, the Panther battalions staff were not optimally trained prior to their deployment to Russia.

On the 24th and 25th of June 1943, the Panther Battalion 51 was loaded on trains and sent to Russia for Operation Citadel. Panther Battalion 52 followed on the 28th and 29th. A regimental headquarters was organized with eight Panthers and moved east with Panther Battalion 52. The Regiment was placed under the command Major von Lauchert and assigned to the XLVIII Panzer Corps.

As would be expected, moving out of Germany did nothing to change the luck of the new Panther Regiment. The Regiment arrived in Russia and closed into their assembly area near the town of Kosatscheck on 3 July 1943. The Battle of Kursk began on 5 July. One day does not allow a unit to prepare. With no appreciation of the enemy, friendly situation, terrain, or other elements, this time crunch had the potential of negatively affecting the coming battle. On 4 July the Regiment was assigned to the Grossdeutschland Panzer Grenadier Division. Oberst Decker took command of the Regiment which was redesignated as the 10th Panzer Brigade. The two battalions arrived only two days before the battle began and it appears this commander had only one day with his unit before leading it into battle. This was barely time to meet the staff, let alone work out procedures. More importantly, it appears this commander may not have had an appreciation for the capabilities and limitations of the new tank.

The XLVIII Panzer Corps may have had a premonition of what was to come with the new Panthers as the Corps war diary for 2 July 1943 remarked “that deficiencies existed in the Panther units. They hadn’t conducted tactical training as a complete Abteilung and radio sets hadn’t been tested. Since their assembly areas were so close to the front, permission couldn’t be granted for them to test and practice with the radio sets.”

There seems to be some conflict as to how the Brigade was actually employed during Operation Citadel. Most historians of the Battle of Kursk say the Brigade acted as a unit consisting of the two battalions; however, in his book Panzer Battles, General von Mellenthin states the “Gross Deutschland was a very strong division with a special organization. It mustered about 180 tanks, of which 80 were part of a `Panther Detachment’ commanded by Lieutenant Colonel von Lauchert, and the remainder were in the panzer regiment.” Another historian of Kursk, Robin Cross (Citadel: The Battle of Kursk) also speaks of Lieutenant Colonel von Lauchert but not Colonel Decker. This is not to create a command controversy, but it is important if Oberst Decker took command of the Brigade one day before the commencement of Operation Citadel. At least Lieutenant Colonel von Lauchert had been with the units at the Grafenwöhr training site.

The first losses of Panthers in Russia did not come from the vaunted T-34 for which the Panther was designed to counter, but instead from the continuing problems with the design of the motor. While unloading from the train, two Panthers were destroyed by motor fires and were classified as total losses. Robin Cross writes of the difficulties of the Panther just prior to its first combat appearance.

“Great hopes were placed in the Panther with its well-sloped armor and powerful 75mm gun. But the mechanical problems which had plagued the Panther’s development pursued it to the front. As they moved up to their start lines, the panzer grenadiers of Grossdeutschland saw jets of flame belching from the exhausts of the division’s Panthers. Several of them caught fire while rolling slowly down the road and their crews were extracted with some difficulty as the new `wonder weapons’ were reduced to blackened hulks.”

In his book Kursk 1943: The Tide Turns in the East, Mark Healy gives as good of an account of what happened to the 10th Panzer Brigade in their initial employment as I have found.

“The key to the success of General Otto von Knobelsdorff’s XLVIII Panzer Corps, in breaking through the Soviet defenses on each side of Butovo and executing a swift advance to the south bank of the Pena, was the massive concentration of power that lay with the 10 Panzer Brigade, equipped with the new Panther. On paper these 200 machines gave the Panzer Corps an unprecedented concentration of armour and firepower. In the wake of the barrage, Panther Brigade `Decker’ moved off from Butovo, but almost immediately ran into a minefield that immobilized many of the vehicles. Others attempting to extricate themselves set off more mines. In front of Cherkasskoye, the initial objective of the offensive and a key position in the first Soviet defense line on their part of the front, more than 36 Panthers lay immobile. The Russians brought down intense artillery fire on the stationary tanks and on the engineers who went into the minefields to clear paths for those Panthers not too badly damaged and able to extricate themselves. In the meantime the infantry, who had been waiting for the Panther support, had attacked the Soviet positions, only to be thrown back with heavy casualties.”

After the first day of fighting the Panther was not employed in mass. The operational status of the Panthers during Operation Citadel began at 184 Panthers on 5 July. This dropped to 166 Panthers on 6 July but plummeted to 40 operational Panthers on 7 July. By 10 July there were only 10 operational Panthers in the front lines. Maintenance crews were able to increase the operation rate to 43 by 13 July, but one can see from these numbers why the Panther was not able to be used in mass after the first day of battle General Guderian made an inspection to Kursk to see the Panther and submitted a report on the operations of the Panthers. In his report he describes the status of the Panthers on the 10th of July as follows:

“By the evening of 10 July there were only 10 operational Panthers in the front line. Twenty-five Panthers had been lost as total write-offs (23 were hit and burnt and two had caught fire during the approach march.) One hundred Panthers were in need of repair (56 were damaged by hits and mines and 44 by mechanical breakdown). Sixty percent of the mechanical breakdowns could be easily repaired and were on the way to the front. About 25 still had not been recovered by the repair service.”

General Guderian goes on in the report to find mitigating reasons for the large number of losses. Some writers suggest this may be an attempt by Guderian to save face as the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen and for the entire tank production industry.

“The deep, heavily mined, main battle field of the Russians must result in above average losses of material through hits and mines. The fact that the Panther appeared for the first time on the battlefield, focused general interest. Comparison against losses of other Panzer units were not made. Therefore the high command and troops quickly jumped to the conclusion: The Panther is worthless!”

“In closing, it should be remarked that the Panther had been proven successful in combat. The high number of mechanical breakdowns that occurred should have been expected since lengthy troop trials have still not been accomplished. The curve of operational Panthers is on the rise. After correcting deficiencies in the fuel pumps and the motors, the mechanical breakdowns should remain within normal limits. Without consideration of our own mistakes, the disproportionally high number of losses through enemy action attests to especially heavy combat.”

T-10M

In the late 1940s, work began on a new heavy tank, the IS-8, with an improved 122mm D- 25TA gun, longer hull, and more powerful engine. It was accepted for service in 1952, but the tank was renamed the T-10 after Stalin’s death in 1953.

The hull is made of rolled armour, divided into three compartments. The driver is in the front, the fighting compartment in the centre, and the engine in the rear. The turret is cast steel. The gunner and commander are positioned to the left of the gun, the loader to the right. Armament consists of a 122mm D-25TA gun with a double-baffle muzzle brake, a 12.7mm DShKM co-axial machine gun, and another 12.7mm DShKM anti-aircraft machine gun at the loader’s hatch.

Just as the M103 was to provide fire support for the M48, and the Conqueror was to supply the same for the Centurion, so the T-10 was to back up the T-54/55s. The T- 10’s modified 122mm D-74 gun fired a massive 25kg (551b) armour-piercing round at a muzzle velocity of 885 metres per second (2900 feet per second) and could penetrate 185mm (7.28in) of vertical armour at 1000m (3280ft). In other words, it could blow holes in anything it might meet. Like all guns employing separate projectile and charge, the D- 74 was relatively slow to load, and two to three rounds per minute was the practical limit to the T-10’s rate of fire. As in the case of the T-54/55, the small angle of depression of the gun – just three degrees in the T-10 – posed problems in firing from hull-down positions. The angle of depression was limited by the low profile of the turret: there simply was not room to get the breech any higher. The danger to the tank was minimised, however, by its 120mm (4.75in) of sharply angled frontal armour, and by the good all-round ballistic shape of the hull and turret. And despite the T-10’s considerable weight, its 700hp V-2-IS V-12 diesel engine, a development of that originally produced for the A-20 tank in the mid-1930s, produced a top speed of 42km/h (26mph). Nine hundred litres (238 US gallons) of fuel gave the tank a range of only 250km (155 miles), which was low by Soviet standards but was perfectly adequate for a support tank such as this. The T-10 had 710mm-wide (28in) tracks in order to keep the ground pressure within reasonable bounds.

In 1956, the T-10A added stabilisation for the main gun in one plane. In 1957 the T-10B added stabilisation in two planes and infra-red searchlights to the right of the main armament and forward of the commander’s hatch. The T-10M was introduced later in 1957. This version had NBC protection and a new M-62-T2 gun with multi-baffle muzzle brake. The 12.7mm DShKM machine guns were replaced with 14.5mm machine guns (KPVT in the co-axial mount, KPV at the loader’s hatch). The T-10M was produced at two different plants, with incompatible parts, until 1962, when a single design was finally settled on. From 1963, T-10Ms were fitted with deep-wading snorkels, and from 1967 they were supplied with APDS and HEAT ammunition.

Expensive to build, heavy, and difficult to maintain logistically, the T-10 was phased out in the mid-1960s in favor of the T-62. It equipped a number of Warsaw Pact armies and was exported to both Egypt and Syria.

Variants
T-10 (1952)
T-10A (1956): T-10 with an added single-plane gun stabilizer.
T-10B (1957): T-10 with an added 2-plane gun stabilizer.
T-10M (1957): Modernized version with longer M-62-T2 L/46 gun with five-baffle muzzle brake, 2-plane gun stabilizer, machine guns replaced with 14.5 mm KPVT (a better ballistic match for the new main gun), infrared night vision equipment, NBC protection. Overall length is 10.29 m.
1963 – T-10M is equipped with OPVT deep-wading snorkel.
1967 – T-10M is supplied with APDS and HEAT ammunition.

Specifications: T-10

Crew: 4

Combat weight: 52 tonnes

Length: 7.41m (9.87m including gun)

Width: 3.56m Height: 2.43m

Ground clearance: 0.43m

Maximum road speed: 42km/h

Maximum road range: 250km

Gradient: 62.5%

Vertical obstacle: 0.9m

Trench: 3m

Armament: 1x 122mm D-25TA gun (T-10M: 122mm M-62-T2) 2x 12.7mm DShKM MG (T-10M: 1x 14.5mm KPV, 1x 14.5mm KPVT)

Armour: Hull front upper: 120mm @ 60° Hull front lower: 100mm @ 55° Hull side: 90mm @ 60° Hull rear upper: 60mm @ 30° Hull rear lower: 30mm @ 50° Hull top: 35mm Belly: 20mm Turret front: 250mm Turret mantlet: 250mm Turret sides: 75-115mm Turret rear: 60mm Turret top: 30mm