ISU-152 ‘Zvierboi’

The ISU-152 was a further development of the SU-152 Assault Howitzer, but based on the IS tank’s (Iosef Stalin) lower chassis and running gear instead of the KV tank’s (KV from the prewar defense minister, Klimenti Voroshilov). Although the ISU-152 mounted the same 152mm M1937/43 (ML-20S) gun-howitzer of the SU-152, the new crew compartment was now higher (as the IS chassis was not as deep as the KV) and more rectangular. The old circular KV hatches were replaced with the SU-100 style cupolas and new standard periscopes installed in each. The new ISU 152, and the similar ISU-122 (fitted with a 122mm A-19 cannon), were first produced at Chelyabinsk during late 1943 at the same time as the IS-1 heavy tanks.

The success of the SU-152, coupled with the development of the IS (losef Stalin) heavy tank hull, led the NKTP to order design teams at Chelyabinsk, in cooperation the Mechanized Artillery Bureau (BAS) and General F. Petrov, to design two new heavy assault guns based on the IS-2 tank’s hull and chassis. The initial vehicle, designated Object 241, or ISU249, was similar to the SU-152, except for a higher superstructure and more rectangular with less sloped side armour. Thicker frontal and side armour (90mm/3.54in compared to 60mm/2.36in on the SU-152) meant that the internal area of both vehicles was the same, with storage for only 20 rounds each for the 152mm (5.98in) ML-20 howitzer gun. The main difference between the SU-152 and ISU series of vehicles was a lower suspension and a new, heavy two-piece gun mantlet bolted onto the right-hand side of the hull. Re-classified as ISU-152, production began at the end of 1943.

The appearance of the immensely powerful Panzerkampfwagen King Tiger in fighting south of Warsaw in August 1944 led to a number of plans to up-gun both types of ISU with the new 122mm (4.8in) BR-7 and 152mm (5.98in) BR-8 long-barrelled guns, but the realization that the Germans could not deploy the Royal Tiger in significant numbers caused production of these prototypes to be abandoned. Another reason was the conclusion of Soviet technicians, based on combat results, that the IS-2 tank could deal with this new threat.

Post-war changes were made to the final production run of ISU-152Ks by using the IS-2m chassis and the IS-3 engine deck. A total of 4075 ISU-152s were produced during the war, and a further 2450 manufactured between 1945 and 1947, when production ceased.

The heavy SU regiments were originally equipped with the SU-152, a 152mm howitzer mounted on a KV-1S chassis. The first 25 of them were rushed into service in time for the Battle of Kursk, where the effect of their 100 pound shells on German Panthers and Tigers earned them the nickname ‘Zvierboi’ (‘Big Game Hunters’). The SU-152 was only in production during 1943, and 670 were built. They were increasingly replaced in 1944 by two heavy SUs on the chassis of the new IS-II tank: the ISU-152, which was built until 1947.

The Soviets used term “Shturmovaya Artilleriiskaya Ustanovka” (Assault Gun) for the SU-122, SU-152, ISU-152, ISU-122.

When the ISU- 122/152 heavy self-propelled artillery regiments were originally formed in February of 1944, the vehicles were placed in groups of 21 assault guns with four batteries per regiment. The SP guns were intended to support offensive breakthrough operations and expected to deal with German strong points and anti-tank defenses from long distances. First deployed during the summer of 1944 offensive “Bagration”, the ISU-122/152 regiments took part in what was probably the largest concentration of Soviet armor up to that time and proved themselves to be very useful AFVs. After WWII the construction of these assault vehicles continued and they were sold to other Warsaw Pact member countries as well as Algeria, Egypt and China.

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This Soviet News photo illustrates the internal hatch detail of both the gunner’s on the left and the commander’s split hatches. The hatch half with the periscope closes first and the second half then slightly over laps the first and has two small latches at its edge to hold the hatch in place. Normally there was a leather covered pull chain connecting these latches (as seen on the gunner’s hatch) and a simple pull on the strap would release both latches so you could open the hatch from the inside. The commander here appears to be holding his cloth tanker’s helmet in his left hand while the right rests on the long handle of his periscope. Notice the antenna base, just forward of his hatch, and also the domed armor cover over the hull fan, located directly between the two hatches.

The early ISU-152M was updated to the last version in 1956, adding more ammo storage to the new K model for a total of 30 rounds, most of the additional rounds being stored in a third rack on the left side of the hull. Also added to the ISU-152K was a new TPKU ranging sight on the commander’s cupola and an improved PS-10 telescopic sight for the gunner, as well as a revised engine and cooling system.

Soviet Assault Guns – Designation

The Soviets used “Self-Propelled Gun” (or SP Artillery) for every fighting vehicle that consists of a gun mounted on a chassis.

The Soviets used term “Istrebitel tankov” (Tank Destroyer) for the SU-85 and the SU-100.

The Soviets used term “Shturmovaya Artilleriiskaya Ustanovka” (Assault Gun) for the SU-122, SU-152, ISU-152, ISU-122.

The Soviets used term “Shturmovoi Tank” (Assault Tank) for the KV-2.

“One AFV that I think can be termed one of the most effective is the ISU-152. Soviets using this vehicle gave it the nickname “zvierboi” (animal hunter) due to its effectiveness against the Tiger I tanks.”

At first, it isn’t ISU-152 but SU-152. And second, it was called such not because it was very good against Tigers and Panthers (i.e. animals) but it was the first weapon that could kill them.

“…in the source I read these AFV’s were organised into “otdelni tyazheli samhodno-artilleriski polk” (Separate Self-propelled Artillery Regiments).”

This is true (if you’re about (I)SU-152). Often their abbreviation used: OTSAP or simply SAP. Some of them were of “RGK” that means “Rezerv Glavnogo Komandovania” (Reserve of the High Command).

The Red Army called their assault guns for
”samokhodno-artilleriiskie ustanovki” abbrevation Kyrrillic ”CAY”, with our letters ”SAU”.
the other version ”samokhodno ustanovki” abbrevation Kyrillic ”CY”, with our letters ”SU”.
The first word ”samokhodno” could be translated to self-propelled.
The next word ”artilleriiskie” does not need further clarification.
Finally ”ustanovki” could be translated with gun carriage.

These assault guns was organized into heavy ”samokhodno-artilleriiskie” regiments with 21 assault guns. In Operation Bagration the four fronts initially had 2 Assault Guns brigade and 57 Assault gun regiments.
1.Baltic had four regiments (of which three were heavy).
3.Belorussian had 16 regiments (of which five were heavy) .
2.Belorussian had 10 regiments (of which two were heavy).
1.Belorussian had 27 regiments (of which five were heavy) and two brigades (8. in 3rd Army and 12. in 69th Army).

 

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TACTICAL DESERT MANEUVER IN KUWAIT

Moreover, U.S. armor specialists found that in war game activities and rehearsals, 12 mph was an optimal speed for an M1A1 Abrams MBT to advance in terms of maximizing both accuracy and in keeping the armored “battle box” formation composed of various field equipment together and synchronized. More specifically, the 12-mph speed for the Abrams tank was one of several smoothly riding interfaces between gear ratios, which provided for optimal firing stability. While there were additional smooth riding points at faster speeds, the 12-mph interface was preferable for linear formations of unlike vehicles in a brigade or a battalion in order to facilitate movement cohesion during an advance. Moreover, controlled speed maximized the opportunity to exploit the superior range of the Abrams, as one preferred to fire when an enemy T-72 was in range (3,000 meters); yet, with the Abrams out of range of the enemy’s gun (1,500 meters). Moving too fast in an Abrams with enemy armor buried in the sand to offset thermo imagery advantages by the American crew, one could happen upon a T-72 at 1,200 meters before actually sighting the tank. Thus, speed had to be carefully calibrated in order not to forfeit the competitive advantage in range, accuracy, and lethality.

Because the M1A1 rode smoothly at that speed [12 mph] its gyro-stabilization was optimized and the tank could fire accurately while moving—this yielded yet another operational capability unheard of in earlier wars: the uninterrupted advance of a great mass of armor firing accurately on the move into a defender who could not hope to achieve the same range or accuracy even from fixed or surveyed positions.

For the first time in history, massed forces were able to coordinate movement through Middle Eastern deserts, to include night maneuver and converge on targets in achieving tactical surprise. The Global Positioning System made possible by U.S. satellites operating in space created a military capability that was unknown to Iraqi commanders during Desert Sabre. This advantage was apparent during the Battle of 73 Easting on February 26, when nine M1A1 Abrams and 12 Bradley fighting vehicles of the U.S. 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment were tasked with scouting and establishing contact with the main Republican Guard defenses in order to provide battlefield intelligence to headquarters.

The three squadrons of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment came across forward elements of the Tawakalna Infantry (Mechanized) Division of the Republican Guard Forces Command (RGFC) not by road but by crossing the desert. The commander of the Republican Guard units, not knowing the Americans could navigate the desert using satellite signals, and at night, had expected the United States to utilize the roads in their advance. As such, he positioned his forces to defend against an approach via the only road available.

The Iraqi commander thought it ideal ground from which to defend. Unaware that the American units had received global positioning systems, he assumed they would move along roads to avoid becoming lost in the featureless desert, thus he organized his defense along the road by fortifying the village with anti-aircraft guns (used in ground-mode), machine guns, and infantry. The defense was fundamentally sound. He took advantage of an imperceptible rise in the terrain that ran perpendicular to the road and directly through the village to organize a “reverse slope” defense on the east side of that ridge. He built two engagement areas, or kill sacks, on the east side of the ridge, north and south of the village, emplaced minefields to disrupt forward movement and dug in approximately 40 tanks and 16 BMPs (infantry fighting vehicles) about 1,000 yards from the ridge, and destroy U.S. forces piecemeal as they moved across the crest.

Coming out of the desert from a direction the Iraqi commander did not think possible, U.S. forces caught the Republican Guard units (Tawakalna Division) by surprise. “In just 23 minutes E Troop destroyed approximately 50 T-72s, 25 armored personnel carriers, 40 trucks and numerous other vehicles, without suffering any casualties.”

In addition to the other technological advantages offered by the American Abrams MBT (Chobham armor, low profile, speed, range, and accuracy) was the depleted uranium high-performance M829A1 Service Sabot tank shell. U.S. crews used only training rounds in war games and rehearsals. Operation Desert Sabre was the first time they were allowed to utilize the Sabot tank shell. Any trajectory expectations for ranging the round that occurred during training fell by the wayside, as U.S. crews found the Sabot to be straight and flat as it was fired at their targets. Given that U.S. tanks could acquire and hit their opponents operating Soviet-supplied T-72s at 2,500 to 3,000 meters while the T-72s’ maximum range was 1,500 meters, Iraqi tank crews opted to strategically position their tanks in ambush, burying much of the tank in earth with only the turret visible to reduce the thermo-imaging capability of the American tanks.

IRAQI ARMOR TACTICS

The preferred option for Republican Guard tank crews was to position their tanks on the downward rise of terrain, which blocked the Americans’ ability to optically range (see and target) forward. Thus, the U.S. tanks would move forward, climbing the slight rise without being able to detect the Iraqi tanks, which for a critical few minutes would be below the Americans’ line of sight yet targetable by the Iraqi armor laying in ambush. Once the United States arrived at the crest of the rise and was prepared to descend along the downward slope, the Iraqis who had previously positioned their tanks between 500 and 1,500 meters from the crest would have the opportunity of firing first—prior to the Abrams range finder acquiring the now firing T-72. The sand surrounding the T-72, essentially burying the tank in sand except for the turret and gun, served to mask the thermal signature being emitted by the tank and its crew.

This tactic used quick speeds being generated by the Abrams to the advantage for the Iraqis, as U.S. armor moved swiftly forward on a rise without first detecting the presence of buried tanks. As the United States moved across the crest, the Iraqi gunners opened up. Thus, since the Iraqis intended to exploit the Americans’ penchant for speed, U.S. armor commanders found that a useful remedy to these traps was to proceed with caution while seeking to establish, in advance, the Iraqi ambush positions. This often required working jointly with Apache gunships and USAF A-10 close air support jets (Warthogs) as well as with surveillance aircraft and other equipment providing overhead imagery. When in doubt, a default position was relying on the established optimum speed for large formation advances and firing: 12 mph, which allowed the United States and their allies to carefully scout forward. Conversely to what armor units had learned in training and rehearsals, Schwarzkopf and his staff’s operational design was less concerned about losing a limited number of tanks than about losing the Republican Guard as a whole if the left hook did not trap them in the KTO. And to trap the Guard in the KTO would require speeds faster than 12 mph, particularly since CENTCOM planning assumptions included the need to keep armor operations under 100 hours.

Thus, at the strategic level, U.S. policymakers did not wish to allow Saddam to escape with his fangs intact (the Guard’s armor). This would only invite further strategic and operational problems in the not too distant future enabling Saddam to survive in a post–Desert Storm Iraq as well as keeping within his tool kit the military capacity for future operations against Saudi Arabia. For Franks, in command of the VII Corps, an additional operational planning assumption was important as well—the need to keep American casualties to a minimum. Franks’s assumption was not only tactically and morally sound but also that, at the strategic level, limited U.S. casualties would limit Saddam’s ability to use the casualties to discourage the American public. Schwarzkopf and his Jedi Knights obviously sought to keep U.S. and coalition casualties to a minimum as well.

Within the different levels of the continuum of war (strategy, operations, tactics), ideally one seeks to maximize unity of effort. In reality, as was the case with Desert Storm, there is a propensity for friction and significant disagreement regarding assumptions, methods, and how to arrive at the initially agreed-upon aims.

At the operational level, one seeks to organize, maintain, and execute with the commander’s intent (Schwarzkopf) as laid out in the operational design or campaign plan. As combat intensifies, previously constructed plans in some briefing room away from the battlefield seem less relevant to the troops and their commanders now under fire. However difficult, tactical execution (Franks) must align with the theater or operational goals, which in turn are aligned with strategic intent and aims. While it may seem at times illogical to follow strategically derived objectives usually generated by civilian political leaders, one needs to keep in mind that even Carl von Clausewitz recognized this main operative principle regarding the conduct of war: “War is a continuation of policy by other means.” Those policies, theoretically, have been rationally derived, and thus, the conduct of war must adhere to rationally designed state policy. If it does not, it has the tendency to devolve into unrelated chaotic violence unaccountable and unhinged from its original rational purpose.

In short, there is, or ought to be, a strong preference for tactical leaders in following the operational plan or design as laid out by the operational or theater commander. It becomes incumbent on tactical commanders subordinate to the theater commander to closely adhere to the plan. However, in the Western tradition, and adding to the difficulties, there is also a preference for instilling in tactical commanders an ability for independent decision making on the dispersed battlefield, which in turn generates swiftness of decisive action by allowing flexibility and adaptability contributing to commanders and troops’ ability to operate inside an opponent’s OODA-Loop. While the Western tactical commander, trained for adaptability, flexibility, and the ability to execute effectively (Auftragstaktik), within the fog and friction of war, is positioned to outperform his or her opponent(s), such independent mindedness can also move beyond the parameters of the operational plan. This is why the communication of the operational commander’s original intent is critical in achieving unity of effort and unity of command while allowing tactical subordinates needed flexibility.

BATTLE OF AL-BUSAYYAH

These dynamics were clearly on display in the run-up to and action in the Battle of al-Busayyah (Iraq) on February 26, 1991. The operational plan for VII Corps in Desert Sabre called for bypassing pockets of resistance in the timely pursuit, entrapment, and destruction of the Republican Guard. The VII Corps, as planned, would push north 100 miles to the town of al-Busayyah then pivot eastward and seek out and destroy the Guard. However, upon approaching al-Busayyah, the commander of the U.S. 1st Armored Division (subordinate command of Franks’s VII Corps), Major General Robert Griffith, realized his line of march, as he approached al-Busayyah in the afternoon of February 25, and took his command directly through the town.

While the town had been strafed and rocketed previously by Apache gunships, al-Busayyah remained actively defended by Iraqi infantry supported by tanks and mechanized armor (Soviet BMPs) still in defensive positions and with orders to protect the town as it served as the headquarters of the Iraqi 26th Infantry Division. Realizing the operational plan was to bypass such an obstacle, Griffith consulted with his superior, General Franks, and requested time to reduce the town in order to enable the 1st Armored to proceed without leaving a force (however small) in its rear to potentially disrupt supply and lines of communication back to bases in Saudi Arabia. Franks concurred with Griffith’s decision. On the morning of February 26, the 1st Armored fired 1,500 artillery shells and 350 rockets at the Iraqi positions. The surviving Iraqi soldiers obstinately refused to surrender. At the core of the defenders was an Iraqi Special Forces battalion that, in coordination with a regular Iraqi infantry battalion, two armored brigades, and one company of T-55 tanks, remained ensconced in their positions although in a somewhat reduced state following the 1st Armored artillery and rocket barrage.

Schwarzkopf, famous throughout the U.S. Army for a temper that brought him the moniker “Stormin Norman,” was none too pleased. Griffith, now under orders from Franks, who had received pointed directions from Schwarzkopf to move forward, left a small tank force to deal with the obstinate Iraqi defenders, as U.S. airpower was brought to bear on an approaching Iraqi relief column aiming to reinforce the defenders at al-Busayyah. The Iraqi relief column never made it.

The tension and friction between the three levels of war are present even among the most competent of political leaders, strategic-level military commanders, and their operational and tactical commanders. An advantage for the coalition during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm/Desert Sabre was the level of experience and competence of the political leadership of the United States coupled with the unparalleled military proficiency of the officers and men (and women) who served in the coalition. The level of competence and experience was mirrored by the British, French, and within the ranks of many of the Arab coalition partners.

Franks and Schwarzkopf remained at odds and offered dueling accounts in the years that preceded Desert Storm/Desert Sabre. The U.S. system with the expectation of the primacy of the operational plan and commander’s intent juxtaposed with a strong preference for flexible, independent decision making among both senior and junior officers was the main cause of the friction rather than either of the two outstanding U.S. commanders, who, in pursuing their duty as they had been trained, brought about one of the most remarkable ground campaigns in either American or world history.

In the end, over a period of 43 days of offensive operations, Desert Storm/Desert Sabre rained destruction upon Saddam’s armed forces. Forty-two Iraqi Divisions were either destroyed or degraded to the point of being unable to conduct combat operations. Additionally, the entire Iraqi navy was sunk, and 50 percent of Iraqi combat aircraft were destroyed or forced into Iran, while 82,000 Iraqi troops were taken prisoners.

When the air operations started I had 39 tanks. After 38 days of the air battle I had 32 tanks. After 20 minutes against the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, I had zero tanks.

The success of allied forces in Operation Desert Storm convinced the Soviets that integration of control, communications, electronic combat and delivery of conventional fires had been realized for the first time.

Arab forces, in an apparent nod by the Americans toward public diplomacy, were the first to enter a liberated Kuwait City, as thousands of Iraqi forces attempted to escape north along Highway 8 only to be met by strafing and bombing runs conducted by coalition aircraft. As the images of the carnage made it into the international media with the headlines of “the highway of death,” President Bush called a halt to combat operations. The coalition ground campaign, Operation Desert Sabre, lasted from February 24 to February 28, when a cessation of hostilities was declared by coalition forces, for a total of 114 hours.

It never appeared in the press or in public discussions, but the Israeli finding in the 1967 Six-Day War—that armor combat operations have about 100 hours’ window of opportunity before maintenance issues and expected breakdowns begin to interfere perceptibly with operations—was part of the planning assumptions. This is not to say that this dynamic was solely responsible for constraining U.S. armor to 100 hours of combat drive time. With the escape north of the Hammurabi Republican Guard Division and the open media coverage of the carnage along the “highway of death,” as conscripted Iraqi young men facing strafing runs by coalition aircraft tried to escape from the KTO, U.S. NCA believed the time was right to end the bloodshed.

Moreover, there was concern within the coalition that operations that extended beyond the original UN mandate of removing Iraqi occupation troops from Kuwait would lead to a fracturing of the unity that had thus far been achieved. The remarkable unity of the vast coalition of nations in support of Desert Shield and Desert Storm was a fundamental strength for combat operations, and many considered it a center of gravity for both campaigns. The Iraqi leadership rightly sought to degrade and neutralize this center of gravity. Additionally, while the coalition enjoyed world-class harbor facilities and a massive logistical effort to maintain a coalition that numbered in the hundreds of thousands, the fact remained that by chasing the fleeing Iraqi army north into Iraq itself would have reduced supply capabilities and opened up vulnerabilities, as combat forces became extended and quite possibly fractured the coalition.

Logistic units were hard pressed to keep up with the rapid pace of maneuver units. Both logistics structure and doctrine were found wanting in the high temp offensive operation. HET and off-road truck mobility were limited, and MSRs into Iraq few and constricted. Had the operation lasted longer, maneuver forces would have out run their fuel and other support.

On a daily basis the supply and logistical requirements of Desert Storm/Desert Sabre were 62,500 cases of Meals-Ready-To-Eat (MREs), 9 million gallons of water, 4,800 fuel tankers with 5,000 gallon capacities, and 450 tractor trailer loads of other supplies. By the end of Desert Storm/Desert Sabre, U.S. forces alone (532,000 personnel) consumed 95,000 tons of ammunition and 1.7 billion gallons of fuel.

MBT Revolution

The MBT Revolution is a modular upgrade package to the Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks. It was developed by Rheinmetall. This MBT was first revealed in 2010. It is also referred as Leopard 2A4 Evolution. The Leopard 2A4 was the most widespread version of the Leopard 2. It is still used by a number of countries in large numbers. So the market for upgrades remains substantial.

The Revolution main battle tank is better suited for urban warfare and low-intensity conflicts. It is worth noting that original Leopard 2 tanks were developed during the Cold War and were intended for high intensity conflicts based on tank battles in open terrain. The tank has improved overall protection. It is fitted with new Advanced Modular Armor Protection (AMAP) composite armor package. It uses new nano-ceramics materials and modern titanium and steel alloys. This armor provides higher level of protection against wide range of threats. The AMAP armor can be done is different compositions and armor configuration depends on customer requirements. Various configurations do different jobs. Some are used for RPG attacks, the other are used for IED attacks. The tank is also fitted with a mine protection package. This MBT has a modular armor, so damaged modules can be easily replaced in field conditions. Tank is also fitted with new Rheinmetall ROSY smoke grenade dischargers. These set up a smoke screen within 0.6 seconds. Overall the Revolution MBT is less vulnerable to ambushes, RPG rounds, anti-tank missiles, improvised explosive devices and mines.

The Revolution MBT is only slightly heavier than it’s predecessor. It weights 60 t, comparing with 56.6 t of the original Leopard 2A4.

In 2010 Singapore upgraded it’s 96 ex-German Leopard 2A4 tanks with the AMAP composite armor, which is a part of the Revolution upgrade package. Upgraded tanks are known as the Leopard 2SG.

The Revolution MBT retains a fully-stabilized 120-mm / L44 smoothbore gun of the Leopard 2A4. The gun is loaded manually. It is compatible with all standard NATO 120-mm tank munitions, as well as the latest programmable HE rounds. These rounds enable to engage targets behind cover and within buildings. A total of 42 rounds are carried for the main gun. 15 rounds are stored in the turret bustle and are ready to use, while remaining rounds are stored in the hull.

The Revolution MBT is also fitted with a remotely controlled weapon station, armed with a 12.7-mm machine gun. There is also a coaxial 7.62-mm machine gun.

This main battle tank is fitted with new state-of-the-art fire control system. It has improved first round hit probability. The Revolution MBT also has improved reconnaissance and observation capabilities. The commander has new 360° periscope, which gives the vehicle a hunter/killer capability. The tank is also fitted with a battlefield management system.

Vehicle has a crew of four, including commander, gunner, loader and driver.

The Revolution MBT also retains the MTU MB-837 Ka501 turbocharged diesel engine, developing 1 500 horsepower. Vehicle is fitted with auxiliary power unit, which powers all systems when the main engine is turned off. Cross-country performance is similar to that of it’s predecessor.

Since 2011 a broadly similar upgrade programme is offered by the Aselsan of Turkey. These are referred as the Leopard 2 Next Generation. It was locally developed as a private venture to meet a possible requirement of the Turkish Army.

Modernizing Poland’s Leopard 2A4 Tanks

On May 16, 2014, the first shipment of 11 Leopard 2A5 tanks was delivered to the 34th Armored Cavalry Brigade in Zagan. The vehicles were acquired under a contract signed in November of 2013 on the procurement of armored vehicles from German Army reserves. The agreement stipulated that Poland would buy 105 used Leopard 2A5 tanks, and 14 2A4 tanks, as well as 833 items of technical and support assets, including 18 Bergepanzer 2 armored recovery vehicles, 120 Mercedes DB1017A heavy trucks, 40 Unimog U1300L heavy trucks, 40 Mercedes MB250 off-road vehicles, deep fording vehicles, and combat simulators. In 2014, Poland received 77 Leopard 2A5 tanks, 14 2A4 tanks, and 654 items of technical and support assets. According to the provisions of the agreement, before the end of 2015 the armed forces will receive the remainder of the contracted hardware, including 28 Leopard 2A5 tanks. The realization of the contract is proceeding as planned.

Another important assignment related to Leopard 2A4 tanks was the tender for the modernization and upgrading of said vehicles to their PL variant, opened in October of 2013. After the offers submitted in March of 2014 were examined, it turned out that only one out of the three contractors participating in the tender, a consortium comprising Polish companies, headed by ZM BUMAR-LABEDY S. A., will proceed to the next stage. This led to a series of problems, related primarily to the insufficient transfer of technologies, maintenance and service capabilities, and replacement part production capabilities of Polish defense manufacturers. Although negotiations continued into late 2014, the proceeding did not reach a successful conclusion. Some hope for a resolution of the deadlock may have been found in the offer submitted by BUMAR–LABEDY on December 5, 2014. The Armament Inspectorate, however, rejected the offer due to formal and factual errors and an insufficient level of Polonization. On February 17, 2015, it was announced that the tender procedure will be cancelled, and the Armament Inspectorate will initiate closed negotiations with a single company selected by the Board of the Polish Armament Group.

After the fiasco of the previous tender, a new round of negotiations between PAG and ZM “Bumar-Labedy” S. A. was launched on May 27, 2015. It will be up to Bumar to select its foreign cooperant, out of the three companies considered for the role. The first is the Turkish company Aselsan, offering the Leopard NG package. Its competitors include Rheinmetall Defence offering the MBT Revolution package, and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann GmbH & Co. The new contract would also include the establishment of a Logistics and Maintenance Center with a replacement part depot, using existing facilities owned by the Polish Armament Groups, that would provide full-spectrum maintenance and repair services for all Leopard 2 tanks currently in service with the Polish Armed Forces.

According to current plans, the Leopard 2A4 modernization contract should be awarded before the end of 2015, and the program should conclude no later than 2020, that is two years past the preliminary deadlines established by the Technical Modernization Plan. Currently, there are no plans to overhaul Leopard 2A5 tanks, and such designs should start coalescing only after the modernization of 2A4 tanks is completed. A confirmation of that particular position can be found in state secretary Czeslaw Mroczek’s reply to parliamentary interpellation no. 32753, in which Mroczek stated that any plans to modernize Leopard 2A5 tanks are out of consideration for at least the next 15 years.

Add-On Abrams Tank Kits

U.S. Main Battle Tank M1A2 SEP Abrams Tusk II

With the heavy damage inflicted on Abrams series tanks during the close-in urban fighting in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, there developed the impetus for the US Army to authorize the funding for a new program in 2004 to better equip the tank for a type of fighting it had never been designed to take part in. The program was referred to as the Tank Urban Survivability Kit (TUSK) and was publicly announced in early 2005.

In a US Army News Service article published on 9 March 2005 is this description by US Army Program Manager Lieutenant Colonel Michael Flanagan on why the new add-on armor kit was needed and what benefits it would provide the Abrams series of tanks: ‘You have to remember, the tank was a Cold War design, aimed at threats that were always to its front. It’s still the most survivable weapon in the arsenal from the front … Today it’s a 360-degree fight, and these systems are designed to improve survivability in the urban environment.’

In 2006, the US Army ordered 505 units of the TUSK kits from GDLS. The first Abrams series tank in Iraq fitted with the kit was in 2007. By the following year, most Abrams series tanks employed in country had the TUSK kits. However, some were never fitted with the kits due to shortages. Others had only certain components of the kits applied.

Reflecting the various versions of the Abrams series tanks that were deployed to Iraq during the Iraq Insurgency, there was a TUSK I kit for the M1A1 and a TUSK II kit for the M1A2 and M1A2 SEP, which included some additional items for fitting to those tanks upgraded with the TUSK I kits.

TUSK I

One of the most noticeable external features of the TUSK I kit fitted to the M1A1 and M1A2 is the use of reactive armor tiles, also commonly referred to as Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA), along the sides of the vehicle’s hull in place of the original armored side skirts. As listed on the American manufacturer’s website, the tiles are officially designated the XM-19 Abrams Reactive Armor Tile (ARAT) and first appeared in 2006.

The first public employment of ERA occurred during the Israeli military invasion of Lebanon in 1982, when they were photographed on the exterior of American-supplied M60 main battle tanks in service with the Israeli Army (IDF). The Israeli firm that made the ERA tiles assigned them the label ‘Blazer Armor’. The original design work on the Blazer Armor was done by a West German researcher working together with the IDF.

ERA tiles consist of a steel box that contains a special plastic explosive fitted in-between two steel plates. How ERA tiles function when struck is explained in a 1988 article by then US Army Captain James M. Warford titled Reactive Armor: New Life for Soviet Tanks, which appeared in the January-February issue of Armor magazine:

… the plastic explosive inside the brick [tile] detonates. The force of this detonation is directed away from the brick’s inner steel plate, and concentrates in the opposite direction of the attacking warhead. This explosion forces the HEAT-formed jet to malform and lose its energy so that the heavily-weakened jet is not capable of penetrating the tank’s main armor.

The ARAT set applied under TUSK I consists of 64 tiles, with 32 on each side of the hull, divided into two rows of 16 each. According to the manufacturer’s website the ARAT is insensitive to bullets and other types of small battlefield fragments and will only detonate when struck by a shaped charge warhead, found on the projectiles fired from shoulder-launched rocket propelled grenade launchers, such as the RPG-7.

Tusk II

Under TUSK II, the M1A2 received a new generation of ERA tiles in 2008, labeled the XM-32. They are referred to as ARAT II tiles by the manufacturer, the original version being relabeled the ARAT I. The ARAT II set consists of 78 tiles, with 32 on each side of the tank’s hull, divided into two rows of 16 each. Unlike the ARAT I set, the ARAT II includes 14 additional tiles, 7 mounted on either side of the turret of the tank it is fitted to. Pictorial evidence seems to suggest that the turret tiles are not always fitted, for an undisclosed reason.

Unlike the large box XM-19 tiles, optimized for protection from horizontally-fired shoulder-launched rocket-propelled grenade launchers, those of the XM-32 look like roof tiles. When fitted to an M1A2 SEP they are slanted downward, as they are optimized to protect the tank from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that are configured to fire an Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP). These shaped charge penetrators are currently employed on a number of American military weapons, including the TOW-2B antitank missile. Those used by the Iraqi insurgents were improvised and typically emplaced at ground level to fire upwards.

TUSK Crew Protection Upgrades

Due to the high demand from the tankers in Iraq, the initial production run of 130 units of the Loader’s Armored Gun Shield (LAGS), one of the numerous components making up the complete TUSK kits, was rushed to theater in 2005, before the complete kit sets were assembled. When the complete TUSK I kits reached Iraq in 2007, the Loader’s Armored Gun Shield was fitted with a thermal sight officially designated the Light Thermal Weapon Sight (LTWS).

With the introduction of the TUSK II kit there appeared a 360 degree open-topped armor shield for the M1A2 tank commanders, which included transparent armor to improve his visibility in combat when engaging the enemy. A much simpler open-topped shield arrangement had also been provided for the M1A1 series tanks under TUSK II. Externally, it appears the only TUSK feature adopted by the US Marine Corps in Iraq was the LAGS.

Due to the large-scale use of standard production antitank mines left over from the disbandment of Saddam Hussein’s Army, and IEDs by the Iraqi insurgents, an important component that formed part of TUSK I was a V-shaped armored plate 200mm thick attached to the bottom hull plate of Abrams series tanks in-country. It weighed 2,998lbs.

Reflecting the widespread use of conventional land mines and IEDs by the Iraqi insurgents, part of the TUSK I included a new Mine Resistant Driver’s Seat that minimized the effect of the blast and resulting shock wave on the driver. No longer was the driver’s seat mounted to the floor, which would transmit a shock wave to the driver’s body, but attached to the ceiling of the front hull compartment. In addition, the driver was provided with a four-point seat belt system to prevent him from being thrown around his compartment upon driving over a mine or IED.

TUSK Vision Upgrades

As part of TUSK I the drivers on the Abrams series tanks were provided with a thermal sight, which could be installed in their center periscope station if the situation dictated. It is labeled the Driver’s Vision Enhancer (DVE).

The TUSK I kits for the M1A1 series tanks included a thermal sight for the tank commander’s .50 caliber M2HB machine gun called the Remote Thermal Sight (RTS). The M1A2 did not require the RTS as it was already designed with one.

Miscellaneous TUSK Upgrades

To facilitate communication between the Abrams series tanks in Iraq and the dismounted infantry they often worked in conjunction with, the TUSK I kit included a Tank-Infantry Phone (TIP) placed at the right rear of the vertical engine compartment. It has an extension cable to allow an infantryman attempting to use the TIP to seek nearby cover if being fired upon.

To minimize the collateral damage caused by firing the 120mm main gun of the M1A1 and M1A2 series tanks deployed to Iraq when engaged in urban combat, the TUSK I featured a remote-controlled .50 caliber M2HB machine gun and a 200-round ammunition box attached to the mantlet of the tank. It is called the Counter Sniper/Anti-Material Mount (CS/AMM).

The .50 caliber M2HB machine that is the heart of the CS/AMM is fixed in position and is aimed by the gunner using his main gun controls. It can be fired separately from the main gun. From a 19 February 2008 article by Pfc. April Campbell, written for the Army News Service, comes this quote by 2nd Lieutenant Frank Simmons regarding the introduction of the CS/AMM in Iraq: ‘We’re still lethal at long ranges without destroying everything. The sniper rifle mitigates the collateral damage.’

TUSK Features Deleted

As part of the original TUSK I there had been a slat armor kit developed to protect the rear of the vehicle engine deck from strikes by rocket-propelled grenade launchers. At least one US Army armored unit equipped with the M1A2 SEP had them fitted for a time. For undisclosed reasons, maybe based on their limited use in the field, the slat armor kit was deemed impractical, and it was deleted from being part of the TUSK program.

Another feature proposed for the original TUSK program included a remote-control mount for the tank commander’s .50 caliber M2HB machine gun on the M1A2. This feature did not make it into the final TUSK program and did not appear in service until the introduction of the M1A2 SEP V2, fitted with the CROWS. Another feature proposed for the TUSK program was a rear hull camera system. It, like the CROWS, did not make it into the TUSK program, but later appeared on the M1A2 SEP V2.

 

Post-WWII Experimental AFV Types

Between the mid-1930s and the end of the Second World War, the British Army deployed around twenty types of tank, many of which were notable only for their lack of suitability to the task in hand. Following the end of the war, Churchill’s so-called ‘iron curtain’ descended across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union was considered to be the new foe. The lessons of the Second World War were well and truly learned, and over the following decades there have been just five types of main battle tank – Centurion, Chieftain, Challenger 1 and 2, and Conqueror – of which only Conqueror was an unqualified failure.

The situation was far less clear following VE-Day and plenty of Second World War types remained in service in those immediate post-war years, but it must have been obvious to all but the most casual observer of the military scene that most of them had less than a snowball’s chance in hell against the might of the Soviet IS-3 main battle tank. In the eyes of the West, the 122mm gun of the IS-3, combined with caststeel armour with a maximum thickness of 230mm, was a real game-changer. The 17-pounder (76.2mm) gun of the Sherman Firefly or the 77mm gun of the Comet might have stood some chance of penetrating the armour of a German Tiger, but this Soviet leviathan was another matter altogether.

Inevitably the IS-3 caused something of a panic in the West and suddenly bigger was better. It must have seemed as though everything that had gone before was obsolete … the FV301 light tank project, for example, became a casualty of this obsession with size even before prototypes had been constructed, and there is no doubt that the appearance of the IS-3 was responsible for the development of the British Conqueror. However, during the six years that it took to get Conqueror into production, the War Office asked the Department of Tank Design whether or not there was any possibility of quickly producing a heavy gun tank that might be capable of taking on the IS-3. The answer should have been a resounding ‘no’ but several brave attempts were made, often developed along the lines of ‘what would happen if we tried the turret of this tank on the hull of that’. However, none entered series production and all were superseded by the Centurion in its various roles.

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CAERNARVON MEDIUM GUN TANK: FV221

In April 1950, with the Conqueror heavy gun tank project mired in delays, the Department of Tank Design (DTD) completed the design for an interim medium gun tank, designated FV221 and named Caernarvon. It was effectively the hull of the FV214 Conqueror combined with the turret and gun of the Centurion, mounted via an adaptor ring. With the Conqueror turrets not ready for production, it was felt that the Caernarvon would give drivers an opportunity to get used to handling such a large vehicle.

The first example was prototyped by Vickers-Armstrong in Mk 1 configuration, armed with the 17-pounder (76.2mm) gun of the Centurion 1. A further twenty vehicles were eventually built in Mk 2 configuration, with the 20-pounder (84mm) gun of the Centurion 3, by the Royal Ordnance Factory Leeds, at a total price of £1.4 million. The first of the production vehicles was completed in April 1952 and the tanks were issued for troop trials a year later, and at least one vehicle had the turret ballasted to simulate the weight of the Conqueror turret.

The subsequent success of the Centurion led to the cancellation of the Caernarvon project after the completion of the troop trials in October 1953. Once the Conqueror turrets became available, seven of the Caernarvon hulls were eventually reworked into the standard Conqueror configuration, but one (07BA70), with the turret removed, was fitted with a Parsons gas-turbine engine in 1954, in place of the Rolls-Royce Meteor. The first armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) to be so equipped, it subsequently wound up being used as a dynamometer test vehicle at Christchurch and survives, sans gas turbine, at the Tank Museum.

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In its first incarnation the FV4005 Centurion assault gun consisted of an open-topped Centurion Mk 3 hull on which was mounted a 188mm gun with an auto-loader.

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Stage two of the FV4005 project saw the 180mm gun replaced by a 183mm weapon, this time installed in a huge rotating turret. In effect, it was little more than a splinter-proof steel enclosure. This vehicle has survived and is on display at the Tank Museum.

CENTURION 180mm/183mm ASSAULT GUN: FV4005

With work starting in 1951, pending the development of a similar self-propelled gun on the Conqueror chassis, FV4005 was an attempt to mount a 180mm gun on the Centurion Mk 3 hull. Stage 1 of the project consisted of an open-topped hull, with the gun having a limited traverse and a concentric recoil system; in this incarnation the gun was fitted with an auto-loader. In Stage 2 the gun was mounted in a light, splinter-proof turret with a conventional recoil system; loading of the ammunition was by hand.

By December 1952 the original 180mm gun had been replaced by a 183mm weapon but the project did not progress beyond the basic feasibility stage and by August 1957 had been abandoned without any series production. One of the prototypes is possibly still retained at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham.

OTHER CENTURION VARIANTS

In the early 1950s several proposals were made to use the Centurion chassis as a self-propelled (SP) gun mount.

FV3802 was based on a shortened version of the Centurion Mk 7 and was equipped with the venerable QF 25-pounder (87.6mm) gun. The first of three prototypes appeared in October 1955, but the vehicle was not considered satisfactory and, under pressure from the Royal Artillery, became the FV3805, in which role it was equipped with a huge 5.5in gun. Two prototypes were constructed in this form and were trialled, but the project was eventually cancelled in 1960 in favour of the FV433 Abbott.

Although it does not appear that any of these projects progressed beyond the stages of feasibility discussions and/or mock-ups, there were also plans to use the Centurion chassis to mount the 7.2in howitzer (FV3806), the 120mm anti-tank gun (FV3807), the 20-pounder (84mm) medium gun (FV3808) and the 155mm gun (FV3809). All were quickly discounted.

In 1967 British Aerospace demonstrated a Centurion Mk 5 that had been equipped with the Swingfire wire-guided anti-tank missile system, in the form of twin launchers mounted on the turret sides. Both the Centurion and the Chieftain were also used as a mount for the Marconi Marksman anti-aircraft turret.

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The development of FV215B was carried out by Nuffield Mechanizations & Aero during 1950 with the intention of mounting a huge 180mm anti-tank gun on the Conqueror hull. The photograph shows a wooden model of the proposed vehicle; a full-scale mock-up was almost completed by mid-1955 before the project was abandoned.

CONQUEROR GUN TANK VARIANTS

The Conqueror prototype number three was intended to demonstrate the flamethrower role and consisted of a Centurion Mk 3 turret with a 20-pounder (84mm) main gun and flame-projector equipment. By the time the flame equipment was ready for trials in July 1948, the decision had been taken to abandon the project and to fit the flame-thrower equipment to the Centurion instead.

FV205 was a proposal for mounting a medium anti-tank gun on the Conqueror hull but it was cancelled in April 1949 with little progress having been made. Some consideration was also given to using the Conqueror hull to mount a high-velocity anti-tank gun in a huge ball mount in the glacis plate (FV206), rather in the style of the German tank killers (Sturmgeschütz) of the Second World War. This project was abandoned in July 1948, as was a similar project designed to provide a Conqueror-based self-propelled gun using a 152mm weapon (FV207).

In May 1952 there was also an abortive proposal to mount a 120mm medium anti-tank gun on the Conqueror hull under the designation FV217. It had been abandoned by the end of the year.

HEAVY GUN TANK NUMBER 2: FV215B

Development work on what was known as ‘heavy gun tank number 2’, or FV215B, was carried out by Nuffield Mechanizations & Aero during 1950 with the intention of mounting a 180mm gun on the hull of the Conqueror. Three trial vehicles were intended to be constructed by Vickers-Armstrong, with the work being undertaken between 1951 and 1955, but two of these were subsequently cancelled before the whole project was abandoned in early 1957 to be replaced by the Malkara wire-guided anti-tank missile, mounted on the armoured 1-ton Humber truck chassis.

The same 180mm gun was also mounted in a Centurion chassis under the project designation FV4005.

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CONWAY TANK DESTROYER: FV4004

Developed during the period 1950–1952, the Conway FV4004 tank destroyer consisted of the hull of the Centurion on which was mounted a larger gun in an attempt to provide sufficient firepower to counter the Soviet IS-3 heavy tank until work on the Conqueror project was complete.

A single experimental vehicle was constructed by the Royal Ordnance Factory Leeds, carrying a huge rolled-steel turret, designed by the Auster Aircraft Company and constructed by Chubbs of Wolverhampton, in which was mounted the American 120mm L1A1 anti-tank gun intended for the Conqueror. The gun had to be mounted high in the turret to prevent the recoil from impacting on the turret ring, and yet the maximum elevation was just 10 degrees. The height of the turret upset the centre of gravity of the vehicle and made transportation very difficult.

Trials continued throughout 1952, but at the end of the year the Conway project was cancelled. The prototype resides at the Tank Museum.

 

British Armour – Lessons to be Learned I

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Following victory in Tunisia there was a pause in British ground operations for two months until the invasion of Sicily on 10 July. This gave the opportunity for re-organization of formations and units, for training and for re-equipment where necessary. It also allowed for rest and recuperation as well as reflection on how the campaign in North Africa had been handled, and how its lessons might be applied to future campaigns in Europe. Of course there had been a steady flow of information back to the UK on the campaign as it progressed, on the quality – or otherwise – of equipment, on tactical thinking and co-operation between arms. All this was shaping the doctrine that would be applied by the Army, including its armoured divisions, in the remainder of the war.

Allied grand strategy was also being discussed, with the Americans eager to invade north-west Europe as soon as possible and the Soviets calling for the western Allies to open a second front. British thinking was that the forces in North Africa should be committed to further operations in the Mediterranean to knock Italy out of the war and ‘tighten the ring’ on Germany. It had already been agreed that British and American forces would invade Sicily, but the Americans had yet to agree that this should be followed up with landings on mainland Italy. As a result, preparations were under way for operations in both the Mediterranean and north-west Europe. Many formations that had taken part in operations in North Africa were designated for the invasion of France and would be shipped back to the UK as soon as possible, although some would fight in Sicily and the early phase of the Italian campaign. These included 7th Armoured Division and 4 and 8 Armoured Brigades.

This pause in armoured operations permits an opportunity to look at how British armour had developed, in terms of doctrine, operations and equipment, since 1939. The crucible of operational experience had led to the distilling to its essence of all the doctrinal theory that abounded in military circles, as may be seen in the July to December 1942 progress report of the RAC, which noted that:

The tactical distinction between the employment of Armoured Brigades and Tank Brigades is becoming increasingly nebulous … This trend is naturally reflected in the … American Sherman tank – accepted by the troops as the best tank they have yet been given … the concept of the heavy slow powerful ‘Infantry’ or ‘Assault’ tank has definitely receded.

The basic divisional order of battle had had a major change in May 1942 with the second armoured brigade replaced by an infantry brigade, as had happened in the Middle East at the end of February. Further modifications in August 1942, April 1943, March 1944 and May 1945 retained that combination of one armoured and one infantry brigade. The Middle East orbat of February 1942 made the brigade group the basic battle formation with the support groups being broken up and their artillery units added to the brigade groups. While the May 1942 orbat for a division in the UK reflected this basic outline artillery units remained under divisional command. With Montgomery’s arrival in Eighth Army the division again became the basic battle formation, with artillery returning to divisional command. In the April 1943 re-organization the divisional reconnaissance regiment, until then an armoured car regiment, became an armoured regiment; and there were various other modifications. Military Training Pamphlet No. 41 of July 1943 (MTP 41/1943) included the ‘Normal organization of an armoured division’ which it noted ‘may alter as a result of evolution’. On a working basis the document noted that the division included:

An armoured divisional headquarters.

An armoured brigade.

An infantry brigade.

Divisional troops:

One armoured reconnaissance regiment.

Two field artillery regiments, one of which will normally be self-propelled.

One anti-tank regiment RA, of which one battery will be self-propelled.

One light anti-aircraft regiment RA.

Two field squadrons and one field park squadron RE.

Armoured divisional signals.

Services.

The pamphlet noted that an armoured division was organized for employment as a single fighting entity, was well balanced for that purpose, and would normally fight as a whole under command of its own GOC. It went on to point out that:

It is a mounted, hard-hitting formation primarily constituted for use against hastily prepared enemy defences, for exploitation of initial success gained by other formations and for pursuit.

It is designed for use in rapid thrusts against the enemy’s vitals, rather than in hammer blows against his organized defences. It is the rapier in the hands of the higher commander, rather than the bludgeon.

Its full power will only be exerted by the employment of its armour concentrated, and supported by all the other components of the division.

And that its normal roles were:

Co-operation with the main army and the Air Forces in effecting the complete destruction of the enemy, usually by envelopment, or by deep penetration through his defences after a gap has been made in his main position by other formations.

Pursuit.

Co-operation with other arms in the defence, usually by counter-attack.

To threaten the enemy and so force him to alter or disclose his dispositions.

With the armoured division operating as intended:

the enemy will be forced to react, and his armour will normally be constantly encountered. Only when the bulk of the hostile tanks have been destroyed will armoured formations attain such a measure of freedom and mobility as will enable them to exploit to the full their ability to inflict a decisive blow against the enemy’s main forces.

The division’s armoured brigade was intended to strike the decisive blow, with the remainder of the division’s resources, ‘together with all available aircraft’, deploying to:

  • fight any preliminary action necessary to enable the armoured brigade to be launched against a vital objective over suitable country.
  • support the attack of the armoured brigade.
  • consolidate and mop up after such an attack.

MTP 41/1943 compared the operation of an armoured division to the work of a rugby scrum with the armoured brigade as the wing forward. ‘The vast majority of the players at first employ all their strength and energy to hold and push back their opponents’ but when this is done the wing forward may ‘break away … to penetrate the defence, and the remainder of the forwards will back up his attempt to score’. The success of the armoured brigade depended on the initial efforts of the remainder of the division, or other formations, and their continuing support when the breakaway had been made.

By the time MTP 41/1943 was issued the armoured brigade included a brigade HQ, three armoured regiments and a motor battalion. Each regiment deployed sixty-nine tanks (fifty-five gun tanks, six close support – CS – and eight anti-aircraft – AA – tanks) while the armoured reconnaissance regiment had fifty-one tanks (thirty-one gun tanks, twelve CS and eight AA tanks), the armoured brigade HQ had a further ten gun tanks and divisional HQ employed eight gun and two AA tanks, giving the division an overall total of 278 tanks. (The term ‘cruiser’ was still being used to describe the Grant and the Sherman although ‘gun tank’ or ‘battle tank’ are more appropriate.) In addition to this substantial armoured force, there were armoured cars, scout cars, carriers, two field artillery regiments – a total of forty-eight weapons – an anti-tank regiment with both 6- and 17-pounders, and a light AA regiment with Bofors 40mm guns, as well as the lorries to carry the armoured brigade’s motor battalion and the three infantry battalions of the lorried infantry brigade. In all the division had over 3,000 vehicles, including its tanks, and almost 15,000 personnel.

The infantry brigade in an armoured division included a brigade HQ, three battalions and a support group. Unlike other infantry, those attached to an armoured division were usually carried in lorries and were therefore mounted infantry, with tactics resembling ‘those of mounted infantry in the past’, trained especially for their role. ‘When mounted their speed on roads is greater than that of the armoured brigade. When dismounted it is essential that they should be trained to move for considerable periods at a really rapid pace.’

How did the lorried infantry differ from the motor battalion of the armoured brigade? The principal difference was that the motor battalion was tactically mounted, i.e. carried as far forward as possible (the provision of half-tracks was to assist in this). Other differences included the fact that the motor battalion had greater firepower, although weaker in manpower, and had many more vehicles, including carriers and scout cars, and also  possessed anti-tank guns. Each motor battalion company had integral reconnaissance and administrative elements, making it flexible enough to operate as a self-contained sub-unit. By contrast the infantry brigade units had greater manpower but less firepower. Their role was described thus:

If the ‘rugger’ analogy is maintained, infantry brigades may be considered as the ‘front row forwards’ since their first object is to get the better of their opponents in the ‘tight’ and to push them so as to produce an opportunity for penetration, and then to back up the battle.

Since tanks by themselves cannot win battles, it is the function of the infantry brigade, as of the remainder of the division, firstly to enable the armoured brigade to come into action on favourable ground, secondly to support its attack, and thirdly to mop up and consolidate the ground it has gained.

The artillery element of the armoured division was now stabilized at two regiments, one of towed 25-pounders and one of self-propelled 25-pounders, or M7 Priests with 105mm howitzers, with the SP regiment normally with the armoured brigade. However, both regiments came under command of the divisional Commander Royal Artillery (CRA), a centralized command which meant that the fire of both could be concentrated ‘for the achievement of the divisional commander’s object’. Although not intended to fire in the anti-tank role, the 25-pounders were to be sited ‘with adequate anti-tank fields of fire’. However, it was also emphasized that the SP guns were artillery ‘and that any attempt to employ them improperly as tanks will result in most serious casualties, without the attainment of any compensating advantage’.

Defence against enemy armour was the role of the divisional anti-tank regiment, now evolving into a four-battery unit, deploying forty-eight guns, of which two were towed batteries each with twelve 6-pounders and the other two were self-propelled with American M10 tank destroyers, armed with 3-inch guns (later replaced by 17-pounders in M10s and Achilles). This regiment was usually used ‘with a view to furthering the achievement of the general plan of the divisional commander’; it also provided protection during long halts while the division was on the move, replenishing, recovering or in harbour. It was emphasized that:

The skill, determination, and resource of every member of an anti-tank regiment must, therefore, be of the very highest order, especially in the armoured division where, because of the circumstances of its employment, the anti-tank personnel will be confronted with situations demanding the highest qualities of courage, self-reliance, and initiative.

As with the SP field guns, there was an injunction against becoming engaged in an armoured mêlée, although the SPGs’ light armour and good performance across country made them ‘suitable for employment in support of the attacking brigade, especially for consolidation, and as a mobile reserve’. It may be noted that US Army doctrine saw the tank as the main weapon of exploitation but envisaged SP anti-tank guns dealing with enemy tanks; those SP weapons were dubbed tank destroyers, a doctrine found to be flawed deeply.

Diminishing enemy air strength in the Mediterranean meant that the divisional light AA regiment may not have been as important as before but continued to be included in the orbat to protect the field artillery positions, defiles, and troops and transport while forming up. It also had a secondary role against enemy tanks although this was considered ‘exceptional’ by July 1943.

The overall number of armoured formations in the Army had reduced from its peak in 1942. Two of the three youngest armoured divisions – 42nd and 79th – were to be disbanded although the latter was reprieved by being chosen in early 1943 as the parent formation for all British specialized armour; 42nd ceased to exist in October 1943. A month after the invasion of Europe 9th Armoured Division was also disbanded in the UK; neither 9th nor 42nd Divisions ever saw action. As we have already noted 8th Armoured Division was broken up shortly after landing in Egypt and disbanded on 1 January 1943; although 23 Armoured Brigade survived as an independent brigade, 24 Armoured Brigade was also disbanded, its only action having been at El Alamein. Tenth Armoured Division saw no further action after El Alamein and deployed to Palestine and Syria, eventually being disbanded in Egypt in June 1944.

Concerns felt by crewmen about the reliability of the Crusader had also been reported back to Whitehall where the Director of Armoured Fighting Vehicles (DAFV) expressed serious concern at the poor state of reliability, as did the Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Lieutenant General Ronnie Weeks. In Weeks’ view ‘reliability must be considered more important than numbers’, a theme that now permeated official thinking in Whitehall where an emphasis was placed on producing better tanks. Six design requirements were set: reliability; gun; speed; endurance; armour; fighting compartment. The Sherman, then being delivered in increasing numbers, was reliable with a satisfactory gun, but was outgunned by the latest German tanks. In fact, it was felt by the General Staff that the American 75mm, as fitted in the Sherman, was ‘the best dual-purpose tank weapon yet produced’ and, at the earliest opportunity, should be adopted as the standard gun in British tanks. In a sense this was a return to the mistake made, for different reasons, with the 2-pounder. Fortunately, there was another view. ‘A first-class anti-tank weapon of the six-pounder or heavier type modernized to its highest performance’ had been called for. Work was in hand to lengthen the 6-pounder and provide it with armourpiercing Capped Ballistic Capped Ammunition (APCBC) with greater penetrative power. This was overtaken by a War Office request that a quarter of tanks in British service should be fitted with the 17-pounder to engage more heavily-armoured tanks. As a result it was decided to adapt Cromwell, then under development, to mount the 17-pounder. However, the changes to the basic design, involving a lengthened hull, stronger suspension and a very high turret, led to another tank, A30 or Challenger, which proved a disappointment and certainly did not live up to its name.

Nonetheless, the idea of mounting the 17-pounder in a quarter of British tanks did come to fruition with the adaptation of the Sherman to carry the new weapon. This British version, dubbed Firefly, was issued on a one-in-four basis to all British armoured units in the armoured divisions, including those later equipped with Cromwells; the Firefly in a Cromwell troop was even more obvious than its counterpart in a Sherman troop. (The arrival of Firefly brought about a troop- and squadron-level re-organization, with a Firefly added to the existing three tanks of a troop but the number of troops in a squadron reduced from five to four.)

Cromwell had begun life in 1941 as a requirement for a heavy cruiser, weighing about 25 tons, with a 6-pounder gun and 75mm frontal armour. The General Staff, realizing that the earlier concept of light cruisers ‘swirling around the battlefield like a naval fleet’ did not match the reality of warfare, wrote this requirement. The resultant tank, Cavalier, was not a success but Leyland Motors suggested modifying the design using a de-rated Rolls Royce Merlin aero-engine with mechanical reliability of a level not yet seen with British tanks. With insufficient Merlins available, Leyland had to make do with the Nuffield Liberty engine and the result was given the name Centaur. As an interim design it saw limited service. Leyland continued pursuing the Merlin alternative and when de-rated Merlins, re-named Meteors, became available the design was changed once more. The end result was Cromwell, a 25-ton tank capable of 40mph and carrying a 6-pounder in its turret with a 7.92mm Besa co-axial machine gun. Cromwell’s distinctive large, flat-sided turret was spacious enough for its armament to be improved to a 75mm while a support version mounted a 95mm howitzer. Cromwell also met the reliability criterion, although there were early worries on that point. Its performance and cross-country agility were welcomed by crews.

British Armour – Lessons to be Learned II

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The Cromwell tank, officially Tank, Cruiser, Mk VIII, Cromwell (A27M),

Tanks were growing bigger as demonstrated by the appearance of the Panzer Mk VI, or Tiger, in Russia and Tunisia. The United States had begun developing a 50-ton heavy tank, M6, armed with a 3-inch gun, but the US Army’s Armored Force decided that mobility came before either armour or gun power and cancelled the project. (In addition, as already noted, the Americans remained fixated on the tank-destroyer concept, a belief that self-propelled anti-tank guns on lightly-armoured hulls would fight other tanks, allowing US tanks to execute the exploitation role.) A British heavy tank, TOG, was also abandoned, but this had been a throwback to the Great War whereas the American M6, although beset by problems, had potential. Cancellation of M6 was followed by another programme, T20, which was also killed off by the Armored Force, which preferred to up-gun and up-armour Sherman; it had been expected that T20s would also enter British service. Eventually the US Army did get a heavier tank, the M26 Pershing with a 90mm gun, but only towards the end of the war. None were supplied to the British Army which was waiting for the A41 universal tank, which became Centurion, the finest tank of its generation. The mid-war period was one of flux in the development of armour with many new theories being promoted about weapon performance and armour protection. The American cancellation of M6 may be seen as short-sighted in light of the appearance of the Tiger but DAFV made a similar decision in Britain; the DRAC even described the 88mm-armed Tiger as ‘a clumsy fighting vehicle’. Macksey commented:

The evidence concerning anticipated enemy equipment and techniques was inevitably incomplete and therefore subject to a measure of guesswork. It was not entirely unreasonable that, at a moment when DAFV was rejecting heavy assault tanks, the defensive potential of the Tiger tank … was for some time underrated, although DAFV’s expectation that the Germans would mount heavy anti-tank guns on self-propelled mountings, in the same way as the British and Americans intended to do, was entirely justified.

The Defence Committee, prompted by the Ministry of Supply, made clear that it preferred not to rely on American production for Britain’s tank needs in the remainder of the war ‘on the grounds that it was undesirable to let it appear that the war had been won by American tanks. A preference to continue with Churchill and Cromwell was stated’.

As well as Tiger the Germans had developed another new tank, Panzer Mark V, or Panther. A medium tank weighing 45 tons – half as heavy again as demanded in the original specification – it carried a 75mm gun twice as long as that of the improved Panzer Mark IV. On Hitler’s orders the gun was made even longer. Having overcome teething problems, Panther proved an excellent tank; a powerful gun, thick armour and speed all contributed to it being the best German tank of the war. It was developed to combat the Russian T-34 and was superior to it in most respects, except that Germany could not match Soviet production levels: only 5,500 Panthers were built between 1942 and 1945 whereas 11,000 T-34s rolled off the production lines in 1944 alone. Although there are no doubts about the technical qualities of the Panther, it was over-engineered which meant longer time in production and more complicated maintenance in the field. Had the Germans been willing, a captured T-34, which provided the specification for Panther, could have been used to reverse engineer a German version, of which many more could have been built; but German engineering hubris ensured that this simpler Panzer Mark V did not develop beyond a thought.

It is worth considering the T-34 briefly. The best all-round tank of the war, it was also built in the greatest numbers, with over 57,000 produced by 1945 (the USA produced over 50,000 Shermans). Design work started in 1936, based on the BT-7. With a high-velocity 76.2mm gun, low turret, sloped armour, powerful engine and Christie suspension, T-34 was a shock to German panzer crews. It was later fitted with an enlarged turret and the 85mm anti-aircraft gun to become T-34/85. Wide tracks and excellent suspension allowed it to operate effectively, even on ground covered in snow or mud, giving it a tactical as well as numerical superiority over its adversaries. Not surprisingly, T-34 remained in service and production after the war and its production totals have been exceeded only by its successor, the T-54.

Also under discussion at this time were armoured warfare tactics since it was not clear whether those that had worked in the desert would translate to Europe. However, it was appreciated that the conditions experienced in Tunisia approximated more closely to those of Europe and that the armoured division as deployed in Tunisia, with its armoured brigade and lorried infantry brigade, was well balanced. Its only apparent defect lay in having only an armoured car regiment for reconnaissance and so it was decided to use an armoured regiment instead.

The revised organization was not viewed as definitive since emphasis was laid on the fact that the division had to be flexible with its organization adjustable to circumstances. In the next phase of the war, as British armoured divisions fought in Italy and north-west Europe, that flexibility was demonstrated by the adoption of the battlegroup within the divisions, and the addition of a second infantry brigade to cope with the problems created by Italy’s terrain.

By this stage of the war the British armoured division was a much more professional formation. Training of new soldiers, many posted as casualty replacements, had been improved so that new crews reporting to units for the first time were better prepared for combat. This contrasted sharply with the earlier days of the war when the arrival of inadequately trained replacements had added to the existing burden on fighting men. There had been a Royal Armoured Corps Depot in Egypt, at Abbassia, north-east of Cairo, since pre-war days that fed men into the armoured units in the Middle East. As the war progressed the lessons learned in action had been taught to new arrivals whilst specialist courses for all ranks in skills such as gunnery, signals and maintenance were also provided. By early 1943 the system of assimilating reinforcements and preparing them for their units had been refined to such an extent that an Armoured Replacement Group had been created, consisting of armoured delivery regiments and, closer to the fighting front, armoured delivery squadrons to feed both battle-ready men and machines to their new units. This scheme mirrored that established in the UK.

Among changes that began in the Middle East were some affecting gunnery. Initiated in the summer of 1942, these were soon being taught at the Gunnery School at Lulworth in England. Macksey notes that these changes inspired the commandant of the Gunnery School, Colonel R. A. H. Walker, to start ‘a crusade to develop long range fire (up to 2,000 yards) and indirect shooting’. At that time tank guns were generally free elevating and controlled by the gunner’s shoulder. Walker averred that the free elevating gun ‘had to be replaced by an elevating wheel; that elevating and traversing gears must be tightened up; and that telescopes with improved magnification must be introduced’. Walker’s comments were supported by Major General Raymond Briggs who became Director RAC in early August 1943. However, as Macksey states:

the indirect fire requirement was already shown to be less important than the enthusiasts believed. Rarely was it undertaken above troop level, but longer range shooting had already been demonstrated in action both in Tunisia and Sicily. Early in 1944 the new techniques were adopted and, as the seat of war moved to Europe, the centre of activity in the development of better gunnery shifted to the UK, at the AFV Schools and in the experimental establishments.

The AFV Schools were making a major contribution to the development of armour as the ‘whole of the British-orientated armoured forces, including elements from certain foreign nations, looked to Bovington and Lulworth’. Officers were being instructed at the Tactical School where lessons from the front were passed on but it also served as a ‘brains trust’ to discuss and argue over ideas. Elsewhere, the Military College of Science had a Fighting Vehicles Wing where suitably qualified officers could qualify as instructors in the more rarefied aspects of tank technology. This Wing developed, first, into the RAC School of Tank Technology and then the Armour School. By mid1943 new recruits for RAC units – and there were about 2,000 each month – were receiving training based on battlefield experience, as were new officers. Nor was there any shortage of AFVs for training. The days of scarcity had gone: at the end of 1943 the RAC had 15,732 AFVs across the world.

The experience of Operation JUBILEE, the Dieppe raid of 20 August 1942, knowledge of the German work on coast defences – the so-called Atlantic Wall – and the problems created by the enemy use of minefields in North Africa all led to the decision to employ specialized armour in the invasion of Europe. By July 1943 a range of specialized armour was being developed, including updated Sherman-based flail tanks to supersede the early rudimentary mine-clearing tanks. Assault engineer tanks, based on the Churchill, were also in development as was a range of other ‘Funnies’, as they were known. General Sir Alan Brooke, CIGS and a former GOC Mobile Division, believed that all such specialized armour should be grouped under a single commander. This decision led to the reprieve from disbandment for the most junior British armoured division, 79th, which was re-roled to assume the specialized armour task. Command was given to Major General Percy Hobart, who had already raised 11th Armoured Division.

As well as operating the specialized armour 79th Armoured Division was to train British, Canadian and American armoured units in the use of amphibious tanks, Shermans fitted with flotation screens and Duplex Drive (DD), allowing them to travel through water. The DD Shermans were intended to play a major role in the landings in Normandy, although sea conditions restricted their use. They were also used later in the campaign. The conversion and deployment of 79th Armoured Division illustrates the most enlightened and innovative use of armour by the British Army in the Second World War. It was unmatched by any other combatant, especially in the method of employment, with Hobart acting as specialized armour adviser to the commander 21 Army Group, General, later Field Marshal, Sir Bernard Montgomery, and with a similar command and oversight system at formation, unit and sub-unit levels so that the special skills and equipment of the division were not misused.

At much the same time each field army HQ received a new element of staff with the introduction of a Brigadier RAC (BRAC) and staff. Brigadier George Richards, who had commanded 4 and 23 Armoured Brigades, was appointed BRAC to HQ Eighth Army in time for the invasion of Italy while Brigadier Harry Watkins became BRAC at Allied Forces HQ with the special remit of protecting RAC interests there, as well as setting up the RAC structure in southern Europe. No BRAC was appointed to First Army which was allowed to fade away as preparations continued to invade Sicily.

There were other changes at higher levels that indicate maturing attitudes towards armour. In late 1941 three armoured groups had been created, commanded by Crocker, McCreery and Creagh, the most experienced armoured commanders. These had been intended as operational formations and to co-ordinate training at formation level but were short-lived; they were armoured corps in all but name. As well as the abolition of the armoured groups, the post of Commander RAC was replaced by a post of Major General RAC at Home Forces HQ while, in February 1943, DAFV had been retitled DRAC; the AFV branches in the War Office also became RAC branches.

Perhaps the most important change that had come about was not one that could be quantified. It was the recognition that armour was not something different but an integral and essential part of any field army. An armoured division was seen as a ‘formation consisting of all arms’ to work with all arms and the air forces to destroy the enemy’s forces. The ‘them and us’ attitude of the past was dying out and its disappearance ensured that much more effective use would be made of armoured divisions in the future and that those divisions would work more closely with other arms.

As training and preparations were being finalized for the invasion of Sicily, armoured divisions in the UK were training for another invasion that would take place in 1944 and put British troops back on French soil for the first time since 1940. However, only three of the five armoured divisions in Britain would fight in north-west Europe, where they would be joined by 7th Armoured, the Desert Rats. Those were Guards, 11th and 79th Armoured Divisions.