PANHARD CRAB

A pictorial of Panhard Crab in an urban scenario. Light, well protected and heavily armed, the new Panhard vehicle is the company answer to the needs of the near future.

The Crab unveiled at Eurosatory 2012 carries a number of very special features and, apart from its 25mm CTI turret which makes it one of the most heavily armed light armoured vehicles, can move sideways like a crab.

This picture shows the three crew members positions in the Panhard Crab and the Thales Vsys-net vetronic system.

Two sets of solar cells are installed over the Crab in order to increase the onboard available power and the batteries endurance when the engine is not running.

As part of the Phase 2 of the Scorpion programme (Synergie du Contact Renforcé par la Polyvalence et l’Infovalorisation) that will bring the French Armée de Terre into a new era, is a light vehicle with peculiar mobility and firepower characteristics known as the VBAE (for Véhicule Blindé d’Aide a l’Engagement). This will not only cover the scout mission needs of heavier vehicles such as the Leclerc main battle tank, but also provide means for cavalrytype missions such as screening, flanking and so on, missions that require both a high level of mobility and sufficient firepower. The role of this new vehicle thus well exceeds that of the VBL (Véhicule Blindé Léger) introduced by Panhard over 25 years ago and which currently provides the “eyes” to French Army armoured formations. Based in Marolles (south of Paris), the firm which incidentally became Panhard General Defense in 2006, unveiled its proposal for the VBAE programme at the last Eurosatory exhibition and named it the Crab (Combat Reconnaissance Armoured Buggy).

In its initial version the Crab will have a three-man crew, the same as the VBL, but similarities end here. First of all its combat weight is nearly thrice that of the original VBL’s, which was set at three tonnes for air-transportability purposes. In the configuration shown at Eurosatory the Crab tipped the scales at 8.5 tonnes, but the automotive components could cope with an inflation to 10 tonnes without impairing mobility (that is a lesson learned from the VBL where the increased combat weight had reduced the original vehicle’s mobility). Mobility is an integral part of the Crab global survivability, which also combines protection and stealthiness.

One of the key elements of mobility is power-to-weight ratio. Currently Panhard is considering two different engines for its Crab, both ensuring a minimum of 35 hp/t for an 8.5 tonne combat weight, which means an output of about 300 hp. Horses can be increased when needed thanks to a 400-Amp starter-alternator that can not only provide an additional shove when needed, but also enable the Crab to silently creep over short distances using the electric energy stored in its batteries (two solar cell panels are installed on the two sides on the rear of the vehicle to assist recharging the batteries in daylight). The Crab’s stealthiness is further increased by the reduced shape of the vehicle, its height being a mere 1.8 metres over the roof. The cabin shape has also been engineered to minimise radar reflection, with angled surfaces contributing to both a lower RCS and a higher protection against ballistic threat.

Turning back to mobility, the Crab has a permanent 4×4 drive, but while both its axles steer they can do so either in opposition to generate a turning circle of less than 10 metres, or in unison, hence heading in the lateral same direction (albeit at a limited angle), to enable the vehicle to “drift” sideways like a crab! Moreover a rear-looking camera and a two-ratio reverse gearbox enable the Panhard vehicle to quickly back away in yet another configuration where only the rear wheels are allowed to steer. As for suspensions, these are derived from those adopted by the Panhard VBR 4×4, which features independent oleo-pneumatic suspensions and adjustable ground clearance (standard ground clearance being set at 450 mm). A noteworthy point is that the Crab adopts tyres of similar dimensions as those of the VBR.

The Crab is built around a citadel hosting the three-man crew, with access through two vertical clamshell doors – the lower clam embedding a step to facilitate ingress and egress given the Crab floor height. Panhard proposes its new vehicle with ballistic protection of between Level 2 and Level 4 to meet customer needs. As for mine protection the company has tested underbelly armour solutions up to Level 3a, although the vehicle has some growth potential also in that field. It is to note that the underbelly does not have the typical deep “V” shape: in the middle the bottom is flat while only the sides are rising, maximum protection being obtained thanks to a triple floor that absorbs most of the energy. Wings (fenders in American) are made of light material, which in the event of a mine detonation will vent out most of the energy and thereby reduce the height at which the Crab would be heaved by the explosion and conversely reduce the subsequent “landing thump”. Energy absorption seats further reduce injury risk for the crew, but nevertheless ensure maximum ergonomics when the Crab moves at high speed over rough terrain.

The driver faces three multifunction colour screens, while commander and gunner have two. To ensure maximum situational awareness the Crab is equipped with a six-camera 360° vision system. The front windscreen is made of three elements and is angled to ensure optimal upward direct visibility, a vital necessity in urban terrain. Thales purposely developed for the Crab an innovative vetronic system (systronic) known as the Vsys-net that improves the overall system performance in terms of mobility, observation, protection and firepower. Based on an open and modular non-proprietary architecture it allows easy interfacing with electronic systems of various origins. The Crab systronic includes a battlefield management system and a radio system that allows its integration into the Scorpion digitised scenario. The Vsys-net allows full rerolling of the three combat positions in order to optimise the workload in the various moments of the mission. Although the commander maintains his prerogative, the hunter-killer function can be redistributed to all three positions. The intercom can also be used by a dismounted crew-member (standard range is around 300 metres but a onekilometre option can be installed on customer demand). The Vsys-net allows to distribute all imagery produced by weapons, on-board sensors and local situational awareness systems to each crew station, while image processing for alert and analysis is also integrated. An ultra-compact inertial and GPS location system provides high accurate geolocation as well as the link to a target designation system, while the availability of terrain profiles increases mobility.

Turning now to its armament, the Crab can host a variety of remotely controlled turrets equipped with weapons up to 30 mm in calibre. The version shown at Eurosatory was equipped with a Cockerill Maintenance & Ingénierie turret armed with a 25mm Bushmaster M242, the overall mount weighing around 800 kg. Although lighter than most Mrap-type vehicles currently in service, the Crab can withstand such a 40 kN recoil level weapon because of its very low centre of gravity, whereas Mraps are limited by their top-heavy configuration that makes them rather unstable. The CMI weapon station has been purposely adapted to the Crab to optimise turret/chassis coupling and has been equipped with a hatch that allows the vehicle commander to have a direct view of the surroundings, which is a French Army requirement. The turret features a stabilised panoramic sight with a 60° elevation (the cannon’s elevation range is -10°/+45°). A dual feed system allows to use two types of ammunition, the overall number being 150 rounds.

An open bottom allows reloading and maintenance operation to be carried out from under armour for maximum crew safety. Guided missiles are another armament choice for the Crab, as well as lighter turrets that include smaller calibre weapons and target designation systems. Due to its low shape and limited dimensions, precise figures were not provided but by rule of thumb the Crab is 5 metres long and 2.5 metres wide. It can be loaded onto a C-130H, a C-130J will take two and a A-400M three, meaning that the latter is able to land a ready-to-operate platoon.

According to company sources the Crab positively impressed the French Army Staff as well as the General Armaments Direction when the vehicle was illustrated to the officials. Its dimensions perfectly match the Army’s requirements, although these are still in the definition stage, a beyond line-of-sight role being envisaged for the VBAE.

When developing the Crab Panhard General Defense did not exclusively eye the domestic market; according to the company there is a market for light vehicles equipped with medium armament since that niche is currently devoid of competitors. Systems such as the Panhard AML and Sagaie or the Engesa Cascavel, as well as light tracked vehicles like the Scorpion do not have successors, therefore their missions could well be taken over by the Crab equipped with adequate weapon systems. Africa, Latin America and the Middle East are the geographical areas where such systems are still currently in service and where the new Panhard vehicle might find its new customers. Besides the technical aspects that make it a considerably flexible system, the Crab features another important marketing plus – its price. A price-oriented rather than a capability-oriented design was followed by Panhard engineers, the company being well aware that Western armies budgets are shrinking while in the rest of the world it often has to compete against wares coming from less developed countries, thus with lower prices. Obviously Panhard is not revealing its figures (the Crab is not yet industrialised anyhow), but it is clear that its aim is to maintain it at more than competitive levels. When the Crab will be available depends very much on when the first customer will materialise, the French Army VBAE programme being still quite away although things might change in relatively short time.

LINK

LINK

Polish Armour 1939

After the First World War, Poland was revived as an independent state by grouping together the territories previously occupied by Germany, Russia and Austria. The. new Polish national army came into being soon afterwards from a nucleus formed by a Polish corps which had been organised in France. Interest in armoured vehicles soon appeared, when units of the Polish Army were sent for training periods with the French Army. One regiment of tanks, equipped with Renault FT machines, arrived in Poland in June 1919 and one of its battalions took part in the Russo-Polish conflict of 1919-20, which soon took a quite different form from the former entrenched type of warfare which had prevailed on the Western front. In Poland, small mechanised forces, combining armoured cars with motorised infantry and truck- drawn artillery, were often engaged in deep raiding parties.

The Russo-Polish War was ended by a peace treaty in 1921, and the Polish armoured forces were reorganised along French lines. While the armoured cars were given to the Cavalry, the tanks became part of the Infantry and were established into a tank regiment with three battalions.

Between 1923 and 1930, most of the activities of the Poles in the tank development field were concentrated on continuous attempts to improve the Renault FT tank. One of the first stages in this direction was by substituting new laterally flexible tracks – designed by S. Kardaszewicz – which were composed of twelve steel cables fitted with steel grousers. Although the speed was increased to 12kmh (7.5mph), the Kardaszewicz tracks were not accepted as standard and a similar fate occurred to another pattern with steel plates introduced by an officer of the 1st Tank Regiment. Later, it was decided to up-date the Renault FT, at least as far as armament was concerned, by fitting it with a newly designed turret carrying both a 37mm gun and a coaxial 7.92mm Browning machine-gun. Some other redesigns were to increase the performance to I3kmh. A number of Renault FT tanks were also rebuilt into specialised variants including smoke producer tanks and radio/command tanks.

From late 1924 onwards, numerous conferences were held by the Polish military authorities on the subject of constructing a domestic heavy tank capable of a break- through role as well as infantry support missions. A light tank was also considered as a replacement for the Renault FT. Despite opposition from the Chief of the Infantry branch, the KSUS department drew up a specification for a new tank. Dated 1925, this specification requested a weight of 12tons, an armament composed of a gun with a maximum calibre of 47mm, complemented by one heavy and one light machine-gun, all-round vision equipment and an electrically started engine which could drive the tank at a speed of 25kmh, with a range of action of 200-250km. The go-ahead was given for a competition between the Polish S. A. B. E. M. S. and ‘Parowoz’ companies and a Czech firm, for the design of a so-called WB-10 tank. Sophisticated designs and even prototypes were submitted by the competitors, but trials conducted with them revealed that they were not acceptable. The WB-10 project was therefore terminated with- out further development.

In 1928, there appeared in Great Britain the two-man Vickers Carden-Loyd Mark VI tankette, a truly outstanding design which attracted a great deal of attention. This tiny tracked armoured vehicle could be either used as a machine-gun carrier or as a light tractor, and it was sold to numerous foreign states in one form or another. Poland purchased one sample from Vickers-Armstrong Ltd and soon went on to produce a domestic development based upon a similar formula. Designated TK. 1, the Polish tankette was a 1.75ton, 2-man vehicle powered by a Ford motor. Through an intermediate model, the TK. 2, further development led to the somewhat heavier TK. 3 which was accepted as the production model. The TK. 3 became the first armoured tracklaying vehicle manufactured in quantity in Poland. It was produced under the parentage of the state-run PZI institute, and orders for 300 machines were fulfilled from 1931-32 onwards. A TK. 3 was demonstrated in Yugoslavia as a competitor for the Czech Skoda S-1 (MU 4/T-1) tankette but no order was placed for it.

By the late twenties, little progress had been made in procuring new equipment. Several foreign tanks, such as the Czech wheel-and-track KH. 50, the French Renault FT M. 26/27 (with Citroen-Kegresse trackwork) and the Renault NC. 1 (NC. 27) had been demonstrated in Poland but no procurement programme had been planned. The year 1930 was however marked by a significant event: the infantry tank regiment, the cavalry armoured car squadrons, and the artillery armoured trains, were all combined into an independent branch of the service. With a new internal organisation including two tank regiments, one armoured car group, and two armoured train groups, this was called the Bron Pancerna. The need for a more powerful armoured vehicle – the tankettes being incapable of an actual combat role – forced Poland to turn her attention to a further Vickers product, namely the Vickers-Armstrong Six-ton tank, (Vickers Mark ‘E’), which was soon to gain a worldwide reputation for a whole decade. In fact, between 1930 and 1939, Vickers-Armstrong Ltd sold over 190 machines of that type (tanks and tractors) to foreign countries – Bolivia, Bulgaria, China, Finland, Greece, Japan, Portugal, Russia and Thailand (Siam) – but the largest order came from Poland with a total of 50 (other sources give 38) tanks with either the single and twin turret arrangement.

The fact that the Vickers-Armstrong Six-ton tank was well within the capacity of the Polish technology, and as it offered some potential for further development, the PZI design bureau was entrusted with the study of a homemade copy. Subsequently PZI produced the 7 TP, a 9ton twin turreted tank which was to be a considerable step forward in design over the Vickers original. At first, the Armstrong-Siddeley engine of the Six-ton was re- placed by a licence-built Saurer 6-cylinder diesel engine which developed 110hp, so making the Polish 7 TP the first diesel-powered tank to reach production status. The 7 TP armour was also 4mm thicker than the Six-ton armour. The first 7 TP to be built by PZI left the works in 1934 and production continued at a slow tempo up to I939.

Around the mid-thirties, the question of designing tanks in Poland had become a very controversial matter. Two schools of thought were in opposition: the first one defended the launching of domestic design and production programmes while the second one, represented by the Chief of the Armoured Force himself, considered this as a waste of time and money which could be better spent in purchasing well-proven foreign tanks.

One of the favourite fads of certain tank designers between the mid-twenties and the mid-thirties were the multi-turret tanks, relying on several guns and machine- guns to be able to fire simultaneously on different targets. While Germany and Japan more or less investigated the three-turret formula, only Britain and Russia translated it into fact with their A. 9 and T-28. As late as 1936, Poland also dallied with the formula and drew up her 20/25 TP project of which three alternatives were proposed. The first one came from the government-owned BBT design bureau and was to have a weight of 23tons, a crew of seven and an armament composed of one 40mm (or 75mm) gun with three machine-guns, two of them being located into front sub-turrets. Maximum armour thickness was specified at 50mm. The second one, issued by the KSUS Committee, explored a diesel-engined 22ton tank, with a crew of six, a 35mm thick armour and the same armament as for the BBT variant. The third and last edition of the 20/25 TP project was a proposal from the PZI concern which put forward a design for a 7man, 25ton diesel-powered tank with an armour up to 80mm; being already outmoded since its design stage, the whole project was cancelled. It would have been a waste of money, and of limited Polish industrial resources.

Surprisingly enough, the development of the tankette concept had been continued in Poland over the years, through progressive steps. In 1933, the TK. 3 had given rise to the TKS, slightly heavier than its parent. Powered by a Polski-Fiat motor, the TKS had armour protection capable of withstanding small calibre AP bullets, embryonic forms of optical equipment consisting of a periscope and a sighting telescope and a strengthened suspension. This newly patterned tankette had been put into production in 1934, with an order for 390 vehicles. Following the lines already taken by Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd with their Carden-Loyd Patrol Tank (I932), the next stage in the Polish tankette development emerged during 1934. It was a turreted midget tank designated TKW, of which only a few prototypes were constructed. An ultra- light self-propelled gun, fitted with a 37mm Bofors anti-tank gun mounted in the front plate, was designed on the basis of the TKS and became known as the TKS-D. A small number of such vehicles were constructed in 1936 but the design was rejected after trials. The TK series was finalised as the TKF; this variant was powered by a Polski-Fiat engine and carried two machine-guns, one of which was capable of anti-aircraft fire. In 1936 also, it was decided to investigate the possible adaptation of either the Danish Madsen or the Swiss Solothurn 20mm cannon for this type of vehicle but the trials conducted with these foreign weapons proved to be very deceptive and a homemade weapon of this calibre was eventually conceived. The Polish 20mm FK cannon was ready in 1938 and its mounting on TK. 3 and TKS tankettes started in 1939 after suitable modifications of the vehicles. Only a few were so modified when the war broke out and brought to an end further Polish armoured fighting vehicle development.

When trying to find further successful foreign designs, Poland had turned her interest to the United States where, by 1928, J. Walter Christie introduced his fast tank chassis which utilised a new coil spring suspension acting on pivoted arms. Considerable interest in this Christie fast tank had been shown by the United States, Russia, Poland and later – via the Russian BT – by Great Britain. Orders for nine machines – five for the United States, two for Russia and two for Poland – of the newly developed Model 193I had been accepted by the firm run by J. Walter Christie, the US Wheel Track Layer Corporation, of Linden, New Jersey, USA. However, Poland defaulted to take delivery of her two samples which were later purchased by the US Army to supplement the five machines originally ordered.

Polish interest in Christie tanks was to resume in 1936 when BBT drew up plans for a wheel-cum-track fast tank of its own but based upon the American design as far as the suspension system and the twin purposes running gear were concerned. The Polish version of the Christie tank was to mount the same Bofors turret and 37mm gun as the last Polish version of the Vickers Six-ton tank and be powered by an American La France V-I2 cylinder motor developing 210hp. A prototype, designated the 10 TP, was actually built in I938 and undertook trials. It was contemplated as the main equipment for the four mechanised cavalry brigades foreseen in the modernisation programme of the Polish Army, which had been laid down in I936-7.

Some time later, a start was made on another project along the same lines but intended to run on tracks only. This 14 TP, as it was known, was to have increased armour to that of the 10 TP and therefore a greater weight. As far as the maximum speed was concerned, this would have been greatly reduced in comparison with its parent, the 10 TP which could run on wheels at a speed of 75kmh. Neither the 10 TP nor the 14 TP, of which the uncompleted prototype was destroyed in September 1939, reached production status. Such an unfortunate fate for these tanks which showed so much promise would probably not happened if the development of a Polish-made Christie tank had begun as early as 1932-3, on the basis of the 193I machine which had been ordered then rejected.

While the production of the modified twin turret model 7 TP was proceeding slowly, it was decided to introduce a single version carrying a Bofors gun (the turret being manufactured by this same concern). This variant appeared in 1937, but the production was restricted by the difficulties of making armour plates and of procuring the turrets from Sweden. Afterwards, in 1939, some quibbles about its unsuitable armour thickness brought PZI to evolve a heavier variant with an improved engine, welded armour thickened up to 40mm in front, a strengthened suspension, wider tracks and a turret with a rear overhang which could accommodate both transmitter and receiver radio sets. The up-armoured 7 TP, which now weighed 11 tons, did not have time to go beyond the prototype or, at best, pre-production stage.

Meanwhile other tanks were under development at the PZI design bureau in the form of two ultra-light tanks which came into being on a common basis, namely the Pzlnz. 130 and the Pzlnz. 140. The former was a variant developed specifically as an amphibious tank and consequently was fitted with a rudder and a three-blade propeller for steering and propulsion in water. Prototypes of both models were constructed in 1936-37, using the same Pzlnz. 425 6-cylinder engine as a power plant. Contemplated for standardisation as the 4 TP, the Pzlnz. 140 was fitted with a turret which could accommodate a 20mm FK light automatic cannon and a coaxial 7.92mm machine-gun, while the amphibious Pzlnz. 130 was intended to be fitted with the same turret but carrying only either one or two machine-guns. At one time, it was hoped that the 4 TP (Pzlnz. 140) would be amenable to a 37mm gun armament but this project was abandoned. Both models were tested during the autumn of 1937 and showed some promise but also revealed defects such as overloading of the suspension and, for the Prlnz. 130, a lateral instability when swimming. From the purely military point of view, it was evident that such ultra-light tanks would be below an acceptable level of fighting capability because they were too thinly armoured and too lightly armed. In consequence no preparations for quantity production of these models were undertaken and the final fate of both prototypes is unknown. Two self-propelled gun projects, designed along the same lines, were also dropped.

With the political crisis which arose between Poland and Germany over the question of Danzig, it became vital to complete the mechanisation programme of the mid-thirties. In 1937, two horse cavalry regiments had already been converted – on paper – into motorised units, and the 10th (Motorised) Cavalry Brigade had been raised. This was later followed by a second large unit of this type. The formation of eight independent tank battalions was also considered, but if the weak point of the motorised brigades was the lack of suitable tanks, there were no tanks at all for the independent battalions. As a stop-gap measure until a range of new tanks could be produced, the Polish Armament Ministry decided to spend a French military loan granted in 1936 for the purchase, amongst other military equipment, of the complement for two tank battalions. Purchase of the S-35 was negotiated, but since this tank was not available for export orders, 100 light tanks of the R-35 type were ordered in April 1939. By August 1939 however, only one battalion, deducted from the French orders in production, had been received.

With the advent of the Second World War, Poland had 169 7 TP tanks, 50 Vickers Six-ton tanks, 53 Renault R-35 tanks, 67 Renault FT tanks, 693 TK and TKS tankettes and 100 armoured cars. Of course the Bron Pancerna was greatly outnumbered by the German Schnelle Truppen which were able to line up no less than 3,195 tanks (1,445 PzKpfw. I, 1,226 PzKpfw. II, 98 PzKpfw. III, 2II PzKpfw. IV and 2I5 PzBfw), supplemented by a number of formerly Czech PzKpfw. 35 (t) and PzKpfw. 38 (t), organised into 6 regular panzer divisions, 1 provisional improvised division and 4 light divisions. The famous Blitzkrieg tactics – combining an armoured sword-thrust at a vital point and deep sweeping actions with air dive bombing attacks – propounded by General H. Guderian, was employed for the first time and completely decimated the Polish armies in three weeks. Strangely enough, the R-35 battalion was not engaged in action, and on 17 September 1939, was evacuated to Rumania.

The unfortunate German-Polish War did not put an end to the Polish armoured forces. Many Polish soldiers having escaped to France, one ‘brigade polonaise’, with two battalions of R-35 tanks, was raised with them from April 1940 onwards. They fought gallantly during the French disaster and a number of them were, once again, evacuated to England. They formed, via an Army Tank Brigade and a reborn 10th Cavalry Brigade, the nucleus of an armoured division. Created in the spring of 1942, with Covenanter then Crusader III tanks, and later with Cromwell and Sherman tanks, the 1st Free Polish Armoured Division fought in Normandy, Belgium, Holland and Germany. Another Polish armoured brigade, formed in 1943 from personnel saved from Russian camps, had been engaged on the Italian front and later expanded into the 2nd Polish Armoured Division. Both units were demobilised after the war. When Poland was re-established as a state closely allied with Russia, the new Polish armoured forces received Soviet patterned tanks which were later built by Poland herself.

Armoured Trains

Almost as soon as Poland was established as a nation in 1919, the new Polish army started to accumulate a number of types of armoured train with which to defend its exposed borders. The trains were initially used to take troops and heavy armament to any particular front or locality as and when required, for it was impossible to post troops to cover every potential border crossing point, especially on the wide plains of the eastern Polish frontier with the Soviet Union. In time some of these early armoured trains were withdrawn and replaced by more formal designs intended specifically as armoured trains rather than merely a collection of protected railway wagons.

Typical of these new equipments was the Pociag Pancerny nr 11 (PP nr 11) and named ‘Danuta’. When complete this train consisted of two armed wagons, an accommodation and control wagon equipped with radio, and an armoured locomotive. To these could be added two flat-bed wagons, one at the front and one at the back, which had no function other than to protect the train proper from the possible effects of mines laid under the tracks and fired by wheel pressure, Thus, from the front, such a train would comprise a flat-bed wagon, one of the two armed wagons, the control carriage (also armoured), the armoured locomotive, the other armed wagon, and the second flat-bed wagon. The armed wagon was a four-axle design with two axles at each end. At the ends were two circular turrets, one mounting a 100-mm (3.94-in) howitzer of Austro-Hungarian origins and the other a 75-mm (2.95-in) gun, A small central turret mounted a 7.92-mm (0.31-in) machine-gun.

The ‘Danuta’ was but one of many Polish armoured trains still in service in 1939 when the Germans invaded. Each of the Polish armoured trains had its own name, usually of a Polish folk or national hero such as ‘Paderewski’, ‘Grozny’, ‘General Sosnkowski’ or Marszalek’. To these were added a number of improvised trains that were hurriedly formed in 1939, usually by simply adding steel plates to existing railway rolling stock. No two examples of these armoured trains appear to have been alike other than the fact that they nearly all had two-turret wagons somewhere in their formation. Again, no two of these twin-turret wagons were identical in design although most had one 100-mm (3.94-in) turret and one 75-mm (2.95-in) turret with a machine-gun of some form or another in the small central turret. There were also a number of smaller twin-axle wagons with single turrets having 75-mm (2.95-in) guns and firing ports or small turrets for machine-guns. To add to the number of types in service there were also small wagons with their own truck-type engines carrying a small machine-gun turret. Typical of these was the ‘Tatra’ which mounted a Hotchkiss machine-gun.

One Polish innovation was the adaption of railway wagons for the carriage of light tank, often as part of armoured trains. These could carry either the light Renault M1917 tank or the little TKS tankettes that were little more than machine-gun carriers.

For all their gun power and degree of design sophistication, nearly all the Polish armoured trains lacked one key weapon and that was some form of anti-aircraft armament. In 1939 this proved to be a serious drawback for in the face of Luftwaffe air supremacy the Polish armoured trains were either unable to move or were attacked when they attempted to do so, Many of them were destroyed by air attack and the few left were taken over by the Germans, at first for internal security duties but later in the Soviet Union on anti-partisan operations.

The Chaffee Tank in Asia

The Light Tank M24 entered US service towards the end of World War II. Intended to replace the M5 Stuart, the first thirty-four M24s reached Europe in November 1944, and were issued to the 2nd Cavalry Group in France. Although commonly referred to as `Chaffee’, this name was actually given to British Army M24s in recognition of General Adna R. Chaffee Jnr., who helped develop the use of tanks in the US armed forces. In all 4,731 M24s were produced.

Post-1945, the M24 saw action in the Korean War. As with other successful designs, it was sold to many armies around the world, and was used in local conflicts long after being replaced in the US Army by the M41 Walker Bulldog. By far the largest buyer of the M24 was France, with 1,260 units being procured via the `US Defense Military Aid Program’. Many of these saw action in the Algerian War, and later in the First Indochina War. While conditions in this latter conflict were not particularly suited to tank operations, the M24 benefitted from minimal ground pressure, allowing it to cope with the soft terrain.

Observations of the British experiences in the Western Desert fighting in 1942 when the 8th Army was using M3 series light tanks, showed that a heavier weapon was desirable for future US light tanks. A 75mm gun was fitted experimentally to a M8 HMC in place of the howitzer, and firing trials proved that it would be possible to develop a version of the M5 series light tank armed with the 75mm gun. Stowage space was severely restricted in the M5, however, more so with the fitting of a 75mm gun, and in addition the overall design of this vehicle was now dated and the armour thickness was inadequate. In April 1943, therefore, following the demise of T7 light/M7 medium programme (qv) the Ordnance Department, in conjunction with Cadillac (makers of the M5 series), began work on an entirely new light tank design which was to incorporate the best combinations of features from earlier designs with all lessons learned from previous experience. The twin Cadillac engines and Hydra-matic transmission which had been so successful and trouble-free in the M5 series were retained and the good accessibility which had been a feature of the T7 layout was adopted. A weight of 18 (short) tons was envisaged with an armour basis of only 25mm to save weight, but with all hull faces angled for optimum protection. Maximum turret armour was 37mm. Vertical volute suspension was replaced by road wheels on torsion arms to give a smoother ride. First of two pilot models, designated T24, was delivered in October 1943 and proved so successful that the Ordnance Department immediately authorised a production order for 1,000 vehicles which was later raised to 5,000. Cadillac and Massey-Harris undertook production, commencing March 1944 and these two plants between them produced 4,415 vehicles (including SP variants) by the war’s end. In each case production supplanted M5 series vehicles.

The 75mm M6 gun was adapted from the heavy aircraft cannon used in the Mitchell bomber, and had a concentric recoil system which saved valuable turret space. The T24 was standardised as the Light Tank M24 in May 1944. First deliveries of M24s were made to American tank battalions in late 1944, supplanting M5s, and the M24 came into increasing use in the closing months of the war, remaining as standard American light tank for many years afterwards.

Parallel to the need for a new light tank was the desire to produce a standard chassis as the basis of the so-called “Light Combat Team”-a complete series of tanks, SP guns, and special purpose tanks all based on one chassis so greatly simplifying maintenance and production. The many variants produced to meet this concept are given below. Each had identical engine, power train, and suspension to the M24.

VARIANTS

M19 Gun Motor Carriage: Produced for the AA Command, this vehicle was originally designated T65E1 and built as a development of the T65 GMC (qv) with a twin 40mm M2 AA mount set at the hull rear and the engines moved forward to the hull centre. Design (by the Ordnance Department) commenced in mid-1943 and 904 vehicles were ordered in August 1944 when the design was standardised as the M19. By the war’s end, however, only 285 had been completed. M19s were standard US Army equipment for many years post-war. Crew: 6; weight 38,500Ib; height 9ft 9 1/2-in; elevation – 5° to + 85°; stowage 336 rounds, 40mm.

M41 Howitzer Motor Carriage: Prototype for this vehicle was the T64E1, a development of the T64 HMC (qv) which had been based on M5Al light tank components. The T64E1, however, featured the components of the “Light Combat Team” and was similar in layout to the M19, with centrally-mounted engines and the gun, a 155mm M1 howitzer, at the rear firing forward. It had a manually operated recoil spade and a folding crew platform. Unofficial name for this vehicle was “Gorilla”. Standardised as the M41 HMC, in May 1945,250 of these vehicles were ordered but only 60 were completed by the war’s end. The M41 HMC was standard US Army equipment for many years post-war. Details as for M24 except: Crew: 12 (8 carried in accompanying ammunition carrier); weight: 42,500Ib; length: 19ft 2in; trench crossing: 9ft; stowage: 22 rounds; range: 96 miles; elevation: +45° to – 5°; traverse: 17° left to 20° right; speed: 30mph.

M37 Howitzer Motor Carriage: Intended to supplement or replace the M7 HMC (qv) a new design based on the M24 chassis was produced, resembling the M7 in general layout. Designated T76 it was standardised in November 1944 as the M37 HMC with 105mm M4 howitzer. It had the same hull arrangement (ie, rear engine) as the M24 and compared with the M7 it had greatly increased ammunition stowage and improved armour protection. American Car & Foundry were given the production contract for 448 vehicles, but only 316 were completed, most of them after the war had ended when Cadillac took over the contract. Details as for M24 except: Crew: 7; weight: 40,000Ib; length: 18ft 2in; traverse: 22 to right and left; elevation: +45° to -10°; stowage: 90 rounds.

T38 Mortar Motor Carriage: This was a project to use the M37 HMC in the mortar carrying role. The 105mm howitzer was removed and the embrasure plated over. A 4·2in mortar was carried and fired from the fighting compartment. The project was cancelled in August 1945 when it became apparent that the war would end before the vehicle could go into service. A pilot model was completed.

T77E1 Multiple Gun Motor Carriage: This was a proposed AA tank development initiated in 1943 to mount a specially designed quad .50 cal machine gun turret on the M24 chassis. The turret was developed by the USAAF and featured remote control for the guns. Pilot vehicle, designated T77, was completed and tested at APG in July 1945. As a result of trials a computing sight system was added to the turret and the vehicle was re-designated T77E1. With the cessation of hostilities in September 1945, the project was abandoned.

M24 with swimming device: This was tested in the fall of 1944 and consisted of pontoons attached fore-and-aft to give flotation with grousers added to the tracks to give propulsion in the water, the idea being to allow the standard M24 to “swim” ashore from landing craft. Once ashore, the pontoons were jettisoned. This device was not used operationally. Designation for the device was M20.

M46 ‘General Patton’

As a first step towards developing a new medium tank, the US authorities decided to improve the existing M26 Pershing design- They substituted an air-cooled 800hp Continental AV-1790 V-12 engine and a beefed-up version of the Allison cross-drive transmission and steering system for the Pershing’s Ford GAF and Torquematic transmission. The improved tank also received a new model of the M3 gun with a fume extractor (bore evacuator) and muzzle brake. Although these improvements probably did not warrant a change of designation, the upgraded tanks were reissued as the M46 ‘General Patton’, in honour of George ‘Blood and Guts’ Patton, who had died of heart failure just before Christmas 1945.

The early postwar American monopoly on the atomic bomb led its senior political and military leadership to believe the threat of another large-scale ground war had greatly receded. In line with this, funding devoted to the development of the next generation of ground weapons for the United States armed forces, such as tanks, was slashed. With no money to replace the Second World War era M26 series tanks, the U. S. Army decided in January 1948 as an interim measure to modernize its inventory of roughly 2,200 M26 series tanks.

The biggest design shortcoming of the M26 series tanks had always been the relatively low power of their liquid-cooled Ford GAF gasoline engines that produced only 500 horsepower. Fortunately, the U. S. Army had initiated the development of the “ideal” tank engine in July 1943. What eventually sprung forth from this line of development was the Continental Motors Corporation AV-1790-1 gasoline engine, which boasted 740 gross horsepower. It was a 12cylinder, V-type, four-cycle, air-cooled engine.

In 1946, one of the first three examples of the new, more powerful Continental AV- 1790-1 engine was installed in a modified M26 series tank that was then designated as the M26E2 tank. Coupled to the new engine was a newly-designed Allison Corporation CD- 850-1 cross-drive transmission, which transmitted the power generated by the engine to the tank’s final drives and drive sprockets. The CD-850-1 was referred to as a cross-drive transmission because of its transverse mounting in the rear hull engine compartment of the M26E2 tank.

After testing at the Detroit Tank Arsenal, the single M26E2 tank was shipped to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, home of the U. S. Army’s Ordnance Branch. Positive results with the M26E2 tank led to the authorization of ten more to be designated as the T40 medium tanks. The T40 tanks had a new power pack arrangement consisting of an upgraded Continental AV-1790-1 engine designated as the AV-1790-3, which boasted 810 gross horsepower. It was coupled to an improved version of the original Allison Corporation CD850-1 cross-drive transmission, designated CD-850-5.

The new power pack arrangement required some design changes to the top and rear of the T40 tank hull. The most noticeable external changes on the T40 tank were the engine exhaust pipes that extended out sideways from the roof of the tank’s engine compartment to mufflers mounted on each of the vehicle’s rear fenders. There were also three square armored access hatches on the lower vertical rear face of the tank’s rear hull plate for servicing of the CD-850-5 cross-drive transmission.

Another external change to the T40 tank was the addition of a small track tension idler between the dual rear road wheels and the rear hull mounted drive Sprockets on either side of the vehicle’s suspension system. This was done to prevent the tank’s tracks being shed on sharp turns or when traveling over rough terrain. Like the front compensating idler (which appeared on the entire Patton tank series) it also helped to eliminate slack in the track under dynamic conditions such as hard braking. The track tension idler was originally referred to as the compensating idler wheel.

The U. S. Army considered mounting a new, more powerful 90mm gun on the T40 tank. In the end, a decision was made to use a modified M3 90mm gun, designated the M3A1, on the T40 tank. Unlike the M3 90mm main gun, the M3A1 90mm main gun sported a bore evacuator as well as a new, lighter and smaller single baffle muzzle brake. The optical sighting system on the T40 tank was improved with the addition of a new M83 sighting telescope.

Pleased with the results of testing the T40 tank, the U. S. Army decided on 30 July 1948 to standardize the vehicle as the medium tank M46. The vehicle also received the official name the “General Patton” in honor of the late General George S. Patton of Second World War fame. Most American tankers simply referred to it as the “forty-six.”

According to the U. S. Army’s TACOM (Life Cycle Management Command) historical office, between 1948 and 1951, a total of 1,170 M26 series tanks were converted by the Detroit Tank Plant to the M46 tank configuration.

The last 360 production units of the M46 tank featured a number of modifications based on continued testing and user input from the field and were assigned the designation medium tank M46A1. The original plan calling for converting almost all 2,200 M26 tanks in the U. S. Army’s inventory into the M46 tank configuration proved impossible to complete as some of the M26 tanks had been diverted to take part in the Korean War.

The new M46 series tank differed externally from the T40s tanks that preceded them by having three circular armored access hatches on the lower vertical rear face of the vehicle’s rear hull plate, rather than the three square armored access hatches seen on its predecessor. Instead of the Continental AV1790-3 engine as fitted to the T40 tank, the M46 series tanks would receive power from progressively improved models of the same engine, the last one bearing the designation AV-1790-5B. The M46 series tanks weighed in at about 97,000lbs (44mt) combat loaded.

Like the M26 series tanks, the M46 series tanks were rushed to South Korea to help stem the North Korean onslaught, the first ones arriving in August 1950 as part of the U. S. Army’s 6th Tank Battalion. Eventually 200 M46 series tanks would be deployed to Korea. They would serve alongside roughly 300 M26 series tanks and 680 later production versions of the M4 series tanks, the majority armed with a 76mm main gun.

Of the three types of American medium tanks to see service during the Korean War, the most favored for tank-versus-tank combat were the 90mm main gun equipped M26 series tanks and the M46 series tank. Tank-versus-tank action in Korea, however, became extremely rare after November 1950.

For American tanks, the greatest cause of losses in the Korean conflict was mechanical failure, with the engines in the M26 and M46 series tanks being the biggest culprit. The next most common mechanical failure with the same tanks where their transmissions, including the clutches and gearing; with the M46 series tank transmission being the most trouble prone. Neither tank was up to the demands imposed by the mountainous and heavily-wooded Korean terrain. The biggest enemy-caused casualty producer for American tanks during the Korean conflict was antitank mines.

Like the other American medium tanks to see action during the Korean War, the main role of the M46 series tank generally became infantry support, with occasional stints as artillery pieces when poor terrain conditions or weather ruled out the use of the vehicle in its normal roles. Other roles for the M46 series tanks included bunker busting, which the U. S. Army eventually considered as being extremely uneconomical and wasteful in main gun ammunition expenditure for the minor results achieved. The British experience of bunker-busting with tanks, however, was exactly the opposite, with the British Centurion earning a great reputation for this work. There were also armored raids and reconnaissance in force operations conducted during the Korean War which achieved excellent results against their Communist opponents.

A U. S. Army research report titled “Employment of Armor in Korea: The Second Year,” issued in April 1953, concluded that the later production versions of the Sherman tanks that served during the conflict were more mechanically reliable than the M26 and M46 series tanks and easier to maintain. Some of the blame for the poor mechanically reliability for these tanks can be attributed to the general failure of the U. S. Army logistical system to push the needed spare parts to the tanks in the frontlines. Added to this problem were the lack of training and experience among the tank mechanics tasked with keeping the M46 series tanks running, as well as the poor level of training among the men assigned to the vehicle. To make matters even worse, the weight of the M46 series tanks overtaxed the M4 series tank-based armored recovery vehicles employed in Korea.

Shown is a U.S. Army M46 series tank fitted with a large infrared searchlight mounted on the right side of the gun shield. The infrared viewer is mounted on the front of the tank commander’s cupola. The codename for the installation shown was Leaflet II.

ALLISON’S DRIVE SYSTEM

The Allison CD-500/CD-850 cross-drive system, as fitted to the M41 and M46 respectively, actually contained transmission, steering and brakes all in one and was a considerable improvement on the simpler systems that had gone before. It utilised two forward speed ranges and one reverse, each hydraulically selected, and in both senses, part of the engine’s power output was transmitted via the hydraulic torque converter or fluid flywheel and the remainder through a conventional mechanical path. The power from both transmission trains was available to both output paths when the tank was proceeding in a straight line, but when the ‘wobble stick’, or joystick, was actuated, all the mechanically transmitted power was applied to just one track. The wobble stick acted on a hydraulically controlled differential – moving it to one side while the tank was moving caused more power to be applied to one track; the same action while the driving gearbox was in neutral caused the two tracks to move in opposite directions and spin the tank on its axis

(The Merritt-Brown system of World War II achieved the same end, but the Allison system was simpler to use.) Disc brakes, operated by a foot pedal, were installed in each drive shaft. Later models of the CD-850 had a split hydraulic power train instead of the hydraulic/mechanical path found in the original, but the principle remained the same.

Marines are shown installing heavy wire fencing material around the turret of a M46 tank, sometime during the Korean War. The wire screen was intended to protect the tank from the high explosive antitank (HEAT) warheads of enemy rocket launchers. Notice that the M46 tank has three circular cross-drive transmission access panels instead of the three square ones on the T40 tank.

Rolling past the photographer is a U.S. Marine Corps M46 tank fitted with an unarmored 18-inch diameter Crouse-Hinds searchlight. Originally, the American military thought about fielding highly specialized searchlight tanks, however, it was more cost-effective to buy individual searchlights for each tank and risk losing them in battle then to fund the development and production of specialized searchlight tanks.

Marines in Korea

The old M26 tanks were worn beyond repair, and between July and November of 1951 they were gradually replaced by the improved M46. The Anti-Tank Platoon did not receive new vehicles until later, around late December. In many respects the new tank was an improvement over the M26, with a more powerful V-12 engine and Hydramatic automatic transmission, a bore evacuator to reduce the backflow of gasses through the main gun breech, and other minor changes. However, there were problems with the new model.

According to the official Marine Corps history, the new tanks suffered engine problems from faulty oil cooler fans, but for the crews the new vehicles had other, terrifying, quirks. Pete Flournoy expounded on one of its more serious defects: “The forty-six had a bad flaw, particularly in that kind of terrain…. As long as you kept it revved up you had good steering. You started backing off the gas pedal going downhill, and your engine slows down, you lose your steering. You had to keep it revved. We banged up a lot of tanks over there, doing that. You couldn’t steer ‘em. You run into embankments, damn near off the road down in the valleys. Hit some truck and knock him off the road trying to stop the damn thing.”

August 9, 1952

Siberia was a squad outpost about a quarter of a mile forward of the American MLR. At 0100 hours on August 9, the Chinese precipitated a nineteen-day bloodbath when they drove the Marines off the hill. The hill changed hands twice after the initial Chinese victory, deadly fighting that took place under torrents of artillery and mortar fire. By 1130 hours the Marines were again in nominal control of Siberia, but enemy fire directed against the northern slope and crest was so heavy that the Americans were able to reoccupy only the southern slope. The seesaw action continued that afternoon, when a powerful Chinese attack inflicted heavy casualties on the defenders and once again drove E/2/1 from the hill. That night a fresh rifle company, C/1/1, recaptured the terrain, only to be driven off yet again by enemy artillery at dawn on August 10.

Following this costly reversal, the division decided to take higher, more rugged, but more desirable Bunker Hill to the southwest. Chinese artillery and mortar observation from Bunker Hill had been a deciding factor in the Siberia struggle. American control over it would neutralize this advantage and allow observation of the enemy’s routes to and from Siberia. It would also extend artillery observation as far north as the next range of hills about 3,000 yards to the northwest, and allow American artillery to dominate a broad lowland to the north and northeast.

The struggle for Siberia became a secondary part of the battle. The next assault against it was designed to serve as a diversion, and the highly visible tanks provided the major diversionary element. The Chinese force on Siberia, a reinforced platoon, was inundated with fire from artillery and tank guns, while enemy positions on Bunker Hill and other positions to the north and east were similarly bombarded.

At dusk on August 11, four M46s from Captain Gene McCain’s C Company and four M4A3 flame tanks moved toward Siberia to support the night assault. The M46s opened fire on the hill at 2100 hours. Two of the flame tanks threaded their way along a rocky stream bed to the base of Siberia. They moved cautiously up the southern slope of Siberia, and then partially down the northern side of the hill, burning off dense vegetation as they drove forward. When the two tanks exhausted their flame fuel, they returned to the MLR and a second section followed, completing the work of the first pair of flame tanks and working their way down the reverse slope of the hill.

Infantrymen followed the tanks, rooting out the last of the defenders and consolidating a hasty defense. After exhausting their limited supply of flame fuel, the flame tanks withdrew. The M46s remained to support the infantry, blasting away at both Siberia and Hill 110 to the northeast, covering the movement of an assault team from D/2/1. The low ground between the hills was exposed to fire and swarming with enemy infantry, and M39s were used to resupply the beleaguered outposts.

Much of the fighting took place at night, but in those days before the appearance of thermal imaging systems, the tanks were virtually blind in the darkness. The only way to effectively control the actions of the tank was for the tank commander and driver to expose their heads to enemy fire, and this practice resulted in heavy losses among experienced men. The M46s were equipped with the new fighting light, a powerful incandescent spotlight mounted above the main gun so that it traversed and elevated with the tube. The light was mounted in a thinly armored box. Steel shutters that provided some protection for the lens and screened the glow of the lamp could be controlled from inside the tank. This device provided enough light to reveal and target enemy positions, while temporarily blinding an enemy who looked directly at the tank.

On Siberia, the M46s took full advantage of the new fighting lights, flicking the shutters open and shut. All night the tank-infantry force blasted away at desperate Chinese counterattacks until ammunition was exhausted. The D Company riflemen fought off one last fierce Chinese counterattack and then withdrew, the diversion completed.

While the Chinese were preoccupied with these provocative actions on Siberia, B/1/1 (under the operational control of 2/1) assaulted nearby Bunker Hill, which was the primary objective of the entire action. By 0230 hours, American forces were in possession of the crest. American and South Korean Marines hauled tools and building materials through a storm of enemy fire to construct defensive positions on the precious ground.

All day on August 12 the Marines burrowed into the crest and south slope of Bunker Hill, while the M39s evacuated the wounded. The Chinese still occupied the low ground below the northern side of the hill. At 1600 hours, the Chinese launched their strongest effort to recapture Bunker Hill. Wave after wave of CCF infantry surged up the northern slope. By 1740, the enemy controlled the northern slope and were trying to push the Marines off the southern slope. Neither side could hold the open ground on the rounded crest, swept clean by deadly fire from both sides.

The tanks of C Company replenished their ammunition and continued to flail away at the Chinese on the nearby slopes. More tanks—the rest of C Company, five M46s of the Anti-Tank Platoon of 5th Marines, and five from the division reserve—were brought forward to subdue the enemy positions on nearby hills.

The war in Korea was evolving into one of increasingly lavish use of firepower. At Bunker Hill alone the tank force expended 817 rounds of 90mm. ammunition and 32,000 rounds of machine gun ammo during the two days of heaviest action.

The contest for Bunker Hill inevitably spread to nearby hills as each side strove for any advantage to be gained. The direct fire capability of the tanks again proved useful, eliminating enemy heavy machine guns that opened fire from any adjacent high ground. The fighting was particularly heavy on a small outpost, appropriately code-named Stromboli, about 2,500 yards east of Bunker Hill. It was originally believed that the squad occupying Stromboli had been overrun, but the Marines trapped there eventually managed to communicate with their parent unit. The tanks took the slopes of the hill under fire from the MLR, and helped the isolated squad hold out against repeated enemy assaults.

Night combat still presented problems for the tank gunners. The gunner could illuminate the target with the fighting light and fire, but light reflected back from dust raised by the muzzle blast obscured his vision. Waiting for the dust to settle before reacquiring the target meant that considerable time was required to adjust fire for following shots. An aggressive enemy wisely used this interval to rain down a deluge of artillery and mortar fire upon the tank, which was easy to spot because of its glaring spotlight.

One solution was to work the tanks in pairs. When a machine gun position was spotted, one of the tanks would illuminate it while a second tank, hidden in the darkness, took it under fire. This allowed the second tank gunner to fire several rounds in rapid succession, thus minimizing the exposure of the illumination tank.

T-54 Main Battle Tank 1-3 Models

The key lesson that the red Army learned from the Second world war was that you needed a lot of everything, especially tanks, to wage modern armoured and mechanized warfare. It was clear from the T-34 and T-44 that they required a tank that was easy to mass-produce in vast numbers, was very reliable and armed with at least a 100mm gun, while the IS heavy tank had been armed with a massive 122mm gun, it meant that it was 20 tons heavier than the T-34/85. experience showed that there was no long-term future in heavy tanks. Thus was born the T-54 MBT.

In 1946 prototypes of a new design, the T-54, were completed and this type entered production several years later. The T-54 and its variants were built in larger numbers than any other Russian tank to appear after World War II, and by the time production of the improved T-55 was completed in 1980-1 it is estimated that well over 50,000 vehicles had been built. The series was also built in Czechoslovakia and Poland for both the home and export markets, while the Chinese produced an almost identical version designated Type 59. Further development of the T-54 and T-55 resulted in the T-62.

The T-54 has an all-welded hull divided into three compartments (driver’s at the front, fighting in the centre, and engine and transmission at rear). The driver is seated at the front of the hull on the left and steers the tank with conventional sticks. An unusual feature of the T-54 is that it has a 7.62-mm (0.3- in) machine-gun fixed in the centre of the glacis plate to fire forwards, this being fired when the driver presses a button on his right steering lever. The commander and gunner are seated on the left of the turret, with the loader on the right. The turret is a casting with the top welded into position. One of the major weaknesses of the T-54 series has been its engine and transmission, which have proved very unreliable in service.

The main armament consists of a 100-mm gun, which was developed from a naval weapon of the same calibre and also used in a modified form in the SU-100 tank destroyer developed in World War II. A well-trained crew can fire about four rounds per minute, and the types of ammunition that can be fired includes AP-T, APC-T, HE, HE-FRAG, HEAT-FS and HVAPDS-T. The last was introduced some time after the T-54 entered pro¬ duction and will penetrate well over 200 mm (7.9 in) of armour at a range of 1000 m (1,095 yards). A total of 34 rounds of 100-mm ammunition is carried, a poor quantity when compared with contemporary Western tanks. One of the major drawbacks of the T- 54 family is that the main armament can only be depressed to -4°, which makes firing from a hill or reverse slope almost impossible. A 7.62-mm (0.3 in) SGMT is mounted co-axially with the 100-mm gun, and a similar weapon is mounted in the bow. A 12.7- mm (0.5-in) DShKM anti-aircraft machine-gun is mounted on the loader’s hatch. The tank does not have smoke dischargers as it can lay its own smoke screen by injecting diesel fuel into the exhaust pipe on the left side of the hull just above the track.

The T-54 was effectively a Ukrainian tank. Under the designation of Obiekt 137 (or B-40) it was designed by the Morozov Bureau at the Malyshev Plant in Kharkov, Ukraine. The city had been producing T-34s at the start of the Second world war but was captured during the German invasion. It subsequently became the scene of a series of battles fought between the Wehrmacht and the red Army before being finally liberated. However, the Kartsev Bureau at Nizhnyi Tagil in Russia would take the credit for the T-54/55.

The T-54 made its debut in the late 1940s with the first prototype appearing in 1946 and initial production authorized three years later. Three factories were given the task, at Kharkov, Nizhnyi Tagil and Omsk. It and the subsequent T-55 went through numerous upgrades, rebuilds and reconfigurations and unless you are a specialist technical intelligence expert trying to identify them all is a largely fruitless task (some sources are downright contradictory or are simply incorrect). essentially the T-54 and T-55 were the same tank with detailed improvements. The following lists the key T-54 production models.

T-54-1 (Model 1946)

This bore some resemblance to the T-44, with undercuts to the front and rear of the turret. Similarly, it also had a very wide gun mantlet but was armed with the 100mm d-10T tank gun. These features made the turret vulnerable to enemy fire. It was issued to field units for trials but proved unsatisfactory and in the meantime the focus remained on T-34/85 production.

T-54-2 (Model 1949)

This was the very first low-rate production model with an improved turret that eliminated the frontal undercut, featured an overhang at the rear and was armed with the 100mm d-10T tank gun.

T-54-3 (Model 1951)

Second low-rate production model, featuring a turret undercut at the rear and a narrow, so-called `pig snout’ gun mantlet.

Second World War AFVS I

The outbreak of the Second World War on September 1, 1939 brought into immediate action a large number of tanks, as all six regular and one provisional panzer divisions as well as four light divisions took part in the German invasion of Poland. Between them these 11 formations had 2,682 tanks1 out of the 2,980, excluding command tanks, which the German Army had at the time.

While almost all the available tanks were concentrated in the armoured formations, the panzer divisions were distributed among corps consisting primarily of infantry divisions. Nevertheless, they spearheaded the rapid thrusts that resulted in the envelopment and destruction of the strategically exposed and inadequately armed Polish forces in less than four weeks. The speed with which the campaign was conducted led to it being called blitzkrieg, or lightning war. This name has since come into widespread use to describe a particular kind of warfare, although it was not a German military term but merely a catchword which the Western press picked up and started using even before the fighting died down.

The cost of the campaign to the German armoured forces was the loss of 231 tanks. Most of them were PzKpfw Is and IIs, but even PzKpfw IIIs proved vulnerable to Polish 7.92mm anti-tank rifles as well as Polish-made 37mm Bofors anti-tank guns. Not surprisingly, PzKpfw IV was singled out by Guderian as a highly effective weapon that should be produced in quantity. On the other hand, commanders of PzKpfw II complained about the inadequate vision provided by the single although rotatable Zeiss periscope with which their model and many other tanks were fitted at the time. As a result PzKpfw IIs were provided with a ring of eight fixed periscopes around the commander’s hatch, which set a new standard in all-round vision from within tanks.

German tanks encountered little opposition from Polish tanks as there were few of them and the tanks that were available were not very effectively employed. The largest units were three battalions of tanks, two of which had 49 7TP light tanks each. They were used separately and fought split up into companies without adequate logistics support, as a result of which a number of tanks was destroyed by their crews when they ran out of fuel and ammunition. The third battalion was equipped with 49 R 35 tanks, which was all the Polish Army was able to procure from France before the war. This battalion was held in reserve and was eventually ordered to cross the frontier into Romania without ever firing a shot. Ironically, the final employment of Polish tanks came after the campaign, when the Germans refurbished 21 captured 7TP tanks and equipped Hitler’s escort battalion with them.

An entirely different by-product of the campaign in Poland has been the myth of Polish cavalry charges against German tanks. It arose out of a charge on the first day of the war by two squadrons of a Polish cavalry regiment, which was misrepresented in some German accounts as having been carried out against tanks. The charge was actually against infantry, but the myth of it being carried out against tanks has persisted into the 21st century.

While few tanks opposed the German tanks in Poland, even fewer opposed the Red Army when it invaded Finland in November 1939. In fact, the Finnish Army only had 26 Vickers Six Ton Tanks and not all of them had yet been armed with 37mm Bofors guns. On the other hand the invading Soviet forces had about 1,500 tanks. However, their frontal assault on the Karelian Isthmus failed, as did the offensive operations on other parts of the front, and they suffered heavy losses in tanks. But after the failure of their original offensive, Russian forces reorganized and launched another assault on the Finnish defences. This time they employed about 1,330 tanks, which attacked in close co-operation with the infantry and overwhelmed Finnish defences, leading to an armistice in March 1940.

Soviet tanks were mostly T-26s, which proved vulnerable to Finnish 37mm Bofors anti-tank guns, as they did three years earlier in Spain to German 37mm anti-tank guns, because of their relatively thin armour and inept employment. This was equally true of the BTs, almost all models of which were used against the Finns. The Soviet forces also used T-28 medium tanks, 97 of which were destroyed, and also T-35 heavy tanks with five turrets, several of which were also destroyed.

During the first offensive the Red Army tested two of its new KV-1 heavy tanks as well as its unsuccessful, multi-turreted T-100 and SMK competitors, all of which proved immune to Finnish 37mm anti-tank guns, and during the second offensive it also deployed the recently developed 52-tonne KV-2 armed with a 152mm howitzer. The new T-34 medium tank was also to be tested on the Finnish front, but did not arrive until after the armistice. For its part the Finnish Army captured a total of about 600 armoured vehicles, and the recovered T-26s became its principal tanks.

The one-sided employment of large numbers of tanks that characterized the German invasion of Poland and the Soviet assault on Finland came to an end on May 10, 1940 when the German Army launched its offensive against the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Since the campaign in Poland, German armoured forces had been reorganized, as a result of which the four light divisions were converted into panzer divisions so that there were now ten of them. Moreover, panzer divisions were concentrated into panzer corps and two of the panzer corps were combined to form a panzer group.

However, the tank inventory had only risen slightly to 3,379 tanks and the number actually deployed by the ten panzer divisions was 2,574, which was fewer than the number used against Poland. Of this total, 523 were still the light PzKpfw I armed only with machine guns, which had already proved deficient in Poland as well as Spain, and the number of PzKpfw IV had only increased by 69, in spite of Guderian’s recommendation mentioned earlier. The only significant improvement was an increase in the number of PzKpfw IIIs from 98 to 329.

The French Army, which bore the brunt of the German offensive, had approximately the same number of tanks, namely about 3,650. But whereas German tanks were concentrated in the panzer divisions, one third of the French tanks, which consisted primarily of R 35 light tanks, were distributed between 25 independent battalions spread out over the French front stretching from the Swiss border to the English Channel. The heavy B1 and B1 bis tanks, of which there were about as many as there were German PzKpfw IVs, were allocated to the three divisions cuirassées, or DCRs, but the first two of them only began to be organized when the war broke out eight months earlier and the third was created less than two months before the German offensive. In consequence their organization was incomplete and their units had little opportunity to train together, let alone practice mobile operations. In addition to the more modern tanks, there were also seven battalions of obsolete Renault FT tanks and one battalion of six 68-tonne 2C heavy tanks that should have been relegated by 1940 to a museum.

The only fully organized and trained mechanized formations of the French Army were the three divisions légères mécaniques, or DLMs. Two of them formed a cavalry corps commanded by General R. Prioux, which provided the traditional cavalry screen for the French forces moving into central Belgium, where the main German thrust was expected to come. In the course of performing its mission, Prioux’s corps met two advancing panzer divisions and engaged them in what was the first tank versus tank battle of the Second World War. The battle took place east of Gembloux, after which it is generally called, and involved around 400 French and 600 German tanks. The former included about 160 S 35s (Somua) medium tanks, whose frontal armour was not only thicker than that of the German tanks but virtually impervious to their guns, while the 47mm guns of the S 35 were superior in terms of armour penetration to the 37mm and 75mm of the German PzKpfw III and IV, although not to the extent that is sometimes claimed. But, like other French tanks, the S 35s were severely handicapped by having one-man turrets, which overtaxed their crews. This was aggravated by the poor vision from within the S 35 as well as other French tanks, which restricted the situation awareness of their crews and together with the lack of radios in other French tanks inhibited co-ordinated action. All this contributed to the operation of French tanks in small, isolated groups, which was noted by German tank crews and helped them to outmanoeuvre French tanks.

Nevertheless, the cavalry corps accomplished its mission, albeit at the cost of 105 tanks, and fell back, but its tanks were then distributed along a defence line established by infantry divisions, despite complaints by General Prioux. In the meantime the French High Command was taken completely by surprise by the advance of the panzer group of five divisions through the Ardennes Forest, which was considered to be a major obstacle to mechanized forces. The panzer group, which included a corps commanded by Guderian, crossed the River Meuse and broke through the French front at Sedan, while two other panzer divisions, one of which was commanded by General E. Rommel, crossed the Meuse north of it. After the breakthrough, the panzer divisions advanced rapidly towards the Channel and cut off French and British forces in Belgium from the rest.

Farther north the remaining panzer division invaded the Netherlands, and after four days of fighting the Dutch Army, which had no tanks, capitulated.

On the French front, the scattered battalions of R 35 tanks could offer little resistance to the onslaught of the panzer divisions. What is more, not only were the R 35 battalions used piecemeal, but their tanks, like most other French light tanks, were armed with short-barrelled low-velocity 37mm guns dating from 1918, which their opponents described as ‘worthless’. The three DCR were held in reserve behind the front line in the region of Chalons, and in response to the German offensive the 1st was sent to Charleroi in Belgium, where it became involved in some heavy fighting with Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division. During the fighting some of its B1 tanks were surprised while refuelling, while others were abandoned after they ran out of fuel, and the division was destroyed in the same piecemeal fashion as it was employed. The 2nd DCR was wasted by being spread out in small units or even single tanks to guard the crossings of the Oise River. The 3rd DCR was sent to attack the southern flank of Guderian’s corps, but instead was dispersed into defensive positions and was then committed piecemeal to the defence of Stonne.

One more DCR, the 4th, was assembled hastily during the course of the campaign, and under the command of Colonel (later General) de Gaulle attacked the advancing panzer divisions from the south, at Montcornet and Laon, and then attacked the German bridgeheads over the Somme near Abbeville, but the attacks only achieved local tactical successes. The bridgeheads had also been attacked, two days earlier, by two brigades of the British 1st Armoured Division, which had just landed in France to protect the right flank of the British Expeditionary Force. The two brigades were sent into action without infantry or artillery support and were repulsed, losing many of their tanks. The only other tanks the BEF had, apart from the Mark VI light tanks of the seven divisional cavalry regiments, were those of the 1st Army Tank Brigade, which consisted of two battalions with a total of 58 Mark I and 16 Mark II (Matilda) infantry tanks. Backed by two battalions of infantry and accompanied by the 3rd DLM, the Tank Brigade struck Rommel’s panzer division near Arras, inflicting considerable casualties, and was only brought to a halt by the fire of the divisional artillery and 88mm anti-aircraft guns, as German 37mm anti-tank guns proved ineffective against the thick armour of the Matildas.

The attack at Arras was the largest tank action carried out by the BEF before most of it was evacuated from Dunkirk, together with the troops of the French First and Seventh Armies, after abandoning its remaining tanks. While the evacuation was taking place, the panzer divisions were regrouped, and after the fall of Dunkirk they attacked again, breaking through the defence line set up along the Somme and Aisne rivers by General M. Weygand, who replaced General G. Gamelin as commander-in-chief of the French Army. In an attempt to restore some of its armoured forces, the French Army re-created the three DLM with personnel evacuated via England from Dunkirk and even created two new DLM, the 4th and 7th. After the German breakthrough, tanks of the 7th DLM, as well as remnants of the 3rd DCR, put up a stiff fight in the region of Juniville, but like the other DLM, it had by then only about 20 tanks and could do little to prevent the defeat of the French Army.

After the Armistice was signed on 22 June 1940, some of the cavalry regiments were re-formed in the unoccupied part of France. However, by agreement between the German authorities and the Vichy government, their equipment was confined to a total of 64 Panhard 178 armoured cars, with a reserve of 28, and they had their 25mm guns removed, leaving them armed only with machine guns.

The German armoured forces suffered a total loss of 770 tanks during the campaign in France, excluding command vehicles, most of which – 611 – were destroyed during the first month of the campaign. The armour of PzKpfw III and IV was found to be inadequate and inferior to that of the French tanks, but German tanks increased their survivability by mobile tactics, which reduced their chances of being hit by French guns. The guns of the German tanks, and in particular the 37mm L/45 of PzKpfw III, which was regarded as the principal anti-tank weapon, proved to be inadequate and ineffective against the frontal armour of S 35 and, even more against the B1bis tanks. In the circumstances, the most effective weapon against French tanks was the 75mm L/24 gun of PzKpfw IV, in spite of being short barrelled and having a low muzzle velocity.

The campaign in France led inevitably to demands for a larger calibre gun for PzKpfw III, which were in fact anticipated by the development of a 50mm L/42 gun. According to his memoirs, Guderian wanted such a gun as early as 1932, but at the time the chief of ordnance and the inspector of artillery considered that a 37mm gun would be adequate and would ensure commonality with the infantry’s contemporary 37mm anti-tank guns.

In consequence the first PzKpfw III with a 50mm L/42 gun was not produced until July 1940. By then another and considerably more effective 50mm gun, the L/60 with a longer barrel and a higher muzzle velocity, had been developed to replace the 37mm anti-tank gun. Hitler saw it and ordered that PzKpfw III be armed with it. But in April 1941 he found that his order had not been implemented and insisted that it be put into effect immediately, which according to Guderian it could have been and would have placed PzKpfw III ahead of most contemporary tanks. As it was, the first tank with the 50mm L/60 was not produced until December 1941, and tanks with the shorter barrelled 50mm L/42 continued to be produced until 1942. In addition, no decision was taken until November 1941 to produce a more powerful 75mm gun than the L/24 mounted in PzKpfw IV, although the armour-piercing performance of the latter had fallen behind not only that of the 50mm L/60 but also of the 50mm L/42. Yet three different experimental vehicles with a more powerful, long-barrelled 75mm gun were built by Rheinmetall to an order issued by the Ordnance Office in 1934.

Soon after the campaign in France, Hitler ordered that the number of panzer divisions be doubled. As a result ten new panzer divisions were created by the beginning of 1941, but the increase in the number of the divisions was achieved at the expense of the number of tanks in each. Thus, when the reorganization was complete, no panzer division had a tank brigade with two regiments any longer, but had a single regiment with two or three battalions. Each battalion had a medium tank company, generally with 20 but in some cases with 30 or even 36 PzKpfw IV, and two or three light tank companies equipped mainly with PzKpfw IIIs or PzKpfw 38(t)s. In consequence, the strength of the divisions varied from 145 to 265 tanks.

The reorganization was barely completed when six of the panzer divisions spearheaded the invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece in April 1941. Once again they were largely responsible for a rapid victory, which resulted in the surrender of the Yugoslav Army after only 11 days of fighting and of the Greek Army six days later. The cost reported by five of the six divisions amounted to a loss of 56 tanks.

In the meantime the Italian army in Libya threatened to invade Egypt, and the British forces stationed there launched an offensive against it. This involved a battalion of 45 Matilda infantry tanks, which led the assault by an infantry division on a series of fortified camps established by the Italian army after its initial advance. At about the same time the British 7th Armoured Division, which was equipped with a mixture of A.9, A.10 and A.13 cruiser tanks as well as Mark VI light tanks, attacked other objectives. In total the British forces had 275 tanks. The Matildas proved impervious to Italian anti-tank weapons and completely outclassed Italian M 11/39 tanks, 23 of which were knocked out in one of the camps. In the final stages of the offensive, in February 1941, cruiser tanks of the 7th Armoured Division attacked retreating Italian units, which included new M 13/40 tanks. Unlike the M 11/39, these had turret-mounted 47mm guns that were about as good as the 40mm guns of the British cruisers, and their armour was thicker. But they went into action in small packets and by the end of the day 112 had been knocked out or had been abandoned by their crews.

This completed the destruction of the Italian army in Cyrenaica, which prompted Hitler to dispatch to Libya the 5th Light and 15th panzer divisions under the command of General Rommel to bolster the Italian army in Tripolitania. The latter had already been reinforced by the arrival of the Ariete armoured division, which was followed by the German 5th Light Division. The disembarkation of this division in Tripoli was completed a month later, when its tank strength reached 151 tanks, including 61 PzKpfw III and 17 PzKpfw IVs. Then, without waiting for the 15th Panzer Division, Rommel decided to take the offensive and in two weeks drove British forces back to the Egyptian border, destroying their 2nd Armoured Division.

A counter-offensive code-named Battleaxe was mounted by the British forces in June 1941 after a convoy brought reinforcements from Britain, which included 135 Matildas and 82 cruiser tanks. Among them for the first time were Crusaders, which were more heavily armoured than the earlier cruisers. The German forces had also been reinforced by the arrival of the 15th Panzer Division, and the counter-offensive was repulsed with the loss of 92 British tanks compared with 12 German tanks. The principal cause of the failure of the British counter-offensive was the institutionalized division of tanks between infantry support and more mobile roles, which led to a dispersal of tank units and their tendency to act by themselves that contrasted with the very effective co-operation of German tanks with anti-tank guns, which included 88mm anti-aircraft guns used in a ground role.

Second World War AFVS II

In November 1941 what had become the British Eighth Army launched another offensive under the code name Crusader, for which 756 gun-armed tanks had been assembled while 259 more were held in reserve and 231 were in two armoured divisions undergoing training. The tanks that were assembled included 336 cruisers, which by then were mostly Crusaders but still included a number of A.13s and even 26 A.10s, and they also included 225 infantry tanks consisting not only of Matildas but also of Valentines.

The Valentine was the last of the British tanks designed before the war, and it differed from the others in not being designed to a War Office specification but in having been originated by Vickers Armstrongs. It was based on the proven chassis of what was originally the A.10 infantry tank but had frontal armour 60 to 65mm thick, which made it second in this respect only to the Matilda and as good as the French B1 tank. Not to overload the chassis, its weight was kept down to 16 tonnes and as a result of this it was provided with a turret for only two men, instead of a three-man turret like other British and German tanks. The War Office objected to the turret but, nevertheless, production of the Valentine was ordered and the first was completed in May 1940, when Britain badly needed tanks. Eventually, 8,275 Valentines were built, including 1,420 built in Canada, and their production exceeded that of any other British tank of the Second World War. Apart from being numerous, Valentine was also more reliable than other contemporary British tanks, which was attributable to it being developed by the only British company with several years’ experience in the design and production of tanks.

Like other contemporary British tanks, Valentine was armed with the 40mm 2-pounder, and some time after it was deployed in Libya comments appeared that this gun was inferior to the guns of the German tanks, and, by implication, that it was responsible for the reverses suffered by British tank units. In fact, its armour penetration was slightly greater than that of the 50mm L/42 gun of PzKpfw III as well as being greater than that of the 75mm L/24 of PzKpfw IV. However, the armour-piercing projectiles of German tank guns from the 37mm gun onwards contained an explosive charge with a delay fuse, which made them more deadly when they penetrated armour than the solid shot fired by the 2-pounder and which has been ignored in almost all the accounts of the fighting in North Africa.

Tanks assembled for Operation Crusader also included 195 US M3 light tanks. They were the first of the large number of American tanks supplied during the Second World War to the British Army, in which they were called Stuarts after the Confederate cavalry leader of the American Civil War. The design of the M3 or Stuart was somewhat dated and it had a cramped two-man turret, but the armour penetration of its 37mm gun was slightly greater than that of the German 50mm L/42. It was also fast and proved very reliable, thanks to the extensive development work that preceded its production. At the same time its armour protection as well as armament were comparable to those of the British cruisers. It was therefore regarded as a ‘light cruiser’ and the whole of one British armoured brigade was equipped with it.

When Operation Crusader began, the two panzer divisions of what became the Afrika Korps had a total of only 145 PzKpfw III and 38 PzKpfw IVs, while the Italian armoured units had 146 M 13/40s. Nevertheless, they managed to repulse the initial attacks of the British tank units, which were committed in a dispersed and disjointed way that nullified their overall numerical superiority. By comparison, German formations acted in a more coherent fashion and, as before, very effectively combined the action of their tanks with that of the anti-tank guns. However, in the end Rommel’s much depleted forces were forced to retreat to the border of Tripolitania. But only two weeks later and having received reinforcements, which brought up its strength to 77 PzKpfw III and ten PzKpfw IVs, Rommel’s Afrika Korps went on the offensive and drove British forces back to the Gazala line in Cyrenaica. During the four months’ lull that followed, both sides built up their tank strength. On the German side the number of tanks rose to 242 PzKpfw IIIs, including for the first time in Libya 19 Model Js armed with the long-barrelled 50mm L/60 gun, and 38 PzKpfw IVs, while the number of Italian tanks amounted to 230 M 13/40s. On the British side the number of tanks rose to a total of 850, backed by a reserve of about 120 and 300 more held in Egypt. Tanks available to the British forces included for the first time 167 American-built Grants armed with a medium-velocity 75mm gun, which was superior in terms of armour penetration to German tank guns except for the 50mm L/60 to which it was equal, and it fired high explosive as well as armour-piercing projectiles, which enabled British tank units to counter for the first time the threat of anti-tank guns.

The tactical effectiveness of the Grant’s 75mm gun was somewhat reduced by it not being mounted in a turret but in the hull and therefore having limited traverse. Grants did have a turret, but this only mounted its secondary armament of a 37mm gun. Because its 75mm gun was mounted in the hull, some Francophile historians have suggested that its design was inspired by the French B1. In fact, it had nothing to do with the latter, having originated in 1939 with an experimental T5E2 version of the contemporary US medium tank, which had a 75mm howitzer mounted in its hull instead of a turret with a 37mm gun. Subsequently T5E2 became the only available basis on which medium tanks with a 75mm gun could be quickly produced when the use of PzKpfw IV armed with a 75mm gun in the 1940 German campaign in France showed that the US Army urgently needed a tank with a similar armament. In consequence, a new M3 medium tank was developed from the T5E2 and was ordered in 1940 not only for the US Army but also, in a modified form, for the British Army, which called its version General Grant while the US version was called General Lee, after the Confederate commander. Prototypes of the M3 medium tank were completed in May 1941 and deliveries from production commenced only two months later. Eventually the total number of the US M3 medium tanks and of the British version that were produced amounted to 6,352.

Whatever their shortcomings, Grants provided the Eighth Army with tanks that were better armed than any it previously had. It also enjoyed, once again, numerical superiority. In spite of all this, when the Afrika Korps attacked the Gazala line the Eighth Army was defeated piecemeal, and having lost most of its tanks had to retreat into Egypt. It was pursued to within 60 miles of Alexandria when it halted the enemy advance by a series of counter-attacks at Alamein, where another battle took place three months later that changed radically the course of the war in North Africa.

In the meantime, on 22 June 1941 the German Army invaded the Soviet Union. The invasion was spearheaded by four panzer groups, each of which consisted of three to five panzer divisions and which between them contained 17 out of the existing 20 divisions. The panzer groups drove deep into Soviet territory and in a series of envelopments inflicted enormous losses on Soviet forces. They were only halted in the winter of 1941 at the gates of Moscow and Leningrad and deep in the Ukraine by a combination of their own exhaustion, Soviet counter-attacks and the weather.

When the invasion began, Soviet armoured forces were in a state of flux. The successes of the German armoured forces in Poland and in France led in July 1940 to a reversal of the earlier decision to disband large mechanized formations. There were now to be eight mechanized corps and in February 1941 Soviet High Command called for 21 more to be formed. Each of the mechanized corps was to consist of two tank and one motorized infantry divisions and to have 1,031 tanks. Each of the tank divisions was to consist of two tank regiments with a total of 375 tanks, one motorized infantry regiment and a battalion each of reconnaissance, anti-tank, anti-aircraft, engineer and signals troops.

The organization of the new formations had hardly settled when the German forces struck. Moreover, the leadership of the Soviet armoured forces had not recovered from the murderous purges of the previous four years. Many of the Soviet tanks were also claimed to be in need of overhauls or at least of spare parts that would enable them to operate for any length of time. But, for all the shortcomings of its armoured forces, the Red Army had a total of 24,000 tanks, according to what Stalin himself told Harry Hopkins, the US president’s personal representative. Post-war Soviet accounts put the total at a slightly lower figure of 22,600, but in any event by the end of 1941 the Soviet Army had lost 20,500 of them, which means that during the first phase of the German-Soviet war virtually the whole of the pre-war Soviet tank strength was wiped out.

The 17 panzer divisions that were largely responsible for this remarkable achievement started the campaign with a total of only 3,266 tanks, including command tanks. The most numerous of them were PzKpfw IIIs, 707 of which were now armed with the 50mm L/42 gun, but 259 were still armed with the 37mm tank gun that had already proved inadequate during the campaign in France. There were also 625 PzKpfw 38(t)s and 155 PzKpfw 35(t)s armed with similar Czech-made 37mm guns. The most powerful tank continued to be the PzKpfw IV, which was still armed with the short-barrelled 75mm L/24 gun, but there were only 439 of them.

Most of the Soviet tanks were T-26s and BTs which were armed with 45mm guns that were as good as the German 50mm L/42, but their armour was relatively thin and the vision from their turrets was confined to a single rotatable periscope that limited their commanders’ situation awareness, so much so that Finns fighting them a year earlier observed that they appeared to be ‘blind’. The situation was aggravated by the design of their two-man turrets in which the commander acted as the gunner, in contrast to other tanks with two-man turrets, like the British Valentine, in which the commander acted as the loader and had therefore a better chance of observing what was going on around him.

German PzKpfw III and IV tanks, with their three-man turrets and a commander free to observe the tactical scene, could therefore outmanoeuvre Soviet tanks, and they proved more than a match for them.

However, on the first day of the invasion some panzer divisions also ran into the Soviet KV and T-34 tanks, which were a complete surprise to them and caused considerable consternation because they proved almost immune to the panzers’ guns. Yet the two new Soviet tanks had been in production for more than a year and by the time the Soviet Union was invaded as many as 636 KVs and 1,215 T-34s had been produced. Moreover, Soviet authorities made no particular secret of the existence of the T-34, as a month before the invasion they allowed a well-known American photographer, Margaret Burke-White, to visit a tank school outside Moscow and take pictures of the T-34 that were then published in the United States in the widely read Life magazine.

However, in spite of being a nasty surprise to the panzer divisions and superior to their tanks in terms of armour protection as well as gun power, the deployment by the Red Army of the KV and T-34 had no effect on the overall course of the campaign. This fact was obscured for a number of years by contemporary Soviet propaganda, which falsely claimed that the T-34 was only deployed when the German forces were approaching Moscow and that it was responsible for them being driven back.

The appearance of the T-34 inevitably led to demands by German tankmen for new and more powerful tanks, and consequently a special commission consisting of the leading German tank designers visited Guderian’s panzer group in November 1941 to assess the situation at first hand. Soon afterwards contracts were awarded to the Daimler Benz and MAN companies, which had done some studies since 1938 of a 20-tonne tank, for the development of a new 30-tonne tank armed with a very long barrelled 75mm L/70 gun. In May 1942 Hitler opted for the MAN design, and after trials of prototypes the first two production vehicles were completed in January 1943.

The new tank, which was called Panther, outgunned the Soviet T-34 and had thicker armour. It was also larger, having a five-man crew, and as a result of this and its thicker armour it was also heavier, weighing 43 tonnes. In spite of this, it performed well over soft ground due to its wide tracks and a suspension with interleaved road wheels that spread the load over the earth, and its design scored well from the point of view of what was later called ‘fightability’. In fact, it came to be widely regarded as the best medium tank of the Second World War, although it suffered at first from mechanical problems due to its hurried development.

Production of the Panther was preceded by that of another powerful German tank, the 570-tonne Tiger armed with an 88mm L/56 gun. The development of this heavy tank was not begun, as is sometimes claimed, in response to the appearance of the T-34, but can be traced as far back as 1935 when the Ordnance Department first considered a 30-tonne tank armed with a 75mm gun that would be effective against French 2C, 3C and D heavy tanks. This was not a well-informed objective as 2C was already obsolete and 3C and D heavy tanks never existed, but in 1937 the Henschel company was asked to design a 30-tonne DW or breakthrough tank. By 1940 a 30-tonne tank was also designed by Ferdinand Porsche and in 1941 Krupp was awarded a contract for the development of a turret mounting a tank version of the 88mm L/56 anti-aircraft gun that had proved so effective in a ground role in Spain and in France. This was followed a month before the invasion of the Soviet Union by an order issued to Porsche and to Henschel to develop a tank in the 45 tonne class, which they did on the basis of their earlier 30-tonne tank designs. Porsche, who was apt to adopt novel but not always very practical ideas, produced a tank that had problems with its electric transmission and novel suspension and this led to Henschel’s tank being selected and produced as the Tiger.

As soon as they were ready, Hitler foolishly ordered four Tigers to be used on the Leningrad front, where they first saw action in October 1942. They were employed over unsuitable swampy terrain and one had to be abandoned in a peat bog from which it was recovered intact in January 1943 by the Russians, who were consequently not only forewarned of the existence of the new tank but were able to assess its characteristics in detail. In spite of this inauspicious debut, Tiger I or Model E became for a time the most powerfully armed tank in the world as well as having thicker armour than the British Matilda and the Soviet KV, and the 1,354 that were produced took a heavy toll of enemy tanks.

While the production of Tiger I and of the Panther was getting under way, a more immediate answer to the new Soviet tanks was found in PzKpfw IV re-armed with a long-barrelled 75mm L/43 gun instead of its original 75mm L/24. As a result PzKpfw IV not only caught up with Soviet tanks, which were re-armed two years earlier with a 76mm gun, 41.5 instead of 30.5 calibres long, but outperformed them. The first of the re-armed PzKpfw IV was produced in March 1942 and it remained effective until the end of the war, by which time 7,419 had been produced.

When the decision was taken in November 1941 to arm PzKpfw IV with the 75mm L/43 Hitler decided that the Sturmgeschutz or assault guns should also be armed with it. Sturmgeschutz, or StuG for short, were originally developed as a result of the acceptance by the German High Command of the policy advocated before the war by General Lutz and Guderian of concentrating all the available tanks in mobile formations and not allocating any to infantry support. This led the infantry to demand an armoured vehicle that could provide it with close support assault and anti-tank artillery. An order was consequently issued in 1936 for the development of such a vehicle and the first was produced in 1940. It was based on the chassis of the PzKpfw III and was armed with the same 75mm L/24 gun as the PzKpfw IV but mounted in the hull.

StuG was in effect a ‘turretless tank’. Because it had no turret, it had a lower silhouette and thicker armour in relation to its weight, as well as being cheaper to produce than a tank. It was less suitable for mobile warfare because of the limited traverse of its armament, but when armed with the 75mm L/43 it proved to be a highly effective anti-tank vehicle, so much so that it was credited with the destruction of 20,000 enemy tanks by 1944.46 On the eve of the invasion of the Soviet Union the German Army had 391 StuGs, and subsequently their number rose steadily. By the end of the war, a total of 9,409 had been produced and in spite of losses there were still 3,831 in use, making StuG the most numerous German armoured fighting vehicle at the time. Except when there was a shortage of tanks in the latter part of the war, StuG were not issued to the panzer regiments but were organized into separate battalions, which were used primarily to support infantry divisions.

When StuG and PzKpfw IV, armed with the 75mm L/43 and later L/48, began to be introduced in the spring of 1942 and were followed by the first Tigers and then by Panthers, the German Army reversed the situation in which it found itself when it invaded the Soviet Union and ran into the new Soviet tanks. It now possessed qualitative superiority that was to last until the end of the war.

In contrast, the Red Army did not for a time make any major changes to the tanks it had already developed, but concentrated on producing the maximum number of them to make good the losses suffered in 1941 and to regain numerical superiority. The continued production of a virtually unchanged T-34 is particularly noteworthy in view of the recognition of its shortcomings, which were brought home by the evaluation of two PzKpfw III purchased in the summer of 1940 when the relations between the Soviet Union and Germany were still amicable. Compared with the PzKpfw III, the T-34 had superior armour and armament, but its cramped two-man turret was obviously inferior to the three man turret of the German tank and it lacked the latter’s commander’s cupola, which provided good all-round vision. The torsion bar suspension of the PzKpfw III was also found to be superior to the Christie-type coil spring suspension of the T-34.47 As a result, a new T-34M tank was hastily designed incorporating a three-man turret and torsion bar suspension. Two prototypes began to be assembled in March 1941, but three months later the Soviet Union was invaded and further development of the T-34M, which is seldom mentioned in all the writing about the T-34, was abandoned.

Large scale production of the T-34 continued, although it suffered a temporary setback when the Kharkov plant where it originated was threatened by the German advance and a decision was taken in September 1941 to evacuate it as well as other plants, including the Leningrad plant producing KV heavy tanks, to the Urals. For a time this left the Stalingrad plant as the only major producer of T-34s, but a most remarkable industrial effort resulted in the first T-34 being produced in the Urals as early as December 1941.

In spite of the temporary interruption of tank production and the staggering losses suffered during the first six months of the war, the Red Army had 7,700 tanks at the end of 1941.50 This compared well with the total of 5,004 tanks that the German Army had at the time. Some of the Soviet tanks were in the Far East facing a possible Japanese threat while some of the German tanks were being sent to North Africa, but nevertheless the Red Army continued to enjoy considerable numerical superiority over the German Army. This became much more marked during 1942 when Soviet industry produced a total of 24,668 tanks, including 12,527 T-34s. As a result of this and in spite of further heavy losses, by the end of the year the Red Army had 20,600 tanks, whereas the German had only increased the number of its tanks to 5,931, although it had also increased the number of StuGs to 1,039. During 1943 the Red Army lost almost the equal of that year’s output of 24,000 tanks and assault guns, which included 15,833 T-34s. But in the following year production exceeded losses, and by the end of it the number of tanks and assault guns the Red Army had rose to 35,400. The number the German Army had also increased, but only to 12,451, and by then its panzers were facing not only Soviet tanks but also thousands of American and British tanks in Western Europe.

Their numerical inferiority did not prevent German armoured forces destroying more Soviet formations when these counter-attacked around Kharkov in May 1942 and later at Rzhev. But when they took part in the German offensive in June, Hitler split them between an assault on the industrial city of Stalingrad and an equally misguided drive aimed at the Caucasus oilfields, which overstretched their resources. This helped the Red Army to break through the German front in November 1942 and led to the encirclement of Stalingrad, where the remnants of the Sixth Army, including three panzer divisions, surrendered in January 1943. However, a month later panzer formations under the command of Field Marshal E. von Manstein smashed another Soviet offensive in the Donets basin and at Kharkov in what became a classic example of manoeuvre warfare.

Second World War AFVS III

The German High Command then conceived the idea of an offensive code-named Zitadelle against a Russian salient around Kursk, which was to use the revitalized panzer formations to destroy a large number of Soviet divisions and thereby weaken the offensive capabilities of the Red Army. Guderian and other generals objected to it and even Hilter had qualms about it, but the offensive went ahead in July 1943. Seventeen panzer divisions were assembled for it with a total of about 2,450 tanks and assault guns. They included 133 Tigers54 and 184 brand new Panthers. But the offensive took little advantage of the mobile warfare skills of the panzer forces. Instead, they were made to assault where the Red Army expected them and where it had prepared extensive minefields and other defences backed by about 2,950 tanks. In consequence they became involved in a battle of attrition and failed to achieve the planned encirclement of the Soviet forces, although they inflicted heavy losses on them.

Particularly intensive fighting took place near the railway junction of Prokhorovka, which has been described since as the greatest tank battle. In fact, it was a meeting engagement between the 2nd SS Panzer Corps, which had 294 tanks and assault guns including 14 Tigers, and the reinforced 5th Guards Tank Army, which had about 850 tanks. The latter were mainly T-34s but included 260 T-60 light tanks, which were easy targets for German guns, while the T-34s were completely outranged by the Tigers and consequently charged to close with them. In spite of this, by the end of the day the 5th Guards Tank Army had lost as many as 600 of its tanks, 334 of which were completely destroyed, while the SS Corps suffered a total loss of only 36 tanks and assault guns. These figures refute the description in some books of the Battle of Prokhorovka as a ‘death ride’ of the panzer divisions. In fact, over the whole of the Kursk salient the German Army lost 278 tanks and assault guns, including 13 Tigers and 44 Panthers, compared with a total loss of 1,254 tanks suffered by the Red Army.

However, German offensive operations were stopped after the Battle of Prokhorovka by Hitler, who became concerned about the Anglo-American landings in Sicily that had just taken place, and decided to withdraw the SS Panzer Corps so that it could be transferred to the West. The remaining panzer formations retained their qualitative superiority and the ability to score tactical successes and to inflict heavy losses on their enemies. But Zitadelle was their last major offensive on the Eastern Front. In its aftermath strategic initiative passed into the hands of the Red Army, which became increasingly proficient at the offensive operations that came to dominate the latter part of the war in Eastern and Central Europe.

At the beginning of the war, the Red Army had 30 of the mechanized corps it started creating in 1940, but most of them were quickly destroyed and in July 1941 they were officially abolished. Instead the remaining tank units were reorganized into independent brigades that were confined to close support of the infantry. Each brigade had 46 to 93 tanks made up of a mixture of KVs, T-34s and whatever light tanks were available. But as the Red Army began to regain its strength, it re-created four tank corps in March 1942. Initially each had two tank and one motorized infantry brigades, but a third tank brigade was added later, which brought their strength up to 98 T-34s and 70 light tanks. At the same time they dispensed with the KVs, which were not mobile enough for them and which were organized into independent tank regiments that would be used for infantry support.

By the end of 1942 the Red Army already had 28 tank corps. It had also created eight mechanized corps, each of which had one tank brigade and three mechanized brigades consisting of three motorized infantry battalions and a tank regiment, and each had a total of 100 T-34s and 104 other tanks. The tank and the mechanized corps were well designed for mobile operations of limited scope, but for larger scale penetrations of the enemy front and encirclement several would have to be combined, which led to the creation in May 1942 of the first two tank armies that corresponded to the German panzer corps, just as the Soviet tank corps corresponded to the panzer divisions.

The reorganization of the Soviet armoured forces did not prevent their defeat in the Battle of Kharkov in May 1942, but they played a major role in the encirclement of Stalingrad and after the Battle of Kursk they led the offensives that restored Soviet control over Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states. During this period new types of armoured vehicles came into use, starting in 1943 with the SU-122, a ‘turretless tank’ on the lines of the German assault guns, which consisted of a 122mm howitzer mounted in the hull of the T-34. It was relatively ineffective and was quickly superseded by the SU-85, which was very similar except for being armed with a long-barrelled 85mm gun. Adoption of the 85mm gun was prompted by firing tests carried out with the Tiger captured on the Leningrad front, which brought out the need for a more powerful weapon than the 76mm guns of the contemporary Soviet tanks to defeat its 100mm thick frontal armour. About 2,050 SU-85s were produced by the autumn of 1944 when the SU-85 was succeeded by the SU-100, which was similar except for being armed with a long-barrelled 100mm gun. The gun of the SU-100 was an adaptation of a naval gun, just as the 85mm gun of SU-85 was an adaptation of an anti-aircraft gun, which speeded up its development and facilitated the production of about 1,200 by the end of the war. The guns of SU-85 and SU-100 made them effective as tank destroyers, and the T-34 chassis on which they were based provided them with the mobility required for operation with armoured forces.

Before SU-85 and SU-100 were developed, a small number of another turretless assault gun was used at the Battle of Kursk. This was the 45.5-tonne SU-152, which represented the second and much more sensible attempt to mount a 152mm howitzer on the KV tank chassis than the first, which involved mounting it in a huge turret. The resulting KV II was used in 1940 in the assault on Finnish defences, but proved unsuitable for more mobile warfare and disappeared shortly after the German invasion in 1941.

New types of tanks were also developed during 1943. One of them was the new version of the T-34 armed with an 85mm gun mounted in a three-man turret, the first of which was issued to Soviet tank units in March 1944. It was still inferior to the German Panther so far as its gun performance and frontal armour were concerned, but it outnumbered the latter, 18,000 having been produced by the end of the war compared with 5,966 Panthers, not all of which were of course available for the Eastern Front. New heavy tanks were also developed, first by re-arming the KV with the same 85mm gun as that originally mounted in the SU-85 to produce the KV-85, of which only 130 were built in 1943. It was followed by Iosef Stalin, or IS, which had a more heavily armoured KV chassis and dispensed with the fifth crew member, who was the hull machine gunner. IS-1 was armed with an 85mm gun but IS-2 was armed with a 122mm gun.66 The gun was once again an adaptation, in this case of an artillery gun, and with it the 46-tonne IS-2 matched the Panther and the Tiger in gun power, but its rate of fire was slow and it only carried 28 rounds of ammunition. IS-2 began to be produced by the end of 1943 and to be issued in the spring of the following year to independent heavy tank regiments, which were used to support medium tanks by their fire.

To counter IS-2, the German Army had the 68-tonne Tiger II, as well as the turretless Jagdpanther armed with a 88mm L/71 gun that was longer barrelled and more powerful than the 88mm L/56 gun of Tiger I. Eventually 489 Tiger IIs were built, but they were completely outnumbered by IS-2, the production of which amounted to 3,207 tanks by the end of the war. The German Army also had the Jagdtiger armed with a long barrelled 128mm gun, the first of which was built in October 1943 but whose production was disrupted by air raids, so that only five were in the hands of the troops in June 1944. The 70 tonne Jagdtiger was the most powerfully armed and the most heavily armoured vehicle of the Second World War, having 250mm thick frontal armour, but only 77 were built.

The Red Army made full use of its numerical superiority by launching simultaneous offensives along different parts of the Eastern Front and destroying separately parts of the German Army. In this it was helped by Hitler’s disastrous strategy, which required German forces to hold on to their positions instead of being allowed to operate more freely. In particular they were expected to hold on to cities and towns designated Feste Platze, or fortresses, which were to break the momentum of the Soviet onslaught. What this did instead was to split German forces between isolated strong points in which they could be more easily encircled and destroyed piecemeal. These methods contributed, among others, to the destruction of the Army Group Centre in June 1944 in Belarus, which came to be regarded as an even greater catastrophe for the German Army than Stalingrad.

The offensives of the Red Army brought it in April 1945 to the gates of Berlin, which it stormed, delivering a coup de grâce to Hitler’s Reich. The forces that assaulted Berlin included four tank armies and a total of 6,250 tanks and assault guns. Determined resistance in urban terrain far less suitable for the operation of armoured forces than the plains of Eastern Europe exacted a heavy toll on the Soviet armoured units, which lost 1,997 tanks and assault guns, more than the 1,519 the German defenders had when the assault on Berlin began.

As they were being overwhelmed on the Eastern Front, German forces were also gradually overcome in the west. The process began at the Second Battle of Alamein in October 1942, when the British Eighth Army commanded by General B. Montgomery attacked the German and Italian forces that had advanced into Egypt. The latter included two panzer divisions with a total by then of 211 PzKpfw IIIs and IVs and two Italian armoured divisions with 280 M 13/40s. The Eighth Army facing them had three armoured divisions, two of which were reinforced by the attachment of a second armoured brigade, and two independent armoured brigades. In total, therefore, it had seven armoured brigades and 1,441 tanks backed by a reserve of 1,230 tanks held in Egypt in depots, workshops and training units. The disparity in the resources was therefore considerable and even greater than these figures would indicate because, of the German tanks, only 30 were PzKpfw IV armed with the long barrelled 75mm L/43 gun, whereas tanks deployed by the Eighth Army included not only 170 Grants but also 252 newly arrived US-built M4 medium tanks, which the British Army called Shermans.

Shermans were armed with 75mm guns that were somewhat better at penetrating armour than the 75mm guns of the Grants, although not as good in this respect as the 75mm L/43 guns of PzKpfw IV. However, unlike the hull-mounted guns of the Grants, those of the Shermans were mounted in turrets, which made them tactically more effective, and they also fired high explosive as well as armour-piercing ammunition unlike British-built tanks, most of which were still armed with 40mm 2-pounders that only fired solid shot.

Taking advantage of its newly received tanks and its numerical superiority, the Eighth Army wore down the tank strength of the German and Italian forces in a series of attacks that on the 13th day of the battle forced them to retreat, at which stage they were left with ten German and no Italian tanks.

The M4 medium tank, or Sherman, which the British Army first used at Alamein was developed as a result of decisions taken by the US Army as early as August 1940, even before the M3 medium tank and its British Grant version were designed, to follow them as soon as possible with a tank also armed with the 75mm gun but mounted in a turret. Not to delay production, the M4 used basically the same chassis as the M3 medium tank while its general configuration followed that of PzKpfw IV. A pilot model was completed in September 1941 with series production beginning in February 1942.72 Apart from light tanks, the M4 became almost the only tank used by the US Army up to the end of the Second World War, by which time a total of 49,234 were produced.73 It also became the principal tank of the British Army.

The Sherman was used to an increasing extent by the British Army after the Battle of Alamein not because there was a shortage of British tanks but because of their shortcomings. In fact, the number of tanks produced in Britain in 1940 was the same as that produced in Germany and in 1941 it overtook the latter, producing 4,811 compared with 3,114. Even more were produced in Britain in 1942 when the annual output rose to 8,611 tanks, which was more than twice the number produced in that year in Germany.

Unfortunately, much of the considerable British production effort was misdirected or even wasted. The extreme example of this is the Covenanter cruiser tanks, 1,365 of which were produced but none of which was considered fit for battle.

The failings of the Covenanter were due to a considerable extent to the company responsible for it having little experience of tank design. A similar situation existed in the case of other tanks, such as the A.13 and Crusader cruiser tanks, which acquired a reputation for unreliability when used in North Africa. Some of the problems were aggravated by the way in which tanks like the Covenanter and Crusader were rushed into production, and these persisted because rectifying them would have interfered with the production of the maximum number of tanks that was demanded after the defeat of France in 1940, when the British Expeditionary Force lost about 700 tanks. The perceived shortage of tanks that drove the demand for the production of the largest possible number of tanks was exaggerated by Churchill, who stated two years later in the House of Commons that ‘we had … in the United Kingdom less than 100 tanks’. In fact, production records that have come to light since then indicate that in spite of the tanks lost in France and some 300 sent to the British forces in Egypt, there must have been still at least 700 tanks in Britain.

There was also a perception that British tanks were outgunned by German tanks. Actually, the 40mm 2-pounder gun of the British tanks could perforate thicker armour than the 37mm and 50mm L/42 guns of most German tanks, and it was only the long-barrelled 50mm L/60 introduced in 1942 that was superior to it. Where the British tanks were consistently deficient was in not having a gun capable of firing effective high explosive as well as armour-piercing ammunition, like the 75mm gun of the PzKpfw IV even in its original short-barrelled L/24 form. When the British tanks finally advanced beyond the 40mm gun, they went no further than the 57mm 6-pounder with which the Crusader was re-armed in 1942. The 6-pounder was a very effective anti-tank gun, as good in fact in this respect as the long-barrelled 75mm L/48 gun of the PzKpfw IV, but as a high explosive firing weapon it has been described as ‘useless’. Thus it was only with the arrival in 1942 of the American-built Grants and then of Shermans armed with 75mm guns that British armoured units were equipped with tanks capable of firing not only armour piercing but also effective high explosive ammunition.

Yet in 1943 and even in 1944 the General Staff and the War Office were unable or unwilling to accept that both types of fire should and could be delivered by every tank. They accepted, rather reluctantly, that some British tanks might be armed with ‘dual purpose’ guns, but expected that others would specialize in one or the other of the two functions. This would have perpetuated the specialization that bedevilled British tank development, manifesting itself in the division into infantry and cruiser tanks and the arming of tanks with the 40mm 2-pounder whose ammunition was only effective against other tanks. It was only during the last two years of the war that this tendency to over-specialize began to fade away.

In the meantime, the Eighth Army chased what was left of the Afrika Korps out of Egypt and pursued it across Cyrenaica into Tripolitania, where it was reinforced by the remaining Italian armoured division, the Centauro. However, the latter was still only equipped with M 13/40s or the very similar M 14/41 tanks, which were by then completely outgunned by tanks like the Sherman. After some delaying actions, the German and Italian forces retreated into Tunisia until they reached the Mareth Line of fortifications built before the Second World War by the French against an Italian invasion from Libya.

Two months earlier, in November 1942, Anglo-American forces landed on the Moroccan and Algerian coasts of what was then French North Africa and after overcoming some French resistance advanced on Tunisia. The German High Command reacted by landing a panzer division as well as other troops, including some Tiger tanks, in Tunisia. Having built up their strength, the German forces in Tunisia severely mauled the US 1st Armoured Division that had advanced from the west to the Kasserine Pass, destroying more than one hundred of its tanks, which included Lees, the US equivalent of the British Grants, as well as Shermans. They then turned against the British Eighth Army but were repulsed at Medenine. The Eighth Army subsequently stormed the Mareth Line, in which Valentine tanks played a prominent part, but after one more major action in Tunisia units equipped with them were provided instead with Shermans. The Crusaders, with which the British 6th Armoured Division was partly equipped when it landed in Algeria, were also replaced at the time by Shermans.

Towards the end of the campaign in Tunisia, which ended with the surrender of the German and Italian forces in May 1943, British forces were reinforced by two brigades, or about 300 Churchill infantry tanks. These 39-tonne tanks were designed during the ‘Phoney War’ that preceded the fall of France in 1940, when tanks were expected to have to operate over shell-torn ground similar to that encountered during the First World War. They were relatively slow but better armoured than the Matilda infantry tanks. However, in spite of their weight, they were originally only armed with 40mm 2-pounders, although the Mark I version also had a 3in (76.2mm) howitzer mounted in place of the hull machine gun. But before they were deployed in Tunisia they were re-armed with the 57mm 6-pounders, which, together with their ability to operate over difficult ground, made them effective in the close mountainous terrain in which the Tunisian campaign was fought. On the other hand, the 52 Tigers that were sent by the German High Command to Tunisia were misused there when they could have been better employed on the Russian Front, where the open country made their 88mm guns much more effective.

After their victory in Tunisia, Anglo-American forces invaded Sicily and then advanced slowly up the Italian peninsula, where the terrain generally restricted movement off the roads. The scale of tank operations was therefore limited, and they commonly consisted of small scale actions in close support of the infantry. By the same token, the incidence of tank versus tank fighting was low, although Allied forces included a considerable number of armoured units. These included an armoured division and eight separate tank battalions in the case of the US Fifth Army and, eventually, three armoured divisions and two independent tank brigades in the case of the British Eighth Army. The opposing German forces included, at different times, one or two panzer divisions and an independent heavy tank battalion with up to 45 Tigers, as well as another battalion equipped with 76 Panthers that first went into action against the Allied landing at Anzio in February 1944.