The Semovente in German Hands

Semovente DA 75/18 and Semovente DA 75/34

This series was a continuation of the successful Italian Semovente M40 and M41. The Sturmgeschutz M42 was developed early in 1943 on the basis of the Pz Kpfw M15/42 chassis for the 75/34 gun, but as this weapon was still under test in March 1943, the M42 was fitted with the short 75/18, and 200 such vehicles were ordered. Satisfactory trials with the 75/34 led to a further order for 500 equipped with the long gun. Many of those built for the Italian Army were confiscated for immediate use by the German Army in September 1943. At the Ansaldo Factory, material was available to build many more of each series, and the Germans continued production at a somewhat slower rate.

The same chassis and power plant as for the M15/42 tank. The short 75/18 had already equipped previous, Italian Semovente. On the M42 chassis, the suspension bogies were spaced further apart, and grills were fitted in the forward engine-cover hatches.

Semovente DA 105/25

In 1942, the Italian Army considered mounting a 10.5cm gun on the chassis of their proposed medium tank P40. Delays to the P40, caused an alternative chassis, and based on the M15/42 tank, to be ordered. To accommodate the 10.5cm, this chassis had to be widened and, therefore, became known as M43. In February 1943, 30 units were ordered, in April, a further 100 and by June, a total of 454 had been ordered. Only 26 of the first order fell into German hands, but material existed to manufacture many more, and German records indicate that it was intended to fit 80 with the 7.5cm 75/34 gun. On 5 October 1943, the Germans ordered sixty 105/25. Later, more were ordered and some of these were fitted with additional spaced armour on the superstructure front and sides.

Sturmgeschutz M43

The Semovente 105/25 was the best Italian vehicle at the time of the German occupation, and the Germans ordered production to continue using the material already earmarked for the large Italian orders. By December 1943, tests had been carried out which indicated that the Sturmgeschutz M43 could be improved without loss of performance by the addition of spaced armour. Additionally, it was decided that the Italian 75/46 anti-aircraft gun was to be modified to have the characteristics and ammunition of the German PaK40. After the initial production of sixty 105/25 and eighty 75/34 on the M43, all these were to be rebuilt with the heavier armour and the 75/46 gun. However, production proceeded at a slower rate, because of the difficulties created by the Occupation, and additional M43 were fitted with the heavier armour and the 105/25, while a small number appeared with the 75/34 and the remainder were produced with the 75/46. Italian sources indicate that the total production of M43 in 1945 was 22. It was also intended to rebuild all StuG M42 with the 75/18, and later those with the 75/34, and to fit the 75/46 gun. The shorter superstructure of the M42 was to be modified, and a muzzle brake was to be added to the gun.


General Motors XM-1


General Motors XM1 prototype

Congress canceled the MBT-70 in November and XM803 December 1971, and redistributed the funds to the new XM815, later renamed the XM1 Abrams after General Creighton Abrams. Prototypes were delivered in 1976 by Chrysler Defense and General Motors armed with the license-built version of the 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 gun along with a Leopard 2 for comparison.

The actual development of the XM-1 was carried out on a competitive basis, contracts for it being awarded in 1973 to Chrysler and to General Motors. Both companies completed their prototypes in 1975 and after trials the Chrysler XM-1 was chosen in 1976 for further development on the grounds that it was being offered at a lower cost. The principal engineering difference between the two was that the General Motors prototype was powered by a variable compression ratio diesel, which was not entirely successful, while the Chrysler prototype was powered by a gas turbine, which was expensive to produce and which, in spite of repeated claims to the contrary, proved to have a high fuel consumption. A conventional diesel would have been a better choice for either of the two designs and one of 1500hp had been developed in Germany for the MBT-70 but it was not considered for the XM-1.

Whichever of the two US prototypes won, it was intended that it should be evaluated in competition with the German Leopard 2 with the view of achieving standardization between the US and German tank fleets, ostensibly even to the extent of adopting the same tank for both. In the event all that happened was that the US Army decided in 1978 to adopt the 120mm smooth-bore gun produced in Germany for the Leopard 2. The decision was taken after trials carried out in 1977 when the German 120mm smooth-bore gun was compared with the US 105mm tank gun, which by then was 18 years old, and a new 120mm rifled gun hastily developed in Britain to suit US requirements.


In the late 1970s, two companies, Chrysler and General Motors, had competing prototypes of the M-1. General Motors had a large and traditional diesel engine in the tank, and Chrysler, which had tried and failed to develop turbine engine technology for cars and trucks for the commercial market, wanted to recoup their costs and put a risky and complicated turbine engine in their tank. The Army was ready to give the contract to General Motors, but politics intervened. In 1987, the Washington Monthly laid out the scene around the all-important decision of what tank was to be chosen:

On a July afternoon ten years ago, Lt. Colonel George Mohrmann sat at his desk on Capital Hill awaiting a phone call. As head of the Army’s congressional liaison office, he was ready to deliver a stack of sealed letters to members of Congress announcing the winning contractor in the multi-billion dollar competition to build the Army’s M-1 tank.

The two competing contractors, Chrysler and General Motors, offered a clear choice. Chrysler had built its tank around a radically different and unproven tank engine, the turbine; GM had used a more conventional diesel engine. The two tanks had undergone months of head-to-head trials at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

GM had won.

The Army, it seemed, was not going to risk adding the M-1 to its growing list of overly sophisticated weapons that cost too much and don’t work. “We were sitting there poised to deliver [the envelopes],” Mohrmann recalls. “The decision [to select GM] had been made. We were just waiting for the Secretary of Defense to be briefed.”

The call, however, was surprising. The Pentagon told Mohrmann not to deliver the letters. The next day, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered a whole new round of competition. A week later, Rumsfeld turned the M-1 tank program upside down. He mandated that the tank be redesigned to incorporate the turbine engine. Four months later the award-which promised to generate $20 billion in sales – went to Chrysler and the Army was on its way to getting a weapon suited more for a paved interstate than a battlefield.

… That isn’t another story about the Army’s incompetent bureaucracy. “You can blame the Army for a lot of things,” says Anthony Battista, a staff member of the House Armed Services Committee, “but not for the troubles of the M-1.” Rather, it’s a story of how outside factors can overwhelm military considerations in the Pentagon decision-making process, how narrow interests – in this case the ailing Chrysler Corporation and, by a strange twist, the U.S. Air Force – can outweigh the need for a reasonably-priced and effective military. The M-1 was never just a weapon; it was also a bail-out package.


Cold War Weaponry – AFVs

It is difficult today to remember that at the height of the Cold War the possibility of Communist hordes pouring across Central Europe was a very real threat. For four decades Europe stood on the brink of the Third World War, thanks to the heavily-armed standoff between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact. Thankfully it was the war that never was. The Cold War became a historical footnote, sandwiched between the Second World War and the conflicts of the early twenty-first century. It is one of those intriguing ‘what ifs?’ of history.

Washington never allowed its NATO allies to forget the extent of the Soviet threat. Annually throughout the 1980s the US Department of Defense published its Soviet Military Power, which catalogued Moscow’s strategic aspirations and its latest military developments. Anyone reading it was left feeling that war was imminent and woe betide NATO if it was not ready.

By the mid-1980s the Cold War was at its height, with a conventional and nuclear standoff across Europe divided by the Iron Curtain. As part of its forward defence Moscow deployed armies in Eastern Europe with the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany, the Northern Group in Poland, the Southern Group in Hungary and the Central Group in Czechoslovakia. This not only guarded against NATO but also ensured none of the other Warsaw Pact members could defect. These forces were used to stop a repeat of the anti-Soviet uprising in East Germany of 1953, the Hungarian Revolt of 1956 and the Prague Spring of 1968. The following year the Soviet armed forces were involved in a Sino-Soviet border conflict and in 1979 became embroiled in a ten-year struggle in Afghanistan.

After the Second World War with tensions mounting between the Western allies and the Soviets, Berlin remained divided between the American, British and French sectors that made up West Berlin and the Soviet sector that occupied the east. This resulted in the Soviet blockade of West Berlin from June 1948 to May 1949. In response the Allies organised the Berlin airlift and war in Europe was only narrowly avoided. However, the Cold War went hot around the world, most notably in 1950 with the conflict in Korea.

The Warsaw Pact of 1955 brought together eight communist states in Central and Eastern Europe. Moscow argued the pact was a defensive move in light of West Germany being allowed into NATO. The reality was that it bound Eastern Europe’s militaries to the Soviet armed forces. The Soviet Union was divided into military districts, with the key ones being the Baltic, Leningrad, Moscow and Kiev. By this stage the Soviet ground forces consisted of over 200 divisions, down from 500 at the end of the Second World War.

Not only did the Soviets have the numbers, they also had a vast array of weaponry. If there was one thing the Soviet Union was particularly good at it was building tanks. Since the mid-1950s Soviet-designed tanks dominated every single conflict right up until the 1991 Gulf War. Two designs in particular proved to be Moscow’s most reliable workhorses – these are the T-54 and T-62 main battle tanks (MBTs). They are direct descendants of the Soviet Union’s war-winning T-34 and Joseph Stalin tanks. They drew on the key characteristics of being easy to mass-produce, extremely robust and easy to use. As a result they were ideal for the less-well educated armies of the developing world. Having been inside a Czech-built T-54 I can testify that they are certainly no-frills tanks. The finish is not good and there are no creature comforts – clearly a legacy from the Spartan conditions inside the T-34. Nonetheless, they did the job that was required of them.

The scale of Soviet armour manufacturing at its height was immense. The tank plant at Nizhniy Tagil was supported by at least three other key tank factories at Kharkov, Omsk and Chelyabinsk, while other armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) were manufactured at seven different sites. In the 1980s the Soviets were producing approximately 9,000 tanks, self-propelled guns and armoured personnel carriers/infantry fighting vehicles (APCs/IFVs) a year. The Soviet Union’s East European Warsaw Pact allies managed another 2,500.

Moscow sent almost 8,000 tanks and self-propelled guns and over 14,000 APCs/IFVs to the developing world during that decade alone. In effect they exported two and a half years’ worth of production. The Soviets’ ability to manufacture such vast numbers of tanks meant that on at least two occasions they were able to save Arab armies from complete disaster at the hands of the Israelis.

By the 1980s Moscow had a staggering 52,600 tanks and 59,000 APCs in its active inventory, with another 10,000 tanks and APCs in storage. After the Warsaw Pact force-reduction talks in Eastern Europe, in 1990 Moscow agreed to withdraw 10,000 tanks and destroy half of these without batting an eyelid. Warsaw Pact members also agreed to cut tank numbers by almost 3,000. At the same time the Soviets began to field newer tanks such as the T-64B, T-72M1 and the T-80, while retiring older-model T-54/55s and T-62s. They also improved their IFV forces by fielding large numbers of the tracked BMP-2 as well as improving the earlier BMP-1. The net result was a huge surplus of wheeled AFVs available to the developing world.

The British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) was once part of the bulwark that helped protect Western Europe from the threat posed by the Soviet groups of forces stationed across Eastern Europe and their Warsaw Pact allies. At the height of the Cold War BAOR, serving with NATO’s northern army group, represented the largest concentration of ground forces in the British Army. It consisted of the isolated Berlin Independent Brigade and the 1st British Corps in West Germany. HQ BAOR was based at Rheindahlen while HQ 1 (BR) Corps was at Bielefeld, commanding three divisions.

The fate of the American, British and French garrisons in West Berlin had the Cold War gone hot would have been certain. It is likely that the Warsaw Pact would have first cut them off and then overwhelmed them. But this never came to pass, however; West Germany and East Germany along with the two halves of Berlin were reunited on 3 October 1990. The following year the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War came to an end.

While the Cold War resulted in an armed standoff either side of the Iron Curtain, Moscow actively supported the spread of Communism, elsewhere most notably in Korea and Vietnam. Tanks with one previous owner, no strings attached (except when that previous owner happened to be the Soviet Union, there were always strings attached). The fact that the tank was ancient, would not meet your operational requirements and leave you heavily indebted to Moscow did little to deter many developing countries desperate for huge quantities of weapons. From the Horn of Africa to Central America, the Soviet T-55 and T-62 MBTs became as ubiquitous as the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle.

Although the two Superpowers were cautious about coming into direct confrontation, this did not prevent indirect meddling elsewhere in the world. On the periphery, the Cold War became very hot and on a number of occasions almost sparked war in Europe. Time after time Moscow was able to make good its allies’ massive losses. The Soviets conducted a substantial re-supply of Syria in 1982–3 following their military losses in Lebanon. Major re-supply also took place in 1977–9 in support of Ethiopia in its clash with Somalia and during the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973. Prior to that they conducted airlift operations in 1967–8 in support of a republican faction in North Yemen.

At the height of the Cold War the Soviet Union exported billions of dollars’ worth of arms to numerous developing countries. Intelligence analysts watched with a mixture of alarm and awe as cargo ship after cargo ship sailed from Nikolayev in Ukraine stacked to the gunnels to ports such as Assab in Ethiopia, Luanda in Angola, Tartus in Syria and Tripoli in Libya. Much of this equipment came from strategic reserves and was very old or had been superseded by newer models, as in the case of the T-55 and T-62 MBTs, which were all but obsolete by then. Soviet armoured vehicle exports also included the 4×4 wheeled BTR-60 APC and the tracked BMP-1 IFV.

In many cases Soviet weapon shipments were funded through generous loans, barter-deals or simply gifted, and Moscow’s arms industries rarely saw a penny in return. The net result was that during the Cold War Moscow fuelled a series of long-running regional conflicts that lasted for decades. Ultimately the West was to spend the Soviet Union into oblivion, but the legacy of the Cold War was one of global misery.






(By E. Dwyer Gray, Sydney.)

It is, of course, fairly well known that the war tank was really a Western Australian invention. Those who would like to know the details of the occurrences in connection with Corporal Lancelot E. de Mole’s travelling caterpillar fort, will find them set out in the current issue of the “Australian Motor Owner,” which gives the whole story. The magazine does not, however, print the text of a certain striking letter from Perth, addressed to the British Minister for War on September 19, 1914. This not only informed the British Minister for War that the archives of its own department contained the plans for a perfect war tank, but foretold what tanks could do, exactly two years before the inferior Somme tanks appeared so belatedly on the battlefields. This letter is now made available for publication for the first time, and reads as follows:

“The question of armaments being of paramount importance to armies engaged in this great war, may I suggest your placing the plans, specifications, and model, submitted by Mr. Lancelot de Mole in 1912, before a committee of experts, with a view to the adoption of travelling forts against the German forces In my humble opinion no deadlier or more efficient war engine could be used than de Mole’s caterpillar fort, which can travel over broken ground, climb embankments., span canals, streams and trenches with the greatest of ease, and which, if armoured and manned with small quick-firing guns and maxims, will quickly turn the most stubborn of armies, even if they be most strongly entrenched.

A line of moving fortresses – no dreamer’s fancy, but an idea which can be actually materialised – adequately support- ed by artillery, will carry everything before it, and save the infantry. I sincerely trust that you will appreciate the value of my suggestion. Should you require the services of Mr. L. de Mole kindly request the Western Australian Government to communicate with Mr. H. J. Anketell, resident engineer, Department of Public Works, Perth – Yours, etc., G. W. D. Breadon.”

Mr. Breadon was a civil engineer by profession. He was a man of repute and capacity, and shortly after writing this remarkable letter he became a Commissioner for Munitions in India. The letter had no effect whatever. Apparently it went into the same sort of pigeonhole as de Mole’s plans in 1912. Today it accuses the British Minister for War in 1914, or his agents, and the accusation, though it has a particular application to 1914, goes back to 1912.

Some Tragic Questions.

Here observe that on November 17. 1919, a British Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors, presided over by   Mr. Justice Sargant, declared:- “De Mole made, and reduced to practical shape, as far back as the year 1912, a very brilliant lank invention, which anticipated, and in some respects surpassed, that actually put into use late in 1916. Counsel for the Minister for Munitions specifically admitted: ”De Mole’s suggestions would, in the opinion of present advisers, have made a better article than those that went into action.” The Chairman said to him: ”Your suggestion is sent to the Government in 1912 and 1915. Then it gets pigeonholed. That is your misfortune, but not your fault.” But what about his country’s misfortune and the calamitous consequences to mankind? How much would the war have been shortened if Britain had possessed tanks from the beginning? Would there have been any retreat from Mons? Would the war ever have become static? Millions of men may have perished on account of this ineptitude, which in fact prolonged the war for years. Even if the British   Minister for War, or his agents, had acted promptly and with sense when Breadon’s striking letter reached London in October, 1914, the whole history of the war would have been altered, and huge savings would have been effected in human lives. Dead men tell no tales, but live ones can – and this is one of them. It is time to abolish pigeonholes and to substitute searchlights.

Churchill’s Historic Letter.

On January 5, 1915, Mr. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, wrote his historic letter to Mr. Asquith (of “Wait and see” fame) on the subject of mechanical warfare. In this he remarked:- “The question to be now solved is not the long attack over a carefully prepared glacis of former times, but the actual getting across of   100 or 200 yards of open space and wire entanglements. All this was apparent more than two months ago, but no steps have been taken and no preparation made. Yet it would be quite easy to fit up tractors with armoured shelters, in which men and machine guns could be placed, which would be bullet proof. The caterpillar system would enable trenches to be crossed quite easily, and the weight of the machines would destroy all wire entanglements. These engines could . . . advance into enemy trenches, smash   all obstructions, and sweep the trenches with their machine gun fire.”

Mr. Winston Churchill began his practical tank activities after a Dukes’ dinner on February 15, 1915, when Major Hetherington and others suggested rolling cars, with wheels the size of the Great Wheel at Earl’s Court, but the above letter shows that he had received inspiration before that date. At the moment he wrote his historic letter his colleague, the Minister for War, or his agents, had Breadon’s letter locked away and ignored, whilst somewhere else in the War Office reposed plans for a perfect war tank travelling on the cater- pillar system on a chain track of steel plates. It was only after spending mil- lions on the secret evolution of an inferior type of tank that “Mother” and its adaptation appeared 0n the battlefields in September, 1916.

The Birth of the Tank.

The standard work on these subjects is “Tanks, 1914-18,” by Sir Albert Stern, long Director of the Mechanical Warfare Supply Department, and an original member of Mr. Winston Churchill’s celebrated Landship Committee of 1915, so detested by the War Office that it refused to give it the accommodation of an un-tenanted room. Britain owed even, the Somme tanks, not to the War Office and the military authorities, who consistently ridiculed and opposed all ideas of landships or tanks, but to the grit, the commonsense, the courage, and the driving force of Sir Albert Stern, and the Naval Department. In his book Sir Albert Stern writes:- “Mr. d’Eyncourt turned down a proposed truck of Balata belting, and once more our hopes sank. Then on September 22 (1915) I received the following telegram from Lincoln: ‘To Stern, Room 59, 83 Pall Mall. Balata died on the test bench yesterday morning. New arrival by Tritton out of pressed plate. Light in weight, but very strong. All doing well, thank you. – Proud Parents.’ That was the birth of the tank.”

That statement is what Mr. Winston Churchill once described as a terminological inexactitude, only in the sense that it is historically untrue. The curious telegram of September 22, 1915, signed “Proud Parents,” was not the birth of the tank. It was only the birth of “Mother” and its adaptations. The birth of the tank took place in Western Australia in 1912. But Sir Albert Stern is not to blame. He did not know de Mole’s story when he wrote his book. That the Director of the Mechanical Warfare Supply Department should never have heard of de Mole’s tank is, however, just one of those mysteries which should have been probed and never was. De Mole’s plans were not merely received and then pigeonholed. They were, on the contrary, examined, and deliberately rejected at least three times – once before the war and twice during the war, or, to be exact, in 1913, 1916, and 1918. There was also Breadon’s letter of September, 1914, and a working model one-eighth of the natural size, which did no more in London than the plans and was eventually found in what the London Press of 1919 described as “the neglected cellar of a Government department.” In 1916 de Mole’s tank was rejected by the Advisory Committee of Scientific Experts. They must have displayed some expert science to keep Sir Albert Stern ignorant of the fact that there was anything of the kind on the planet. But that he was ignorant of the existence of de Mole’s tank can be accepted as sure.

The Royal Commission of 1919 paid a high tribute to the driving force of Mr. Winston Churchill, and probably he deserved it. But no tribute was paid to the driving force of Sir Albert Stern, who deserved it more, and was his teacher about tanks. It is regrettable to have to add that on October 16, 1917. Mr. Winston Churchill weakly dismissed Sir Albert Stern from the Directorship of the Mechanical Warfare Supply Department, at the bidding of British Generals, whoso stupidity in connection with tanks he had dared to oppose and expose: appointed Admiral Moore in his place, who up to the date of his appointment had never even seen a tank, and actually referred Sir Albert Stern to America for a proper development of tanks on a large scale. But it is now a matter of history that Sir Albert Stern won through in the end.

De Mole’s Ideal Tank.        

De Mole’s tank was intended to be 37 ft. long, with a wheel base of 25ft, travelling on a caterpillar track of steel plates. It had a double climbing face, and consequently could have reversed over the roughest battlefields, which the Somme tanks could not. It would have crossed a 16ft trench with ease, either forwards or backwards. It had a high underbody clearance to prevent bogging.

The chain track was fully protected, travelling inside the armour instead of over the top. The Somme tanks were very imperfectly steered by moving the chain track faster on one side than the other, which imposed a strict limitation in length, or they could not be steered at all. ln de Mole’s tank perfect steering was secured, for the chain track could be moved laterally, thus causing it to conform lo curves. This meant that there was no limitation to length, except that imposed by weight, and the   horse-power of the motor engine used. At least three times de Mole offered his brilliant invention to his country for nothing, and it was refused. It is terrible to think what might have occurred If de Mole had been a man of the same type as Grindell Mathews. When in June, 1913, the Director-General of Artillery, wrote to him finally from the War Office, London, definitely declining the invention, and stating “it is not proposed to proceed with the matter,” some of de Mole’s friends suggested to him that he should take copies of his plans to the German Consul in Perth. All was peace, but de Mole said he would have no truck with any foreign Government.

What even the Somme tanks and their developments actually did in the war need not be stressed here. They were one of the chief factors in the final victory of the Allies. Lord Kitchener had no time for them. As Sir Albert Stern says. He was too busy even to look at the first efforts at construction. The chairman of the alleged Australian Inventions Board, sitting in Adelaide during the war was also too busy even to look at de Mole’s plans. Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig supported Stern. When the tanks appeared at Delville Wood and other Somme battlefields in September 1916, he wrote: “We take our objectives where the tanks advance. Where they do not advance we do not take our objectives.” In May, 1917, he wrote: “The tanks are wonderful life-savers.” A British private wrote: “Before the tanks came the dead used to be strewn in front of the German gun emplacements like birds before a butt with a good shot inside. Now these tank things just walkthrough.”

The 1919 Tank Awards.

The British Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors accorded the Australian credit and commiseration, to which a grateful Empire added later the sustaining letters, “C. B. E.” To the contrivers of an inferior tank they allotted £15,000 in cash. But the Commissioners had no choice. They were tied by the terms of their appointment, and could make awards only for “tanks actually used by a Government department” – that is, for “Mother” and its adaptations, or to those who could show, “A casual connection” between their conceptions and those Contrivances. The Somme tank awardees were Sir E. H. W. Tennyson-d’Eyncourt, Sir W. Tritton, Major Wilson, Lieut. McFie, and Mr. S. Newfield. A certified verbatim report of the Commission proceedings at Queen Anne’s Gate, Westminster, on November 3, 1919, shows that two of these Somme awardees had, whilst controlling official positions, offered criticisms of de Mole’s tank, which “he felt he could not properly put forward to the Commission as being a reasoned and proper report on the position as it then was”, since “the criticisms contained in that report are criticism, which I am advised are not justified.”

De Mole’s Other Activities.

De Mole conceived his great tank idea or travelling caterpillar fort, while engaged in the organisation of heavy transport work in the South-Western part of Western Australia in 1911, and he first sent his plans to the British War Office in 1912. Caterpillar traction was already known, the celebrated American   Holt tractor being then on the scene. But the steering was awkward, and this was part of de Mole’s triumph. He made perfect steering quite easy. The Holt story is another instance of the ineptitude of the British authorities on some important occasions. They gave to America for nothing plans for which they had paid a prize, and which they were exceedingly glad to use on generous re- turn. In 1902 de Mole invented au automatic telephone similar in operation to that now in use, but the postal authorities would not even give it a trial. The model of his rejected war tank can be seen at the Melbourne War Museum. The British Museum wanted to buy it, but characteristically the Australian soldier refused to sell it, and presented it to the Australian War Museum as a gift. Just now de Mole is a resident of Cremorne, Sydney, and is working out two big ideas in connection with heavy traffic. In six months’ time every city in Australia is likely to know all about them, and the country, too. He is a civil engineer by profession, like his father, who is a citizen of Adelaide. His great-great-grand-father was the eminent engineer, Henry Maudesly, who invented the marine engine, etc.

A generous-minded man. Lancelot de Mole makes no grievance of his wrongs. But the mourning millions will never know what his wrongs cost the world in human lives, or how many of the dead, including 60,000 splendid Australians, would have been saved if the British War Office had been wise in time. The man actually responsible for the pigeon- holing of the Australian corporal’s tank plans in 1912 and the definite rejection of June, 1913, was the man who prolonged the war for years. Who was he?




German Tank Hunters

irst weapon of the German Panzerjäger ( armour hunters or tank hunters) was the humble Panzerbüchse which was in service from 1917 through to 1943. Panzerbüchse literally means “armour rifle” and German anti-tank rifles originated back in 1917 with the Mauser 1918 T-Gewehr, the world’s first anti-tank rifle. It was created as an immediate response to the appearance of British tanks on the Western Front. A single shot manually operated rifle, it enjoyed moderate success, with approximately 15,800 rifles eventually produced. The Panzerbüchse 39 (PzB 39) was the main German anti-tank rifle used in World War II. It was an improvement of the unsuccessful Panzerbüchse 38 (PzB 38) rifle.

German Panzerbüchse development resumed in the late 1930s. In an effort to provide infantry with a man-portable lightweight anti-tank rifle. The task fell to Dipl.-Ing. (certified engineer) B. Brauer at Gustloff Werke in Suhl who designed the Panzerbüchse 38 (PzB 38). It was a manually loaded single-shot weapon with a recoiling barrel. When fired, the barrel recoiled about 9 cm, which opened the breech and ejected the spent cartridge casing. The breech block was then arrested in the rear position, remaining opened for the gunner to manually insert a new cartridge. The gunner then released the cocked breech with a lever at the grip. The breech and barrel would then move forward again and the trigger was cocked in preparation to fire. This rather complicated mechanism was prone to jamming as the system easily fouled in field use.

Although manufactured with pressed steel parts that were spot-welded, because of the complicated vertical breech block mechanism the Panzerbüchse 38 was difficult to manufacture and only a small number of 1,408 PzB 38 rifles were built in 1939 and 1940 at the Gustloff Werke plant; only 62 of these weapons were used by German troops in the invasion of Poland in 1939.

The Panzerbüchse 39 was the next development, and was found to be a major improvement as a result the Panzerbüchse 38 declared obscelescent and production was immediately switched to the Panzerbüchse 39. However it too featured a vertical breech block mechanism and used the same cartridge. It retained the barrel of the PzB 38 and had an only slightly increased overall length of 162.0 centimetres (63.8 in); weight was reduced to 12.6 kilograms (28 lb). Its performance data was basically the same as that of the PzB 38. To increase the practical rate of fire, two cartridge-holding cases containing 10 rounds each could be attached to both sides of the weapon near the breech – these were not magazines feeding the weapon, they simply enabled the loader to extract the cartridges (that he still had to manually insert into the gun) from the conveniently placed magazines. 568 PzB 39 were used by the German army in the invasion of Poland; two years later, at the beginning of the war against Russia, 25,298 PzB 39 were in use by German troops; total production from March 1940 to November 1941, when production ceased, was 39,232 rifles. The PzB 39 remained in use until 1944, by which time it had become hopelessly inadequate against all but the lightest armored vehicles.

OKW recognised the need for a more powerful form of anti-tank weapon and the design of a horse-drawn, 3.7 cm anti-tank gun (designated 3.7 cm Pak L/45) by Rheinmetall commenced in 1924 and the first guns were issued in 1928. However, by the early 1930s, it was apparent that horse-drawn artillery was obsolescent, and the gun was modified for motorized transport by substituting magnesium-alloy wheels with pneumatic tyres for the original spoked wooden wheels. Re-designated the 3.7 cm Pak 35/36, it began to replace the 3.7 Pak L/45 in 1934 and first appeared in combat in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. It formed the basis for many other nations’ anti-tank guns during the first years of World War II. The KwK 36 L/45 was the same gun but adapted as the main armament on several tanks, most notably the early models of the Panzer III.

The Pak 36, being a small-calibre weapon, was outdated by the May 1940 Western Campaign, and crews found them inadequate against allied tanks like the British Mk.II Matilda, and the French Char B1 and Somua S35. Still, the gun was effective against the most common light tanks, such as the Renault FT-17 and saw wide service during the Battle of France and the T-26 during Operation Barbarossa. The widespread introduction of medium tanks quickly erased the gun’s effectiveness; miserable performance against the T-34 on the Eastern Front led to the Pak 36 being derisively dubbed the “Door Knocker” (Heeresanklopfgerät, literally “army door-knocking device”) for its inability to do anything other than advertise its presence to a T-34 by futilely bouncing rounds off its armor.

Not surprisingly The Pak 36 began to be replaced by the new 5 cm Pak 38 in mid 1940. The addition of tungsten-core shells (Pzgr. 40) added slightly to the armour penetration of the Pak 36. Despite its continued impotence against the T-34, it remained the standard anti-tank weapon for many units until 1942. It was discovered that Pak 36 crews could still achieve kills on T-34s, but this rare feat required tungsten-cored armour piercing ammunition and a direct shot to the rear or side armour from point-blank range.

As the Pak 36 was gradually replaced, many were removed from their carriages and added to SdKfz 251 halftracks to be used as light anti-armour support. The guns were also passed on to the forces of Germany’s allies fighting on the Eastern Front, such as the 3rd and 4th Romanian Army. This proved particularly disastrous during the Soviet encirclement (Operation Uranus) at the Battle of Stalingrad when these Romanian forces were targeted to bear the main Soviet armoured thrust. The Pak 36 also served with the armies of Finland (notably during the defence of Suomussalmi), it was also deployed in Hungary, and Slovakia.

In 1943, the introduction of the Stielgranate 41 shaped charge meant that the Pak 36 could now penetrate any armour, although the low velocity of the projectile limited its range. The Pak 36s, together with the new shaped charges, were issued to Fallschirmjäger units and other light troops. The gun’s light weight meant that it could be easily moved by hand, and this mobility made it ideal for their purpose.

The replacement for the outdated Pak 36 was the 50cm Pak 38. The longer barrel and larger projectile produced the required level of kinetic energy to pierce armour . The PaK 38 was first used by the German forces during the Second World War in April 1941. When the Germans faced Soviet tanks in 1941 during Operation Barbarossa, the PaK 38 was one of the few early guns capable of effectively penetrating the 45 mm (1.8 in) armor of the formidable T-34. Additionally, the gun was also equipped with Panzergranate 40 APCR projectiles which had a hard tungsten core, in an attempt to penetrate the armor of the heavier KV-1 tank. Although it was soon replaced by more powerful weapons, the Pak 38 remained a potent and useful weapon and remained in service with the Wehrmacht until the end of the war.

The 7.5 cm PaK 40 (7.5 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 40) was the next generation of anti-tank gun to see service. This German 7.5 centimetre high velocity anti-tank gun was developed in 1939-1941 by Rheinmetall and used extensively from 1942-1945 during the Second World War. It was the PaK 40 which formed the backbone of German anti-tank guns for the latter part of World War II. Development of the PaK 40 began in 1939 with development contracts being placed with Krupp and Rheinmetall to develop a 7.5 cm anti-tank gun. Priority of the project was initially low, but Operation Barbarossa in 1941 and the sudden appearance of heavily armoured Soviet tanks like the T-34 and KV-1, increased the priority. The first pre-production guns were delivered in November 1941.

In April 1942, Wehrmacht had 44 guns in service. It was remarkably successful weapon and by 1943 the PaK 40 formed the bulk of the German anti-tank artillery.The PaK 40 was the standard German anti-tank gun until the end of the war, and was supplied by Germany to its allies. Some captured guns were used by the Red Army. After the end of the war the PaK 40 remained in service in several European armies, including Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Norway, Hungary and Romania.

Around 23,500 PaK 40 were produced, and about 6,000 more were used to arm tank destroyers. The unit manufacturing cost amounted to 2200 man-hours at a cost of 12000 RM. A lighter automatic version, the heaviest of the Bordkanone series of heavy calibre aircraft ordnance as the BK 7,5 was used in the Henschel Hs129 aircraft.

The Pak 40 was effective against almost every Allied tank until the end of the war. However, the PaK 40 was much heavier than the 50 cm PaK 38, It was difficult to manhandle into position and its mobility was limited. It was difficult or impossible to move without an artillery tractor on boggy ground.

The PaK 40 debuted in Russia where it was needed to combat the newest Soviet tanks there. It was designed to fire the same low-capacity APCBC, HE and HL projectiles which had been standardized for usage in the long barreled Kampfwagenkanone KwK 40 main battle tank-mounted guns. In addition there was an APCR shot for the PaK 40, a munition which eventually became very scarce.

The main differences amongst the rounds fired by 75 mm German guns were in the length and shape of the cartridge cases for the PaK 40. The 7.5 cm KwK (tank) fixed cartridge case is twice the length of the 7.5 cm KwK 37 (short barrelled 75 mm), and the 7.5 cm PaK 40 cartridge is a third longer than the 7.5 cm KwK 40.

The longer cartridge case allowed a larger charge to be used and a higher velocity for the Armour Piercing Capped Ballistic Cap round to be achieved. The muzzle velocity was about 790 m/s (2,600 ft/s) as opposed to 750 m/s (2,500 ft/s) for the KwK 40 L/43. This velocity was available for about one year after the weapon’s introduction. Around the same time, the Panzer IVs 7.5 cm KwK 40 L/43 gun and the nearly identical Sturmkanone (StuK) 40 L/43 began to be upgraded with barrels that were 48 calibers long, or L/48, which remained the standard for them until the end of the war.

In the field, an alarming number of L/48 cartridge cases carrying the hotter charge failed to be ejected properly from the weapon’s semi-automatic breech, even on the first shot (in vehicles). Rather than re-engineer the case, German Ordnance reduced the charge loading until the problem went away. The new charge brought the muzzle velocity down to 750 m/s, or about 10 m/s higher than the original L/43 version of the weapon. Considering the average variability in large round velocities from a given gun, this is virtually negligible in effect. The first formal documentation of this decision appears on May 15, 1943 (“7.5cm Sturmkanone 40 Beschreibung”) which details a side by side comparison of the L/43 and the L/48 weapons. The synopsis provided indicates very little difference in the guns, meaning the upgrade had little if any benefit.

All further official presentations of the KwK 40 L/48 ( “Oberkommando des Heeres, Durchschlagsleistungen panzerbrechender Waffen”) indicate a muzzle velocity of 750 m/s for the gun. As for the PaK 40, the desire for commonality again appears to have prevailed since the APCBC charge was reduced to 750 m/s, even though case ejection failures apparently were never a problem in the PaK version of the gun.

For reasons which seem to be lost to history, at least some 75 mm APCBC cartridges appear to have received a charge which produced a muzzle velocity of about 770 m/s (2,500 ft/s). The first documented firing by the U.S. of a PaK 40 recorded an average muzzle velocity of 776 m/s for its nine most instrumented firings. Probably because of these results, period intelligence publications (“Handbook on German Military Forces”) gave ~770 m/s as the PaK 40 APCBC muzzle velocity, although post war pubs corrected this (Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 30-4-4, “Foreign Military Weapons and Equipment (U) Vol. 1 Artillery (U) dated August of 1955-this document was originally classified).

In addition, German sources are contradictory in that the Official Firing Table document for the 75 mm KwK 40, StuK 40, and the PaK 40 dated October, 1943 cites 770 m/s on one of the APCBC tables therein, showing some confusion. (“Schusstafel fur die 7.5cm Kampfwagenkanone 40”).

The 88 mm gun (eighty-eight) was a German anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun from World War II. It was widely used by Germany throughout the war, and was one of the most recognized German weapons of the war. Development of the original models led to a wide variety of guns.

The name applies to a series of guns, the first one officially called the 8,8 cm Flak 18, the improved 8,8 cm Flak 36, and later the 8,8 cm Flak 37. Flak is a contraction of German Flugzeugabwehrkanone meaning “anti-aircraft cannon”, the original purpose of the eighty-eight. In informal German use, the guns were universally known as the Acht-acht (“eight-eight”), a contraction of Acht-komma-acht Zentimeter (“8.8 cm”). In English, “flak” became a generic term for ground anti-aircraft fire.

The versatile carriage allowed the eighty-eight to be fired in a limited anti-tank mode when still on wheels, and to be completely emplaced in only two-and-a-half minutes. Its successful use as an improvised anti-tank gun led to the development of a tank gun based upon it. These related guns served as the main armament of tanks such as the Tiger I: the 8.8 cm KwK 36, with the “KwK” abbreviation standing for KampfwagenKanone (“fighting vehicle cannon”).

In addition to these Krupp’s designs, Rheinmetall created later a more powerful anti-aircraft gun, the 8,8 cm Flak 41, produced in relatively small numbers. Krupp responded with another prototype of the long-barreled 88 mm gun, which was further developed into the anti-tank and tank destroyer 8.8 cm Pak 43 gun, and turret-mounted 8.8 cm KwK 43 heavy tank gun.

Vehicle designs

Designs of the Panzerjäger vehicles varied based on the chassis used, which could be of three types:

  • Early war open-topped superstructure on a light tank chassis
  • Mid-war fully enclosed crew compartment on a medium or heavy tank chassis, as an added-on entity not usually integral to the original hull armor
  • Late war unarmoured or shielded mounting on a half-track chassis

Notable tank destroyers in the Panzerjäger classification were:

The later Jagdpanzer designation was used from the beginning for the following more integrally armored vehicles:


‘Fortress Tank’

France had fought World War I without a heavy tank. In July 1918, at the very end of that conflict, it began development of such a machine. Manufactured by FCM (Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée, Le Seyne, Toulon), the Char 2C was intended as a breakthrough tank or “Fortress Tank” (Char de forteresse), intended to lead the great Allied offensives that were planned for the spring of 1919. France planned to produce 300, but only 10 were ever built. This monster had a crew of 12, weighed some 152,100 pounds, and was powered by two Maybach or Daimler Benz 250-hp gasoline engines. It had a speed of 7.5 mph. The Char 2C had maximum 45mm armor and was armed with a turreted 75mm gun (later a 155mm) and four machine guns.

The Char 2C had a loaded weight of 69 tonnes, partly because of its armour – 45 mm at the front, 22 mm at the sides, but much of it just because of its huge size. The armour was among the thickest of World War I-era tanks, though by modern standards this would be considered thin. It is still easily the largest tank ever taken into production. With the tail fitted, the hull was over twelve metres long. Within its ample frame there was room for two fighting compartments. The first at the front, crowned by a three-man turret (the first in history) with a long 75 mm gun, and the second at the back, topped by a machine gun turret. Both turrets had stroboscopic cupolas. The three independent 8 mm machine gun positions at the front gave protection against infantry assault.

The Char 2C is the only super-heavy tank ever to attain operational status — a super-heavy tank is not simply a tank that is very heavy but one that is much heavier than regular tanks of its period. The next operational tank to weigh about the same would be the Tiger II heavy tank of World War II.

The fighting compartments were connected by the engine room. Each track was powered by its own 200 or 250 hp engine, via an electrical transmission. Top speed was 15 km/h. Seven fuel tanks, containing 1,260 litres, gave it a range of 150 kilometres.

To man the tank required a crew of twelve: driver, commander, gunner, loader, four machine gunners, mechanic, electrician, assistant-electrician/mechanic and a radio operator. Some sources report thirteen, probably due to pictures of the crews that included the company commander.

The ten tanks were part of several consecutive units, their organic strength at one time reduced to three. Their military value slowly decreased as more advanced tanks were developed throughout the 1920s and 1930s. By the end of the 1930s they were largely obsolete, because their slow speed and high profile made them vulnerable to advances in anti-tank guns.

Nevertheless, during the French mobilisation of 1939, all ten were activated and put into their own unit, the 51st Bataillon de Chars de Combat. For propaganda, each tank had been named after one of the ancient regions of France, numbers 90-99 named Poitou; Provence; Picardie; Alsace; Bretagne; Touraine; Anjou; Normandie; Berry; Champagne respectively. In 1939, the Normandie was renamed Lorraine. As their main value was in propaganda, the giants were carefully kept from harm and did not participate in the September 1939 attack on the Siegfried Line. They were used for numerous morale-boosting movies, climbing and crushing old French forts instead. To the public, they obtained the reputation of invincible super tanks, the imagined dimensions of which far surpassing the real ones.

Of course, the French commanders knew perfectly well this reputation was undeserved. When the German Panzerdivisionen in the execution of Operation Fall Rot ripped apart the French lines after 10 June 1940, the decision was made to prevent the capture of the famous equipment. It was to be sent to the south by rail transport. On 15 June the rail was blocked by a burning fuel train, so it became inevitable to destroy the tanks by detonating charges. Later Goebbels and Goering claimed the tanks were hit by German dive bombers. This propaganda lie was to be repeated by many sources. One tank, the Champagne, was nevertheless captured more or less intact and brought to Berlin to be exhibited as a war trophy. In 1948 this tank disappeared, causing many to speculate it still survives at the Russian Tank museum in Kubinka.

In 1926, the later Champagne was modified into the Char 2C bis, an experimental type with a 155 mm howitzer in a cast turret. New engines were fitted and the machine gun positions deleted. In this configuration the tank weighed perhaps 74 tons. The change was only temporary though, as the vehicle was brought back into its previous condition the very same year; the new turret was used in the Tunisian Mareth Line.

Between 15 November and 15 December 1939 the Lorraine, as the company command tank, was experimentally up-armoured at the Société des Aciéries d’Homecourt to make it immune to standard German antitank guns. The front armour was enhanced to 90 mm, the side to 65 mm. In this configuration, weighing about 75 tons, the Lorraine had at that time the thickest armour of any operational tank, and is probably still the heaviest operational tank ever.

Char FCM 2C



The Großtraktor

In 1925, the Weapons Office produced conceptual requirements for a 16-ton vehicle with a top speed of 25mph, 14mm of armour and a turret mounted 75mm gun. Three firms responded and as early as 1926 these three German companies (Rheinmetall-Borsig, Daimler-Benz and Krupp) each produced a single prototype armed with a large 75-millimeter cannon (the Großtraktor, “large tractor”, was so codenamed to veil the true purpose of the vehicle). Krupp and Rheinmetall-Borsig had a lengthy history of arms production while Daimler-Benz was an automobile manufacturer. None of these companies gave the project a high priority.

The Großtraktor was designed as a heavy breakthrough vehicle. The prototype vehicles had differences; however what follows was true of at least one or more of the models. The main armament was the same short 7.5 cm gun initially used on the Panzer IV; with secondary armaments including multiple machine guns. The approximate weight was 16 tons. The engine was a six-cylinder engine, in the 250-260 hp range.

The following may have applied only to the Rheinmetall-Borsig and Krupp designs: a machine gun was placed at the rear of the tank, behind the turret; and the tank commander sat not in the turret, but in the hull to the right of the driver. The Großtraktor prototypes were constructed of mild steel and two were tested at the Kama testing facility near Kazan in the USSR, called by the Germans Panzertruppenschule Kama (Armoured Troops School Kama and used from 1926 to 1933).

One result of the experimentation in Kazan was that the German Army Motorization Department felt compelled to field two tank types corresponding to the Großtraktor and the Leichttraktor; codenamed the BW and ZW. The BW reference being for Battalionführerwagen, or the Battalion commander’s vehicle; which was intended to be a fire support vehicle. The BW was to accompany the ZW, the Zugführerwagen, or Section commander’s vehicle intended to act as the core battle tank. The work on the Großtraktor led to the Neubaufahrzeug, a similar heavy tank design. The prototypes were decommissioned in 1937; at least one ended up as a memorial to early armoured regiments.

The Neubaufahrzeug was ordered from Rheinmetall-Borsig in 1933, and was to be a development of their earlier Grosstraktor to provide the German Army with a 20 ton multi-turreted main tank. Tests on two mild steel prototypes in 1934 led to the construction of three armoured vehicles in 1935. These were fitted with a Krupp-designed turret and gun mount which simplified construction and set the 7.5cm KwK and 3.7cm KwK side by side.

Vehicles 1 and 2 had mild steel armour and the rounded Rh-B turret and vertical gun mount. Before being used in action in 1940, vehicles 3, 4 and 5 were refitted with an extra turret similar to that of the Pz Kpfw I, but armed with only one MG34.

The prototypes were used by the tank training school at Putlos until 1940. The three armoured vehicles were attached to the Pz Abt z b V 40 (z b V == for special employment). In April 1940, they were shipped direct to Oslo in Norway and were used in action during that month. One vehicle was destroyed and the two surviving Nbfz were returned to Germany at the end of 1940.