1973 Yom Kippur War

The Sinai t 1400 hours on 6 October 1973 the Arabs launched a surprise two-front assault on the Israelis under the codename of Operation Badr. Egyptian and Syrian armour swept all before them and the state of Israel teetered on the very brink of collapse. It was Yom Kippur, the Jewish fast day, when Israel was least prepared for war. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), suffering staggering losses, struggled desperately to stem the tide, and then a miracle happened – the Arab Biltzkrieg was killed in its tracks.

The Egyptians had around 1,650 T-54/55 tanks plus about 100 of the more modern T- 62s; the Syrians had about 1,100 T54/55s and an unknown number of T-62s; between them they also had about 300 Second World War-vintage T-34s. As the battle progressed Iraq committed up to 250 T-54/55s and Jordan fielded about 100 Centurions. During the fighting the Soviet Union shipped in another 1,200 tanks to Egypt and Syria as battlefield replacements.

Following the 1967 Six Day War Israel had been left in control of the Egyptian Sinai desert, the Palestinian Gaza Strip, the Syrian Golan Heights and the Jordanian West Bank and East Jerusalem. The upshot was that for the first time Israel had some good natural defensive barriers to protect its borders. Six years later Egypt and Syria and their neighbours were determined to recapture this lost territory. By 1973 the Arab armies were armed to the teeth thanks to the Soviet Union, which had equipped them with T-54/62 tanks, MiG fighter jets, missiles and artillery. Holding the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian frontiers was the `Zahal’, or IDF, consisting of just 75,000 regulars and reservists.

The Israeli triumph during the Six Day War and the key role played by their armoured corps ensured its central role in post-war planning. After 1967 Israel upgraded its M48s to produce the Magach 3 and 5, followed by the M60 upgrade known as the Magach 6 and 7. Another M60 upgrade in the 1990s produced the Sabra. The Israelis captured several hundred repairable T-54s and T-55s and these were modified and reissued for Israeli use as the Ti-67 or Tiran. Similarly, captured T-62s were reissued as the T-62I.

The French-supplied AMX-13 proved to be wholly inadequate when they came up against the Egyptian T-54s and were relegated to a reconnaissance role. Likewise the Israeli M3 half-tracks, which had been in service since 1948, were now too vulnerable and were replaced by the American M113 tracked armoured personnel carrier – which the Israelis call the Zelda.

Israel’s 252nd Armoured Division, with around 280 tanks in three brigades, was deployed along the Suez Canal supported by three reserve armoured divisions. Across the canal, massing for the attack were ten Egyptian divisions supported by 1,600 tanks, all organised into two armies. The key Egyptian armoured formations were the 4th and 21st armoured divisions and the 3rd, 6th and 23rd mechanised divisions. They were supported by various foreign allied contingents, which included Algerian and Libyan armoured brigades.

General Gonen was in charge of Israel’s Southern Command, which included the 143rd, 162nd, and 252nd armoured divisions – in all, these mustered some nine armoured brigades. Once the Syrian front had been stabilised these forces were later reinforced by elements of the 146th and 440th composite divisions.

The Egyptian offensive was to take them over the canal between Kantara and Ismailia and to the south of Great Bitter and Little Bitter lakes in the Suez City area. These two separate crossings, by the Egyptian 2nd and 3rd armies respectively, divided by the two lakes immediately betrayed a fatal flaw that the Israelis would later capitalise on.

The armoured forces supporting the Egyptian 2nd Army comprised the 21st Armoured (with two tank brigades and one mechanised brigade) and the 23rd Mechanised (two mechanised brigades and one tank brigade) divisions. The armoured spearhead of the 3rd Army was the 4th Armoured and 6th Mechanised divisions, while the Egyptian GHQ had the 3rd Mechanised Division plus an independent tank brigade held in reserve.

The Egyptian assault opened with 2,000 guns firing a deluge of 100,500 shells at the Israeli defences known as the Bar-Lev Line. Then 150 MiG fighters attacked Israel’s air bases, command posts and communications centres. When the Israeli Air Force tried to intervene it was met by a barrage of Soviet-supplied surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). The Israeli Air Force lost a huge number of planes, though only fifteen were actually downed in air-to-air combat.

During the early 1970s the Egyptians and Syrians, with Soviet assistance, constructed SAM networks even more formidable than those used by North Vietnam. The Arabs also deployed the SA-6 for the first time and it was this that posed the greatest threat to the Israeli Air Force. Being fully mobile, with unknown target-acquisition radar frequencies, the Israelis were reduced to the expedient of dropping Second World War-style `chaff’ to blind it. Crucially the Israelis greatly benefited from America’s experiences in the Vietnam War. The SA-2 and SA-3, also used by the Egyptians, were relatively immobile and most of their codes had been broken. Nor did the SA-6 threat last long either.

The Egyptians’ phased attack was designed first to cross the canal, neutralise the Israeli defences on the eastern bank, establish divisional bridgeheads to meet the inevitable Israeli counter-attacks and then link up the bridgeheads. Using high-pressure hosepipes the Egyptians breached the Israeli sand berm protecting the eastern bank and threw a series of pontoon bridges over the Suez Canal. Getting across the canal was a considerable feat and there were three reasons why it was achieved: firstly, choosing Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) which was one of the holiest days for the Jews; secondly, meticulous planning; and thirdly, the Egyptians had a much more sophisticated air defence system than in 1967, which for a while at least kept the Israeli Air Force at bay.

The crossing of the Suez Canal was the first time that the Soviets got to operationally test their PMP Floating Bridge, which had been developed to tackle Europe’s wide rivers. This consisted of box-shaped pontoons carried on tracked vehicles – hydraulic arms deployed the first pontoon, a vehicle would then drive onto the pontoon and deliver a second section and so on. The PMP was able to lay the pontoons at a rate of about fifteen feet a minute, so the Egyptian engineers were able to get over the canal in just under half an hour. Using old-style Second World War pontoon bridging would have taken the Egyptians at least two hours. The net result was that Egypt’s tanks were soon rumbling over the canal at a faster rate than anticipated by Israeli intelligence. Within ten hours the Egyptians successfully deployed 500 tanks and their protective air defence system on the eastern bank. This was to be the high point of Egyptian military achievements.

The Egyptian 2nd and 3rd armies successfully swarmed across and fought off twenty-three desperate Israeli counter-attacks over the next two days. During Operation Badr the Egyptians got about 1,000 tanks over the Suez Canal; they left 330 tanks as an operational reserve behind on the west bank, while there was also a strategic reserve of another 250 tanks – though 120 of the latter were from the Presidential Guard and would only be released in the direst of emergencies.

The Egyptian `tank-hunter’ squads came over the Suez Canal lugging their RPGs and Sagger anti-tank missiles – these proved deadly to the Israeli armour. One Egyptian unit knocked out eight Israeli M60s defending the Bar-Lev line within the space of just ten minutes. Sergeant Ibrahim Abdel Monein el Masri was the most successful tank killer, accounting for twenty-six Israeli tanks, which gained him the Star of Sinai, Egypt’s highest bravery award.

To protect the `tank-hunter’ teams from air attack, the Egyptians were equipped with the man-portable SAM launcher known as the SA-7 Grail. This five-foot-long (148cm) shoulder-fired weapon provided low-altitude air defence. The Israelis, though, were already familiar with the SA-7, as the Egyptians had employed it extensively against Israeli jets during the War of Attrition following the Six Day War. Israeli countermeasures greatly hampered its already poor kill ratio. Nonetheless, combined with the Egyptian Army’s other air defence missiles, the SA-7 for a while helped stop the Israeli Air Force pressing home its attacks on the advancing Egyptian armoured columns.

The first Israeli counter-attacks by General Mendler’s 252nd Armoured Ugda or division (consisting of the 14th, 401st Reserve and 460th Reserve Armoured brigades) were easily beaten off with heavy losses, thanks to the roaming Egyptian `tank-hunter’ squads. This was also in part due to a lack of mechanised infantry support that left the Israeli armour vulnerable. By the afternoon of 7 October 1973 the 252nd had lost some 200 of its 300 tanks. Counter-attacks on 8 October were also repulsed, with further heavy losses suffered by the 167th Armoured Division near Kantara, the Chinese Farm and Fridan. The division’s three brigades were left with just 120 tanks by that night. General Sharon’s 143rd Armoured Division then suffered smaller losses attacking the Chinese Farm defences on the 9th.

The Israelis moved a reserve armoured division into Sinai on 8 October, tasking the 190th Brigade to counter-attack toward the Egyptian pontoon bridges over the canal. They ran into determined Egyptian resistance using the latest anti-tank guided weapons including the Sagger and the RPG-7. The brigade was cut to pieces. In the meantime the Israelis had defeated the Syrians by 9 October and easily fended off the supporting Iraqi and Jordanian tanks. This left the IDF free to re-deploy their tanks against the Egyptians.

By 10 October the Egyptians had 75,000 men supported by 800 tanks deployed in the Sinai. In light of the Syrian defeat on the Golan Heights both sides now prepared for the offensive. The Israelis decided to allow the Egyptians to move forward first and beyond the cover of their SAMs. The Egyptians struck on 14 October, but this was tank warfare that the Israelis excelled at: their gunners pinned down the Egyptian attackers while other forces struck the Egyptians in the flanks. By the end of the day the Egyptians had lost up to 300 tanks and the survivors were soon in full retreat. The following day the Israelis counter-attacked, crossing the canal in the Deversoir area of Great Bitter Lake and then drove back the Egyptian 2nd Army along the eastern bank.

On 15 October General Sharon, commanding three armoured and two parachute brigades, located a gap between the Egyptian 2nd and 3rd armies to the east of the Great Bitter Lake. He launched an armoured brigade in a diversionary attack against the Egyptian 2nd Army in front of Ismailia. He sent a second one in a southward loop to outflank them, with the aim of crossing the canal just north of Great Bitter Lake. This was achieved, though initially Sharon could only get forces across by pontoon ferry until bridges had been built the following day.

Disastrously for the Egyptians they had no contingency plan for the Israelis crossing the canal. They had expected the IDF to try and clear the east bank with encircling operations, not cross the canal itself. It took the Egyptians twenty-four hours to launch both the 2nd and 3rd corps into a counter-attack against the neck of the Israeli penetration just northeast of the Great Bitter Lake, in what became known as the `Battle of Chinese Farm’. The fighting raged throughout the night of 16/17 October with heavy losses on both sides. By the middle of the 17th Israeli armour was pouring over the canal, sealing the fate of those Egyptian forces on the eastern bank.

By the time of the first ceasefire the IDF had secured a foothold on the far bank of Great Bitter and Little Bitter lakes, i. e. west of the Suez Canal. At the same time the Egyptian 2nd Army held a swathe of territory east of the Suez Canal between Port Said to the north and Ismailia to the south. South of the Lower Bitter Lake and beyond Suez City the Egyptian 3rd Army held another strip. Despite the ceasefire both sides sought to improve their positions. Crucially the IDF not only enlarged their bridgehead west of the lakes but also drove south to Suez City and beyond to Adabiya on the Gulf of Suez. Despite Egyptian counter-attacks this move trapped 20,000 men of the Egyptian 3rd Army, cutting them off from drinking water, food and ammunition supplies. In the area west of the canal the Egyptians had dug in many of their elderly T-34 tanks hull-down in the sand – in the space of half a mile eighteen were destroyed in their pits by the Israeli Air Force.

Having trapped the Egyptian 3rd Army, Israel finally agreed to a ceasefire on 24 October. This left the Israelis occupying 600 square miles of Egyptian soil west of the canal, encircling the 3rd Army and holding 9,000 prisoners. The ferocity of the Yom Kippur War is reflected in the casualties. Egyptian and Syrian forces suffered 19,000 killed and 51,000 wounded. The Israelis lost 606 officers and 6,900 men. Although Yom Kippur ended in a resounding Israeli victory, the `Great Crossing’, as the Egyptians dubbed it, was a major psychological victory for the Arabs. It had shown them that they could take on the hitherto-invincible IDF and win.

The Golan Heights

Israeli defence minister Moshe Dayan was not blind to the Arabs’ military buildup, both in the Sinai and on the Golan Heights, during the early 1970s. He inspected the IDF forces on the Golan on 26 September 1973 and warned them, `Stationed along the Syrian border are hundreds of Syrian tanks and cannon within effective range, as well as an antiaircraft system of a density similar to that of the Egyptians’ along the Suez Canal.’ While Dayan put a brave face on things he also put the army on alert and quietly reinforced the single, under-strength armoured brigade on the Golan, by redeploying the normal garrison unit, the 7th Armoured Brigade, which had been drawn back to armoured HQ at Beersheba.

It has been estimated that the first wave of the Syrian assault involved up to 700 tanks: with 300 striking toward Kuneitra in the middle of the Golan and the other 400 striking up the road from Sheikh Miskin to Rafid to the south of Kuneitra; they were supported by three infantry divisions. The intention was that the northern attack would cut the IDF’s Golan defences in half by thrusting down the main Kuneitra-Naffak road. The southern attack would then link up at Naffak as well as pushing south to El Al. In principal it was a very sound plan.

The Golan was the fulcrum on which Israel’s fate rested – if the IDF could not achieve victory there then they would not have the resources to redeploy for a counter-attack against the Egyptians in the Sinai. While the latter offered strategic depth of 125 miles, in which the IDF could conduct a fighting withdrawal, the IDF faced defeat if ousted from the Golan. From the frontline of the IDF’s forward defensive positions facing east to the cliffs overlooking northern Israel the Heights are just seventeen miles deep. The IDF had no option but to stand and fight where they stood. The only advantage the IDF had on the Golan was they were masters of tank warfare and expert gunners. The question was whether the Israelis would be able to knock out the Syrian tanks fast enough to stop their positions being overrun.

Sitting on the Golan were two Israeli tank brigades, one of them only at three-quarters strength. To the north, defending the narrowest sector, was the 7th Armoured Brigade with about 100 tanks. The central and southern sectors from Kuneitra to the Benot Jacov Bridge was held by the Shoam Brigade with around seventy-five tanks. The brigade faced odds of five-to-one and in some places even as high as twelve-to-one.

After the 1967 war Israel had occupied and improved the Syrians’ existing triple defence lines that it had overrun; behind these lay sixteen fortified Jewish settlements. It would take at least thirty hours to mobilise reserves and get then up the road from Rosh Pina south-west of the Benot Jacov Bridge over the river Jordan and up the ascent to the Golan. It is not good tank country as visibility is poor. Mount Hermon is the only place that gives a clear view of the Golan and all the way to Damascus. From there the Israelis were able to watch the Syrian tanks marshalling on the plain below. Mount Hermon would soon fall to a Syrian helicopter commando assault. In the meantime the Syrian tanks were dug in to convince the IDF that they were adopting a purely defensive posture.

West of the Golan Heights Israel’s Northern Command under General Hofi was made up of the 146th armoured (9th, 19th, 20th and 70th armoured brigades) and 240th armoured (79th and 17th armoured brigades) divisions plus the 36th Mechanised Division (7th and 188th armoured brigades).

Syrian and allied armoured forces facing the Golan Heights in October 1973, on paper at least, were quite formidable looking. They consisted of the Syrian 1st and 3rd armoured divisions, each comprising two tank brigades and a mechanised brigade. In addition the 68th, 47th and 46th tank brigades supported the three Syrian infantry divisions allocated to the attack.

Arab allied units consisted of the Iraqi 3rd Armoured Division with the 6th and 12th tank brigades and the 8th Mechanised Brigade, along with the Jordanian 3rd Armoured Division; the latter fielded the 40th Armoured Brigade with the 2nd and 4th armoured regiments, the 1st Mechanised Battalion and the 7th Self-propelled Artillery Regiment, and the 92nd Armoured Brigade with the 12th and 13th armoured regiments, 3rd Mechanised Battalion and the 17th Self-propelled Artillery Regiment. Morocco also provided a mechanised brigade and Saudi Arabia a mechanised regiment.

At 1400 hours on 6 October 1973 Syria threw its armoured and infantry divisions, equipped with 1,200 tanks, into an operation that was expected to drive the Israelis from the Golan Heights in the space of just two days. To fend them off were the two Israeli brigades with 180 tanks. These units brought precious time while Israeli reinforcements were rushed to the front. What followed was a brutal slogging match as the two sides caught each other head on. Remarkably two damaged Israeli Centurions held off about 150 Syrian T-55/T-62 tanks and during a thirty-hour tank engagement knocked out over sixty tanks.

During the fighting in the `Valley of Tears’ the destruction was terrible. The Syrian 7th Division and the Assad Republican Guard lost 260 tanks, along with well over 200 BMP armoured personnel carriers, BRDM light armoured cars and bridge-layers. Of the Israelis’ 105 runners from the 7th Armoured Brigade they had just seven operational tanks. Although the Syrians broke through they lost 867 tanks to superior Israeli tactics and the timely arrival of reinforcements.

By 9 October the Israelis had triumphed against the Syrians. The Iraqi and Jordanian armour did not intervene until the second week of fighting; the Israelis broke up a counterattack by the Iraqi 3rd Armoured Division on 13 October; the latter performed fairly poorly, losing 140 tanks to the Israelis.

Three days later the 40th Armoured Brigade from the Jordanian 3rd Armoured Division ran into the Israelis and after losing twenty tanks in two days of fighting took no further part in the battle. When the fighting on the Golan finally came to the end it had cost the Syrians and their allies a total of 1,200 tanks.

The Israeli Air Force learned the hard way in 1973 that before all else they must neutralise enemy radar and SAM sites. In eighteen days of fighting the Israeli Air Force suffered, by its usual standards, appalling casualties – losing over 25 per cent of its combat aircraft, mainly to radar-guided anti-aircraft artillery rather than missiles (the Arabs accounted for 114 Israeli aircraft, of which the bulk were as a result of ground fire). For any other air force in the region this would have been crippling.

Just as importantly Egypt’s Soviet-supplied wired-guided anti-tank missiles had shown how vulnerable tanks could be to tank-hunter groups. The men of the Israeli armoured corps paid a heavy price for their victory: 1,450 tank crew were killed in the Sinai campaign with another 3,143 wounded in action. The Israelis lost some 400 tanks, though many were later repaired. This led the Israelis to develop the Blazer reactive armour system (explosive blocks fitted to the outside of their tanks) and composite armour to protect against the Arabs new anti-tank weapons.

The Israeli armoured corps lost almost 40 per cent of its southern armoured groups in the first two days of the war, which highlighted the need for vital infantry support and ultimately led to the Merkava main battle tank being fitted with a rear troop bay. One of the most glaring deficiencies of the Israeli armour was their lack of night-vision equipment (the Egyptian and Syrian tanks had infra-red, including the British made Xenon infra-red projector, giving them a serious advantage over the Israelis during the many night encounters) and after 1973 they began acquiring image-intensification and thermal imaging night-vision systems.

On the eve of the Yom Kippur war the Israelis fielded 540 M48A3 (with the upgraded 105mm gun) and M60A1 tanks. By the end of the fighting they only had around 200 still operational. This was because of severe vulnerability caused by the hydraulic fluid at the front of the turret, which proved to be a major problem while fighting the Egyptians in the Sinai. The rapid turret traverse system, if hit, tended to spray the flammable hydraulic fluid into the tank. The losses were replaced with the Magach 5 (M48A5) and Magach 6 (M60) upgraded during the 1970s.

Under the codename Operation Nickle Grass America airlifted vital military supplies to the Israelis during the bitter and desperate fighting. Key amongst these was artillery rounds and TOW and Maverick anti-tank missiles. According to the US Defence Intelligence Agency, the latter accounted for most of the Israeli tank kills. Fighter replacements, after the heavy losses to the Egyptian air defences, totalling 76 aircraft were welcome. It was this re-supply that emboldened the IDF to break through Egyptian defences on the west side of the canal. In contrast, American tank replacements were not in sufficient numbers to have any real bearing on the fighting. The airlift delivered just twenty-nine tanks, but only four arrived before the ceasefire on 22 October 1973. Another twenty-five were delivered but this was after hostilities had stopped.

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Object 704 self-propelled gun

The Object 704 self-propelled gun was a prototype tank utilising elements both the IS-2 and IS-3 tanks. It was designed to carry the 152.4 mm ML-20SM model 1944 gun-howitzer, with a barrel length of over 4.5 metres (29.6 calibers) and no muzzle brake. It had a maximum range of 13,000 metres. The self-propelled gun carried 20 rounds of two piece (shell and charge) armour-piercing and high explosive ammunition. The armour-piercing round, weighing 48.78 kg, had a muzzle velocity of 655 m/s. The rate of fire was 1-2 round/min. The secondary armament of the fighting vehicle consisted of two 12.7 x 108 mm DShK machine guns, one anti-aircraft and one co-axial. The vehicle was well armoured, up to 320mm in places, which would have made it one of the most impregnable vehicles of its type, the project was cancelled.

The tests of ISU-152 began in the spring of 1945 and did not bring the desired results. Because of the large angles of the installation of armor plates, the combat compartment was cramped. The lack of a muzzle brake led to the recoil being increased by 900 mm, because of this the driver had to be moved to the left upper part of the combat compartment. In addition, the self-propelled gun with the ML-20SM gun could not carry troops on board. All these shortcomings, as well as a number of other design flaws, led to the Object 704 model of 1945 being not accepted for service.

Only one was completed and this prototype is now preserved in Kubinka Tank Museum.

Name: Object 704

Type: Self Propelled Artillery [Artillery periscope Goerz / Hertz]

Origin: Soviet Union

Year: 1945

Length: 9.05 Meters

Width: 3.07 Meters

Height: 2.24 Meters

Weight: 47300 Kilograms

Engine: 12-cylinder 4-stroke B-2IS engine of 520 hp [electric starter ST-700] [The self-propelled gun was also equipped with two external additional fuel tanks (each of 90 liters), not connected with the engine fuel system.]

Transmission: 5-speed gearbox

Range: 220km road, 120km cross-country

Speed: 37 km/h (12 km/h off road)

Crew: 5

Communication: 10RK-26 radio and TPU-4Bis-F intercom system

Primary Armament:

-152 mm ML-20SM [telescopic sight TS-17K]

Secondary Armament:

-12.7 mm DSK

Gun Flexibility:

18° Elevation

1° Depression

11° Left

11° Right

Armor:

-Hull

100 mm Front

90 mm Side

60 mm Rear

30 mm Top

20 mm Bottom

-Upper Structure

120 mm Front (160 mm Gun Shield)

90 mm Side

60 mm Rear

30 mm Top

Panther in Context…

There are several historical instances of the problems caused when equipment is rushed in production and fielded too soon. A great example of this was the German rush to field the new Panther tank at the Battle of Kursk. Here one finds mechanical difficulties, degraded training, and new tactics were not formulated to capture the advantage of the new equipment.

New equipment is developed to meet certain operational needs and you can’t understand the employment of the Panther tank unless you understand that it was developed to meet the threat posed by a new Russian tank. This Russian tank was the T-34. The T-34 was an excellent tank design that had a far-reaching impact on tank development throughout the world. The Russians have long had a reverent appreciation for the T-34.

On the other hand, the Germans thought their tank designs were superior and in fact during the early years of the war (1939—1941) there was no reason for them to think otherwise. During this time the Germans put their future tank designs on hold since they ran into no significant obstacle for their PzKpfw IIIs and IVs in Poland or France. At the outset of Operation Barbarossa the Germans faced Russian tanks that were not as sophisticated as the German equipment nor were the tactics for the employment of these tanks as developed as the Wehrmacht. The Russians greatly outnumbered the Germans with some 22,000 tanks, mostly T-26s, BTs, T-28s and T-35s. The Russians, however, had been working on improving their tanks since 1936. Unknown to the Germans, the Russians had developed and had produced about 1000 T-34s prior to the commencement of Barbarossa. The T-34 was first used in mass against the Germans at the Battle of Borodino in October of 1941. Not only were the T-34s used in mass but the Russian armor tactics had begun to improve and there were early signs that the “happy times of the Panzers was at an end”.

At an Art of War Symposium which took place at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania from 26 to 30 March 1984, General Lingenthal described his regiments first contact with the T-34.

“By chance our regiment met on the second day of the Russian war the first regiment of T-34s that had been in the Russian Army; and we, of course, had no knowledge at all of this tank; and, in the first phase of this battle, my tank was shot; and my driver was killed. Four tanks were in our group, and they all suffered the same fate. … We had further fighting in the morning and in the afternoon, and then we finally burned some of these tanks by using 76mm high explosive shells with delay fuses (one-fourth second). So because they had all tanks with fuel on the rear we could make them burn. Then, of course, when we approached the wrecks I remember very well that we saw what terrible strength of armor they had, and we were very impressed. I can tell you we reported this immediately to higher echelons, but I do not know how they distributed this information to other divisions.”

The terrible strength of the armor General Lingenthal mentions could be the sloping of the armor. This is one design feature of the T-34 that is retained today because sloped armor increases the amount of protection. The T-34 also had a good amount of fire power, speed and mobility. These tanks made a great impression on the Panzertruppen; many thought the T-34 should be taken back to Germany and mass-produced for the Wehrmacht. Another thing the Russians did to make the T-34 an extremely reliable vehicle was to standardize the relatively simple design, thus enabling the Soviets to mass produce the T-34. The standardization not only in design, but also in production, enabled the Soviets to produce great numbers of interchangeable parts such as the engine, armament, transmission, periscopes. The tank was conventional in its design with the engine and transmission in the rear. It also used a Christie suspension system. The turret presented a low silhouette, a condition which reduced the overall height of the tank, and also limited the depression of its gun. In true Soviet, fashion, the aims were mechanical simplicity and the ability to mass produce the vehicle. These objectives were both successfully achieved.

A testament to the design and durability of the T-34 was its long use after the Second World War. The North Koreans used the T-34 very effectively at the opening of the Korean Conflict. In the Sinai during the 1967 Six Day War, the Israeli Army was still facing the T-34s of the Egyptian Army. In fact, many were captured by the Israeli Army during this war.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once it was clear that there was a need for a new tank, the design and production of the Panther went forward. Two designs were considered for production. The first design was submitted by the Daimler-Benz (BD) company. This design resembled the T-34. The weight of the BD design was about 39 tons, roughly the same as the T-34 and this tank would mount a 75mm gun. The second design was from the Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürmberg (MAN) company. This tank would be heavier, weighing 49 tons and also mounting a 75mm gun, but this gun would have a longer barrel giving it a higher muzzle velocity. Both designs copied some features of the T-34 such as wide tracks and the sloped armor. Both also used interleaved road wheels mounted on torsion bars.

A Panther committee headed by representatives from the Inspector of the Panzer Troops was established to review the drawings and ensure the requirement could be met by the two companies. The committee concentrated on two prerequisites. The first requirement was the ability of the company to place the vehicle into mass production by December 1942. This date was critical if the war industry was to get the tank to the troops in the field. The committee thought this ability to start production was so important it became the number one consideration. The second consideration was for the tank to be of “superior quality to counter the numerical material superiority of the enemy.” Early in the war with Russia this was a reasonable prerequisite. However, after Stalingrad the Germans could never build a tank of the quality necessary to overcome the numerical superiority of the Russians. The standardization of the T-34 allowed the Soviets to mass produce the tank in huge numbers. Russia suffered from no lack of raw material or production capacity as did the Germans.

The following excerpt of General Guderian’s memoirs shows why Germany had production problems with not only the Panther but all tank production.

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

Not only would surging production of the PzKpfw III/IV’s been difficult, but Hitler was telling the tank producing industries to take the plans, produce the new tank, and do it in numbers five times that of the current production. This was a Herculean feat for any industry, much less for one at war and facing the shortages as noted by Guderian.

On 11 May 1942 the committee made their choice. Professor Dr. Porsche announced the design choice stating “the committee evaluating the designs of the Panther tank…unanimously favors the proposal of the firm of MAN… and recommends that the Panzertruppe be equipped with the selected tank.” On 13 May 1942 the design was sent to Hitler and he agreed with the committee’s recommendation with some comments. He also ordered the construction of railroad flat cars capable of transporting the heavy tanks being produced, showing a good deal of forethought in getting the tank to the battlefield. In June 1942, Hitler was already asking about changing the requirements of the Panther. He wanted to change the frontal armor on the Panther from 80mm to 100mm and he ordered that all vertical armor on the tank be 100mm. In the meantime, the production numbers for the following May were fixed at 250 Panthers. In September 1942 production numbers for the spring of 1944 were set at 600 Panthers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At this point it is necessary to move from the Panther to the historical and strategic setting of Kursk. OKW (Armed Forces High Command—who ran the German war effort everywhere except for Russia) wanted to conduct a strategic defense on the Eastern Front during 1943. This would reduce the number of forces required in the east and allow the Germans to shift the then extra forces to the west in expectation of the Allied landings. OKH (Army High Command—who ran the German war in Russia) agreed with the reasoning for going on the strategic defense, but only after a major offensive had been successfully concluded in order to spoil any planned Soviet offensive for the summer of 1943. Hitler agreed with OKH on the need for an offensive before turning to the defensive. However, Hitler had additional political reasons for a victory in the east during the summer of ‘43. He wanted to show the world Germany was not beaten, that she still had the resolve to fight on. He also needed to quiet the fears of Germany’s allies and ensure them they had not backed a loser. All during the war, Germany made a practice of cutting off Russian thrusts into the German lines and trapping thousands of Russian troops. An assault on the Kursk salient seemed to be the place where the desire of OKW, OKH and Hitler could all be achieved. The German attack would depend on the speed at which they could mass, arm, and launch their troops. However, Operation Citadel was not Blitzkrieg in its planning. Citadel was originally to take place in April, but Hitler kept delaying the offensive for several reasons. These reasons ranged from shifting of units along the Russian Front to positions to launch the attack to the fielding of additional Panthers. The operation would also depend on secrecy, but the Soviets would have almost the complete plan for Citadel prior to the start of the offensive.

The Soviets knew of the German tendency for cutting into salients with concentric pincer moves. They also knew that Kursk was a prime target. Their concerns proved justified as the Soviet “Lucy” spy ring passed the concept and tentative start date of Operation Citadel to the Soviets in early April. This information was confirmed by sources in England by the decoding of “enigma” messages. In the spring and early summer, reconnaissance of the northern and southern shoulders of the salient confirmed the massive troop build-up. Thus, the strategic surprise so critical for German success was never achieved. The Germans could only hope for tactical surprise such as the time and location of the main effort and this would even be denied them. More importantly, the Germans never knew to what extent they had lost the element of surprise. In fact, because of the advanced warning, the Soviets threw out their planned offensive for the spring of 1943 and went on the defense expecting to bleed the Germans white.

In April 1943, Marshall of the Soviet Union Georgi Zhukov recommended to Stalin and the Soviet High Command (STAVKA), that based on intelligence, a spoiling attack or pre-emptive offensive was unnecessary. The Soviets could turn the Kursk salient into a fortress and wear down any German assault by concentrating on the destruction of the German armor. Once the Germans were defeated at Kursk, the Soviets would immediately use their reserves to launch an all-out offensive. Stalin reluctantly agreed with Marshall Zhukov. Thus the Soviets would use the Clausewitzian concept of the defense being the stronger form of war, but then immediately shift to the offense to exploit the advantage gained by the defensive operations.

To understand the degree of defensive preparation by the Soviet Army, one only needs to look at numbers. More than 20,000 guns and mortars were emplaced. Anti-tank guns numbered over 6,000 and 920 Katyusha rocket battery positions were prepared. All positions were oriented on specific avenues of approach and the positions could support each other with interlocking fires. Channeling the panzers into these killing fields were 40,000 mines laid out in the early spring allowing the sunflowers and wheat to grow around them. The density of the minefields was staggering, an average of 2,400 anti-tank mines per square mile, and during the battle the minefields were repaired or replaced with great efficiency by the Russians. Moreover, these numbers of weapons and mines do not show the great number of individual tank positions dug in to hide the tank from the turret down. Soviet tanks moved from prepared position to prepared position and were immediately able to fire on any German penetration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the first day of fighting the Panther was not employed in mass. The operational status of the Panthers during Operation Citadel began at 184 Panthers on 5 July. This dropped to 166 Panthers on 6 July but plummeted to 40 operational Panthers on 7 July. By 10 July there were only 10 operational Panthers in the front lines. Maintenance crews were able to increase the operation rate to 43 by 13 July, but one can see from these numbers why the Panther was not able to be used in mass after the first day of battle.

General Guderian made an inspection to Kursk to see the Panther and submitted a report on the operations of the Panthers. In his report he describes the status of the Panthers on the 10th of July as follows:

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

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

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

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

After highlighting the short comings of the Panther in its development and production, one finds it easy to agree with what Brigadier H. B. C. Watkins wrote about the Panther:

“The design was put to Hitler on January 23, 1943. This shows that the Germans knew how to cut corners when the need arose. Even more remarkable was the fact that the first production model was to appear in November of the same year. Despite many teething troubles, this was very competitive timing indeed by a tank building industry that was already bowed down under the strain of equipping new divisions, up-armouring and up-gunning existing models, and creating numerous SP variants. Whilst much of this work had to be under the weight of Allied bombing, work was gradually moved to safer areas in Austria so that it could gain some degree of immunity. Later, the production to both Panther and Tiger B was to owe much to the use of slave labour in the Krupp and Daimler-Benz factories.”

Many battlefield lessons were learned from sending the new Panther into this massive Soviet defensive. Certainly changes or adjustments in tactics will occur as a new piece of equipment is employed. Fighting will reveal things the planners and engineers never thought of in the design and development phases. The operational value of any tank is never established until it is tested or employed under combat situations.

The striking parallel between the Panther and the M-1 Main Battle Tank in Desert Storm will illustrate this point. Military circles wondered how this “new” tank would perform in combat even after nearly ten years of initial fielding by the U.S. Army. The M-1 had proven itself consistently on tank ranges from Grafenwöhr, Germany to Texas yet people were still leery of this “new” piece of equipment because it had not been battle tested. Civilians and reporters remembered the M-1 not performing well in desert environments because sand affected the performance of the tank’s turbine engines. This defect and several other problems were identified and corrections made to the tank, but the M-1 remained suspect until it could prove itself in on the field of battle. The same can be said for the M-2/3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Although the M-2/3 was not designed to take a blow from a large caliber weapon like a tank, people still remembered the RAND Corporation’s report that the M-2/3’s armor was too thin and could easily be penetrated by a direct hit from a Soviet tank. Some soldiers even doubted the reliability of the 25mm chain gun used on Bradley. Nothing provides confidence in equipment like success in war and the M-1 and M-2/3 performed very well.

The M-1 and the M-2/3 had something the Panther did not. These newer vehicles had almost ten years to work together and evaluate how best to compliment each other. In fact the two vehicles were designed to work together. This was a luxury not afforded to the Panther. Unlike the M-1 and the M-2/3, the Panther crews had no chance to train with and test the current Panzer tactics to best exploit the Panther’s strengths and minimize its weaknesses. In addition, time was not allocated for exercises with other equipment the Panther would be required to fight along side by side. The Panther had a range and speed of 125 miles and 29 miles per hour. The PzKpfw IVs could range 71 miles at speeds of 24 miles per hour. The ranges of their main guns were also quite different. The Panther’s gun could reach out and pierce the frontal armor of a T-34 at 800 meter (side and rear at 2800 meters). The Panther could also pierce the frontal armor of the American Sherman at 1000 meters (side and rear at 2800 meters) while the PzKpfw IV gun had a much shorter range.

Without conducting exercises with both vehicles the tactics did not change with the employment of the new tank. The units were still using the standard tank wedge spearheaded by the heavy tanks. Recall there was no time to train with the other equipment used alongside the Panther, hence no adjustments were made to the tactics. New equipment is developed to fill a need and to fill this need the use of the new equipment must be well thought out. The thought process must include the tactics. The Panther was employed in the same manner as the PzKpfw IIIs and IVs. The placement of the Panther at the lead spearhead of the wedge ignored and therefore did not take advantage of the new tank’s longer-range gun. Placing the Panther behind the older tanks would have enabled the tank to fire on the Russians from greater ranges and provide some protection to the other tanks spearheading the wedge.

Placing the Panther further back in the wedge would have also taken away the Russians’ ability to minimize the German advantages of the Panther. The Russians learned quickly that charging at the new Panthers (and Tiger tanks as well), and then swarming them with their numerical advantages erased the advantage of the Panther’s 75mm gun. The T-34’s gun was more than capable of opening up a hole in the side of the Panther from close range. This Soviet tactic worked very well since there was never a shortage of T-34’s, and with Marshall Zhukov following his creed “of no casualties are too great if the objective is accomplished” the will was there to send in as many T-34s as were needed to take care of the attacking Germans.

Any tank with a tread blown off by a mine can almost always be repaired for battle once again. At Kursk the Panthers had two things working against them. First operational orders given to the tankers for this battle were “…in no circumstances will tanks be stopped to render assistance to those who have been disabled…”. The second thing working against the Panthers was that the only vehicle powerful enough to pull a Panther was another Panther or a Tiger tank. Without another tank stopping to retrieve the disabled vehicle, the tank was forced to wait on the tank retrieval equipment from the tank maintenance company. The Germans would position the tank maintenance companies as far forward as possible in order to retrieve tanks as soon as possible. In the case of the Panther this tactic was not very successful, because the maintenance company could not pull the vehicle back to its work area. The standing orders of no other tank stopping to render aid made matters worse for the Panthers disabled by the mines and impacted the ability to maintain operational tempo. A Panther stuck in the minefield soon found the Russians bringing devastating fires on the vehicles in the sprawling minefields all along the Kursk front. The Russians had carefully planned to ensure the minefields were covered by fire where any disabled Panthers became easy targets for the Russian Pakfronts.

If the Panther was pulled from the minefield, maintenance continued to be a problem as there was a shortage of spare parts for the tank. Today when the U.S. Army fields a new piece of equipment, particularly a new end item such as a new vehicle, radio, or weapon system, that piece of equipment comes complete with a fifteen day supply of spare parts at the organizational level. Spare parts are an extremely important part in fielding any new equipment. There is expected to be a shakeout period whenever something new hits the motor pools. During this period you will find that certain parts wear out faster than others and frequently some parts not expected to wear out are the first to go. Without the spare parts, the new equipment will not be able to perform the functions it was designed for. This is why it is so important to test the new equipment and have an idea which spare parts need to be included in the fielding package at the organizational level as well as the direct support level. By packaging spare parts which need replacing on a regular basis, a system is created for keeping the new equipment mission capable. At least the problem of expected break downs has been thought through and lessons from the shake down period will be incorporated in the future parts stockage and preventive maintenance programs.

The Germans, however, sent the Panther to the field and did not accompany it with the required spares to keep it running. In fact, because of the lack of testing, they did not know which parts were more likely to wear out. Even if they did have an idea on which parts would need replacing, the spare parts were not available. The tank production industry was not able to build spares in sufficient amounts even had the parts been identified. There were simply not enough spares for the Panther when first sent to the front.

The Department of the Army Historical Study German Tank Maintenance in World War II reinforces the problems encountered by the panther units concerning the lack of spare parts.

“A similar mistake (not enough parts) with even more far-reaching consequences took place a few months later when the new Panther tanks game off the assembly line. In a desperate attempt to speed up production, the Ministry of Armaments had ordered the mass production of this new tank model before it had been properly tested. Early in 1943 the first Panther tanks arrived in the Russian theater and were immediately committed. Almost at once major defects in design and construction—particularly of the steering and control mechanism—were discovered with the result that all 325 Panther tanks had to be withdrawn and returned to the zone of interior for complete rebuilding. To perform the necessary work, a special tank-rebuild plant was established near Berlin. By the time the initial deficiencies had been corrected, the engine proved inadequate. It was not until the autumn of 1943 that a fully satisfactory engine became available. Under these circumstances it was hardly surprising that most of the Panther tanks shipped to Russia arrived without sufficient spare parts. Many a Panther was lost because of the shortage of some elementary spare part or because it could not be repaired in time.”

ICBM Hard Mobile Launcher

Small ICBM Hard Mobile Launcher at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Martin Marietta-Caterpillar prototype.

Boeing-Goodyear HML launcher during test phase.

This vehicle was the last engineering model, or Engineering Test Unit, of a mobile, radiation-hardened, truck launcher designed to carry and launch the MGM-134A Small Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (unofficially known as the “Midgetman”). It can travel up to 55 mph on the highway, and it can also travel off the road. The vehicle is capable of using the trailer-mounted plow to dig the launcher into the earth for additional protection from a nuclear blast.

Two teams were assigned to develop a vehicle.

Caterpillar developed a tracked tractor (Mobil-Trac System) while Martin Marietta was the system integrator and also built the Mobility Test Bed missile trailer.

A second team consisting of Boeing Aerospace and Electronics’ Loral Defense Systems Division (Goodyear Aerospace) built an eight wheel drive vehicle and trailer.

The Air Force selected the Boeing-Loral prototype. Several vehicles were delivered to the US Air Force by December 1986. The Air Force tested the vehicle until 1991, after which development of the MGM-134 missile project ceased, leading to the project’s cancellation.

The ETU tractor-launcher combination weighs 239,000 pounds and has a draw bar pull capability of more than 80,000 pounds. It is powered by a 1,200-hp Rolls-Royce Perkins diesel engine that drives all eight tractor wheels through an electro-hydraulic transmission.

The ETU was designed and built by Boeing Aerospace and Electronics and by Loral Defense Systems Division. It was delivered to the USAF in December 1988 and tested until 1991 at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.

HML was fantastically expensive. Jan Lodal, in his 1987 article SICBM Yes, HML No, estimated the cost of the Hardened Mobile Launcher as $30 billion for a force of 500 deployed missiles:

Deploying the SICBM on mobile launchers undoubtedly improves the missile’s survivability against a large-scale surprise attack. Mobile launchers would also enhance U.S. ability to respond to a large-scale Soviet nonnuclear attack with land-based ICBMs, should such a capability become necessary in the future. But as explained above, making the SICBM mobile requires buying a hardened mobile launcher (the HML), which will cost about $30 billion. Added to roughly $12 billion for 500 SICBMs, this brings the total cost of the HML/SICBM combination to a total of $42 billion for 500 deployed warheads.

Apparently, building a 200,000 pound truck with rad-hard electronics and capable of withstanding nuclear blast effects is expensive.

Silo-based ICBM advocates today tend to emphasize their role as warhead sinks — to hopelessly complicate the calculations of an adversary planning an attack — as well as their relative cost-effectiveness in providing prompt, flexible target coverage.  Land-mobile ICBMs sacrifice lots of these advantages to basically do the same things as submarine-launched ballistic missiles, only not as effectively nor as cheaply (per warhead at the margin.)

The Hard Mobile Launcher was judged too expensive during the largest peacetime defense buildup in history with the Soviet Union as an adversary.

Egyptian Vehicles Arab-Israeli Wars Part V of V

The few armoured vehicles from the 1948 campaign such as the Vickers Mk VIB, M22 Locust and assorted Bren gun carriers and armoured cars tended to be painted plain Sand or British Army Green with Egyptian roundels. The delivery of large amounts of Soviet and Czechoslovakian tanks in the mid-1950s saw a standard overall sand finish with black Arabic numbers often accompanied by black silhouettes of various wild animals painted for parades. The 1970s saw the introduction of a broad range of different camouflage patterns which were used on tanks and vehicles of the Yom Kippur war. The new schemes could consist of three colours such as pale brown sometimes nearly coffee in colour, light green over sand. Other patterns include green and sand, and brown and sand. In terms of patterns there were many varieties. Over these colour options could be added white recognition stripes that were used by units in the early stages of the Sinai campaign, consisting of a set on each mud guard, while others were added to the upper casemate of SU-100s or turrets of T-54s, T-55s and T-62s. The other important detail to note was the pressed metal Egyptian army licence plate added to the front right-hand side mud guard and left rear.

Egyptian Vehicles Arab-Israeli Wars Part IV of V

The few armoured vehicles from the 1948 campaign such as the Vickers Mk VIB, M22 Locust and assorted Bren gun carriers and armoured cars tended to be painted plain Sand or British Army Green with Egyptian roundels. The delivery of large amounts of Soviet and Czechoslovakian tanks in the mid-1950s saw a standard overall sand finish with black Arabic numbers often accompanied by black silhouettes of various wild animals painted for parades. The 1970s saw the introduction of a broad range of different camouflage patterns which were used on tanks and vehicles of the Yom Kippur war. The new schemes could consist of three colours such as pale brown sometimes nearly coffee in colour, light green over sand. Other patterns include green and sand, and brown and sand. In terms of patterns there were many varieties. Over these colour options could be added white recognition stripes that were used by units in the early stages of the Sinai campaign, consisting of a set on each mud guard, while others were added to the upper casemate of SU-100s or turrets of T-54s, T-55s and T-62s. The other important detail to note was the pressed metal Egyptian army licence plate added to the front right-hand side mud guard and left rear.

Egyptian Vehicles Arab-Israeli Wars Part III of V

The few armoured vehicles from the 1948 campaign such as the Vickers Mk VIB, M22 Locust and assorted Bren gun carriers and armoured cars tended to be painted plain Sand or British Army Green with Egyptian roundels. The delivery of large amounts of Soviet and Czechoslovakian tanks in the mid-1950s saw a standard overall sand finish with black Arabic numbers often accompanied by black silhouettes of various wild animals painted for parades. The 1970s saw the introduction of a broad range of different camouflage patterns which were used on tanks and vehicles of the Yom Kippur war. The new schemes could consist of three colours such as pale brown sometimes nearly coffee in colour, light green over sand. Other patterns include green and sand, and brown and sand. In terms of patterns there were many varieties. Over these colour options could be added white recognition stripes that were used by units in the early stages of the Sinai campaign, consisting of a set on each mud guard, while others were added to the upper casemate of SU-100s or turrets of T-54s, T-55s and T-62s. The other important detail to note was the pressed metal Egyptian army licence plate added to the front right-hand side mud guard and left rear.

Egyptian Vehicles Arab-Israeli Wars Part II of V

The few armoured vehicles from the 1948 campaign such as the Vickers Mk VIB, M22 Locust and assorted Bren gun carriers and armoured cars tended to be painted plain Sand or British Army Green with Egyptian roundels. The delivery of large amounts of Soviet and Czechoslovakian tanks in the mid-1950s saw a standard overall sand finish with black Arabic numbers often accompanied by black silhouettes of various wild animals painted for parades. The 1970s saw the introduction of a broad range of different camouflage patterns which were used on tanks and vehicles of the Yom Kippur war. The new schemes could consist of three colours such as pale brown sometimes nearly coffee in colour, light green over sand. Other patterns include green and sand, and brown and sand. In terms of patterns there were many varieties. Over these colour options could be added white recognition stripes that were used by units in the early stages of the Sinai campaign, consisting of a set on each mud guard, while others were added to the upper casemate of SU-100s or turrets of T-54s, T-55s and T-62s. The other important detail to note was the pressed metal Egyptian army licence plate added to the front right-hand side mud guard and left rear.