British Armour – Lessons to be Learned I

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

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

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

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

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

An armoured divisional headquarters.

An armoured brigade.

An infantry brigade.

Divisional troops:

One armoured reconnaissance regiment.

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

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

One light anti-aircraft regiment RA.

Two field squadrons and one field park squadron RE.

Armoured divisional signals.

Services.

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

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

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

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

And that its normal roles were:

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

Pursuit.

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

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

With the armoured division operating as intended:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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British Armour – Lessons to be Learned II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The North Korean Steamroller

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NKPA T34-85 tanks on parade.

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For the invasion of South Korea seven NKPA divisions were gathered under General Kim Chaek and grouped into the 1st Army, consisting of the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 6th Divisions as well as the 105th Armoured Brigade, and the weaker 2nd Army with the 2nd, 5th and 7th Divisions. The 1st Army was given the job of overrunning the Ongjin Peninsula and the South Korean capital Seoul.

It was the NKPA’s tanks that provided the key striking force. ‘The enemy, after penetrating the defences with his armour,’ General Matthew B. Ridgway, who commanded the US 8th Army in Korea, noted, ‘would envelop both flanks with infantry, surround artillery units, and roll on rearward.’

Crucially, the NKPA opened the war with about 150 T-34/85 tanks armed with the 85mm gun, which was superior to anything else in theatre at the time.The UN forces were to dub them ‘Caviar Cans’. While 120 tanks were deployed with the 105th Armoured Brigade, the NKPA infantry divisions’ self-propelled gun battalions fielded a total of 120 Soviet-supplied SU-76 assault guns. In addition to the tanks of the armoured brigade, the personnel from the tank training unit at Sadong with a further thirty tanks were assigned to the 7th Division. They deployed on the east-central front for the attack on Inje.

In the early stages of the fighting the North Koreans also used their tanks in built-up areas with some considerable effect neutralising UN defenders. During the assault on Taejon they moved in pairs or singularly carrying supporting infantry. Afterwards, though, they used their armour much more circumspectly because of improving US counter-measures.

After the capture of the South Korean capital the 105th Armoured Brigade became the 105th ‘Seoul’ Armoured Division and was strengthened with the 308th Self-propelled Battalion. The 3rd and 4th Divisions which were also involved were likewise given the honorary title ‘Seoul Division’. By 1953 the NKPA had seven tank regiments (104 – 107th, 109th, 206th and 208th).

During the battles for the Pusan pocket the NKPA received reinforcements including another eighty T-34/85, which equipped two new tank units, the 16th and 17th Armoured Brigades. Some were also sent to the 105th Armoured Brigade, but the UN’s air supremacy meant that many were destroyed before they could reach the front. UN estimates at the end of September 1950 were that the entire NKPA T-34 force (then believed to stand at 239) had been destroyed whereas UN forces had only lost 60 tanks.

While the Chinese Nationalist forces had created a mechanised division, equipped initially with Soviet and then US-supplied tanks, the Communists had never taken to armour and simply relied on manpower alone. Soviet assistance to the Nationalists stopped once Moscow had signed a non-aggression pact with Tokyo. The PLA produced a copy of the Soviet T-34/85 in the 1950s known as the Type 58, but few if any saw combat in Korea. It is likely that most of the Soviet T-34s supplied to the PLA were passed on to the NKPA.

Reports of Chinese tanks in Korea are non-existent. Although on 26 October 1950 when the Republic of Korea’s (RoK) Army’s 26th Division came up against the Chinese 124th Division, General Matthew B. Ridgway reported, ‘When the Marines came up to relieve the RoKs a few days later they met and destroyed Chinese tanks (the only ones the X Corps was to encounter) and picked up prisoners from a fresh Chinese division, the 126th.’ One can only assume that Ridgway was mistaken and these were supporting NKPA tanks, though it is always possible the Chinese brought a few with them.

China committed six armies each of three divisions in support of the NKPA in November 1950. Significantly, they had no tanks, vehicles or artillery, allowing these units to slip into North Korea largely undetected. The Chinese armies also lacked air support. To compensate for the lack of anti-tank weapons each platoon was issued with 2.25kg TNT satchel charges sufficient to take the track off a tank. It was not until the summer of 1951 that the Chinese began to deploy artillery and mortars.

In north-western Korea the PLA assembled the Chinese 9th Army Group under General Song Shilun. This was a new command consisting of 120,000 men who were tasked with taking on the US Marines around the Changjin Reservoir. Two of Shilun’s three field armies, the 20th and 26th, had been detached from the forces once earmarked to attack the Nationalist-held island of Taiwan; the 27th Field Army came from Shandong and each of the three were supplemented by one division from the 30th Field Army.

Facing the US 8th Army was the PLA’s 13th Army Group totalling 180,000 men and commanded by Lieutenant Li Tianyu. His forces initially saw action at Unsan, along the Chongchon River and in the area of the Changjin Reservoir. Tianyu’s original three field armies, the 38th, 40th and 42nd, were rapidly reinforced with the 39th, 50th and 66th Field armies.

Notably, the 50th Field Army consisted of former Nationalist troops who had surrendered in Manchuria in 1948. Their commander, Lieutenant General Zeng Zesheng, had spent most of his career fighting the Communists. Three years earlier he had worked with David Barr, the US advisor to the Nationalist forces, who now commanded the US 7th Infantry Division fighting on the other side. Zesheng’s former Nationalist Corps were almost wiped out in the final battle for Seoul.

As well as armour, artillery and fighter aircraft the PLA lacked even the most rudimentary logistical support. Soldiers were expected to carry what food and ammunition they needed to fight. Only 800 trucks belonging to the 5th and 42nd Truck Regiments were assigned to support the troops in Korea. Only 50 per cent were expected to remain operational. In addition, over ½ million coolies were recruited to carry supplies across the Yalu River, but they created their own logistical headache, as they had to be fed and housed over considerable distances. Many Chinese commanders considered them an unwanted distraction and a drain on resources.

Uncle Sam Holds the Line

In the wake of the Second World War much of the US Army was demobilised and sent home. At the outbreak of the Korean War it only had ten combat divisions including a single armoured division.The US presence in South Korea consisted of a mere 500 advisors who were busy training the RoK Army and advising on counterinsurgency operations. Although never deployed in large numbers, US armour was to be instrumental in providing fire support and static defence.

General Douglas MacArthur’s US forces stationed in nearby Japan were only equipped with M24 Chaffee light tanks as it was feared anything heavier would damage Japanese roads and bridges. In the face of invasion Lieutenant General Walton H. Walker’s 8th Army, which was on occupation duties in Japan, was put on alert. Four light tank battalions supported his infantry divisions; the 71st, 77th, 78th and 79th but each of these were only of company strength.

In response to the T-34 tank’s success in Korea the 8072nd Medium Tank Battalion (later re-designated the 89th) was quickly activated in Japan with fifty-four rebuilt M4A3 Sherman HVSS armed with a 76mm anti-tank gun. The USA quickly rushed this armour over to support their forces in South Korea in late July 1950.

In the meantime, Task Force Smith from the US 24th Infantry Division was hurried to the front on 1 July 1950 and held up the NKPA’s advance on Osan. This numbered just 500 men, consisting of 2 rifle companies, 2 platoons of 4.2in mortars, a single 75mm recoilless rifle crew and 6 2.36in bazooka teams. None of these weapons were capable of knocking out the NKPA’s T-34s. For several days they were the only US fighting force on the ground and had to contend with massed enemy troops, tanks and artillery.

On 5 July 1950 the NKPA’s armour first came up against the USA. Some thirty-three T-34/85s of the 107th Armoured Regiment took part in the attack. Advancing in groups of four T-34/85s with all guns blazing, the Americans were only able to stop two tanks using high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) rounds. Only four were immobilised and after seven hours of fighting the USA was forced to withdraw with its tail between its legs.

‘At 8am on 5 July, the enemy attacked near Osan with 30 tanks and a strong force of infantry,’ General Ridgway later wrote. ‘Task Force Smith soon had to choose between retreat and annihilation. Having held their positions until their ammunition was gone, they withdrew in some disorder, receiving heavy casualties.’ At Taejon the 24th Infantry Division gained valuable time for the arrival of the 25th Infantry and 1st Cavalry Divisions from Japan as well as the 29th Regimental Combat Team from Okinawa.

Five days later three of the completely inadequate US M24 light tanks came up against the T-34/85 at Chonui for the first time.They fared little better and lost two tanks, though they did manage to destroy a single T-34. The US government put three tank battalions on alert in the USA on 10 July 1950, the 6th with the M46 Patton belonging to the 2nd Armoured Division, 70th with the M26 Pershing and M4A3 Sherman and 73rd also with the M26 Pershing; the latter two were school troop battalions from the Armour School at Fort Knox and Infantry School at Fort Benning. They were the only armoured units in the USA combat ready and they arrived at Pusan on 7 August 1950.

It was not until late July 1950 that an effective infantry anti-tank weapon was supplied in the shape of the 3.5in rocket launcher known as the bazooka. The NKPA’s attack on the city of Taejon on 20 July saw ten tanks lost to this weapon the very first time it was deployed. However, in one case it took three rockets before the crew was killed and the tank immobilised.The victor was none other than Major General William F. Dean, commander of the 24th Infantry Division who was to later boast ‘I got me a tank!’

Three refurbished M26 Pershings (the only medium tanks in the whole of Korea) crewed by men from the 77th Tank Battalion engaged the enemy at Chinju on 31 July. A blown-up bridge cut off their retreat and they had to be abandoned – another humiliation for the USA. On 2 August the newly arrived M4A3 HVSS went into action for the first time with better results.

With the loss of Taejon the UN forces fell back to the Pusan perimeter.There US Marine M26s were used in a defensive role and in the battle of the Naktong Bulge, in which the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade under the 24th Infantry Division tried to destroy the NKPA 4th Division bridgehead over the river. The tide was about to turn against the T-34.

On 12 July Company ‘A’, 1st Marine Tank Battalion, which was used to the M4A3 but reissued with the Pershing, as well as units of the 1st Marine Amphibian Tractor Battalion sailed from the USA. The were committed first to the Sachon counteroffensive, then during the fighting between Observation Hill and Hill 125 a Pershing came face to face with a T-34 from the 107th Armoured Regiment.This and a second T-34 were knocked out by a combination of the Pershing’s 90mm gun and bazooka and recoilless rifle fire.

By the end of August the USA had over 500 medium tanks in Korea, including the M4A3 Sherman, M26 Pershing and M46 Patton. Over 400 of these were in the Pusan pocket, outnumbering the enemy by a least 4 : 1 . Although the NKPA received about 100 T-34 replacements, many of them were knocked out by air strikes before they could even reach the battlefield.

The North Koreans were in a race against time in trying to unify the two Koreas and anticipated completing this in about two weeks. Once the Pusan perimeter was formed they soon found themselves heavily outnumbered. By the time of the Inchon landings there were about 83,000 US troops and another 57,000 Korean and British soldiers facing the NKPA. Although North Korea raised the number of its forces along the front to 98,000, over a third of them were raw recruits.This meant that they were unable to withstand the two-pronged attack on Inchon and from Pusan when it came.

Australian Tank WWII: Sentinel

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With war against Japan seeming more than probable, and with the added possibility even of a Japanese invasion, the Australian Ministry of Munitions first considered the idea of building tanks as early as July 1940. At this time, Britain’s tank strength was inadequate for home defence, and there seemed little possibility of Australia receiving tanks from this source for some time to come. The Army Design Section (part of the Directorate of Mechanisation) was therefore asked to examine design characteristics and production problems, and in November 1940, the Australian General Staff drew up precise requirements for the sort of tank they thought necessary. They called for a 16-20 (long) tons vehicle, with 2pdr main armament, crew of 4-5, a range of 150 miles, and armour maximum of 50mm. They estimated that 2,000 would be needed, with first deliveries in July 1941 and output of 70 a week from then on.

The Ministry of Munitions asked the British General Staff for the services of a tank design expert from Britain, and, accordingly, a Colonel Watson was sent to Australia in December 1940. Watson travelled via America, where he had the chance to see the designs being drawn up for the M3 medium tank (qv), and on arrival in Australia he was appointed Director of Design. For the proposed vehicle, AC I (AC: Australian Cruiser), Watson planned to use a copy of the M3 final drive and gearbox since he had been impressed by the mechanical features of this vehicle. For a power plant, Guiberson diesel motors were planned but since it seemed probable that there would be difficulty in obtaining these, three commercial automobile engines, Ford at first, then more powerful Cadillac engines, were adopted, arranged in “clover leaf’ formation. A leading Australian automobile engineer was co-opted to advise on development and installation.

In early 1941 a wooden mock-up of AC I was built. The vehicle was to have cast or rolled armour throughout, utilising only alloys available in Australia. By April 1941, drawings of the M3 final drive arrived from America, when it found that this installation was too sophisticated to be manufactured in Australia with existing facilities. Suitable machinery could not be delivered from Britain or America for at least another year. Meanwhile, the United States suggested that Australia produced a new design which could utilise components supplied from America. This proposal, envisaged the use of commercial truck engine and mechanical components. In July 1941, therefore, it was decided to go ahead with a new design which was designated AC II. The limitations which soon became evident using truck engines and drive, however, were many; principally the weight had to be kept below 16-18 tons with consequent reduction in armour thickness, and armament could be no heavier than a 2pdr gun. The truck mechanical components were not powerful enough to cope with a vehicle heavier than this. In September 1941, therefore, the AC II design was abandoned, and attention was given once more the the AC 1.

It was found that by redesigning the final drive to a much more simplified form it would be possible to build the necessary components in Australia. Meanwhile, redesign had also been carried out on the bogies; originally vertical volute bogies of the M3 type were planned, but these were changed to horizontal volute pattern and proved much superior. The first cast hull was successfully manufactured in October 1941, and the prototype AC I was completed in January 1942. The hull and turret castings were in them- selves a great achievement as nothing so complicated as this had previously been attempted by Australian industry.

Modifications were made to the prototype vehicle after trials, and in August 1942 the first production vehicle was completed at Chullora [NOT Chullona] Tank Assembly Shops, NSW, only a year after the first over-optimistic (and unrealistic) estimate. Chullora Shops had been built starting in January 1942 specially to produce tanks, and were erected and managed by New South Wales State Railways, based on the American tank arsenals. A total of 66 AC Is were built when production ceased and all orders were cancelled in July 1943. By this time the tank supply situation had changed and the USA was able to provide all vehicles necessary for equipping the 1st Australian Armoured Division which had meanwhile been formed. The AC Is already completed were therefore used only for training and never saw combat service.

The Australian AC tank, named Sentinel, was a most remarkable achievement for a nation with only limited heavy engineering facilities and no previous experience of tank production. The arrangement of the Cadillac “clover leaf’ power plant, and the cast one-piece hull were novel features which made a strong, tough, powerful vehicle capable of much future development. Plans for upgunned versions of the AC I (detailed below) never went beyond prototype stage, however, when AC production was prematurely terminated. Had AC manufacture continued, it was also planned to commence building ACs at the Geelong Tank Assembly Shops, Victoria, then being built, which were to be managed by Ford Motor Co (Australia).

VARIANTS

AC III: This was an upgunned design of the AC I mounting a 25pdr in place of the 2pdr. This necessitated considerable modification, mainly the provision of a larger turret and turret ring, which was increased from 54in to 64in diameter. The engine installation was redesigned with a common crankcase, allowing room for extra fuel tanks, and the bow machine gun was eliminated to give increased ammunition stowage. The bow machine gunner was also, of course, dispensed with, reducing the crew to four. A prototype for the AC III underwent trials in February 1943 and AC III production was to replace the AC I at Chullora from May 1943. However, in view of cancellation of the AC programme it seems probable that very few, if any, AC III were actually completed.

AC IV: The AC III prototype was subsequently tested in March 1943 with two 25pdrs in a co-axial mount, so that the feasibility of mounting the new 17pdr high velocity gun in the AC series could be investigated. Fired together, the two 25pdrs gave a recoil 20 % greater than the recoil of a 17pdr gun with no adverse effect on the turret or vehicle. Plans thus went ahead to fit the 17pdr in the AC III design, and a prototype was completed and tested in late 1943. However, by then AC production had ceased, and no further production orders followed. With the 17pdr, the vehicle was designated AC IV. Undoubtedly it would have proved a most potent vehicle.

One AC hull was modified with torsion bar suspension in an attempt to provide superior riding qualities for the proposed upgunned models. Though completed and run, there was, of course, no opportunity of incorporating the new suspension in production vehicles.

SPECIFICATION:

Designation: Cruiser Tank AC I and AC III, Sentinel

Crew: 5 (commander, driver, hull gunner, gunner, loader)(No hull gunner in AC III).

Battle weight: 62,7201b

Track width 16tin

Dimensions: Length 20ft 9in Track centres/tread 7ft 6tin Height 8ft 5in . Width 9ft lin

Armament: Main: 1 x 2pdr OQF (AC I) I x 25pdr (AC III)

Secondary: 2 x Vickers· 303 cal MG (one in AC TTl)

Armour thickness: Maximum 65mm Minimum 25mm

Traverse: 360°.

Engine: 3 x Cadillac V-8 petrol, 117hp each unit (AC I) Perrier-Cadillac triple engine (common crankcase), 397hp(AC III)

Maximum speed: 30mph

Maximum cross-country speed: 20mph (approx)

Suspension type: HVSS, Hotchkiss type

Road radius: 200 miles (AC I), 229 miles (AC III)

Fording depth: 4ft

Vertical obstacle: 2ft (AC I), 4ft (AC III)

Trench crossing: 9ft 6in

Ammunition stowage: 130 rounds 2pdr (AC I) 4,250 rounds· 303 cal (AC I)

Special features/remarks: Cast one-piece hull with prominent armoured sleeve for bow machine gun mount. HVSS copied from French Hotchkiss design in place of M3 type vertical volute suspension at first planned. Very low, stable, fast vehicle, with good armour protection and development potential. Tracks were American rubber block type. Bren AA machine gun mount fitted on cupola of all marks.

T-34 series

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If you add up all the light, medium and heavy tanks constructed in Soviet factories during the Second World War you get a total number built of 76,827 vehicles. By way of comparison, German industry only managed to build approximately 24,000 tanks during the same time period – not counting self-propelled guns – which needed to be dispersed over multiple theatres of war. The most numerous German tank built was the Panzer IV series of medium tanks with about 9,000 units being assembled; in comparison the most numerous Soviet tank design was the T-34 series with nearly 58,000 built. It was this Russian policy of outbuilding their enemies in the Second World War that is exemplified by the maxim (attributed to a great many authors) that ‘Quantity has a quality all its own.’ No matter what technical deficiencies they won!

The T-34 series formed the bulk of the Red Army tank inventory from 1943 through to 1945. While the workmanship on the vehicle may not have been up to German standards and many who had a chance to study the vehicle considered some of the tank’s construction shoddy, it was ‘good enough’ for the battlefields of the Eastern Front. On the positive side, the T-34 series mounted versatile cannons, were relatively easy to build in large numbers, simple to maintain in the field, and had enough reliability to make it to the battlefield in large enough numbers to overwhelm its opponents.

The ability of Soviet industry to churn out thousands upon thousands of the T-34 series during the Second World War made up for their high battlefield losses. In 1942 the Red Army lost about 15,000 tanks, followed by approximately 22,400 more in 1943.

Unlike other armies before and during the Second World War, the Red Army did not have a consistent policy of assigning designations to the various subvariants of their tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles. Post-war historians and authors have in response developed a practice of assigning model numbers to Red Army tanks and armoured fighting vehicles based on the year they were introduced into service in order to distinguish between subvariants. This practice has been adopted by the author to assist the reader in identifying the often many different versions of vehicles produced. However, rebuilt vehicles or field modifications may result in a mixture of subvariant features that do not fit into any classification.

By the summer of 1938 it was determined that the proposed A-20 might be insufficiently armed and armoured for the medium tank role. The Red Army therefore decided it would need another proposed medium tank design that would be designated the A-32 and have a maximum armour thickness on the front of the turret of 32mm. It would be armed with a short-barrelled 76.2mm main gun.

By May 1939 it was decided to thicken the maximum armour on the front of the A-32 turret to 45mm. This up-armoured version of the vehicle was designated the A-34 in the summer of 1939. In August 1939 the Red Army decided to adopt the A-34; a decision concurred with by Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, in December 1939. The first A-34 prototype appeared in January 1940, with the second prototype rolling off the factory floor the following month.

To prove the reliability of the A-34 prototype tanks before submitting them for the final approval of the Red Army, a demonstration run that would encompass a distance of 1,800 miles (2,897km) during the winter months of February and March 1940 was arranged. On 17 March 1940, the two A-34 prototypes arrived in Moscow for a personal inspection by Stalin and other high-ranking members of the government and military élite. Despite the misgivings by some that the A-34 was not yet suitable for production, Stalin gave his blessing to the production of the vehicle once any design faults uncovered during testing by the Red Army were addressed.

Additional testing of the A-34 prototypes led to the conclusion that the vehicle was superior to any other tank then in Red Army service, and by the end of March 1940 the tank was approved for production as the T-34. Besides a short-barrelled 76.2mm main gun, the T-34 would also be armed with a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun and another 7.62mm machine gun in the front hull. The first 150 units of the T-34 also featured a 7.62mm machine gun in a ball mount in the rear of the turret.

Despite production of the four-man T-34 being approved, there were still some hurdles that had to be overcome. One of the original requirements called for the vehicle to operate over 1,864 miles (3,000km) without a major breakdown. A mileage test done in April 1940 showed that the tank could not meet this requirement. However, this was soon dropped to 621 miles (1,000km). The Red Army went ahead and placed an order with two factories for 600 T-34s to be built starting in June 1940. They also placed a production order for 2,800 units of the T-34 for 1941.

Some within the Red Army who opposed the production of the T-34 proposed an upgraded version, designated the T-34M. Among its many features it would have a larger three-man turret, allowing the vehicle commander to concentrate on directing his crew rather than doing double duty as the tank’s gunner as was the arrangement in the T-34. In addition, the Christie suspension system would be replaced on the T-34M with a torsion bar version. With these improvements, plans were put forward to replace the T-34 on the production lines with the T-34M in the autumn of 1941. The German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 quickly resulted in this project being terminated as the Red Army could ill afford any disruption in the production of the T-34 for fear it could not replace its battlefield losses.

The first production unit of the Red Army’s new 58,912-lb (29mt) medium tank rolled off the production line in September 1940. This vehicle is now commonly referred to as the T-34 Model 1940. By the time the German army invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, 1,225 units of the T-34 Model 1940 were in service, of which 967 had been delivered to field units. Maximum armour thickness on the front of the vehicle’s turret was 45mm.

Initial German army encounters with the T-34 Model 1940 raised a great deal of alarm among both their infantry and armour branches. Their existing anti-tank weapons proved unable to penetrate the thick, well-sloped armour on the T-34, and the vehicle’s 76.2mm main gun easily penetrated the armour on the German Panzer III and Panzer IV medium tanks it encountered. This would eventually lead to the up-gunning and up-armouring of the existing German medium tanks, and the development of the German Panther medium tank series and Tiger E heavy tank as a counter to the T-34.

The Red Army early war battlefield technical superiority in medium tanks was offset by the fact that the T-34 Model 1940 was just entering service and their crews often had little training in the use of their new tanks. Compounding the problem was the fact that most of the tanks did not have radios. There were also shortages of everything from main gun ammunition to fuel and spare parts for the T-34-equipped units confronting the Germans, and these factors allowed their army to easily prevail over the Red Army during the early phase of their invasion of the Soviet Union.

The 76.2mm main gun initially selected for use by the Red Army on the T-34 Model 1940 was designated the L-11. It was not the desired weapon in the opinion of the vehicle’s designers due to its relatively low muzzle velocity and hence poor armour penetration ability. Due to almost everybody’s unhappiness with the L-11, other weapons were considered for the T-34 Model 1940, including the ZiS-4 57mm anti-tank gun. A few of these were actually mounted in the vehicle to test their effectiveness.

As there was a new 76.2mm main gun with a longer barrel, and hence better armour penetration abilities, being developed for the KV-1 heavy tank designated the F-32, work was begun in early 1940 to modify it for mounting in the T-34 Model 1940. The new tank gun was designated the F-34 and had a slightly longer barrel than the F-32. It first appeared on some T-34 Model 1940 tanks in February 1941. Vehicles so equipped were designated the T-34 Model 1941. Due to temporary shortages, some T-34 Model 1941 tanks would be armed with the F-32 76.2mm tank gun in place of the F-34. Maximum armour thickness on the turret front of the T-34 Model 1941 was 52mm.

Additional improvements to the T-34 series resulted in the redesign of some components to increase the vehicle’s combat effectiveness. Vehicles so modified were designated the T-34 Model 1942. The maximum armour thickness on the turret front of the vehicle was now 65mm. An internal change was an increase in armour protection on the sides of the T-34 Model 1942 hull from 40mm to 45mm.

The most noticeable external changes to the T-34 Model 1942 were the replacement of the original rectangular transmission access hatch with a new oval hatch, as well as a new driver’s hatch with two periscopes instead of the single periscope on earlier vehicles. Some factories building the T-34 series tank would incorporate features of the T-34 Model 1941 and the T-34 Model 1942 on the same vehicle, resulting in the designation T-34 Model 1941/42.

Following the T-34 Model 1942 into production was the T-34 Model 1943. It can be readily identified by its new hexagonal-shaped turret that was borrowed from the never-built T-34M. Maximum armour protection on the turret front of the T-34 Model 1943 was 70mm. Besides the new turret design, the T-34 Model 1943 featured a number of drivetrain improvements.

Despite the new turret on the T-34 Model 1943 being larger and having more room than the turrets seen on earlier versions of the T-34 series, the two-man turret crew was retained on this latest model. To improve visibility, the turret was eventually fitted with an overhead cupola for the vehicle commander, which could only have been used when he was not engaged in aiming and firing the tank’s main gun.

To improve the operational range of the T-34 Model 1943, a pair of large boxlike external fuel tanks were devised that attached to the rear of the vehicle’s hull. These first appeared during the summer of 1942. They were later replaced by three large cylindrical external fuel canisters in early 1943, with two located on the right side of the upper rear hull and the other one being located on the left side of the upper hull. The external fuel tanks did not connect to the vehicle’s interior fuel tanks. To move fuel from the external tanks to the vehicle’s internal tanks required a fuel pump.

By the time production of the T-34 Model 1943 ended in 1944, approximately 35,000 units had been built of the T-34 series armed with the 76.2mm main gun.

In January 1943 the Red Army began looking at the concept of a universal tank that could replace the existing T-34 series and the KV-1 series heavy tanks. One of the prototype vehicles was designated the T-43; another one was KV-13, a smaller lighter version of the KV-1S heavy tank. It would be similar to the cancelled T-34M project as it was envisioned that it would have a new three-man turret (retaining the F-34 76.2mm main gun) and run on a torsion bar suspension system. It differed from the proposed T-34M due to its increased emphasis on armour protection, with a maximum armour on the turret front of 90mm compared to 70mm on the turret front of the T-34M.

Testing in March 1943 of the T-43 showed that the extra weight of the increased armour protection greatly reduced its battlefield mobility compared to the T-34 series. The summer battles of 1943 highlighted the fact that it was not the armour protection levels of the T-34 series they needed to worry about as much as having a tank that mounted a main gun able to penetrate the armour of the German Panther medium tank and the Tiger E heavy tank. This realization pushed the Red Army to look for a larger, more powerful main gun for the T-34 series and cancel work on the T-43, whose introduction would have disrupted T-34 production.

The first appearance of the Tiger E heavy tank on the Eastern Front in August 1942 had made the Red Army aware of the fact that it needed to up-gun the T-34 series. In response it had tasked several design bureaus with the development of a suitable 85mm tank gun. However, as the number of German heavy tanks being encountered was low, the development of the 85mm gun languished. The many large tank battles of the summer of 1943 that saw the fielding and increasing number of German heavy tanks and the new Panther medium tank had quickly added a renewed sense of urgency to the development and fielding of an 85mm tank gun by the Red Army.

In spite of the fact that the design for the final version of a suitable 85mm tank gun and the vehicle itself were not yet finalized, Red Army testing of two 85mm gun-armed prototypes went so well that the vehicle was approved by Stalin and the Red Army for production as the T-34-85. Stalin wanted the tank in production by February 1944. The 85mm main gun finally selected for mounting in the T-34-85 was designated the ZiS-S-53. The tanks that were fitted with this new 85mm gun are now commonly referred to as the T-34-85 Model 1944. Due to delays in production of the ZiS-S-53 gun, the first 800 or so units were fitted with another 85mm main gun designated the D-5T and are sometimes called the T-34-85 Model 1943.

Maximum armour thickness on the front of the T-34-85 turret was 90mm. The thicker armour on the T-34-85 series and the larger turret brought the weight of the vehicle up to 70,547lb (32mt). This weight gain resulted in some minor loss in battlefield mobility for the T-34-85 compared to the original T-34 tank armed with the 76.2mm main gun.

The first T-34-85s began arriving in field units in March 1944, with élite armoured units getting priority on delivery. The arrival of the vehicle was a great morale-booster to Red Army tankers who had been fighting at a great disadvantage when dealing with late-war German tanks with the 76.2mm main gun on the T-34. The 85mm main gun on the T-34-85 imparted a degree of parity in fighting effectiveness between the two opponents’ tank units.

Total T-34-85 production between 1943 and 1945 was in the order of 23,000 units. Production of the vehicle would be continued in the Soviet Union after the Second World War with both the wartime production and post-war production vehicles going through two modernization programmes, one in 1960 and the second in 1969. Both Poland and Czechoslovakia received permission to build licence-produced versions of the T-34-85 beginning in the early 1950s, many of which were exported around the world to serve in a large number of foreign armies.

Soviet Tank Production WWII

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Unlike the United States, the Soviet Union came into World War II with an extensive tank industry-one the Soviets had unashamedly based on American-style mass production. This made sense, since many Soviet factories had been designed and built by Americans during the 1920s and 30s, when the Communists, working to improve the Soviet industrial base, aspired to the American production model. Indeed, Albert Kahn himself had designed the tractor factory at Stalingrad. And the Soviets weren’t just hiring American architects, but also American production engineers and tool manufacturers.

But by mid-1941, the German invasion had badly disrupted Soviet industry. During that disastrous summer, the invaders had captured, besieged, or threatened the Soviet Union’s western industrial cities. In six months, the U. S. S. R. effectively lost 40 percent of its gross domestic product and population, and 60 percent of its coal and steel production. In the face of this disaster, Russia hurriedly rushed equipment and skilled workers from hundreds of factories onto trains and sent machines and men east to the Ural Mountains.

The Soviets relocated the salvaged equipment to four towns: Nizhny Tagil, Omsk, Sverdlovsk, and Chelyabinsk. Each possessed an existing railroad equipment or tractor factory; the arriving equipment expanded those facilities. As workers set up the machine tools again, sometimes in the naked elements until buildings could be constructed, existing plants at Gorky and Stalingrad “kept the lights on” through 1942, producing enough vehicles for the Red Army to continue fighting. By the time the Stalingrad factory finally fell to the Nazis in October 1942, the new Ural plants were going full tilt.

This massive industrial exodus left the Russian railroad system on the brink of collapse by 1942. Overtaxed track had gone without proper maintenance; rolling stock and engines needed repair or replacement. This led to an effort to minimize railway freight tonnage, which in turn powered an emphasis in Russian factories on centralization and vertical integration- meaning that the Russians concentrated more of the entire process, from manufacture of subcomponents to final assembly, at individual factories. Doing so reduced efficiency, as even the largest factories couldn’t achieve the economies of scale that, say, an engine provider like Germany’s Maybach or the United States’ Ford could. But it helped keep the Soviet Union’s transportation network functioning.

The Ural facilities were huge: the largest in the world, in terms of manpower committed. The Chelyabinsk tractor works, for instance, was known simply as Tankograd: “Tank City.” Tankograd could fabricate nearly everything needed to make an AFV except the gun. It cast steel and armor; produced the engine, transmission, and other components; and assembled the vehicle. It even produced ammunition. The number of workers at the new facility skyrocketed: from 21,000 in 1937 to 40,000 in 1942. By 1944, while Chrysler had 19,500 workers engaged in tank production at the Arsenal and subsidiary plants, Tankograd had 60,000 people under its roof, most of them women, teenagers, and old men. Working conditions were primitive: hot, smoky, cramped, and dimly lit. But Tankograd and the other Ural facilities poured out vehicles.

One principle the Russians adopted with a vengeance from the Americans was planned obsolescence. In a manufactured product, it makes no sense to have subcomponents that last longer than the product itself. The Soviets weren’t dummies. They had carefully studied battlefield data and realized that the average lifespan of a tank on the Eastern Front was less than six months. In combat, tank lifespan was about 14 hours. These were disposable vehicles, with disposable human beings inside. This brutal insight clarified everything about vehicle design, leading the Soviets to embrace a methodology that might be called “The Zen of Shoddiness.”

Viewed this way, there was no sense in building a tank engine or transmission good for more than 1,500 kilometers (932 miles); the tank would be dead by then. The Soviets realized they could machine those components to looser tolerances, using lower-quality metals. And they replaced machined parts with stamped metal components whenever possible. Paint jobs were lamentably bad; welds often crude-although the Soviets did experiment with innovative technologies. At Nizhny Tagil, welding tank hulls underwater hastened cooling and sped up the manufacturing process.

At the same time, the Soviets did everything possible to reduce cost. They standardized Soviet tanks and self-propelled guns on just three chassis: the KV-1 heavy, T-34 medium, and T-70 light. And they kept production runs long and design changes to a minimum, implementing a change only if it made a vehicle simpler or cheaper to manufacture. With the T-34 medium tank, for example, manufacturers simplified 770 parts and eliminated more than 5,600 from 1941 to 1943. During that period the tank’s cost fell by half, from 269,000 rubles to 135,000. While everyone knows that time is money, the inverse is also true: less money meant less time on the line. Components were machined more quickly. And as workers learned the intricacies of assembling the same vehicle over and over, assembly time went down, too. Taken together, the overall labor cost of the vehicle plummeted.

None of this should imply that Soviet tanks were poorly designed. Quite the opposite: the T-34 was a great tank. Its firepower, protection, and mobility surpassed any AFV the Germans fielded until the end of 1942. Cosmetics and comfort simply didn’t concern the Soviets; natty paintjobs and ruler-straight welds didn’t kill Germans; the T-34’s 76mm gun did. That component of the vehicle worked very much as advertised. True, the tank’s loader had to scramble around inside the hull, because the T-34 had no turret basket in which he could sit. In Russian tanks, the things that mattered worked well enough; the things that didn’t were afterthoughts.

While it’s easy to ridicule the simple, sometimes shoddy, weapons the Soviets cranked out, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the philosophy underlying the Russian manufacturing approach was nothing less than brilliant. From an emasculated industrial base that left the Soviets under-producing Germans in coal and steel by a ratio of one to four, Soviet factories turned the tables, out-producing Germany nearly three to one in tanks during the vital 1942-1943 period. This monumental achievement was crucial to the war’s outcome.

2S25 Sprut – SD: self-propelled anti-tank gun

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The 125 mm 2S25 self-propelled anti-tank gun was developed by the Volgograd Tractor Plant Joint Stock Company to meet the requirements of the Russian Air Assault Divisions. It is understood that prototypes of the 2S25 were completed some time ago but as of 2001 volume production had yet to commence. It is already being offered on the export market as the Russian Army has insufficient funds to purchase this vehicle at the present time. In mid-2001, it was stated that the Volgograd Tractor Plant had been working on the 2S25 for about seven years. It was also stated that the 2S25, which is also referred to as the SPRUT-SD, could operate in the water and still be able to fire its 125 mm gun while afloat. It can also operate in altitudes of up to 3,000 m.

The hull and turret of the 2S25 self-propelled anti-tank gun is of all-welded construction with the crew compartment at the front, turret and fighting compartment in the centre and engine compartment at the rear. Through the frontal arc of 40º left and right the armour provides protection against attack from small arms fire up to 12.7 mm and through the remainder of the vehicle against attack from 7.62 mm small arms fire. Many of the automotive parts of the 2S25 are the same as that installed in the BMD-3 airborne combat vehicle that was also designed and built at the Volgograd Tractor Plant. As of early 2001 the BMD-3 was only in service with the Russian Army. The driver is seated at the front of the hull in the centre and has a single-piece hatch cover and three day periscopes, the centre one of which can be replaced by a night vision periscope. There is an additional seat either side of the driver for the commander and driver as they are normally seated here rather than in the cramped turret when the vehicle is travelling in a non operational area. There is a single hatch cover above their position to enable them to quickly leave the vehicle.

Main armament consists of a 125 mm 2A75 smoothbore tank gun developed at Artillery Plant No 9 at Ekaterinburg and is based on the 125 mm 2A46 smoothbore tank gun installed in the T-72, T-80 and T-90 MBTs. For this lighter chassis application it has been fitted with a new low recoil system. The 125 mm 2A75 smoothbore tank gun is fitted with a fume extractor and a thermal sleeve but is not fitted with a muzzle brake. It is fully stabilised in elevation and traverse. This fires the same family of separate loading ammunition as the 125 mm 2A46 smoothbore gun installed in the T-72, T-80 and T-90 series MBTs. It can also fire a laser guided projectile out to a range of 4,000 m. Maximum rate of fire is quoted as 7 rds/min. The 125 mm 2A75 smoothbore gun is fed by a horizontal automatic loader that is located below the turret. This holds a total of 22 projectiles and charges ready for immediate use. The projectile is loaded first, followed by the charge with its semi-combustible cartridge case. A manual back up loading system is also provided. A 7.62 mm PKT machine gun is mounted coaxial with the main armament and this is fed by a belt of 2,000 rounds of ammunition. Additional 7.62 mm ammunition is stowed externally in boxes on the turret rear. The commander is seated on the right and the gunner on the left with both crew members being provided with roof mounted day/night observation devices and a single piece hatch cover. The gunner also has a sight in the forward part of the turret roof. The commander’s sight is stabilised in elevation and traverse and has a laser sighting device to guide the 125 mm laser guided projectiles onto the target. The gunner’s sight is stabilised in elevation and incorporates a laser range-finder which feeds target information into the ballistic computer. There is an infra-red searchlight mounted externally on the right side of the turret and a smaller infra-red light on the right side of the hull front. There is a standard white light searchlight on the turret roof and a smaller one on the left side of the hull front for driving at night.

The suspension is of the hydropneumatic type and allows the ground clearance to be adjusted by the driver from his seat between 100 and 500 mm in 6 to 7 seconds. The running gear either side consists of seven single rubber tyred road wheels, idler at the front, drive sprocket at the rear and track return rollers. Two types of track are fitted, standard and the wider snow/mud track which reduces the ground pressure of the vehicle. The 2S25 is fully amphibious being propelled in the water by two water jets situated one either side low down at the rear. Before entering the water a trim vane is erected at the front of the vehicle and the bilge pumps are switched on. It can operate in up to Sea State 3 and can also fire the 125 mm gun while afloat over a 70º frontal arc. Standard equipment includes night vision equipment for the commander, gunner and driver and an NBC system. According to the manufacturer, the 2S25 can be air dropped from transport aircraft with the crew inside the vehicle. Optional equipment includes a thermal channel for the gunner’s sight, improved amphibious capability and additional armour protection. A defensive aids suite can also be installed, for example the Russian Arena.

Variants

There are no known variants of the 2S25 self-propelled anti-tank gun. Some Russian sources have indicated that the 2S25 chassis could be the basis for a complete family of airborne light armoured vehicles to replace systems based on the older BMD-1/BMD-2 series airborne combat vehicle chassis.

Specifications

Crew: 3

Combat weight: 18,000 kg

Power-to-weight ratio: 28.33 hp/t

Ground pressure: (standard track) 0.53 kg/cm2 (wide track) 0.36 kg/cm

Ground clearance: 100 to 500 mm

Max speed: (road) 71 km/h (water) 10 km/h

Range (road): 500 km

Gradient: 60%

Side slope: 40%

Engine: Model 2B06-2C diesel developing 510 hp

Transmission: hydromechanical/hydrostatic drive

Suspension: hydropneumatic

Armament: (main) 1 x 125 mm 2A75 smoothbore gun (coaxial) 1 x 7.62 mm PKT machine gun

Ammunition: (main) 40 x 125 mm (of which 22 are ready for use) (coaxial) 2000 x 7.62 mm Gun control equipment:

Turret power control: powered/manual (by commander) yes (by gunner) yes

Turret traverse: 360º

Gun elevation/depression: +15/-5º (bow); +17/-3º(aft)

Gun stabiliser: (vertical) yes (horizontal) yes

NBC system: yes

Night vision equipment: yes

Status The only operators of the 2S25 are the Russian airborne troops with 24 of these vehicles in service. Serial production starts 2018.

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