Panzer-Abteilung 302 (fkl)

Borgward B IV z Panzer-Abteilung 302.

Panzerabteilung 302 (Fkl), was a radio-controlled tank battalion that had 24 StuG III assault guns used as control vehicles and about 50 Goliath and B IV remote control demolition vehicles. The Goliath would prove particularly useful in destroying Polish barricades, but there were not enough to go around.

One of three Panzerbefehlswagen IVs from the staff of Panzer-Abteilung 302 (Fkl).

At the turn of August-September 1944, a new remote-controlled assault vehicle unit, Panzer-Abteilung 302. (Fkl), was formed in France, equipped with explosive-bearing B IV Sprengstoffträger tracked vehicles. On August 1, the battalion disposed over 24 StuG 40s (Sturmgeschütz 40 Ausf. G), 10 transport carriers (Sd Kfz 251) in different versions, and 180 B IV Sprengstoffträgers.

In the beginning of August, the unit was reinforced with a further six StuG 40s, and two Panzerbefehlwagen IV command vehicles (Panzerbefehlwagen IV = an ordinary PzKpfw IV plus additional radio equipment). The battalion’s commander was Major Reinel and its companies were led by 1st Lieutenant Dettman (Company 1), Lieutenant Weichard (Company 2), and 1st Lieutenant Faßbeck (Company 3).

In August, likely between August 6 and 17, the battalion was transported by train to the Eastern Front in Poland. Companies 2 and 3 arrived first. On arrival, Panzer-Kompanie 311 (Fkl) was attached to the battalion as a reinforcement unit and designated as 4. Kompanie (Company 4), Panzer-Abteilung, 302. (Fkl), and 1st Lieutenant Bachman was assigned its command. In Warsaw, Sturmpanzer-Kompanie 218 z. b. V – which was already fighting in Poland’s capital and was equipped with 10 Sturmpanzer IV Sd Kfz 166 Brummbärs. – was operationally attached to the company.

Most of the information pertaining to the battles in which Panzer-Abteilung 302. (Fkl) participated is found in Marcus Jaugnitz’s comprehensive account, “Funklenk-panzers” (Winnipeg, 2001). The descriptions of the unit’s combat operations in Warsaw, however, are notably fleeting and include many details which are already well known. Also, the book lacks information concerning losses, even though it contains photographs of destroyed vehicles. Given this situation, the wealth of reproduced photographs is an especially valuable source of information about the fighting in Warsaw.

The unit was off-loaded at West Station (on or about Aug. 9-10 and the days following immediately thereafter) which at that time was the central location for disembarking units that were en route to the frontline area east of Warsaw. Necessary equipment repairs were carried out in the Kraftfahrpark on Ulica Gniewkowska and in the workshops on Ulica Jana Kazimerza. The two photographs of the command vehicle, Panzerbefehlswagen IV with 7.5 cm Kwk L/48 in the book “Funlenk-panzers” by Marcus Jaugnitz (Winnipeg 2001), are taken at Warsaw’s gas facility on Ulica Dworska (now Ulica Marcina Kasprzaka) and on Ulica Prądzyńskiego. Interestingly enough, the terrain’s topography in the year 2001 is essentially identical to its topography in 1944!

StuG 40s from Panzer-Abteilung 302. (Fkl) were first sent into battle on August 11, 1944 in the area around Ulica Chłodna and Ulica Krochmalna, where they reinforced Dirlewanger’s unit. Tracked B IV vehicles also attacked the Polish positions on Ulica Ciepła. A particularly tragic episode took place on August 13, when a B IV vehicle exploded on Ulica Podwale. At about 1300 hours, two StuG 40s from Company 3, Panzer-Abteilung 302. (Fkl), attacked the barricades that protected the Old Town from attack from the south. The Germans set about methodically pounding the resistance fighters’ positions, which were manned by Battalion “Gustaw.” Suddenly, a tracked B IV drove out from behind the StuG 40s and sped towards the barricade blocking-off Ulica Podwale. The resistance men threw “Molotov cocktails” on this Sprengstoffträger. B IV which caught fire. The driver opened the turret hatch and tried to flee but was shot down by resistance fighters. At that point, the StuG 40s withdrew towards Ulica Krakowskie Przedmieście. The B IV’s fire was extinguished on the orders of Lieutenant “Pająk” from Battalion “Gustaw”. The vehicle was declared to be unarmed. Captain “Gustaw” ordered that the B IV should be left where it was and that the men manning the barricades should withdraw to Ulica Podwale. During the night, the B IV should then be properly examined by engineer troops and, if possible, be towed behind the insurgents’ positions.

A reconnaissance band from Battalion “Gustaw’s” “Orlat” company, which had captured the vehicle, tore down part of the barricade. Riflemen, Henryk “Szczawiński” Paczkowski and Zugmunt “Czymbo” Salwa started the engine and drove the B IV along Ulica Podwale toward Ulica Długa through an enthusiastic crowd of civilians and resistance fighters. The vehicle stopped at the crossing of Ulica Podwale and Ulica Kilińskiego. When one of the resistance men went to the front of the vehicle and – in lifting the hatch to the explosives’ storage hold – unleashed a devastating explosion. It’s not clear if the B IV was equipped with a time-set dentonating device, or if the explosion was set off by remote control, or if someone had simply placed a mechanical trigger under the hatch. One hundred people were killed at the explosion site; both resistance fighters and civilians, and many other people were injured. A number of sources, as for example, A. Borkiwicz, Powstanie Warszawskie, (Warsawa 1958), estimate 500 killed and 350 injured. Today, it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions as to the actual intent of the Germans. Perhaps it was planned that the B IV’s driver would drive up to the barricade and then just leave the explosive charge there, as it would have been impossible to take the vehicle over the notably high barricade (estimated to be 2.5 to 3 metres high). Perhaps the B IV itself was left intentionally (with a detonating device activated by opening the hatch?), but in that case, what were the driver’s chances of fleeing from the vehicle without being shot on sight when the enemy was positioned only a few metres away?

On the evening of August 20, a B IV from Company 1, Panzer-Abteilung 302. (Fkl), started out from Ulica Świętojerska, and shielded by a StuG 40, came rolling towards insurgent positions on Ulica Nalewski which were defended by “Chrobry I”. This time the attack ended in unmitigated total defeat. The B IV was destroyed by a Polish anti-tank-gun, 5 cm pak 38, which had been captured on Ulica Stawki. A shot was fired-off from a distance of 20 meters, exploding and literally driving the B IV into the wall of Simon’s Passage on impact. In addition, a shower of hand grenades was rained down on the B IV. The driver somehow managed to flee. From the wreck that night, the resistance fighters managed to carry away five blocks of compressed explosive with a total mass weight of approximately 500 kgs to the Arsenał building. The projectile had apparently destroyed the B IV’s detonating devices and the explosive material could not be detonated. In this way, the resistance fighters learned about the true role of the B IV.

The battalion was later to concentrate its operations to the area surrounding Piłsudski Square and Theatre Square (op. cit. pp. 426-428 and 431-435). From there, StuG 40s and B-IVs carried out many assaults on the area around the Old Town, Ulica Krakowskie Przedmieście, Ulica Krówelska, Danzig Station (a StuG 40 fell into the Legion Fortress’s moat, photo op. cit. p. 437)), and the National Mint, as well as the area around Mostowski Palace, Ulica Tłomackie and Krasiński Square. The unit’s losses during the fighting were heavy. A report from September 1, 1944 (op. cit. 404) reveals that over this period the unit had only 6 StuG 40s and 65 B IVs in service (normally: 40 StuG 40s and 144 tracked B IVs). In other words, a loss of Stug 40s approaching 85%, and 54 % of all B IVs! The above information indicates that the de facto combat role of Panzer-Abteilung 302. (Fkl) was as an assault unit, providing direct, close support to the German infantry. Here, the question arises whether the crews of the StuG 40s had the requisite experience of combat in an urban setting. When the fighting for the Old Town was nearing its end, the battalion fought in the Centre district and participated in the intense fighting for Czerniaków (probably a company which was stationed on Aleja 3 Maja in Powiśle by the Poniatowski Bridge). A photograph of the destroyed house on Ulica Okrąg 2 (op. cit. p.433) confirms that the unit participated in the fighting for Powiśle and Czerniaków.

During the period September 10 – 13, a portion of the battalion participated in the fighting in Praga (photo: p 437 op. cit., a StuG 40 moving across a railway bridge by the Citadel). Thanks to photographic evidence, it is possible to confirm that this unit participated in at least two further battle sites. One photograph shows two destroyed StuG 40s from Company 3 on Ulica Krakowskie Przedmieście in the vicinity of the Holy Cross Church, another shows a Stug 40 on Ulica Puławaska abreast Ulica Odyńca. On p. 443 (op. cit.) the unit of a StuG 40 and a Brummbär on Ulica Puławska 51 can be identified. On September 24, Captain Nolte was appointed the battalion’s commander During the last days of the uprising, the battalion cooperated with Brummbärs from Sturmpanzer-Kompanie 218. z.b.V. in Mokotów (Ulica Puławska, Ulica Woronicza), along with conducting independent operations in, among other areas, the vicinity of Królikarnia.

After the uprising, the battalion remained in the Warsaw area for a short while and was thereafter, beginning on October 7, transported to East Prussia. During the fighting in Warsaw, the unit lost a dozen StuG 40s – among these, from Company 3 alone: two vehicles which were destroyed on Ulica Krakowskie Przedmieście; one on Ulica Rybaki, and lastly, two more in the area of the National Mint – one on Ulica Krochmalna and one on Ulica Chłodna close by Ulica Żelazna.

Markus Jaugitz – Die Deutsche Fernlenktruppe (2 vol)
Thomas L. Jentz – Funklenk Panzertruppen (in AFV NEWS, Sept-Dec. 1986, Volume 21, No.3)
Thomas L. Jentz – Panzertruppen (2 vol)
Janusz Ledwoch – Warsawa 1: Pansar i upproret september-oktober 1944
Kjell Svensson – Tyska radiostyrda pansarfordon (in Pansar #4/1997)
Georg Tessin – Verbände und Truppen der deutschen Wehrmacht 1933-1945

GAZ-2975 “Tiger” or Russian Tigr Part II

The GAZ-2975 Tigr (“Tiger”) is Russia’s new standard light armored utility vehicle, akin to the US HMMWV. It is typically fitted with one or two 7.62mm Pecheneg machine guns on pintle mounts, or, an AGS-17 30mm grenade launcher.

A GAZ Tigr-M in Moscow during rehearsals for the 2019 Victory Day Parade, for which it sports the orange and black St George’s ribbon with tricolour star decal along the side. Note the Arbalet-DM remote weapon station, with a 12.7mm Kord machine gun and four smoke grenade launchers. The turret includes regular and thermal-imaging cameras and a laser range finder.

The armoured Tigr has become one of the workhorses of the Russian Army. It is especially well-geared for cold weather conditions, able to operate in temperatures from +50 to -50 centigrade.

Gaz-2975 Tigr-M 4×4 Multi-purpose Vehicle can be mounted with a number of weapons modules act as escorts in the Military Parade. This one is armed with Kornett ATGMs

In Russia, Arzamas developed the Tigr; a family of vehicles ranging from 7.4 to 8.8 tonnes gross weight offering payloads of between 0.9 and 1.2 tonnes. The version more apt for military purposes is the Armoured Special Purpose Vehicle 232014, which can accommodate two crew members and four more soldiers in the rear, and can be armed with a Pecheneg 7.62-mm, a Kord 12.7-mm machine gun or with an AGS-17 30-mm automatic grenade launcher. Powered by a six-cylinder 205-hp engine it is equipped with independent wishbone and torsion bar suspensions.

The workhorse is the GAZ Tigr (`Tiger’), a domestically produced 4×4 LMV in service since 2006. Rugged and lightly armoured, the Tigr has seen service in Crimea and the Donbas as well as Syria, and in 2013 an improved GAZ-233114 Tigr-M was introduced. This replaced the original diesel with a YaMZ-534 engine, added additional armour and protective systems, and has since become the Russian military standard LMV. Able to carry up to 11 soldiers as well as its crew, the Tigr is 5.7m long, 2.4m wide and high, and masses 7.2t. It can be fitted with a pintle-mounted 7.62mm PKP Pecheneg machine gun, a 12.7mm Kord heavy machine gun or a 30mm AGS-17 grenade launcher, as well as the new Arbalet-DM (`Crossbow-DM’) remote-controlled turret with either the Kord or 7.62mm PKTM machine gun and thermal imaging sights. Widely used by other Russian services, the Tigr is also the platform for a range of specialist vehicles and now also produced in China and Belarus.

The new standard Russian military LMV is the Gaz Tigr (Tiger), in both the GAZ-233014 STS and Tigr-M versions. This version was seen during the initial seizure of Crimea in 2014, and although deployed alongside Naval Infantry, its number plate demonstrated that it came from the Southern Military District. This suggests that it was actually part of the 22nd Guards Spetsnaz Brigade, not least given the Guards badge in the door – signifying a unit that fought with distinction in World War II. It mounts a PKP machine gun and an AGS-17 grenade launcher. The VPK-3927 Volk (Wolf) is a new design, which is being introduced in limited numbers in both short- and long-wheelbase versions. Designed with particular attention to the threat from mines, the Volk comes in a variety of models, with a particular emphasis on reconnaissance and patrol missions. This is the short-wheelbase 4×4 version fitted as a communications vehicle, assigned to the 24th Spetsnaz Brigade operating out of Irkutsk.

Leichte Ladungsträger Goliath

Among the most numerous of the German anti-mine vehicles was the Leichte Ladungsträger Goliath SdKfz 302. This was a small wire-guided vehicle designed for minefield clearance, destruction of enemy installations or in extreme cases, as an antitank weapon. The Goliath measured only about 1.5 meters, and the initial version was considered too small and underpowered. This version was known as SdKfz 302a (E-Motor) and was powered by two Bosch MM/RQL 2500/24 RL2 electric motors. Borgward and Zündapp produced 2,650 units of this type from April 1942 to January 1944.

The second version of the Goliath was known as the SdKfz 302b (V-Motor). This was powered by a Zündapp SZ7 two-cylinder, two-stroke engine and was larger and could carry more explosives. The manufacturers Zündapp and Zachertz built 325 units by November 1944. Regardless of the type, a control-wire drum was located at the rear of the vehicle that contained a three-strand wire, two strands for driving the vehicle and a third for detonating the charge. For transport the Goliath could be mounted and towed on a two-wheeled trailer.

The interior of a Goliath, SdKfz. 303, showing the petrol engine, control cable reels and the space for the warhead. U.S. Department of Ordnance – Catalog of Enemy Ordnance Manual Vol. 1 – 1945

“Goliath” leichte Ladungsträger (SdKfz 302 & 303)

Developed by Borgward, the three versions of this vehicle were among the most interesting German engineered vehicles, at least in the eyes of the average GI or Tommy encountering them.

These tethered remote-controlled demolition vehicles were about five feet long and weighed less than a half ton. Consistent with the tongue-in-cheek naming of certain German vehicles (the 200-ton superheavy tank was named “mouse”), this vehicle’s name was Goliath.

Development of the vehicle began in 1940 when Borgward was ordered to create a very small electrically powered vehicle capable of placing a charge of about 50 kgs.

The design that was approved was powered by two electric motors and carried a 60 kg charge. Control of the vehicle was via a wire which unwound out of the rear compartment of the vehicle as it advanced.

Despite being protected by a 6 mm armor plate at the front, in practice the vehicles were easily defeated either by small-arms fire through the unarmored sides, or by merely severing the control cable.

Production of this vehicle, which was given the Sonderkraftfahrzeug (special purpose vehicle—SdKfz) number 302, began in April 1942. The considerable expense of the vehicles, along with the limitations, in particular the vulnerability of the electric drive, led to production being discontinued in January 1944, after 2,635 had been completed.

This was not the end of Goliath, however. In April 1943 a much improved, slightly larger version entered production.

Assigned SdKfz number 303, other than a slight increase in size, the most dramatic change was the use of a two-stroke Zundapp gasoline engine to power the diminutive tracklaying vehicle. The frontal armor was upgraded to 10 mm, and strangely the gasoline-powered variant seemed more tolerant of small-arms fire than was the electric model, but nevertheless some of the handicaps remained. Among these, the vulnerability of the sides, and the reliance on the rear spooling wire leading to the tethered remote control.

A total of 4,929 gasoline-powered versions of the SdKfz 303 were produced in two models, the SdKfz 303b having a slightly larger payload charge of 100 kgs, compared to 75 kgs for the SdKfz 303a.

The Goliath began to be issued in January 1942, and was first used near Sevastopol in June. Additional units were created and equipped with 162 Goliath each beginning in October 1942. By 1944 the SdKfz 303 was being issued thirty-each to normal Pioneer (Engineer) battalions.

Wola and Ochota are Lost, 6-11 August 1944 -Warsaw Rising

Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf.J Control Tank with Borgward IV Ausf.B

Israeli Armor Pre-1973

Following World War II the opposing Arab and Israeli armies were among the primary practitioners of armored warfare, largely because the terrain and conditions were so suitable. Long before the partition of Palestine, Israeli agents began the covert purchase of heavy weapons including ten old French R39 light tanks. The newly created Arab states were arming themselves with whatever surplus weapons could be procured on the black market or were abandoned in place by the colonial powers. Egypt had a mixed bag of American M4s and M22 Locust light tanks, British Crusaders and Matildas, and even 1930s vintage British Mark VI light tanks. The Syrians had French H35 and H39 tanks. The Lebanese were stuck with venerable French FTs. Tanks played little role in the 1948–49 War of Independence.

Eager to gain a foothold in the Mediterranean, the Soviet Union cultivated relations with Egypt, and supplied about 230 T-34/85 and IS-3M tanks, seriously skewing the balance of power. By 1955, France was selling weapons to Israel, including M4s and later AMX13 light tanks.

In November 1956, Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser decided to restrict access to the Suez Canal. French and British petroleum tankers were the most affected, prompting both nations to intervene militarily. On November 6, a squadron of AMX-13s from the 2e Régiment Étranger de Cavalerie disembarked at Port Fouad and Port Saïd to reinforce airborne forces.

Israel invaded the Sinai peninsula in an operation heavily influenced by the old blitzkrieg model. The attack came as a complete surprise, advancing into the Sinai. As the major powers increasingly aligned themselves with local powers, the stage was set for a confrontation between the equipment if not the armored doctrines of the United States and the Soviet Union.

With Russia threatening direct military support to the Egyptians and the Americans condemning the “expedition,” the Franco-British troops were forced to withdraw, ending the shortest war in history. In this short and undeclared war the AMX13 was unable to test its full potential. A pattern had been set for heavy Israeli reliance upon armored and airborne forces.

By 1967 both sides were armed to the teeth as part of a sort of proxy war. Egypt, Syria, and Iraq were equipped with a mix of Soviet T-34/85, T-54, T-55, and PT-76 tanks, the newest Soviet T-62s, and self-propelled guns. The Jordanian Army was equipped with American M47, M48, and M48A1 tanks. Israel was far better equipped, with about 250 American-built M48 and M48A1 tanks, many upgraded with the 105-mm L7 main gun used in the Centurion. The Israelis had also upgraded many old M4 tanks to their M50 and M51 “Super Shermans,” with a 105-mm main gun. AMX13s and Centurions remained part of the mix.

Israel Tal had served in the Jewish Brigade of the British Army in World War II, and as a junior officer in the War of Independence. In 1964 Tal assumed command of Israeli armored forces, and set about making it into the centerpiece of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). His doctrine was based upon a triad of mobility, relentless attacks, and exploiting the greater striking range of Western-supplied tanks.

Tal’s armor-heavy doctrine, with emphasis on preservation of Israel’s limited military manpower, held considerable appeal to Israel’s politicians. As a practical matter, Tal’s doctrine would of necessity be aggressive yet strictly tactical in scope, and this led Israel into a strategic trap. Tactical success led to conquest of additional territory that Israel would never be able to completely control, and consumed manpower to defend successively extended borders. The result was a war of low-intensity attrition that continues to the present day.

Egyptian and Syrian armor doctrine imitated that of the Soviets: overwhelming numbers and acceptance of massive losses in pursuit of a clear strategic goal, the elimination of Israel. Tactically, tank crews were trained to advance in a rapid rush to within about a half-kilometer of the enemy before opening fire. This granted Israeli tank gunners, trained to fight at ranges up to 1,500 meters, an enormous advantage in a defensive battle.

Tal was a primary architect of the surprise attack known as the 1967 Six Day War. On the main southern front the Israelis massed six armored, three parachute, one infantry and one mechanized infantry brigades, to face four armored, two infantry, and one mechanized infantry divisions of the Egyptian Army. In all, the Israelis deployed about 70,000 men and 700 tanks, the Egyptians about 900 tanks and 100,000 men. In the critical battle of Abu-Ageila the Israeli 38th Armored Division with about 150 AMX13s, M50s, and Centurions outnumbered and outmatched the Egyptian 2nd Infantry Division supported by only 90 old T-34/85 tanks and 20 SU-100 tank destroyers.

Israel made extensive use of the AMX13. Casualties among crews were high, but the front-mounted engine augmented crew protection, and probably influenced later Israeli tank design. In the north the Israelis faced a smaller Syrian force, and the fighting in the Golan Heights was at shorter ranges that favored the defenders. Here Israeli airpower proved the decisive factor.

In the center the Jordanian Arab Legion took the offensive with American M47 and M48 tanks concentrated between the Jordan River and partitioned Jerusalem. The Israelis launched a counteroffensive that encircled and captured Jerusalem. Among the booty were M47 tanks that the Israelis considered obsolete, and about 100 of Jordan’s M48 and M48A1 tanks that the Israelis happily absorbed into their own army.

The rapid Israeli victory captured the attention of the world, but the ineptitude of their opponents disguised the fact that the IDF was making the same mistakes as many victorious armies. The quick and easy victories led their military to shift too much emphasis onto the tank forces at the expense of infantry.

The victory had gained Israel a broad swath of useless desert, but the only real gain was that Jordan would no longer actively engage Israeli forces. Victory in fact left Israel in a more precarious position, facing Egyptian forces along the 150-km length of the Suez Canal in the 1967–70 War of Attrition, the type of struggle to which Israeli forces were least suited.

In 1968–69 Israel built the Bar Lev Line, a chain of fixed defenses along the Suez Canal. Behind it lay an elaborate road network to allow an armored division with over 300 tanks and an infantry force to deploy, and slow Egyptian penetration until a general mobilization could be effected. Generals Ariel Sharon and Israel Tal objected to a fixed defense, since static positions could be pre-targeted.

In 1970 the Israeli government decided that overseas armaments supplies might be slow in coming or uncertain in future wars, so the country needed an indigenous tank industry. By 1973 Tal was the team leader in the development of a tank design that became the Merkava (Chariot).

The Yom Kippur War

In this general offensive by Arab forces the strategically decisive foe would be Egypt. While the Israeli government mulled over a preemptive attack, on October 6, 1973, the Egyptians breached the berms of the Bar Lev Line in less than three hours, using highpressure pumps mounted on barges to wash away the loose sand of the berm. The strongpoints were inundated by artillery and air attack. Israel had only one armored brigade forward deployed, and piecemeal counterattacks had little effect. Once through the Bar Lev Line the Egyptians advanced quickly into the Sinai. On October 8, the Israelis were finally able to organize a major counterattack to relieve units holding out across the canal from the city of al-Ismailya, only to be driven back with heavy losses to new Soviet 9M14 Malyutka (NATO “Sagger”) antitank missiles and RPGs.

The use of Soviet antitank missiles exposed the weakness of Israel’s excessive reliance upon armored forces, and brought their military close to disaster. The offensively oriented armored force was unable to cope with a massive infantry onslaught, and tank losses were heavy until the Egyptian offensive stumbled to a halt in part because of logistics, in part because of Egyptian reluctance to move beyond the protection of their heavy surface-to-air missile batteries. This respite and a massive American airlift of more modern weapons like the M60 tank staved off disaster for Israel.

On the northern front Syrian forces made significant gains, but an Israeli counteroffensive soon threatened Damascus. In a series of small battles both sides fought to near total exhaustion; the Israeli 7th Armored Brigade was reduced to six tanks. When the Israeli brigade was reinforced by 15 tanks, the debilitated Syrian forces were forced into retreat. In an effort to reduce pressure on Syria, the Egyptians resumed their stalled offensive.

With American weapon resupply assured, Israel shifted back to a familiar offensive posture. On October 15, the spearhead of an Israeli counterattack by two armored divisions crossed the canal, and ran amok among the undefended missile batteries and logistical units in the sort of battle that Israeli doctrine dreamt of but seldom achieved. By October 24 the Israelis had surrounded Suez City and the Egyptian Third Army, but Egyptian air and artillery attacks on the pontoon bridges limited Israeli resupply to a trickle.

Increasing tensions between the Americans and Soviets threatened a widening of the war and the patrons forced a cease-fire that left the two sides intermingled across a huge battle area and virtually assured local resumptions of fighting. Israel Tal—now commander of all ground forces on the southern front—was ordered to resume the attack, but refused the order as unethical, ending his command career in all but name.

As part of the Camp David Accords Israel returned most of the Sinai to Egyptian control and withdrew from around Suez City.

One of the lessons of the war was that excessive Israeli reliance upon armor, small elite infantry forces, and offensive action had left the IDF ill-prepared to repulse major infantry attacks. A more balanced force with a larger infantry component would prove crucial in the ongoing struggles with Palestinian irregular forces.

Light Tank, M5 Series, General Stuart

Light Tank M5 stemmed from a suggestion by Cadillac Division of GMC to the Ordnance Department that they should try the M3 light tank with twin Cadillac engines installed and the commercial Cadillac Hydramatic transmission which was produced for automobiles. In the fall of 1941, a standard M3 was converted as a trials vehicle (the M3E2) to test the idea and proved most successful. This made a trouble-free 500 mile trial run, and the Cadillac-powered vehicle proved easy to drive, and smooth to operate. Due to the always acute shortage of Continental engines, the Cadillac modified vehicle was approved for production and standardised as the Light Tank M5 in February 1942. It was originally to be designated Light Tank M4, but this was changed to M5 to avoid confusion with the M4 medium tank (Sherman), then going into production.

To accommodate the twin Cadillac engines, the rear engine covers were stepped up. But the hull was otherwise similar in shape to that of the welded M3Al apart from a sloping glacis. Turret installation, with basket and gyrostabiliser, was tested in another development vehicle, M3E3, while in the following July another Cadillac facility, at Southgate, California, also commenced production. At the same time Massey-Harris commenced M5 production in Racine, Wis, under the “parentage” of Cadillac, and finally, in October 1943, when M3 series production ceased, American Car & Foundry also switched to turning out M5s.

The M5A1 was designed and standardised in September 1942 to bring the M5 up to the standard of the much improved M3A3. Among changes common with the M3A3 were a new turret with bulge at the rear for a radio installation, larger access hatches for the driver and co-driver, improved mount for the 37mm gun, and improved vision devices. In addition there was better water-sealing on the hatches, an escape hatch added in the hull floor, and dual 93 traverse allowing the commander to train the turret while firing his AA machine gun. There were also detachable sand shields. A later modification was the provision of a detachable shield/fairing on the turret side to protect the AA machine gun mount. From early 1943, the M5A1 replaced the M5 on production lines.

VARIANTS

M5: Initial production type.

M5A1: Improved production type in line with improvements introduced in M3A3.

M5 Command Tank: Vehicle with turret removed and replaced with box-like superstructure and ·50 cal Browning machine gun in flexible mount. For use by senior officers.

M5A1 with Psy-war equipment: Standard vehicle fitted with loud hailer and associated public address equipment for Psychological Warfare units, 1944-45.

M5 or M5A1 with Cullin Hedgerow Device: Standard vehicles with “prongs” made from beach obstacles by field maintenance units for cutting through “bocage” hedges and undergrowth, Normandy, June 1944.

M5A1 with E7-7 Flame-gun: Flame-thrower equipment replacing main gun. Short projector and fuel stowed in hull. Same equipment could be fitted in M3A1.

M5Al with E9-9 Flame-throwing equipment: This was based on the British Crocodile idea (qv) and consisted of a flame projector replacing the hull machine gun, and fuel led, via an armoured pipe, from a towed trailer. Prototype only, started April 1943.

M5A1 with E8 Flame-gun: Developed from January 1943, this vehicle had the original turret removed, a new box-like superstructure added with a flame-gun carried in a small rotating turret at the top. It was a prototype only.

M5 with T39 Rocket Launcher: T39 Rocket Launcher mounted on turret top and controlled in elevation and traverse by vehicle’s gun and main armament. Fired 20 x 7·2 in rockets. Project only, 1944.

M5 Dozer: M5 light tank with turret removed and fitted with dozer blade at front end, 1944. A few vehicles so fitted retained the turret.

T27, T27E1 81mm Mortar Motor Carriage: This resulted from an army requirement for a mortar carrier on the M5Al chassis. A prototype, T27, was built with turret removed and an armour superstructure added, 18in high and 25mm thick. Mortar was mounted to fire forward with 35 degree traverse and a ·50 cal MG was also fitted. An alternative design, the T27E1, was similar except that the 81mm mortar was mounted lower in the hull so that it did not project above the superstructure. Both were cancelled in April 1944, after tests, due to inadequate crew and stowage space.

T29 4·2in Mortar Motor Carriage: Following cancellation of the T27 vehicles, this was produced with the mortar space enlarged and utilising a more compact mortar. Crew space for operating the mortar was still found inadequate and the project was terminated in this form.

T8 Reconnaissance Vehicle: This was a conversion of redundant M5 light tank chassis in 1944 by removal of the turret and the fitting of a gun ring mounting a ·50 cal Browning MG in its place. Prototype for the conversion was known as the Reconnaissance Vehicle “B”. T8s were in service as a “limited standard” type in 1944-45. A modified type with extra stowage racks added and rack for carrying land mines was designated T8E1.

DEVELOPMENT VEHICLES: M3E2 was M3 converted to test twin Cadillac engine installation. M3E3 was fuller conversion with addition of turret basket and other features for M5 and was M5 light tank prototype. M5A1E1 was an experimental vehicle with automatic 37mm gun and wider tracks which did not progress past trials status, 1943, due to development of later and better light tank designs. An experimental AA tank version of the M5A1 was also produced with a twin·30 cal Browning MG mount replacing the turret; it did not proceed past trials status. Finally M5s and M5A1s were also tested with various forms of flotation gear for amphibious operations, but none past the trials stage.

BRITISH SERVICE

A small number of M5s and M5A1s were delivered to the British in 1943-44 and these were used in NW Europe from 1944.

Stuart VI: British designation for both M5 and M5A1 light tanks. Some Stuart VIs were converted to Command, Recce, or Kangaroo versions by removal of turret.

King Tiger

LINK

August 1944

The Tiger II combined the heavy armour of the Tiger I with the slopped armour of the Panther. It was a completely different tank to the Tiger I and weighed 70 tons compared to the 56 tons of the Tiger I. The King Tiger was first used in action in Normandy in July 1944 before being used on the Eastern Front the following month. The Tiger II also called the king Tiger was the most powerful tank to be deployed anywhere during World War 2. Together with the Panther formed a German spearhead for the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. The offensive though petered out due to a lack of fuel and many Tigers ended up being abandoned.

Despite its success in combat the Tiger continued to experience many problems. The overlapping suspension was one, which could easily become clogged with mud. During the Russian winter, this mud would freeze and would need to be chipped away before the tank could move. The engine was due to be replaced by the Maybach HL234, which was being developed. Essentially, this was the current HL230 engine extensively upgraded and modified with the fitting of fuel injectors which would have risen the engine power to 800-900hp partially addressing the underpowered issue. Although, this engine though never reached production before the war ended. This was to address the same under-powered problem suffered by the Tiger.

In comparison, a modern British Challenger 2 tank which has a weight of 62 tons with much stronger Chobham 2 armour, a more powerful 120 mm gun and a V-12 diesel engine producing 1,200hp. This gives a power to weight of 19.2hp compared 13.8hp for the Tiger I and 10hp for the Tiger II. At the same time, it shows how advance the Tiger II was for its day. With tank engine and transmission technology at the time, being the only real weak area Germans had not overcome.

Only 492 King Tigers were produced, with production being severely disrupted by allied bombing raids. The King Tigers turret was designed to mount the 8.8 cm KwK 43 L/71 gun. The KwK 43 was over 1.3 meters longer than that of the 88 mm KwK 36 L/56 used for the Tiger I. The cartridge was also considerably longer and wider than that used in KwK36, allowing for a much heavier propellant charge. The guns’ extremely high muzzle velocity and operating pressures caused accelerated barrel wear, resulting in a change to a two-piece barrel. This made it much easier to change worn out barrels. The turret could be rotated 360 degrees in 60 seconds in low gear, in 19 seconds in high gear at idle engine speed, and within 10 seconds at the maximum allowable engine speed in high gear. Making it quickly able to swing round onto a target.

After initial success in Normandy in July 1944, the Tiger II or King Tiger made it to the Eastern Front. It was first used in anger on August 12, 1944 by the 501st Heavy Panzer Battalion resisting the Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive. The King Tigers attacked a Soviet bridgehead over the Vistula River near Baranów Sandomierski. However, on the road to Oględów, three Tiger IIs were destroyed in an ambush by a few T-34-85s. Due to these German tanks suffered ammunition explosions, which caused many crew fatalities. This also led to main gun ammunition no longer being stored in the turret to reduce fatal explosions. In doing so this reduced the number of rounds carried to 68. On August 11, 1944, three King Tigers approached and started to attack a bridge over the Vislula River. However, as they began their attack they had already been spotted by Oskin a Red Army tank commander. His T-34 85 along with two others had been well hidden and heavily camouflaged. They also had an SMG platoon supporting them.

Rather than engage straight away he decided to wait until the three King Tigers were much closer and more likely to suffer fatal damage. He waited until the King Tigers were about 200 metres away and opened fire. The King Tigers were side on to the T-34 85s and at this range, the D5-T gun should be able to penetrate the side armour. Using both APDS (Amour Piercing Discarding Sabot). Which is kinetic energy projectile that enabled better penetration of thick armour. The first two rounds fired on one King Tiger did not penetrate the third hit the turret and caused the ammunition stored in the turret to exploded lifting it away from its turret ring. The explosion also caused the King Tiger to catch fire killing all its crew in an instance. The King Tigers had yet to find their target let alone fire off any rounds. The T-34s continued to fire and another King Tiger was hit three times but its armour was not penetrated as they turned into the line of fire with their much stronger frontal armour. A fourth round hit just underneath the main turret and again caused ammunition to explode killing the entire crew once again. Two mighty King Tigers were now burning ferociously without a single T-34 85 having been hit. Out in the open and nowhere to hide, the final Tiger decided to try and escape by moving at full-speed. Using smoke, the T-34s used their greater speed and manoeuvrability and managed to outmanoeuvre the King Tiger. The T-34s fired off several shots into the side of the King Tiger.

This time they managed to disable the King Tiger without it going up in flames. The rounds bouncing off but causing chunks of armour to come off and fly around the inside cutting the crew to shreds. Three of the crew were killed by the shrapnel and the final crew member managed to escape slightly injured. He was captured and taken as a POW by the SMG platoon. It was an outstanding of tank tactics, from a tank that whilst faster and more manoeuvrable was outgunned unless it got up close to the King Tiger.

It was an appalling loss of Germany’s new super tank and caused a review of tactics and doctrine. Twelve tank crew members had been lost with one now a Soviet POW.  The immobilised Tiger was captured by the Soviets and repaired before being moved to testing grounds at Kubinka for the Soviets to evaluate. This was one of two King Tigers captured in August 1944.

During the evaluation, the Soviets found out quickly that the King Tiger had a tendency to breakdown. During the transfer to their testing grounds and getting to suitable rail transport the cooling system was found to be insufficient for the excessively hot climatic conditions of the Russian summer. The engine tended to overheat and cause a consequential failure of the gearbox. The right suspension of one of the tanks had to be completely replaced, and its full functionality could not be re-established. The tank down again around every 10 miles. The 8.8 cm KwK 43 in terms of penetration and accuracy was found to be on par with the 122 mm D-25T. It proved capable of passing a round straight through and out of the other captured King Tiger’s turret at a range of at 430 yards. The armour of one vehicle was tested by firing at it with shells between 100 and 152 mm calibre. The welding of the King Tiger even with the usual careful workmanship, was significantly worse than on similar designs even the Tiger I.

This meant that when shells were unable to penetrate the Tigers armour they caused the plates to break into smaller pieces, which would have caused injury or death to the crew sitting inside. These metal fragments also damaged the sensitive transmission and rendered the King Tiger inoperable. The armour plate was found to not be as strong as that on the Tiger I or the Panther. Further analysis found that the armour plate was lacking in molybdenum due to a loss of supply and replaced with vanadium which lowered the malleability making the metal more prone to shattering. Although to this day it has not been recorded if the frontal armour of a King Tiger was ever penetrated in battle. The Red Army also learnt to best way to take out King Tiger was to do it in stages. The first stage was to use HE rounds and destroy part of the running gear. With the tank immobilized the next stage was to at close range firing into the rear and sides to destroy it. T-34s with their good manoeuvrability stood a good chance of being able to out manoeuvre the traversing turret. An attack manoeuvre made more deadly if the T-34s attacked in numbers.

M36 Tank Destroyers in Combat

A decision that altered the war for the tank killers emerged from the Führerbunker under the ruins of Berlin during February 1945: 1,675 tanks and assault guns (new or repaired) were sent to the Eastern Front, while only sixty-seven went west. Hitler also stripped the Western Front of half its panzer divisions. The Führer was more worried about the Soviet threat to Berlin than the danger that the Western Allies would leap the Rhine. America’s tank destroyers would never again encounter the panzers in large numbers.

Western Europe was littered with the hulks of the panzers that had tangled with the tank killers. As of 28 February, the TD battalions in Third Army alone had reported the destruction of six hundred eighty-two tanks and one hundred twenty-five SP guns—more than a third of the roughly twenty-two hundred panzers Third Army claimed to have destroyed. One battalion commander told Army Ground Forces that his men (equipped with M18s) had the panzer’s number and considered the highly mobile and easily hidden PAK 75mm antitank gun to be the most dangerous weapon they faced. As for the panzer, “the enemy tank can be easily out-maneuvered and is extremely susceptible to two-way attack.” In short, the men had regained confidence in their ability to handle heavy German tanks with their 76mm and 3-inch guns.

On 1 February 1945, ETOUSA caught up with the field expedient adopted in many TD battalions and ordered that supplementary machine gun mounts be installed on the front of all M10 and M36 turrets. The theater headquarters acknowledged that crews generally wanted a hull-mounted or coaxial machine gun but observed that this was the best available solution.

Surge to the Rhine

Hitler may have decided to stop worrying so much about his Western Front, but the Americans—having eliminated the vestiges of the Ardennes offensives and stopped Nordwind in its tracks—were preparing to take a wrecking ball to the West Wall. On 2 February, the Combined Chiefs of Staff approved Eisenhower’s plan to advance to the Rhine along its length and cross in strength in Montgomery’s sector north of the Ruhr at the earliest opportunity. Most of Bradley’s and Devers’s troops were to halt offensive operations in February while Ninth Army (under Monty’s operational control) crossed the Roer plain in support of British and Canadian operations to the north.

American forces finally seized the Schwammenauel Dam near Schmidt on 10 February, but the Germans jammed open a release gate, and the Roer River quickly became a temporarily uncrossable barrier. By the time Ninth Army could get going, the American advance would resemble a broad-front offensive.

In the meantime, troops all along the line probed and gathered intelligence they would need when they headed for the Rhine.

The 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion was deployed east of the Vosges Mountains near Prinzheim, France, in early February. Lieutenant Joseph Keeby, a Chicago man in command of the 1st Reconnaissance Platoon, had orders to capture some prisoners for intelligence purposes. The infantry had tried several times without success because of extensive mine fields along the German line. Keeby gathered the thirty-one men of his raiding party three days before the operation. They went over sketches, drawings, and maps of the route to a mill the Germans were using, probably as a command post. Keeby divided his team into an assault group and a security group to provide cover.

The night of 4 February, Keeby led the assault team through the freezing darkness in a cautious approach to the objective. As the men neared the first German outposts, a machine gun opened fire. Keeby and his team dropped to the ground. The security group returned fire immediately, and the machine gun fell silent. One man spotted a second German MG preparing to open fire and killed the crew. The assault group moved forward again.

The men crept closer to the mill. Suddenly, automatic rifle fire snapped through the air. Private First Class Henry Weaver, close behind Keeby, spotted the German and shot back. His aim was true.

Surprise lost, six men stormed through the door of the mill. Private George Bass raked the first room with submachine-gun fire while Keeby tossed hand grenades. When the smoke cleared, eight German soldiers lay dead on the floor. Six others surrendered. The recon men took them back to the battalion’s position. Mission accomplished.

Along most of the front, the halt in offensive operations was strategic, not tactical, and the Americans continued to batter away at the West Wall. The doughs, tanks, and TDs were working together better than ever. AARs indicate that provisional platoons combining the two types of armor were occasionally created for some small missions. Captain Duchossois, commanding Company B, 610th Tank Destroyer Battalion (M36), described combined armed operations at Brandscheid at the stump of the Bulge in early February:

We moved across the line of departure as a tank destroyer, tank, infantry team—infantry, a tank, and a tank destroyer followed by more infantry, another tank, and a tank destroyer. We used this formation because of the poor visibility, the limited routes of approach, and uncertainty of the definite location of all fortifications.

The infantry advanced until they were held up by a fortification. When this happened, the tankers “closed up” the aperture with machine gun fire followed by the tank destroyers firing several rounds of 90mm.

Usually, the Jerries would put some white article out of the embrasure, but they would not come out to surrender until the infantry moved in and brought them out….

We found we had to keep a tank destroyer right behind the lead tank because our routes of approach were such that unless a tank destroyer was up there initially, it would be impossible to pass the tanks in order to fire on the pillbox. As a result, the leading tank destroyer and tank did the majority of the firing.

It is absolutely necessary to have communications with not only the infantry, but the tankers also. One of the simplest ways to accomplish this is to have both tank destroyer and tank platoon leaders equipped with SCR-300 radio sets on the infantry frequency.

Ninth Army crossed the Roer River on 23 February. Tank destroyer battalions played a secondary role, firing direct (typically at ranges between two and three thousand yards) in support of the assault infantry, and reinforced division artillery units. Battalion recon companies crossed the river with the assault wave to provide radio links back to the destroyers.

The AAR of the 821st Tank Destroyer Battalion for February offered the following description of the now-standard operating procedure, in this case during fighting on the east bank of the Roer River near Jülich with the 29th Infantry Division and 747th Tank Battalion: “As the infantry and tanks pushed forward, 821st destroyers provided close-in direct support for the infantry and mutual support for the tanks. As the infantry, tank, and tank destroyer teams approached a town that proved to be an enemy strongpoint, destroyer guns would fire direct covering fire at buildings. This fire neutralized enemy machine gun positions and denied snipers the use of the buildings. When enemy armor or emplaced antitank guns held up the advance of the infantry, destroyer guns were called upon to neutralize the enemy positions. Tanks and tank destroyers were called upon in accordance with the type of mission to be performed and worked together to outflank enemy strongpoints in and around towns. When enemy resistance was neutralized, tank destroyers immediately assumed defensive anti-mechanized positions against possible enemy counterattacks, while the infantry consolidated their positions and prepared to move on to the next objective.”

During the three-day operation described, the TDs killed seven panzers, two SP guns, six AT guns, and two halftracks.

The AAR of the 656th Tank Destroyer Battalion, a newly arrived outfit operating with both the 9th Armored and 78th Infantry divisions, noted, “Resistance, mostly from the German 3d Parachute Division, was determined…. Tactics employed were those of tanks rather than tank destroyers. The destroyers followed behind the assaulting wave of infantry. When an obstacle, an enemy machine gun or strongpoint, interfered with the infantry advance, the destroyers [opened fire]. Upon approaching a town, it was customary for the supporting destroyers to fire a preparation. First, destroyers fired on the upper stories of buildings, forcing the enemy into the cellars. The fire was shifted to lower floors and cellars.”

The 3d Armored Division broke out of the Roer bridgehead on 26 February. The date was another fateful one for the Tank Destroyer Force, because the tankers were using several of the new M26 Pershings in combat for the first time. The Pershing was more heavily armored than the Sherman and carried the same 90mm gun as the M36 in a fully protected turret. One of the Pershings during the day destroyed two Tigers and a Mark IV at a thousand yards. The tank destroyer once again had no edge in killing power over the American tank.

Charging with the Cavalry

Captain Charles Seitz, commanding Company A of the 808th Tank Destroyer Battalion, described how tank destroyers operated with the fast-moving armored cavalry during operations to clear the west bank of the Rhine River during late March. One M36 platoon worked with each squadron. Seitz reported, “The cavalry’s mission was to exploit the Moselle bridgehead in the north of the Moselle triangle and push as quickly as possible to the Rhine and then sweep to the south along the Rhine as fast as possible. This meant rapid movement, so we found it necessary to place the M36s in the support section of the cavalry teams’ columns, following a reconnaissance troop and a platoon of light tanks. Each team moved along a different route to the objective. The lighter vehicles could move as fast as the situation allowed without being held back by the slower M36s [the M18 could keep up!]. Then, if something were hit, the destroyer would have time to move up to it and size it up.

“In this type of movement, good liaison was important. This was achieved in one of two ways depending on the situation. One was that the platoon leader rode behind the team commander, and the other was that the team commander had a radio vehicle accompany the platoon leader [the price of having incompatible radio gear].

“When the cavalry did find opposition—chiefly in towns—the destroyers moved into position to supply assault fire. In one instance, the combination of the cavalry’s speed and the assault fire of the destroyers persuaded approximately seven hundred fifty Germans in the Bingen area to give up to our much smaller force.”

Seventh Army, meanwhile, on 15 March launched Operation Undertone, which aimed at retaking the ground lost during Nordwind and clearing the southern Saar. On 16 March 1945, the men of the 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion were attached to the 63d Infantry Division, which was trying to crack the Siegfried Line defenses near Ensheim, just south of Saarbrücken. Advances in the north might be unfolding with accelerating speed, but here the Germans still fought tenaciously.

In the early dawn hours, company and platoon leaders conducted a foot reconnaissance under small-arms and mortar fire to survey possible firing positions. They then met with infantry commanders to coordinate team play. That night, as the men tried to get some rest in the assembly area, they were subjected to artillery and rocket fire.

The next day at 0500 hours, the M36s of Companies A and C moved forward over sloped terrain under enemy observation in support of the doughs of the 254th and 255th Infantry regiments. Ahead lay three belts of mutually supporting fortifications, the first cleverly concealed along a ridgeline running between two heavily wooded ravines. Minefields and dragons teeth protected the approaches. Antitank ditches further restricted the movement of armor. The defenses included pillboxes, covered trenches, and turrets mounting 75mm guns. Substantial artillery, mortar, and Nebelwerfer rocket launcher units backed the defenders.

As the first M36s advanced, the sound of their engines provoked a heavy barrage of artillery and rocket fire. Fragments whistled over the heads of the crewman crouching in their open-topped turrets, passing close enough to knock off two radio antennae in Company C. Staff Sergeant Oliver Stevens dismounted and ran through the incoming fire to the infantry observation post to make final arrangements about targets. For the rest of the day, he would race between the infantry and the TDs to coordinate action.

The TDs maneuvered into exposed firing positions as close to the pillboxes as possible while German artillery fire began to crash into the assault force. The infantry was forced back initially under the withering fire, but the TDs remained forward, pounding the German lines. Gunners maintained such a high rate of fire that crews had to periodically cease fire to allow their guns to cool. When that happened, a crewman would mount the exposed rear deck and continue to hit the enemy with the .50-caliber antiaircraft machine gun. As TDs ran through their ammunition, they would back to a covered position, reload, and advance again.

The Germans tried to drive the Americans back with infantry counterattacks. Crewmen grabbed their carbines, tommyguns, and fragmentation grenades to beat the assaults back. A bazooka round destroyed one M36, and several others were damaged by artillery and bazooka rounds. One shell blew Private First Class Canterbury’s hatch off where he sat in his radio operator’s seat. He climbed out, recovered the hatch, and put it back on. Fragments from exploding shells, meanwhile, were raining into the turrets of the forward platoons, and more radio aerials, guns sights, periscopes, and even .50-cals were lost.

Strongpoint by strongpoint, the return fire ceased under pounding from the TDs. The battalion noted that its 90mm fire destroyed embrasures and in many cases pulverized the pillboxes. The doughs were able to advance by the afternoon, and engineers blew gaps in the dragon’s teeth. German prisoners were shell-shocked.

The TDs passed through the dragon’s teeth, and they were able to engage some emplacements from a distance of only seventy-five to one hundred yards. As Staff Sergeant Stevens moved his platoon forward in one sector, the lead TD broke through a temporary bridge the engineers had established across an antitank ditch. Under heavy fire, Stevens tried to pull the TD out of the way but could not. Stevens drove back to the CP, where the infantry regimental and battalion commanders were anxious to speak with him because enemy fire had knocked out all of their communications with the infantry. He collected bridging material and some engineers and returned to the ditch. The engineer officer asked as they came under renewed machine-gun and artillery fire, “Nothing can live down there! Shouldn’t we go back?” In the end, the fire was too heavy, and the effort was abandoned.

The TDs supported the assault for sixty straight hours under constant fire, using the darkness to refuel, rearm, and perform critical maintenance. During the engagement, they fired 2,450 rounds of 90mm ammunition at the fortifications. Every M36 suffered damage, and three were total losses. Two men were killed and eleven wounded, many of whom refused evacuation and stayed with their under-manned destroyers.

And the infantry won through. Stevens commented, “In this operation, the enemy artillery and rocket fire, direct AT fire, and all types of small arms fire exceeded any I have experienced in all the other assaults that I have been in, which include the crossings of the Volturno River, the assault on Cassino, the Gothic Line breakthrough, and the operations around Mateur in Africa.”

Across the Rhine

Montgomery’s operatic assault across the Rhine on 23 March was to have been the first Allied crossing, but it was almost the last. Not only had First Army jumped the river at Remagen, Patton sneaked the 5th Infantry Division across the night of 22 March, then quickly carved out two more bridgeheads on the east bank at Boppard and St. Goar on 24 and 25 March. Seventh Army crossed at Worms on 27 March. It was time for the Reich to experience American blitzkrieg.

On 25 March, Bradley told First Army to break out of the Remagen bridgehead. Seventh Corps struck eastward before turning north to isolate the Ruhr. The history of the 3d Armored Division recorded, “At 0400 hours on 25 March the combat commands were rumbling out of bivouac. They went out along the dawn-dim roads in multiple columns of spearheads, 32d and 33d Armored regiment tanks leading, squat and black in the gloom, with blue flame spitting from their exhausts. Tank destroyers of the 703d TD Battalion followed, clacking rapidly over the cobbles, their long 90mm guns perfectly balanced in heavy steel turrets. Armored infantrymen of the 36th, the ‘Blitz Doughs,’ rode in personnel halftracks.”

Mobile warfare was back. The semi-official history of the 628th Tank Destroyer Battalion—which was operating again with the 5th Armored Division—observed, “After being penned for so many months by terrain and prepared defensive positions. . . the only limit on the armored forces was one of resupply of rations and gas. Reminiscent of the hard driving, fast moving armored slashes following the breakthrough at Avranches, France, last August, once again the 5th Armored Division and the tank destroyers were on the loose, deep in enemy territory.” Resistance was so fragmented that the battalion would lose only one TD east of the Rhine River.

Ninety Allied divisions—twenty-five of them armored—began slicing through the Reich’s heartland.

German tank strength in the West was dwindling toward the vanishing point. When news of Patton’s crossing at Oppenheim had reached Hitler, he had called for immediate countermeasures, but German commanders had nothing with which to respond. The only “reserve” was an assortment of five panzers under repair at a tank depot one hundred miles away. The bottom of the barrel had been scraped. As of 31 March, the entire force of panzers and assault guns in Third Army’s sector was estimated at only forty-five vehicles. German Army Group B in the Ruhr had only sixty-five tanks left.

Still, panzers appeared now and again. On 30 March, 3d Armored Division relayed orders to the 703d Tank Destroyer Battalion to support the attack by the division on the road junction at Paderborn, the Fort Knox of the panzer arm. German instructors, officer cadets, and trainees drove their remaining tanks—including some sixty Tigers and Panthers from an SS replacement battalion—out to contest the American advance, and battle flared across the training grounds for two days.

Task Force Welborn formed one of the division’s two prongs and was advancing near Etteln at dusk. The column had identified four Royal Tigers ahead, but they had been struck by fighter-bombers, and Col John Welborn had been assured that the panzers had been knocked out. The column advanced, and the very functional Tigers opened fire with their deadly 88s. Seven Shermans were soon burning. The TDs of 2d Platoon, Company B, returned fire and knocked out two Royal Tigers—a job that required thirty-five rounds of AP and five of HE. One 703d recon jeep was destroyed by return fire. During this action, division CG MajGen Maurice Rose was killed when he was cut off by four Royal Tigers. A panzer commander, misinterpreting the general’s action, shot him when he reached to drop his holster.

Belton Cooper, in his history of the 3d Armored Division, reports that Royal Tigers destroyed an entire company of Shermans from an unidentified task force and that one M36 was lost during the debacle. The incident is not mentioned in the division’s own history. Several sources concur that one M36 was destroyed that day, but the exact circumstances remain unclear.

Chinese ZTQ-15 Light Tank

The process of re-equipping the PLA Army continues, with a focus on the objectives of completing basic mechanisation and improving informatisation by 2020. Legacy equipment, such as the ZTZ-59 tank and PL-59 howitzer, is now being cycled out of frontline units, although it is unlikely that all of it will be replaced by the 2020 target date. Additional heavy combined-arms brigades in the Central and Northern theatre commands are now finally receiving the long-awaited ZTZ-99A main battle tank. However, the Eastern and Southern theatre commands will likely continue to operate lighter tank designs – primarily the ZTZ-96A and ZTQ-15 – because of the terrain in those areas. The Central Theatre Command’s 161st Air Assault Brigade has begun taking delivery of the Z-20 medium transport helicopter – an indigenous version of the US Black Hawk design.

China’s collection of over 6,000 tanks, while numerically impressive, is inflated by increasingly outdated iterations of 1950’s Soviet T-series tanks like the T-54.

2020 Inventory, Main Battle Tanks: 5,850: 300 ZTZ-59; 650 ZTZ-59-II; 600 ZTZ-59D; 200 ZTZ-79; 300 ZTZ-88A/B; 1,000 ZTZ-96; 1,500 ZTZ-96A; 600 ZTZ-99; 500 ZTZ-99A; 200 ZTQ-15 Light Tank: 350: 250 ZTD-05; 100 ZTS-63A

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has taken active measures over the past several decades to renew their aging lineup, culminating with the Type 99 that can give competing U.S. and Russian flagship tanks a run for their money.

But as the Type 99 evolved in the direction of greater firepower and expanded armaments suite with the recent Type 99A, the need became apparent for a lighter, mobile modern tank that can effectively operate in China’s plateaus, forests, and water-heavy regions.

Enter the Type 15. Sporadic sightings of the light tank were previously reported by Chinese citizens, but its existence is now formally confirmed by the Chinese Defense Ministry.

“We’re following the overall plan and focusing on key equipment – we have made major achievements in our equipment build-up. As for the Type 15 light tank, according to my information, it has been handed over to our troops,” The South China Morning Post (SCMP) quoted defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian as saying.

The Type 15 has a 1,000 horsepower engine, about twice that of the Type 62 tank it is replacing. It boasts a 105 mm gun capable of firing armor-piercing shells and guided missiles, as opposed to the 85 mm gun of its Type 62 predecessor.

Type 15 tank uses new autoloader and 105mm APFSDS. In a recent plateau exercise of China’s Tibet Military Region, pictures of Type 15 light tank tail cabin automatic loader loading armor-piercing projectiles were unveiled. This ammunition is China’s new generation of 105mm hull armor-piercing projectile. Its performance is very powerful, and it can pose a threat to all Indian tanks at conventional combat distances.

Due to the use of full-load ammunition, Type 15 light tank did not follow the turntable type loader on other Chinese battle tanks but instead used the tail cabin-type automatic loader to directly supply the bomb from the tail of the gun. This is the first time in the history of the development of tanks in China – all tanks previously developed, including the most advanced Type 99A2 main battle tanks, use a turntable automatic loader.

It can be clearly seen from the published pictures that the body of the new-generation 105 mm armor-piercing projectile used by Type 15 light tank is very long, indicating that the core of the projectile cannot be short. Everyone knows that the APFSDS uses a core to penetrate the armor, so the better the core material, the longer the length, and the stronger the armor-piercing ability.

The new generation of 105mm APFSDS that appeared this time should use tungsten alloy cores, which can pose a sufficient threat to all second-generation tanks and some third-generation tanks at regular combat distances. Even in the face of T-90S, it remains a considerable deterrent and can penetrate the front of its body. Although the T-90S turret is equipped with contact 5 explosion reaction armor, which has a certain degree of weakening of the shelling armor-piercing shell; however, since the new-generation 105 mm APFSDS has enough armor-piercing margin, the probability of the frontal breakdown of the T-90S turret is not small.

In general, Type 15 light tank not only has good plateau adaptability and powerful maneuverability, but also is equipped with a new generation of domestically produced 105 mm APFSDS with good armor-piercing ability, and is supplemented by a fast reloading tail cabin-type automatic loader, which has a comprehensive combat capability in the plateau area comparable to that of a heavy main battle tank, making it very suitable for rapid interpenetrating operations in the plateau area.

For Type 15 light tank, whether the previously equipped tail fin-stabilized armor-piercing projectile (APFSDS), or the new generation of 105mm APFSDS that appeared this time, it uses a full-body bomb, that is, the core is directly inserted in the cartridge Inside, it can maximize the length of the core and enhance the armor-piercing ability, according to Ordnance Technology.

Military expert Song Zhongping put the difference bluntly to the SCMP: “The Type 62 tank is lagging behind. The Type 15 tank has much better protection capability and manoeuvrability.”

The Type 15 is less powerful but also significantly lighter than the Type 99, at 35 tons versus the 58 tons of its larger cousin. Its lighter frame is accompanied by a hydro-pneumatic suspension system. Also found in Japan’s Type 10 tank, it dynamically adjusts ground clearance to maximize maneuverability and combat efficacy on uneven terrain.

Having established the Type 15’s design purpose and catalog of improvements, the pressing question becomes where and when the PLA plans to deploy it. The Type 15 was already making headlines in 2017, during the China-India border standoff in the Tibet region. A major political impetus for the Type 15 was the need for a tank that can operate in the high-altitude Tibetan hills, in preparation for a prospective resumption of Sino-Indian hostilities.

Being that the Type 15 is specifically adapted for navigating sea-based obstacles, we can also expect to see it in maritime theatres. In point of fact, China has been actively bolstering its military presence around the disputed zones off its southern coast. The Type 15 is a prime contender to modernize and consolidate the PLA Navy’s armour division by replacing the aging Type 59 and Type 63 tanks still in service.

An almost-identical iteration of the Type 15, the VT-5, will be making it to export markets. It will face stiff competition from Japan’s aforementioned Type 10, especially after the lifting of Tokyo’s self-imposed arms export ban. The Type 10 weighs a tad more at 40 tons, but boasts a slightly greater horsepower of 1,200. The Type 10 also offers an indigenously-produced gun compatible both with standard 120 mm NATO ammunition as well as proprietary armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds.

Still, the two are close enough in performance that their appeal will be heavily shaped by prices and external diplomatic forces. While China has a track record of leveraging its remarkable economies of scale to edge out its arms competitors, it remains to be seen if the Type 15’s export variant will fall into this trend.

Type 15 VT5 ZTQ-15 lightweight main battle tank

ZTQ-15