Antitank Warfare in the Spanish Civil War

German Artillerymen of the Condor Legion prepare to fire a Flak 18 88mm cannon onto Republican lines at the Battle of Amposta during the Spanish Civil War; Catalonia, Autumn 1938.

Italian 47mm M-35 antitank guns were supplied for the use of the Italian Volunteer Corps only.

Spanish troops with a proto-Molotov.

“Out-gunned, out-maneuvered, and hard-pressed, the Spanish had no effective answer to the tank, in desperation they resorted to hand-to-hand fighting”

JOHN WEEKS, MEN AGAINST TANKS: A HISTORY OF ANTI-TANK WARFARE, 1975

The Spanish Civil War was the war which produced the “Molotov cocktail,” but Spain also witnessed the first widespread use of antitank weapons, especially guns and most notably the German Rheinmetall 37mm Pak 35/36 and its Russian copy, the Model 1932 45mm antitank gun. These weapons, when skillfully used, proved very effective against tanks. The light tanks were extremely vulnerable to them, and learning from this lesson, production of medium and heavy tanks began in several major European armies. Combat in Spain proved that better armor was needed, even if the main tank contributors—Germany, Italy, and the USSR—did not initially show much haste when it came to making new and more effective tanks.

Since the early days of armored warfare, improved artillery was seen as the quickest solution for antitank defense. In Germany, the Rheinmetall corporation commenced the design of a 37mm antitank gun in 1924, and the first guns were produced in 1928 as the 37mm PanzerabwehrkanoneL/45, later adopted by the Wehrmacht as the Pak 35/36. It made its first appearance during the Spanish Civil War, and the Soviet Army soon upgraded the design to a higher-velocity L/45 Model 1935, while also making a licensed copy of the German gun. However, the Red Army was taught several hard lessons about antitank warfare when many tanks sent to aid the Republican Army were destroyed in combat engagements with German guns.

At the time, the predominant ammunition used against tanks was the armor-piercing kinetic energy shell that penetrated armor by direct pressure, spiking or punching through it. In Spain, the antitank defense of the Nationalists was organized by German Condor Legion officers. The antitank guns were incorporated into a system of obstacles created to stop an armored attack, slowing tanks down, isolating them from the supporting infantry with machine-gun and mortar fire, and forcing them to conduct deliberate head-on assaults with engineer support or to seek a less-defended area to attack. The time thus gained for the defenders meant that Nationalist field artillery could also engage the Soviet tanks.

The only change to German World War I antitank tactics was that an effective antitank weapon was now available to support the defending infantry. However, the Soviet tanks armed with 45mm guns easily destroyed the German light tanks in Spain, establishing an urgent need for antitank guns to be included in mobile tank-led units due to the strong possibility of encountering enemy tanks. To many analysts, the Spanish Civil War reconfirmed the importance of defense over the offensive and of antitank weapons over tanks.

Poorly trained Spanish tank crews among both Nationalist and Republican forces proved undisciplined and prone to attacking heavily defended positions even when equipped with antitank weapons. Tank attacks occurred with little prior reconnaissance and without coordination with supporting infantry and artillery. Too often, tanks made themselves vulnerable to destruction by moving on their own through village streets or remaining on open roads. It was the poor tank tactics that made antitank warfare so successful.

A report presented in Berlin on September 12, 1936, by Lieutenant Colonel Walter Warlimont pointed out that antitank defense was one of the main weaknesses of the Nationalist Army. Consequently, the first German antitank guns came with the first tank shipment the following month, comprising 24 Pak 35/36 37mm guns. An antitank company with 15 guns was formed immediately, with the remaining nine guns kept for training purposes under the supervision of the Drohne group at the German base in Cubas de la Sagra.

A further 28 guns of the same model arrived with the second shipment of tanks in November. With these new guns and four more from the Drohne group, making a total of 32 guns, the Nationalists organized their first three antitank companies. At the end of May 1937, another shipment of 100 37mm Pak 35/36s arrived at Vigo’s harbor for the Nationalist Army, which organized 10 antitank batteries with 10 guns each within the artillery branch, while 50 more guns were delivered in August. On April 14, 1938, the last shipment of antitank guns was received by the Nationalists, with 100 more Pak 35/36s delivered at Cubas de la Sagra, making a total of 352 Pak 35/36 antitank guns supplied to the Spanish Nationalist Army by Germany.

A problem arose when it was established that the antitank gun supplied by the Germans to the Nationalists had a maximum range of 900 meters, whereas the guns in Russian tanks could engage targets at up to 3,000 meters. The Nationalists, under German guidance, were forced to attach at least five antitank guns to each light tank company to provide some effective protection against Soviet tanks. However, the effect was minimal as understanding and coordinating the new tanks and antitank guns proved extremely difficult for the Nationalist forces. Despite much training, and to the dismay of German instructors, Nationalist troops often began shooting wastefully at targets far over 1,000 meters away.

The Condor Legion also made extensive use of the excellent 88/56mm Flak 18 antiaircraft gun in the civil war, where its usefulness as an antitank weapon and general artillery gun exceeded its antiaircraft role. The first four of these guns came to Spain even before the formal organization of the Condor Legion on August 6, 1936, landing with the first shipment of aviation equipment from the Usaramo cargo ship at Seville. They were part of the first heavy air defense artillery battery and arrived with a full complement of men and accessories. The battery was under the command of Luftwaffe First Lieutenant Aldinger, and the guns were to be used in Spain for the first time. The battery was soon combat-ready and was deployed at Seville’s military airfield as protection against Republican raids.

The air defense artillery unit of the Condor Legion was named Flak Abteilung 88 and was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Hermann Lichtenberger, with Lieutenant Colonel Georg Neuffer as second in command and chief of staff. All air defense artillery personnel belonged to the Luftwaffe and not to the Army. Initially, four batteries—16 guns—of Flak 18 88/56mm guns were sent to Spain as air defense artillery for the Condor Legion in 1936, but they were soon used in antitank, antibunker, and even antibattery roles. Further guns were sent later, and more 88mm guns were also supplied to Spanish units. At the end of the war, the Spanish Army took over five batteries— 20 guns—from the total of 71 Flak 18 guns sent for the Condor Legion.

Soviet tank superiority was clearly shown in combat around Madrid, where, by the end of November 1936, the Nationalists lost a total of 28 Panzer Is plus several Italian L3s, resulting in a stalemate. Here, the Spanish People’s Army made the major mistake of not going on the offensive but remaining in a defensive posture. It was here around Madrid where the Nationalist forces employed for the first time in an antitank role, and with great success, their Flak 18 88mm guns. Such was their effectiveness that the Germans later turned the “88,” with some modifications made for ground-to-ground combat, into one of the most dreaded weapons of World War II. The “88” gun literally obliterated T-26 tanks in Spain at the first hit. Luckily for the Republicans, the 88mm guns were not supplied to the Nationalists in large numbers.

Not much is known about the first combat actions of Flak units in Spain, but unconfirmed reports point at 88mm guns entering combat in early 1937 during the fighting around Malaga, when a battery of Flak 18s was assigned to support an infantry column. Bad weather had grounded the main bomber force, but the assault succeeded, mainly because of the concentrated and accurate fire of the supporting 88mm guns.

The Flak 18 guns were deployed mainly to protect airfields and bases used by the Condor Legion. However, the nature of war in Spain, with its wildly fluctuating front lines and the presence of Russian tanks, forced the Germans to employ the Flak 18 guns in a direct-fire role against ground targets. Furthermore, the initial scarcity of Nationalist Spanish artillery and the general low proficiency of its crews soon forced the use of the Flak 18 gun as a direct-fire infantry support weapon. The Flak 88 group fought at the battle of Jarama, in February 1937. The following month, the unit moved northwards and took part in all the battles along the Northern front, where their tasks were divided between antiaircraft duties and field artillery employment. Flak 18 guns took part in the assault against Bilbao’s line of fortifications, the so-called “Iron Belt” (Cinturon de Hierro), and following the battle of Brunete, went north again to contribute to the Santander and Asturias campaign.

Flak 18 batteries were also employed by the Nationalist Army in the Aragon offensive and at the battle of Ebro in 1938, being used for direct fire against pillboxes and indirect fire in the advance towards Barcelona during the final campaign in Catalonia. During the battle of Ebro, Flak 88 batteries took up positions in the neighborhood of the main bridgehead as direct support to the ground forces.

By the end of the war, the 88mm guns had performed far more missions as an antitank and direct-fire field artillery gun than as an antiaircraft gun. In total, German 88mm guns were involved in 377 combat engagements, and only 31 were against enemy aircraft. On the other hand, the use of the 88mm guns in close vicinity to the enemy made them vulnerable to infantry fire. Casualties among the Legion’s 88mm gun batteries in the Spanish Civil War were second only to those of bomber pilots and crews. According to two different sources, which provided information to U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Waite, the Germans alone manned their antiaircraft weapons. No one was allowed within a few hundred yards of them, especially the Spanish soldiers. The French War Department verified that “great secrecy surrounded the operation of these weapons.”

In May 1939, the Flak 88 unit returned to Germany, leaving practically all its equipment in Spain for the Nationalist Army. After the civil war, in 1943, more improved Flak models were sent to Spain—almost 90 88/56mm Flak 36s—and in the same year they were manufactured under license by the Spanish artillery factory at Trubia, near Oviedo, under the name FT 44. These remained in active service with the Spanish Army until the early 1980s.

Italy also sent various antitank guns to Nationalist Spain; however, these were only used by the Italian Volunteer Corps. They were mainly the Breda 47mm Model 35 antitank gun, but there were also some 37mm Models 36 guns, a copy of the German Pak 35/36 made in Italy under license from Rheinmetall.

The Republicans used a similar antitank gun to the German Pak 35/36, the Russian Model 19323 45mm gun. The first shipment of these guns took place on April 29, 1937, when the Republicans received just 15 guns. However, they later received 100 additional guns in May that year, and another 20 in December. In January 1939, the Republicans received through France the last three Soviet guns. The total number of Model 1932 guns delivered to the Republican Army was 138; however, throughout the war, the Republicans received a total of 494 guns of various calibers capable of antitank use. The Soviet Model 1932 45mm gun was a copy of the German Pak 35/36 after the Soviet Union purchased the rights for production from Rheinmetall in 1930 and began a small-scale procurement for the Soviet Army. However, the Soviet General Staff wanted a more “universal” gun able to fire both antitank and high explosive rounds, so the gun was scaled up to 45mm, entering production in 1932, created by Soviet artillery designer Loginov. Towards the end of 1937, the Model 1932 was pushed out by the Model 1937 45mm antitank gun. The new gun had better ballistics, a higher rate of fire, and was more reliable. The new wheels were also made of metal rather than wood (the Model 1932 also received metal wheels in 1937). However, due to insufficient armor penetration against the newest German tanks, it was subsequently replaced by the long-barreled Model 1942.

The Italian M35 47mm gun was a dual-purpose gun able to fire a high explosive round as well as an antitank projectile. It was originally an Austrian artillery piece produced under license in Italy. It was used both as an infantry assault gun and antitank gun, proving to be very successful, especially when equipped with HEAT (High Explosive Antitank) rounds. Due to its shape, the 47mm gun was commonly called the “elefantino” (little elephant) by Italian troops.

The British Major General Fuller wrote an interesting letter published in the London Times following a visit to Spain:

I have referred to the antitank gun several times. On the Nationalist side, the German 22mm gun, mounted on a small wheeled vehicle, has proved to be very useful. It is the gun that I saw in use with the German Army. Other German models are also reported to be in Spain, a 37mm and an Italian 47mm. From all the information that can be gathered, the German antitank gun is a very efficient weapon.

In May 1937, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Lee quoted an article by Liddell Hart, who said that “the defense against tanks has been developed and perfected more quickly and more effectively than the tank itself.” The antitank weapons used in Spain were clearly a threat to the tankers. As Colonel Fuqua, the U.S. Army attaché in Madrid, concluded, an infantryman with an antitank gun had no need to fear tanks.

The British antitank battery was formed within the International Brigades in May 1937 from 40 volunteers and was issued with three Soviet Model 1932 45mm guns, capable of firing both armor-piercing and high explosive shells that, at the time, represented state-of-the-art of military technology. Well led, trained by Russian instructors, and comprising a high proportion of students and intellectuals, they represented somewhat of an elite unit, and quickly became a highly efficient force in the 15th International Brigade.

After cutting its teeth at Brunete in July 1937, the battery was heavily involved in the battles at Belchite in August, where, according to Bill Alexander, the battery’s political commissar, the antitank guns fired 2,700 shells in just two days. During October 1937, the 15th International Brigade took part in the disastrous operation at Fuentes de Ebro, where the new BT-5 tanks were mauled. Initially, the antitank battery was held back from the main battle until the panicked brigade staff ordered it to advance on the Nationalist lines. None of the guns were able to fire and the battery’s second in command, Jeff Mildwater, was injured before the battery was eventually wisely withdrawn.

During the Aragon front retreat in the spring of 1938, the antitank battery was virtually surrounded and forced to fall back swiftly from Belchite, to avoid being cut off. The battery had to destroy one of its guns that could not be moved, while low-flying Nationalist aircraft destroyed another. With the battery no longer in existence, the men were incorporated as riflemen into the British battalion of the International Brigades.

The remark that antitank weapons had surpassed tank development was perhaps the most important conclusion reached about the use of tanks and antitank weapons in Spain. And if the trend was toward heavier tanks trying to overcome the threat of antitank weapons, there was also a trend for more powerful antitank guns.

In an article sent by American Lieutenant Colonel Lee to the Military Intelligence Division in the spring of 1937, Liddell Hart had argued that light antitank weapons had the advantage of being easily shifted from location to location and quickly brought up to the front lines. Other sources observed that antitank defense needed to be coordinated and that antitank guns were only part of the defensive plan. The U.S. Army attaché in Paris, Lieutenant Colonel Waite, commented that antitank weapons worked most effectively when they were used in combination with obstacles.

All tanks employed in Spain often faced antitank weapons that could immobilize or destroy them at any moment. The tank, that was supposed to return maneuver and offense to the battlefield, was countered with modern antitank weapons that gave the advantage back to the defense. To overcome the threat of antitank weapons, military attachés, observers, and their sources stressed the need for tanks to be employed en masse, not as separate weapons or in small groups. They also recommended that tanks be combined with infantry, which could hold the ground gained, and with artillery and aviation, that could protect the tanks by destroying or suppressing enemy antitank fire.

Although little technical data about antitank and antiaircraft weapons was gathered, there was general agreement on antitank weapons being effective in meeting their enemies in Spain. However, with the trend toward heavier tanks, there was an implied corresponding trend toward more powerful antitank weapons, as has been mentioned. With clouds of war gathering all over Europe, some countries looked to Spain to see what, if anything, they could learn. Unfortunately, most of the lessons were misleading, especially those relating to tanks being defeated. The issue seems to have been that whereas the designers of tanks saw clearly that they had to improve armor and gunnery, those whose specialty was antitank weaponry were quite happy with what they had achieved and took few active steps to improve anything. Such thinking was to work to the detriment of the German Wehrmacht when World War II began, as the Pak 36 was no longer as effective.

Regarding the war in Spain, when expectations about tank performance was not met, it was concluded that circumstances were so specific to the Spanish situation and its kind of war that battles fought there were unlikely to provide useful lessons for most European armies. Others, who had their predictions fulfilled, pointed to specific incidents as evidence that the testing ground of war had proven them right. Nowhere was this more apparent than regarding the efficacy of antitank weaponry. Officers who did not like the tank argued that combat in Spain clearly demonstrated the superiority of antitank guns over tanks. Tanks in Spain had proven themselves as less than the decisive force that some battles of World War I had promised, while antitank weapons now had an advantage in development over tanks.

Yet while the war on the ground was similar in its trenches and infantry battles to World War I, it was also a signal of changes to come in a future European war. Each country was confident that it had in service an adequate antitank defense. Yet, by 1939–40, before a year had passed, each was to find how over-optimistic these predictions had been, how vulnerable troops were, and how poorly the designers had prepared for the onset of the German blitzkrieg.

Panzers into Warsaw

On September 8, 1939, one week into the Nazi invasion of Poland, German armoured troops reached the gates of Warsaw. The Polish government and High Command had left the city but a determined garrison awaited the enemy invader and the Poles were able to stave off two consecutive German attempts to take the capital by armoured attack. Thus began a siege that would last for three weeks and subject the Warsaw Army of over 100,000 and the civilian population of over one million to a ruthless campaign of aerial bombardment and heavy artillery shelling, causing thousands of casualties and widespread destruction. It was a hopeless battle that could only end in defeat and on September 27 the Polish garrison capitulated. The photos of the first penetration by tanks and infantry of the 4. Panzer-Division taken on September 9 became standard repertoire of German propaganda publications on the Blitzkrieg in Poland.

Map of initial ground attacks on Warsaw. Poles-blue, Germans-red.

Pz II Ausf C of 4th Panzer Division, destroyed by Polish troops at Grójecka St. Warsaw 1939.

The advance of 4th Panzer Division was no less relentless, no less exhilarating that Friday. The panzers passed through burning villages and destroyed bridges, leaving Polish stragglers behind in the copses and forests. And everywhere, the remnants of a defeated opponent. ‘Panic must have broken out among the enemy,’ Willi Reibig concluded. ‘Each man looked to save himself in a wild flight. Were they so filled with fear in the face of our panzers? All the better then if they’re already shaken morally, we’ll have easier battles. Bits of equipment, field kitchens, baggage wagons, cases of ammunition, guns, rifles and ammunition lined our route of advance in large quantities. Between them, bomb craters on the left and right of the road.’ Another road sign. Warszawa 70 kilometres. ‘We’ll soon achieve that,’ Reibig was convinced. Tenth Army commander von Reichenau now decided it was time ‘to pluck the enemy capital like a ripe fruit’ before the enemy could respond. The men of 4th Panzer Division would soon learn that Warsaw’s fruit left a bitter taste.

In his headquarters in the heart of the Polish capital, the commander of the city’s defensive zone, General Walerian Czuma ordered Warsaw be turned into a fortress. Here at the walls of the great city the ‘ravaging of Polish soil comes to an end’. In a rousing order of the day, he continued: ‘We have taken up a position, from which there can be no more steps back. The enemy can receive just one answer now: “Enough! Not one step further!”’

Warsaw’s inhabitants and troops built makeshift barriers from overturned trams, removal vans and furniture, then took up position behind them, or in cellars, or rooftops, or at the windows of tenement blocks. And then they waited for the enemy to come.

Around 5pm, the first German tanks appeared, the armour of 35th Panzer Regiment. The panzers rolled through the ‘ugly’ suburbs of Ochota – four miles from the city centre – then Rakowiec, three miles from the heart of Warsaw. ‘Everyone went into the heart of Warsaw proudly and confident of victory,’ Reinhardt recalled. Everyone went in expecting Warsaw to be an ‘open’ city – undefended. But then the defenders opened fire. Standing with a pair of binoculars at an anti-tank gun position, Colonel Marian Porwit watched as ‘an unequal duel of fire raged – so heavily in our favour that the German panzers no longer moved.’ Even so the barricades which had been hastily erected were no match for the armour’s firepower, Porwit observed. ‘They shot up in flames like matches.’ But the defenders grew in stature. ‘The first burning panzer and destroyed vehicles calm us down, and the soldiers, seeing the excellent results of their weapons and their leaders, gain trust and believe that they do not have black devils in front of them,’ one Polish officer recorded. Heinrich Eberbach, 35th Panzer Regiment’s commanding officer, ordered his armour off the main road and through allotments to avoid the barriers ‘but even there our panzers are shot at from four-storey houses, from skylights, windows and cellars, and from behind more barricades’. As the sun went down over Warsaw, Eberbach reluctantly called off his attack and returned to the road bridge where his attack had begun barely two hours earlier.

After dark, state radio broadcast Walerian Czuma’s order of the day. Lieutenant Colonel Waclaw Lipinski, head of the Polish General Staff’s information section, added his own postscript. ‘Warsaw will be defended to the last breath and – if it falls – the enemy will have to step over the corpse of the very last defender,’ he declared. Now the hour had come for Varsovians to demonstrate their love for their motherland. ‘Looking around, the Polish soldier should see only calm faces,’ the officer continued. ‘He should be accompanied by the blessings and smiles of women and when he goes into battle, a cheerful song should sound.’

Panzer grenadier Bruno Fichte spent the night quartered between a sanatorium and houses on the edge of Warsaw. Polish artillery shells rained down on the homes as smoke rose from their chimneys. ‘I went into the house,’ Fichte recalled. ‘It was full of women and children. I asked them to please go down into the cellar and not make fires any more.’ The women begged for a warm drink for their children; Fichte fetched warm milk and coffee. His actions were not entirely magnanimous; he wanted to spare the panzers the constant shelling. ‘Nevertheless, they treated me like their saviour and kissed my hands.’ Fichte and his comrades spent the night re-fuelling, stocking up on ammunition, eating, sleeping, all untroubled by the Poles. In Warsaw ‘hundreds of barricades shot up like fungi after a rainstorm’ as the garrison prepared for the enemy to renew his thrust into the capital. But to what end? schoolteacher Chaim Kaplan asked himself. ‘The streets are littered with trenches and barricades. Machine-guns have been placed on the roofs of houses and a barricade has been set up in the entrance to my apartment block, just beneath my balcony,’ he recorded in his diary. ‘If there’s fighting in the streets then there won’t be one stone standing on top of the other in the walls in which I live.’

With the first rays of light on Saturday morning, a ten-minute artillery barrage was unleashed upon the main route of advance into the city centre. And then, at 7am, the regiments of 4th Panzer Division moved off in two groups through the outskirts of Warsaw, closely followed by infantry. Bruno Fichte peered up at the tall tenement blocks looming over the narrow Warsaw streets with a sense of foreboding. But it was only when the advance was well under way that the Poles showed themselves. ‘Terrible fire descended upon us. They fired from the roofs, threw burning oil lamps, even burning beds down on to the panzers. Within a short time everything was in flames.’

In Wolska Street in the suburb of Wola, little more than one mile from the centre of the Polish capital, Colonel Marian Porwit watched as a column of panzers edged nervously along. There was a blast from a trumpet and a barrage was unleashed upon the advancing enemy. ‘German soldiers jumped out of their panzers on fire, but could find no cover in the narrow street,’ Porwit wrote. ‘Fuel tanks were set on fire. The panzers and German vehicles were on fire.’ Vehicles following behind the first panzers tried to avoid the melee, but instead ran up the pavements and blocked the road.

The city, 35th Panzer Regiment’s commander Heinrich Eberbach observed, was defending itself ‘with courage born of desperation’. A first then a second barricade was passed, but at terrible cost to man and machine. ‘The infantry must fight house by house and clear them out,’ wrote Eberbach. ‘Bursts of machine-gun fire, hand grenades from above and out of cellars, blocks of stone hurled down from the roofs, make things difficult for them.’ Inside his panzer, Willi Reibig heard machine-gun fire clatter against the armour. ‘Gun and machine-gun fire sprays out of the houses,’ Reibig recorded in his diary. ‘An infantry gun is brought to the front by a platoon, and its shells fire directly into the houses. We slowly gain ground. But around me it has already become damned hot.’ Over the headphones, there was a cry: ‘Eagle in front.’ A knocked-out panzer partially blocked the road, but not to prevent Reibig squeezing past. By now, Reibig has passed through four barricades. ‘Suddenly, a devastating blow,’ he recalled. ‘I throw up the hatch, an artillery hit on one of the panzers following us. Polish artillery lays down shot after shot on the road and in front of the barricade.’

It was, one Feldwebel – a platoon commander in 36th Panzer Regiment – observed, as if ‘all hell broke loose. In front of us one shell landed one after another rapidly.’ The Feldwebel scanned the streets through his panzer’s optics: two Panzer IIs to the rear were ablaze; a Panzer III to the side was struck by an anti-tank shell. A smoke canister exploded, shrouding the street in a grey-black mist, under which the German armour fell back; the attack had been called off. ‘We continued through dingy backyards,’ the Feldwebel continued. ‘Our panzer thundered past the corners of houses and grazed walls. Bricks clattered and scraped against our iron hull. All of a sudden, I saw a civilian who jumped out of a corner made a brief movement with his arm. A pineapple hand grenade flew towards us, without causing any damage. He didn’t get around to throwing a second one.’

One panzer got as far as Warsaw’s central station, then was forced to fall back. Heinrich Eberbach watched as panzer after panzer was shot-up, until his vehicle too fell victim to the furious Polish fire. By mid-morning, 4th Panzer’s assault on the capital had ground to a halt. Its commander, Georg-Hans Reinhardt, decided the battle was ‘hopeless’ and ‘with a heavy heart’ broke off the attack mid-morning and pulled his panzers back to the edge of the city. His division stuttered out of Warsaw under a hail of Polish artillery shells; damaged and abandoned panzers lined the main road. Exhausted crews assembled, minus their armour, at the jump-off point where the attack had begun with such high hopes five hours earlier.

A shell-shocked Heinrich Eberbach returned on foot. ‘At first the number of panzers appearing is terrifyingly low,’ he recorded. His regiment had moved off with 120 vehicles at dawn; by mid-afternoon, just fifty-seven were still combat-worthy. The panzers of brigade and regimental commanders had been knocked out, two company commanders had been killed. And yet Eberbach’s men were buoyant. ‘The combat spirit of the troops was unshaken even though the attack on the city was repulsed,’ the panzer commander reported. ‘Everyone knew that time worked for us. Their resistance cannot last long after the other divisions arrive.’

Intelligence reports suggested 4th Panzer Division had run into elements of as many as five divisions. Its commander reported in person to his immediate superior XIV Corps’ commander Gustav von Wietersheim in the small town of Nadarzyn, fifteen miles southwest of Warsaw’s centre. The picture Reinhardt painted was black: a brigade and regimental commander had come back on foot, knocked-out panzers, too few infantry, too little artillery support. The attack on Warsaw could not be carried with the means at his disposal, he told Wietersheim. And at any rate, what was the use of seizing a city ‘of little value militarily’, Reinhardt argued.

In the centre of Warsaw, Colonel Marian Porwit walked past still-smouldering panzers. The city was deserted, save for its defenders and German dead. The inhabitants were still in hiding, several hundred of them in the cellars of the Akademicki Cathedral. ‘Someone told me that fear and unease ruled there because the sound of battle had reached the shelter and asked me to say a few reassuring words,’ Porwit recalled. With the sun going down and with no sign of a renewed German assault, the officer found time to visit the cathedral. ‘A large crowd gathered around me, and when I told them of the defence against the German attack, the destroyed panzers and the enemy’s bloody losses, there was delight.’ Varsovians would enjoy a few days’ respite from the foe. For to the west of the city that very day Polish troops had unleashed an offensive. Perhaps they might save the capital. And the nation.

Hornisse/Nashorn

8.8cm PaK43/1 (L/71) auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen III/IV (Sf). Nashorn (Rhinoceros) — an 88-mm antitank gun mounted on the Panzerjäger III/IV, and formerly known as the Hornisse (Hornet). (The Panzerjäger III/IV is a highly modified chassis made from parts of the Pz.Kpfw. III and IV.)

Among the largest Panzerjägers produced was the Nashorn (rhinoceros). It was the sister vehicle to the Hummel, however rather than the 15 cm howitzer, it was armed with the potent 8.8 cm PaK 43 antitank gun. Like the Hummel, the Nashorn was a purpose-built chassis using Panzer III and IV components. The Nashorn was capable of engaging targets at extreme ranges, much to the detriment of its opponents. The combination of the 8.8 cm PaK 43 gun and quality Zeiss Sfl.ZF.la, Rblf36 3 x 8° monocular periscopic sight was a lethal one. Each Nashorn carried forty rounds of ammunition.

The later Nashorn had spare roadwheel racks located on the rear of the vehicle, and the barrel-style muffler of the early vehicles was eliminated. These entrained vehicles all have their foul weather tarps installed—an essential piece of equipment in an open-topped vehicle. The bands of camouflage on the interior of the rear doors are of interest. The canvas cover provided for the fighting compartment was primarily used in rear areas, or when in transit. It functioned chiefly to protect the weapon and ammunition. The large internal travel lock and its engagement wheel can be seen clearly here.

With its tall silhouette and relatively thin armor, the Nashorn was ill-suited for duels with opposing tanks and armored vehicles. However, its powerful cannon meant that the Nashorn was equipped to knock out the enemy vehicles before they closed the range enough for the German vehicle to be taken under fire.

Originally developed as a temporary measure, the Nashorn (rhinoceros), originally known as the Hornisse, or hornet, ultimately served, with considerable effect, until the end of the war.

When the German army had encountered the British Matilda, French Char B1 and then the Russian T-34 and KV-1 tanks, they found that their antitank weapons had little effect. During the 1936–1939 Spanish Civil War it was learned that the high-velocity 8.8 cm FlaK gun made an excellent antitank weapon, and the German army became increasingly reliant on the 88 to counter improving Allied tanks.

Those weapons, however, were towed, and by 1942 there was a high-level demand for a self-propelled version, mounting an improved, more powerful 88.

Developed by Krupp, that weapon, the 8.8 cm PaK 43/1 (the PaK designated anti-tank cannon—Panzerabwehrkanone, vs. Flak, or Flugzeugabwehrkanone—aircraft-defense cannon) had a 71-caliber (heavy gun calibers are determined by dividing the length of the barrel by the bore) barrel and an 822 mm long cartridge case.

A self-propelled chassis, which had the same hull width as a Panzer III, was created by using the Panzer III final drive, steering unit, sprockets, and transmission, in order to match the desired hull width. Most of the rest of the chassis components were taken from the Panzer IV, including the engine, radiator, track, and suspension. However, the engine was positioned mid-hull, leaving space for a large open fighting compartment at the rear of the vehicle.

A nearly identical chassis was to be used for a 15 cm-armed self-propelled howitzer, and the dual use of the chassis was especially pleasing to Hitler.

Production of the Hornisse began in February 1943 and continued until March 1945. This was undertaken by Altmärkische Kettenwerke GmbH (Alkett) in Berlin, who produced 370 of the vehicles, and at the Deutsche-Eisenwerke AG facility in Teplitz-Schönau, who completed 124 of the machines. Alkett stopped building the Nashorn in May 1944.

In November 1943, Hitler suggested renaming the Hornisse the Nashorn, an action which was taken in July of the following year. As mentioned, the Nashorn and the Hummel share a chassis and superstructure design. However, all Nashorn hulls were produced in 1943, thus do not exhibit some of the late production changes seen in the Hummel, such as a reduction in the number of return rollers and the enlarged driver’s compartment.

History: The Hornisse (hornet) was designed in 1942, to provide an adequate self-propelled mount for the 8.8cm PaK43. In October 1942, it was decided to have 100 Hornisse built by 12 May 1943, in time for the summer offensive. The initial order was for a series of 500, of which 494 were completed.

Specific features: The 8.8cm PaK43/1 was mounted on the same Pz Kpfw III/IV chassis as the Hummel. The Pz Kpfw III/IV chassis used a lengthened Pz Kpfw IV hull as the basic design, but with the motor moved forward to a central position. It retained the basic suspension of the Pz Kpfw IV except for the spacing between components. The drive sprocket was of the type designed for the Pz Kpfw III. The open-topped fighting compartment was enclosed on all four sides by slanted armour plates bolted to the hull. The glacis plate was extended, and a small compartment for the driver was fitted to it on the left-hand side. The Hummel produced from early 1944, had a crew compartment for the driver and radio operator, extending across the full width of the hull. The 15cm sFH18/1 was mounted in the middle over the engine, and this gave the vehicle a very high silhouette. The Munitions Fahrzeuge varied from the Hummel by having a plate bolted over the front of the superstructure to close the gap normally filled by the gun and its shield, and its internal stowage was different.

Combat service: Hornissen were issued to schwere Panzerjager detachments which were independent units attached to a Korps or Armee, to provide a mobile, highly effective tank-killing force. Their first service was with the 655th schwere Panzerjagerabteilung on the Eastern Front in the summer of 1943. Five other heavy tank-hunter detachments were formed, and saw action in Italy and in the West, as well as in the East.

Nashorn Unit Allocations

The months given reflect the months in which the Nashorns were shipped from an ordnance depot. This must not necessarily mean the unit did receive them during the same month. The 5 Nashorns for 560 in 09/43 for instance were actually shipped on Sep 30. Although the allocation files do not give a date in this case, I’m pretty sure they arrived only a few days later, i.e. in October. This however is a rare case.

until 04/1943 (exact date unknown to me)

30 = s.Pz.Jag Abt 560

35 = s.Pz.Jag Abt 655

05/1943

10 = s.Pz.Jag Abt 655

15 = s.Pz.Jag Abt 560

2 = Insp.d.Pz.Tr. (Pz.Jg.Ers.Abt. 43)

1 = Insp.d.Pz.Tr. (Pz.Jg.Ers.Abt. 3)

2 = Insp.d.Pz.Tr. (Pz.Tr.Schule Wuensdorf)

3 = s.Pz.Jag Abt 525

06/1943

2 = s.Pz.Jag Abt 525

1 = Heeres-Waffenamt

15= s.Pz.Jag Abt 525

1 = Insp.d.Pz.Tr. (Pz.Jg.Ers.Abt. 43)

07/1943

25= s.Pz.Jag Abt 525

8= s.Pz.Jag Abt 655

16= s.Pz.Jag Abt 93

08/1943

20= s.Pz.Jag Abt 93

9 = Insp.d.Pz.Tr. (unspecified training units, most probably including both Pz.Jg.Ers.Abt. listed above)

09/1943

9= s.Pz.Jag Abt 93

5= s.Pz.Jag Abt 560

10/1943

16= s.Pz.Jag Abt 519

5= s.Pz.Jag Abt 655

5= s.Pz.Jag Abt 560

11/1943

29= s.Pz.Jag Abt 519

5= s.Pz.Jag Abt 655

1 = WaPrüf 8

5= s.Pz.Jag Abt 560

5= s.Pz.Jag Abt 93

12/1943

5= s.Pz.Jag Abt 655

26= s.Pz.Jag Abt 88

01/1944

19= s.Pz.Jag Abt 88

10= s.Pz.Jag Abt 93

02/1944

4= s.Pz.Jag Abt 560

03/1944

10= s.Pz.Jag Abt 655

5= s.Pz.Jag Abt 519

04/1944

5= s.Pz.Jag Abt 519

05/1944

5= s.Pz.Jag Abt 93

5= s.Pz.Jag Abt 525

06/1944

10= s.Pz.Jag Abt 88

10= s.Pz.Jag Abt 93

5= s.Pz.Jag Abt 519

08/1944

10= s.Pz.Jag Abt 93

20= s.Pz.Jag Abt 88

09/1944

10= s.Pz.Jag Abt 88

20= s.Pz.Jag Abt 525

10/1944

10= s.Pz.Jag Abt 525

11/1944

10= s.Pz.Jag Abt 525

10 = 1./s.H.Pz.Jg.Abt. 525 (Western Front under Stab II./Pz.Rgt. 2)

12/1944

12 = 1./s.H.Pz.Jg.Abt. 93 (Western Front under Stab II./Pz.Rgt. 2)

01/1945

4= s.Pz.Jag Kp 669

02/1945

13= s.Pz.Jag Kp 669

03/1945

4= s.Pz.Jag Abt 88

Sources used: BA/MA RH 10/349 and 350 as well as Nuts & Bolts Vol. 14 ‘Nashorn’.

In case anyone wonders why the total is higher than the number of Nashorns build, this is because the allocation files show that between Feb 44 and Feb 45 at least 37 Nashorn were handed over to the Gen.Insp.d.Pz.Tr. for renewed distribution to units.

 Hornisse/Nashorn – 88 mm PaK on composite Panzer III/Panzer IV chassis

Nashorn

Specifications

Length 8.44 m

Width 2.95 m

Height 2.94 m

Weight 24 tons

Fuel capacity 600 liters

Maximum speed 40 km/hr

Range, on-road 260 km

Range, cross-country 130 km

Crew 5

Communications Fu Spr Ger f

Armament

Weapon, main 8.8 cm PaK 43/1 L/71

Traverse manual, +/-15°

Elevation manual, +20/-5°

Primary gunsight Sfl. Z. F. 1a (Selbstfahrlafetten-Zielfernrohr)

Magnification 5×

Field of view 8°

Indirect fire sight Aushilfsrichtmittel 38

Magnification 3×

Field of view 10°

Weapon, secondary

MG 34 or MG 42

Ammo stowage, main

40

Ammo stowage, secondary

600 rounds

Armor, Superstructure sides and gun shield 10 mm

Glacis 15 mm

Hull front 30 mm

Hull side 20 mm

Automotive

Engine make Maybach

Engine model HL 120 TRM

Engine configuration V-12, liquid cooled

Engine displacement 11.9 liters

Engine horsepower 265 @ 2600 rpm

Henschel Hs 129 Tank Buster!

Henschel was one of four companies (the others being Focke-Wulf, Gotha and Hamburger Flugzeugbau) to which, in April 1937, the Technische Amt of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) issued a specification for a twin-engine ground-attack aircraft. It was required to carry at least two 20 mm MG FP cannon and to have extensive armour plating protection for crew and engines. The two designs for which development contracts were awarded on 1 October 1937 were the Focke-Wulf Fw 189C and Henschel Hs 129. The latter was another Friedrich Nicolaus design with a light alloy stressed-skin fuselage of triangular section. It contained a small cockpit with a restricted view, necessitating the removal of some instruments to the inboard sides of the engine cowlings. The windscreen was made of 75 mm (2.95 in) armoured glass and the nose section was manufactured from armour plating. Nose armament comprised two 20 mm MG FF cannon and two 7.92 mm (0.31 in) MG 17 machine guns. The prototype flew in the spring of 1939, powered by two 465 hp (347 kW) Argus As 410A-1 engines, and two further prototypes were flown competitively against the modified Fw 189 development aircraft for the Fw 189C.

“…in a shallow dive, or in the case of the Hs 129, a controlled plummet…”

Although the Henschel aircraft was considered to be underpowered and sluggish, and to have too small a cockpit, the company was awarded a contract for eight pre-production Hs 129A-0 aircraft, and these were issued initially to 5 (Schlacht)./LG 2 in 1940, but transferred to 4./SG 101 at Paris-Orly in 1941, with the exception of two which were converted at Schonefeld to accept Gnome-Rhone 14M 4/5 radial engines. It was with this powerplant that 10 Hs 129B-0 development aircraft were delivered from December 1941; improvements included a revised cockpit canopy and the introduction of electrically-actuated trim tabs, and armament comprised two 20 mm MG 151/20 cannon and two 7.92 mm (0.31 in) MG 17 machine guns. The production Hs 192B-1 series went into service first with 4./SchG 1 at Lippstadt in April 1942 and also became operational on the Eastern front, where the type was to be used most widely, although it served also in North North Africa, Italy and in France after the D-Day landings. Sub-variants of the M 129B-1 series included the Hs 129B-1/R1 with additional offensive armament in the form of two 110 lbs (50 kg) bombs or 96 anti-personnel bombs; the Hs 129B-1/R2 with a 30-mm MK 101 cannon beneath the fuselage; the Hs 129B-1/R3 with four extra MG 17 machine-guns; the Hs 129B-1/R4 with an ability to carry one 551 lbs (250 kg) bomb instead of the Hs 129B-1/R1’s bombload; and the Hs 129B-1/R5 which incorporated an Rb 50/30 camera installation for reconnaissance duties.

By the end of 1942 the growing capability of Soviet tank battalions made it essential to develop a version of the Hs 129 with greater fire-power, leading to the Hs 129B-2 series which was introduced into service in the early part of 1943. They included the Hs 129B-2/Rl which carried two 20 mm MG 151/20 cannon and two 13 mm (0.51 in) machine-guns; the generally similar Hs 129B-2/R2 introduced an additional 30 mm MK 103 cannon beneath the fuselage; the Hs 129B-2/R3 had the two MG 13s deleted but was equipped with a 37 mm BK 3,7 gun; and the Hs 129B-2/R4 carried a 75 mm (2.95 in) PaK 40L (‘L’ for Luftwaffe) gun in an underfuselage pod. Final production variant was the Hs 129B-3 of which approximately 25 were built and which, developed from the Hs 129B-2/R4, substituted an electro-pneumatically operated 75 mm BK 7,5 gun for the PaK 40 (Panzer Abwehr Kanone 40). The lethal capability of the Hs 129B-2/R2 was amply demonstrated in the summer of 1943 during Operation ‘Citadel’, the German offensive which was intended to regain for them the initiative on the Eastern Front after the defeat at Stalingrad. During this operation some 37,421 sorties were flown, at the end of which the Luftwaffe claimed the destruction of 1,100 tanks. However accurate these figures, not all of those destroyed could be credited to Hs 129s, but there is little doubt that the 879 of these aircraft that were built (including prototypes) played a significant role on the Eastern front. In spite of its small numbers and deficiencies, proved extremely successful in the anti-role, however, it suffered heavy losses and not many examples survived the war.

The Hs 129B equipped three Staffeln of the 8th Assault Wing of the Royal Romanian Air Corps. On 23 August 1944 there was a coup in Romania, as a result of which the country changed from being an ally of Germany to becoming an enemy. These Hs 129Bs, accordingly were used against the German armies, finally being combined into a unit equipped with the Ju 87D Stuka.

In late September 1944, the entire manufacturing programme was abandoned, along with virtually all other German aircraft production except the ’emergency fighter programme’. Total production had amounted to only 879, including prototypes. Because of attrition and other problems, the Hs 129 was never able to fully equip the giant anti-tank force that could be seen to be needed as early as winter 1941-42, an overall effect on the war was not great. Towards the end, in autumn 1944, operations began to be further restricted by shortage of high octane petrol, and by the final collapse of Germany only a handful of these aircraft remained.

The Cockpit

Because of the triangular-section fuselage and the need to keep the airframe as small as possible the cockpit of the Hs 129 was very cramped. So cramped in fact that the Revi C 12/C gunset was mounted on the aircraft nose outside of the cockpit and certain engine instruments were mounted on the inboard side of the engine nacelles for the pilot to view. The entire nose section formed a welded armoured shell 6 mm to 12 mm thick around the pilot, with toughened 75 mm thick glass in the canopy. The total weight of the nose armour was 2,380 lbs (1080 kg). A large pilot would have a great deal of trouble in handing the aircraft in ground attacks and a short control stick required a great deal of strength to move even in the modest manoeuvres.

New Weapons

The massive build-up in Soviet armour strength with thick-skinned tanks contrasted with the faltering strength of the Sch.G. units, which continued to be afflicted by poor engine reliability despite the addition of properly designed air filters. The overriding need was for more powerful anti-armour weapons, and on 10 January 1944 a special unit, Erprobungskommando 26, was formed at Udetfeld out of previous Sch.G. units to centralise the desperate effort to devise new weapons and tactics. Its Hs 129s soon appeared with various new armament, some of which were too much for what was, after all, a small aircraft.

The outstanding example of the new weapons was the radically different Forstersonde SG 113A. This comprised a giant tube resembling a ship’s funnel in the centre fuselage just behind the fuselage tank. Inside this were fitted six smooth-bore tubes, each 1.6 m (5 ft 3 in) long and of 77 mm calibre. The tubes were arranged to fire down and slightly to the rear, and were triggered as a single group by a photocell sensitive to the passage of a tank close beneath. Inside each tube was a combined device consisting of a 45 mm armour piercing shell (with a small high-explosive charge) pointing downwards and a heavy steel cylinder of full calibre pointing upwards. Between the two was the propellant charge, with a weak tie-link down the centre to join the parts together. When the SG 113A was fired, the shells were driven down by their driving sabots at high velocity, while the steel slugs were fired out of the top of each tube to cancel the recoil. Unfortunately, trials at Tarnewitz Waffenprufplatz showed that the photocell system often failed to pick out correct targets.

Another impressive weapon was the huge PaK 40 anti-tank gun of 75 mm calibre. This gun weighed 3,303 lbs (1500 kg) in its original ground-based form, and fired a 7 lbs (3.2 kg) tungsten-carbide cored projectile at 3,060 ft/sec (933 m/sec). Even at a range of 3,280 ft (1000 m), the shell could penetrate 5 1/4 inches (133 mm) of armour if it hit square-on. Modified as the PaK 40L, the gun had a much bigger muzzle brake to reduce recoil and electro-pneumatic operation to feed successive shells automatically. Installed in the Hs 129B-3/Wa, the giant gun was provided with 26 rounds which could be fired at the cyclic rate of 40 rounds per minute, so that three or four could be fired on a single pass. Almost always, a single good hit would destroy a tank, even from head-on. The main problem was that the PaK 40L was too powerful a gun for the aircraft. Quite apart from the severe muzzle blast and recoil, the sheer weight of the gun made the 129B-3/Wa almost unmanageable, and in an emergency the pilot could sever the gun’s attachments and let it drop.

The Myth of the BergeTiger

The myth of the BergeTiger being a demolition charge placement vehicle still persists and the same old arguments keep being reprinted over and over. The turret crane on the Bergetiger was never intended for recovery but was used for the same tasks as other light cranes on maintenance vehicles. These duties included lifting drive sprockets, engines and other heavy sundry parts of the vehicles they serviced. Based on its size it probably had a 2 or 3 ton capacity like the later jib cranes.

These vehicles were built on mid production Tiger I chassis before pilzen was added to the turrets for the use of jib cranes.

Schwerer Zugkraftwagen 18t / Sd.Kfz.9 Late Model Type F3 REAR VIEW

A picture recently surfaced showing the front of the Bergetiger captured in Italy. The frontal view shows a massive tow coupling fitted to the front plate along with large tow bars exactly like the ones carried by the 18 ton prime mover (Famo) for heavy tank recovery mounted on the glacis. This is definitive proof that these vehicles were indeed Bergetigers and not a silly demo charge placement vehicle as put forth by so many others.

TOW-WINCH

Up until recently it was believed that only 3 of the Bergetigers were built but now it seems there were at least 4 produced. Schwere Panzer Abteilung 509 had three in service in Russia in 1944 and turned them as well as there existing Tiger I’s over to Schwere Panzer Abteilung 424/502 in September of that year. SchPzAbtl 509 had to return to Germany to retrain on Tiger II’s. Unfortunately no photos have yet surfaced of these vehicles but they are mentioned in several of the period reports from these units.

It is unknown which unit the Bergetiger in Italy belonged to, but it is almost a certainty it was SchPzAbtl 508 or 504. If it belonged to the 508th then it may have eventually served with the 504th anyway as the 508th turned over their remaining 15 Tigers to the 504th before leaving Italy in February 1945.

German Tiger Tank Recovery

Original page 44 translation of Tigerfibel

Field Recovery Motto: With care, thought and logic – recovery is soon accomplished.

Just as you would help your comrade, no matter what, You must take care of your friend of steel too and take him home when he breaks down. If need be another Tiger can help you out, but it is better to avoid that avenue. It is better to skip any further attempts to get out on your own. You torment the engine and driveline, and it is no good anyway.

Instead: Report and let the experts talk! In the meantime, prepare for recovery, paying attention to the following:

Gustav: Frees up the tracks or opens them to check the running gear .so that resistance to towing is eliminated,

Removes the steering gear box shaft and replaces the bolts .so that the transmission is disabled, but the brakes work.

Hulsensacke and Piepmatz: Remove obstacles in front of the tracks and hull .so that the recovery effort will be lessdifficult.

Speedy Quickthinker: has checked for anchor points for the tow tractor and prepares the appropriate tools: breaker bars, tow bars, hooks, ropes and winches .in case the recovery will be done using winches.

Don’t fiddle around and waste time, or you’ll be reprimanded! Inform the commander of the recovery team on damages to the tank and avenues for recovery right away. And then everyone lends a hand! Once the vehicle is free it will be towed in a tandem train. Be alert as a watchdog when crossing bridges, fording rivers, or passing narrow roadways. Keep in contact with the towing tractors, make an extra effort giving directions, otherwise your comrades will be broadsided or the tank ends up stuck once again.

Moral: Recovery is full of difficulty, yet is a necessity.

#

Due to its size and weight the high number of breakdowns and the recovery of battle-damaged vehicles was to prove a real headache for the engineers. The tanks were immensely valuable and had to be recovered if at all possible. However, the infrastructure and, in particular the recovery vehicles, to support the easy recovery of such a heavy machine as the Tiger I was found to be severely wanting.

The main problem was that the standard German heavy Famo recovery half-track tractor could not actually tow the tank; up to three Famo tractors were usually the only way to tow just one Tiger. It was the case therefore that another Tiger was needed to tow a disabled machine, but on such occasions, the engine of the towing vehicle often overheated and sometimes resulted in an engine breakdown or fire. Tiger tanks were therefore forbidden by regulations to tow crippled comrades. In practice this order was routinely disobeyed as the alternative was the total loss of a large number of tanks that could otherwise have been saved. It was also discovered too late that the low-mounted sprocket limited the obstacle-clearing height. The wide Tiger tracks also had a bad tendency to override the sprocket, resulting in immobilisation. If a track overrode and jammed, two Tigers were normally needed to tow the tank. The jammed track was also a big problem itself, since due to high tension, it was often impossible to disassemble the track by removing the track pins. It was sometimes simply blown apart with an explosive charge.

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.