MBT Revolution

The MBT Revolution is a modular upgrade package to the Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks. It was developed by Rheinmetall. This MBT was first revealed in 2010. It is also referred as Leopard 2A4 Evolution. The Leopard 2A4 was the most widespread version of the Leopard 2. It is still used by a number of countries in large numbers. So the market for upgrades remains substantial.

The Revolution main battle tank is better suited for urban warfare and low-intensity conflicts. It is worth noting that original Leopard 2 tanks were developed during the Cold War and were intended for high intensity conflicts based on tank battles in open terrain. The tank has improved overall protection. It is fitted with new Advanced Modular Armor Protection (AMAP) composite armor package. It uses new nano-ceramics materials and modern titanium and steel alloys. This armor provides higher level of protection against wide range of threats. The AMAP armor can be done is different compositions and armor configuration depends on customer requirements. Various configurations do different jobs. Some are used for RPG attacks, the other are used for IED attacks. The tank is also fitted with a mine protection package. This MBT has a modular armor, so damaged modules can be easily replaced in field conditions. Tank is also fitted with new Rheinmetall ROSY smoke grenade dischargers. These set up a smoke screen within 0.6 seconds. Overall the Revolution MBT is less vulnerable to ambushes, RPG rounds, anti-tank missiles, improvised explosive devices and mines.

The Revolution MBT is only slightly heavier than it’s predecessor. It weights 60 t, comparing with 56.6 t of the original Leopard 2A4.

In 2010 Singapore upgraded it’s 96 ex-German Leopard 2A4 tanks with the AMAP composite armor, which is a part of the Revolution upgrade package. Upgraded tanks are known as the Leopard 2SG.

The Revolution MBT retains a fully-stabilized 120-mm / L44 smoothbore gun of the Leopard 2A4. The gun is loaded manually. It is compatible with all standard NATO 120-mm tank munitions, as well as the latest programmable HE rounds. These rounds enable to engage targets behind cover and within buildings. A total of 42 rounds are carried for the main gun. 15 rounds are stored in the turret bustle and are ready to use, while remaining rounds are stored in the hull.

The Revolution MBT is also fitted with a remotely controlled weapon station, armed with a 12.7-mm machine gun. There is also a coaxial 7.62-mm machine gun.

This main battle tank is fitted with new state-of-the-art fire control system. It has improved first round hit probability. The Revolution MBT also has improved reconnaissance and observation capabilities. The commander has new 360° periscope, which gives the vehicle a hunter/killer capability. The tank is also fitted with a battlefield management system.

Vehicle has a crew of four, including commander, gunner, loader and driver.

The Revolution MBT also retains the MTU MB-837 Ka501 turbocharged diesel engine, developing 1 500 horsepower. Vehicle is fitted with auxiliary power unit, which powers all systems when the main engine is turned off. Cross-country performance is similar to that of it’s predecessor.

Since 2011 a broadly similar upgrade programme is offered by the Aselsan of Turkey. These are referred as the Leopard 2 Next Generation. It was locally developed as a private venture to meet a possible requirement of the Turkish Army.

Modernizing Poland’s Leopard 2A4 Tanks

On May 16, 2014, the first shipment of 11 Leopard 2A5 tanks was delivered to the 34th Armored Cavalry Brigade in Zagan. The vehicles were acquired under a contract signed in November of 2013 on the procurement of armored vehicles from German Army reserves. The agreement stipulated that Poland would buy 105 used Leopard 2A5 tanks, and 14 2A4 tanks, as well as 833 items of technical and support assets, including 18 Bergepanzer 2 armored recovery vehicles, 120 Mercedes DB1017A heavy trucks, 40 Unimog U1300L heavy trucks, 40 Mercedes MB250 off-road vehicles, deep fording vehicles, and combat simulators. In 2014, Poland received 77 Leopard 2A5 tanks, 14 2A4 tanks, and 654 items of technical and support assets. According to the provisions of the agreement, before the end of 2015 the armed forces will receive the remainder of the contracted hardware, including 28 Leopard 2A5 tanks. The realization of the contract is proceeding as planned.

Another important assignment related to Leopard 2A4 tanks was the tender for the modernization and upgrading of said vehicles to their PL variant, opened in October of 2013. After the offers submitted in March of 2014 were examined, it turned out that only one out of the three contractors participating in the tender, a consortium comprising Polish companies, headed by ZM BUMAR-LABEDY S. A., will proceed to the next stage. This led to a series of problems, related primarily to the insufficient transfer of technologies, maintenance and service capabilities, and replacement part production capabilities of Polish defense manufacturers. Although negotiations continued into late 2014, the proceeding did not reach a successful conclusion. Some hope for a resolution of the deadlock may have been found in the offer submitted by BUMAR–LABEDY on December 5, 2014. The Armament Inspectorate, however, rejected the offer due to formal and factual errors and an insufficient level of Polonization. On February 17, 2015, it was announced that the tender procedure will be cancelled, and the Armament Inspectorate will initiate closed negotiations with a single company selected by the Board of the Polish Armament Group.

After the fiasco of the previous tender, a new round of negotiations between PAG and ZM “Bumar-Labedy” S. A. was launched on May 27, 2015. It will be up to Bumar to select its foreign cooperant, out of the three companies considered for the role. The first is the Turkish company Aselsan, offering the Leopard NG package. Its competitors include Rheinmetall Defence offering the MBT Revolution package, and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann GmbH & Co. The new contract would also include the establishment of a Logistics and Maintenance Center with a replacement part depot, using existing facilities owned by the Polish Armament Groups, that would provide full-spectrum maintenance and repair services for all Leopard 2 tanks currently in service with the Polish Armed Forces.

According to current plans, the Leopard 2A4 modernization contract should be awarded before the end of 2015, and the program should conclude no later than 2020, that is two years past the preliminary deadlines established by the Technical Modernization Plan. Currently, there are no plans to overhaul Leopard 2A5 tanks, and such designs should start coalescing only after the modernization of 2A4 tanks is completed. A confirmation of that particular position can be found in state secretary Czeslaw Mroczek’s reply to parliamentary interpellation no. 32753, in which Mroczek stated that any plans to modernize Leopard 2A5 tanks are out of consideration for at least the next 15 years.

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Add-On Abrams Tank Kits

U.S. Main Battle Tank M1A2 SEP Abrams Tusk II

With the heavy damage inflicted on Abrams series tanks during the close-in urban fighting in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, there developed the impetus for the US Army to authorize the funding for a new program in 2004 to better equip the tank for a type of fighting it had never been designed to take part in. The program was referred to as the Tank Urban Survivability Kit (TUSK) and was publicly announced in early 2005.

In a US Army News Service article published on 9 March 2005 is this description by US Army Program Manager Lieutenant Colonel Michael Flanagan on why the new add-on armor kit was needed and what benefits it would provide the Abrams series of tanks: ‘You have to remember, the tank was a Cold War design, aimed at threats that were always to its front. It’s still the most survivable weapon in the arsenal from the front … Today it’s a 360-degree fight, and these systems are designed to improve survivability in the urban environment.’

In 2006, the US Army ordered 505 units of the TUSK kits from GDLS. The first Abrams series tank in Iraq fitted with the kit was in 2007. By the following year, most Abrams series tanks employed in country had the TUSK kits. However, some were never fitted with the kits due to shortages. Others had only certain components of the kits applied.

Reflecting the various versions of the Abrams series tanks that were deployed to Iraq during the Iraq Insurgency, there was a TUSK I kit for the M1A1 and a TUSK II kit for the M1A2 and M1A2 SEP, which included some additional items for fitting to those tanks upgraded with the TUSK I kits.

TUSK I

One of the most noticeable external features of the TUSK I kit fitted to the M1A1 and M1A2 is the use of reactive armor tiles, also commonly referred to as Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA), along the sides of the vehicle’s hull in place of the original armored side skirts. As listed on the American manufacturer’s website, the tiles are officially designated the XM-19 Abrams Reactive Armor Tile (ARAT) and first appeared in 2006.

The first public employment of ERA occurred during the Israeli military invasion of Lebanon in 1982, when they were photographed on the exterior of American-supplied M60 main battle tanks in service with the Israeli Army (IDF). The Israeli firm that made the ERA tiles assigned them the label ‘Blazer Armor’. The original design work on the Blazer Armor was done by a West German researcher working together with the IDF.

ERA tiles consist of a steel box that contains a special plastic explosive fitted in-between two steel plates. How ERA tiles function when struck is explained in a 1988 article by then US Army Captain James M. Warford titled Reactive Armor: New Life for Soviet Tanks, which appeared in the January-February issue of Armor magazine:

… the plastic explosive inside the brick [tile] detonates. The force of this detonation is directed away from the brick’s inner steel plate, and concentrates in the opposite direction of the attacking warhead. This explosion forces the HEAT-formed jet to malform and lose its energy so that the heavily-weakened jet is not capable of penetrating the tank’s main armor.

The ARAT set applied under TUSK I consists of 64 tiles, with 32 on each side of the hull, divided into two rows of 16 each. According to the manufacturer’s website the ARAT is insensitive to bullets and other types of small battlefield fragments and will only detonate when struck by a shaped charge warhead, found on the projectiles fired from shoulder-launched rocket propelled grenade launchers, such as the RPG-7.

Tusk II

Under TUSK II, the M1A2 received a new generation of ERA tiles in 2008, labeled the XM-32. They are referred to as ARAT II tiles by the manufacturer, the original version being relabeled the ARAT I. The ARAT II set consists of 78 tiles, with 32 on each side of the tank’s hull, divided into two rows of 16 each. Unlike the ARAT I set, the ARAT II includes 14 additional tiles, 7 mounted on either side of the turret of the tank it is fitted to. Pictorial evidence seems to suggest that the turret tiles are not always fitted, for an undisclosed reason.

Unlike the large box XM-19 tiles, optimized for protection from horizontally-fired shoulder-launched rocket-propelled grenade launchers, those of the XM-32 look like roof tiles. When fitted to an M1A2 SEP they are slanted downward, as they are optimized to protect the tank from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that are configured to fire an Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP). These shaped charge penetrators are currently employed on a number of American military weapons, including the TOW-2B antitank missile. Those used by the Iraqi insurgents were improvised and typically emplaced at ground level to fire upwards.

TUSK Crew Protection Upgrades

Due to the high demand from the tankers in Iraq, the initial production run of 130 units of the Loader’s Armored Gun Shield (LAGS), one of the numerous components making up the complete TUSK kits, was rushed to theater in 2005, before the complete kit sets were assembled. When the complete TUSK I kits reached Iraq in 2007, the Loader’s Armored Gun Shield was fitted with a thermal sight officially designated the Light Thermal Weapon Sight (LTWS).

With the introduction of the TUSK II kit there appeared a 360 degree open-topped armor shield for the M1A2 tank commanders, which included transparent armor to improve his visibility in combat when engaging the enemy. A much simpler open-topped shield arrangement had also been provided for the M1A1 series tanks under TUSK II. Externally, it appears the only TUSK feature adopted by the US Marine Corps in Iraq was the LAGS.

Due to the large-scale use of standard production antitank mines left over from the disbandment of Saddam Hussein’s Army, and IEDs by the Iraqi insurgents, an important component that formed part of TUSK I was a V-shaped armored plate 200mm thick attached to the bottom hull plate of Abrams series tanks in-country. It weighed 2,998lbs.

Reflecting the widespread use of conventional land mines and IEDs by the Iraqi insurgents, part of the TUSK I included a new Mine Resistant Driver’s Seat that minimized the effect of the blast and resulting shock wave on the driver. No longer was the driver’s seat mounted to the floor, which would transmit a shock wave to the driver’s body, but attached to the ceiling of the front hull compartment. In addition, the driver was provided with a four-point seat belt system to prevent him from being thrown around his compartment upon driving over a mine or IED.

TUSK Vision Upgrades

As part of TUSK I the drivers on the Abrams series tanks were provided with a thermal sight, which could be installed in their center periscope station if the situation dictated. It is labeled the Driver’s Vision Enhancer (DVE).

The TUSK I kits for the M1A1 series tanks included a thermal sight for the tank commander’s .50 caliber M2HB machine gun called the Remote Thermal Sight (RTS). The M1A2 did not require the RTS as it was already designed with one.

Miscellaneous TUSK Upgrades

To facilitate communication between the Abrams series tanks in Iraq and the dismounted infantry they often worked in conjunction with, the TUSK I kit included a Tank-Infantry Phone (TIP) placed at the right rear of the vertical engine compartment. It has an extension cable to allow an infantryman attempting to use the TIP to seek nearby cover if being fired upon.

To minimize the collateral damage caused by firing the 120mm main gun of the M1A1 and M1A2 series tanks deployed to Iraq when engaged in urban combat, the TUSK I featured a remote-controlled .50 caliber M2HB machine gun and a 200-round ammunition box attached to the mantlet of the tank. It is called the Counter Sniper/Anti-Material Mount (CS/AMM).

The .50 caliber M2HB machine that is the heart of the CS/AMM is fixed in position and is aimed by the gunner using his main gun controls. It can be fired separately from the main gun. From a 19 February 2008 article by Pfc. April Campbell, written for the Army News Service, comes this quote by 2nd Lieutenant Frank Simmons regarding the introduction of the CS/AMM in Iraq: ‘We’re still lethal at long ranges without destroying everything. The sniper rifle mitigates the collateral damage.’

TUSK Features Deleted

As part of the original TUSK I there had been a slat armor kit developed to protect the rear of the vehicle engine deck from strikes by rocket-propelled grenade launchers. At least one US Army armored unit equipped with the M1A2 SEP had them fitted for a time. For undisclosed reasons, maybe based on their limited use in the field, the slat armor kit was deemed impractical, and it was deleted from being part of the TUSK program.

Another feature proposed for the original TUSK program included a remote-control mount for the tank commander’s .50 caliber M2HB machine gun on the M1A2. This feature did not make it into the final TUSK program and did not appear in service until the introduction of the M1A2 SEP V2, fitted with the CROWS. Another feature proposed for the TUSK program was a rear hull camera system. It, like the CROWS, did not make it into the TUSK program, but later appeared on the M1A2 SEP V2.

 

Post-WWII Experimental AFV Types

Between the mid-1930s and the end of the Second World War, the British Army deployed around twenty types of tank, many of which were notable only for their lack of suitability to the task in hand. Following the end of the war, Churchill’s so-called ‘iron curtain’ descended across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union was considered to be the new foe. The lessons of the Second World War were well and truly learned, and over the following decades there have been just five types of main battle tank – Centurion, Chieftain, Challenger 1 and 2, and Conqueror – of which only Conqueror was an unqualified failure.

The situation was far less clear following VE-Day and plenty of Second World War types remained in service in those immediate post-war years, but it must have been obvious to all but the most casual observer of the military scene that most of them had less than a snowball’s chance in hell against the might of the Soviet IS-3 main battle tank. In the eyes of the West, the 122mm gun of the IS-3, combined with caststeel armour with a maximum thickness of 230mm, was a real game-changer. The 17-pounder (76.2mm) gun of the Sherman Firefly or the 77mm gun of the Comet might have stood some chance of penetrating the armour of a German Tiger, but this Soviet leviathan was another matter altogether.

Inevitably the IS-3 caused something of a panic in the West and suddenly bigger was better. It must have seemed as though everything that had gone before was obsolete … the FV301 light tank project, for example, became a casualty of this obsession with size even before prototypes had been constructed, and there is no doubt that the appearance of the IS-3 was responsible for the development of the British Conqueror. However, during the six years that it took to get Conqueror into production, the War Office asked the Department of Tank Design whether or not there was any possibility of quickly producing a heavy gun tank that might be capable of taking on the IS-3. The answer should have been a resounding ‘no’ but several brave attempts were made, often developed along the lines of ‘what would happen if we tried the turret of this tank on the hull of that’. However, none entered series production and all were superseded by the Centurion in its various roles.

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CAERNARVON MEDIUM GUN TANK: FV221

In April 1950, with the Conqueror heavy gun tank project mired in delays, the Department of Tank Design (DTD) completed the design for an interim medium gun tank, designated FV221 and named Caernarvon. It was effectively the hull of the FV214 Conqueror combined with the turret and gun of the Centurion, mounted via an adaptor ring. With the Conqueror turrets not ready for production, it was felt that the Caernarvon would give drivers an opportunity to get used to handling such a large vehicle.

The first example was prototyped by Vickers-Armstrong in Mk 1 configuration, armed with the 17-pounder (76.2mm) gun of the Centurion 1. A further twenty vehicles were eventually built in Mk 2 configuration, with the 20-pounder (84mm) gun of the Centurion 3, by the Royal Ordnance Factory Leeds, at a total price of £1.4 million. The first of the production vehicles was completed in April 1952 and the tanks were issued for troop trials a year later, and at least one vehicle had the turret ballasted to simulate the weight of the Conqueror turret.

The subsequent success of the Centurion led to the cancellation of the Caernarvon project after the completion of the troop trials in October 1953. Once the Conqueror turrets became available, seven of the Caernarvon hulls were eventually reworked into the standard Conqueror configuration, but one (07BA70), with the turret removed, was fitted with a Parsons gas-turbine engine in 1954, in place of the Rolls-Royce Meteor. The first armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) to be so equipped, it subsequently wound up being used as a dynamometer test vehicle at Christchurch and survives, sans gas turbine, at the Tank Museum.

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In its first incarnation the FV4005 Centurion assault gun consisted of an open-topped Centurion Mk 3 hull on which was mounted a 188mm gun with an auto-loader.

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Stage two of the FV4005 project saw the 180mm gun replaced by a 183mm weapon, this time installed in a huge rotating turret. In effect, it was little more than a splinter-proof steel enclosure. This vehicle has survived and is on display at the Tank Museum.

CENTURION 180mm/183mm ASSAULT GUN: FV4005

With work starting in 1951, pending the development of a similar self-propelled gun on the Conqueror chassis, FV4005 was an attempt to mount a 180mm gun on the Centurion Mk 3 hull. Stage 1 of the project consisted of an open-topped hull, with the gun having a limited traverse and a concentric recoil system; in this incarnation the gun was fitted with an auto-loader. In Stage 2 the gun was mounted in a light, splinter-proof turret with a conventional recoil system; loading of the ammunition was by hand.

By December 1952 the original 180mm gun had been replaced by a 183mm weapon but the project did not progress beyond the basic feasibility stage and by August 1957 had been abandoned without any series production. One of the prototypes is possibly still retained at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham.

OTHER CENTURION VARIANTS

In the early 1950s several proposals were made to use the Centurion chassis as a self-propelled (SP) gun mount.

FV3802 was based on a shortened version of the Centurion Mk 7 and was equipped with the venerable QF 25-pounder (87.6mm) gun. The first of three prototypes appeared in October 1955, but the vehicle was not considered satisfactory and, under pressure from the Royal Artillery, became the FV3805, in which role it was equipped with a huge 5.5in gun. Two prototypes were constructed in this form and were trialled, but the project was eventually cancelled in 1960 in favour of the FV433 Abbott.

Although it does not appear that any of these projects progressed beyond the stages of feasibility discussions and/or mock-ups, there were also plans to use the Centurion chassis to mount the 7.2in howitzer (FV3806), the 120mm anti-tank gun (FV3807), the 20-pounder (84mm) medium gun (FV3808) and the 155mm gun (FV3809). All were quickly discounted.

In 1967 British Aerospace demonstrated a Centurion Mk 5 that had been equipped with the Swingfire wire-guided anti-tank missile system, in the form of twin launchers mounted on the turret sides. Both the Centurion and the Chieftain were also used as a mount for the Marconi Marksman anti-aircraft turret.

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The development of FV215B was carried out by Nuffield Mechanizations & Aero during 1950 with the intention of mounting a huge 180mm anti-tank gun on the Conqueror hull. The photograph shows a wooden model of the proposed vehicle; a full-scale mock-up was almost completed by mid-1955 before the project was abandoned.

CONQUEROR GUN TANK VARIANTS

The Conqueror prototype number three was intended to demonstrate the flamethrower role and consisted of a Centurion Mk 3 turret with a 20-pounder (84mm) main gun and flame-projector equipment. By the time the flame equipment was ready for trials in July 1948, the decision had been taken to abandon the project and to fit the flame-thrower equipment to the Centurion instead.

FV205 was a proposal for mounting a medium anti-tank gun on the Conqueror hull but it was cancelled in April 1949 with little progress having been made. Some consideration was also given to using the Conqueror hull to mount a high-velocity anti-tank gun in a huge ball mount in the glacis plate (FV206), rather in the style of the German tank killers (Sturmgeschütz) of the Second World War. This project was abandoned in July 1948, as was a similar project designed to provide a Conqueror-based self-propelled gun using a 152mm weapon (FV207).

In May 1952 there was also an abortive proposal to mount a 120mm medium anti-tank gun on the Conqueror hull under the designation FV217. It had been abandoned by the end of the year.

HEAVY GUN TANK NUMBER 2: FV215B

Development work on what was known as ‘heavy gun tank number 2’, or FV215B, was carried out by Nuffield Mechanizations & Aero during 1950 with the intention of mounting a 180mm gun on the hull of the Conqueror. Three trial vehicles were intended to be constructed by Vickers-Armstrong, with the work being undertaken between 1951 and 1955, but two of these were subsequently cancelled before the whole project was abandoned in early 1957 to be replaced by the Malkara wire-guided anti-tank missile, mounted on the armoured 1-ton Humber truck chassis.

The same 180mm gun was also mounted in a Centurion chassis under the project designation FV4005.

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CONWAY TANK DESTROYER: FV4004

Developed during the period 1950–1952, the Conway FV4004 tank destroyer consisted of the hull of the Centurion on which was mounted a larger gun in an attempt to provide sufficient firepower to counter the Soviet IS-3 heavy tank until work on the Conqueror project was complete.

A single experimental vehicle was constructed by the Royal Ordnance Factory Leeds, carrying a huge rolled-steel turret, designed by the Auster Aircraft Company and constructed by Chubbs of Wolverhampton, in which was mounted the American 120mm L1A1 anti-tank gun intended for the Conqueror. The gun had to be mounted high in the turret to prevent the recoil from impacting on the turret ring, and yet the maximum elevation was just 10 degrees. The height of the turret upset the centre of gravity of the vehicle and made transportation very difficult.

Trials continued throughout 1952, but at the end of the year the Conway project was cancelled. The prototype resides at the Tank Museum.

 

British Armour – Lessons to be Learned I

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

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

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

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

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

An armoured divisional headquarters.

An armoured brigade.

An infantry brigade.

Divisional troops:

One armoured reconnaissance regiment.

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

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

One light anti-aircraft regiment RA.

Two field squadrons and one field park squadron RE.

Armoured divisional signals.

Services.

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

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

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

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

And that its normal roles were:

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

Pursuit.

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

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

With the armoured division operating as intended:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

British Armour – Lessons to be Learned II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The North Korean Steamroller

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NKPA T34-85 tanks on parade.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncle Sam Holds the Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australian Tank WWII: Sentinel

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

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

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

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

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

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

VARIANTS

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

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

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

SPECIFICATION:

Designation: Cruiser Tank AC I and AC III, Sentinel

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

Battle weight: 62,7201b

Track width 16tin

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

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

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

Armour thickness: Maximum 65mm Minimum 25mm

Traverse: 360°.

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

Maximum speed: 30mph

Maximum cross-country speed: 20mph (approx)

Suspension type: HVSS, Hotchkiss type

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

Fording depth: 4ft

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

Trench crossing: 9ft 6in

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

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