The few armoured vehicles from the 1948 campaign such as the Vickers Mk VIB, M22 Locust and assorted Bren gun carriers and armoured cars tended to be painted plain Sand or British Army Green with Egyptian roundels. The delivery of large amounts of Soviet and Czechoslovakian tanks in the mid-1950s saw a standard overall sand finish with black Arabic numbers often accompanied by black silhouettes of various wild animals painted for parades. The 1970s saw the introduction of a broad range of different camouflage patterns which were used on tanks and vehicles of the Yom Kippur war. The new schemes could consist of three colours such as pale brown sometimes nearly coffee in colour, light green over sand. Other patterns include green and sand, and brown and sand. In terms of patterns there were many varieties. Over these colour options could be added white recognition stripes that were used by units in the early stages of the Sinai campaign, consisting of a set on each mud guard, while others were added to the upper casemate of SU-100s or turrets of T-54s, T-55s and T-62s. The other important detail to note was the pressed metal Egyptian army licence plate added to the front right-hand side mud guard and left rear.
In the summer of 1942, Hitler ordered the first company of s.Pz.-Abt. 502 to Army Group North to assist in the capture of Leningrad. This company, along with elements of the workshop company and battalion headquarters, conducted combat operations in the vicinity of Leningrad beginning at the end of September 1942. The 2d company of this battalion wasn’t formed until later, and in an attempt to stabilize the front after the Soviet encirclement of Stalingrad, OKH attached them to Army Group Don in early 1943. The 1st company of s.Pz.-Abt. 502 fought in the vicinity of Leningrad with Army Group North until the battalion was reunited in the summer of 1943 after having been refitted in accordance with the E battalion K.St.N.
As historian Egon Kleine points out, “there is scarcely a historical work on the Russian campaign that does not mention the first Tiger operation … [and they all] offer different versions of the events.” A common theme in all accounts was criticism about employing heavy tanks in terrain that was swampy and did not allow maneuver off most roads. Guderian summarized the lessons learned from the employment of this company with Army Group North in Panzer Leader:
He [Hitler] was consumed by his desire to try his new weapon. He therefore ordered that the Tigers be committed in a quite secondary operation, in a limited attack carried out in terrain that was utterly unsuitable; for in the swampy forest near Leningrad heavy tanks could only move in single file along the forest tracks, which, of course, was exactly where the enemy antitank guns were posted, waiting for them. The results were not only heavy, unnecessary casualties, but also the loss of secrecy and of the element of surprise for future operations.
During this initial attack, all of the Tigers received some damage, and the Soviets captured one Tiger. Even though the Tiger was superior to any Soviet tank at that time, several subsequent attacks achieved similar results because the Soviets positioned antitank guns in depth along the few roads in the area.
During the next year, the Soviets launched several attacks that forced the Germans in this sector onto the defensive. The swampy terrain that restricted heavy vehicle movement to roads enabled this company to provide excellent defensive support throughout the sector. Because the Soviets did not possess a tank or armored vehicle capable of defeating the Tigers, except at close range, Tigers dominated the battlefield in the restricted terrain. From 12 January to 31 March 1943, this company destroyed 160 Soviet tanks and lost 6 Tigers. This means that 26.7 enemy tanks were destroyed for the loss of each Tiger. This unit was obviously very effective in destroying enemy armored units attempting to penetrate the German front lines.
As most heavy tank battalions did, this unit suffered from inadequate recovery assets and a low operational readiness rate of Tigers. The unit never had more than four operational Tigers at the same time during this entire period. Three of the six Tigers lost were destroyed by their own crews; two of them after they had become stuck in the “peat-bog” and one because of mechanical failure. This may have been a result of the poor terrain, but sufficient recovery assets might have compensated for some of the losses. The unit’s diary is filled with entries about pulling out “bogged” Tigers and there is one instance where the recovery took three days.
EQUIPMENT ALLOCATIONS AND LOSSES, SCHWERE PANZER-ABTEILUNG 502,1944
Formed on 25 May 1942 from Panzer-Ersatz-Abteilung 35, this unit was not the first of the heavy tank battalions created by the German Army, as is sometimes stated, although it was the first to receive an allocation of Tigers and the first to see action, 1. Kompanie going into combat on 21 September 1942 near Tortolovo, some 30 kilometres east of Leningrad on the Volkov Front.
These first tanks suffered almost continuous mechanical failures and during the training phase were only kept operational with the help of civilian maintenance crews from the Henschel factory temporarily attached to the battalion.
On 29 August 1942, of the four Tigers available to 1. Kompanie, offloaded at the railway junction at Mga near Leningrad, three broke down before they could reach their assigned position at the front. Although the fourth made contact with the enemy it became bogged and had to be towed to safety.
The battalion’s 2.Kompanie was formed from surplus crews of Panzer-Regiment 1 and Panzer-Regiment 35 and arrived in Russia on 7 January 1943 to be attached to Heeresgruppe Don operating in the southern Ukraine, far from the battalion’s headquarters and first company fighting on the Volkov. It seems the lessons of 1942 had been learnt, however, as the company was able to make the road march from Proletarsk, south-east of Rostov, to Ssungar, a journey of over 100 kilometres, on their own tracks without a single mechanical failure.
On 22 February 1943 the battalion’s second company was transferred to schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503 and renamed as that formation’s third company. While 1.Kompanie remained in the east, a new 2.Kompanie was formed in France from men of Panzer-Regiment 3 and by the end of May a third company had been raised, mainly from personnel of Panzer-Regiment 4.
By the end of July the new companies, together with the battalion staff, were reunited with 1. Kompanie in time to take part in the battles to the south of Leningrad, now Saint Petersburg.
During the remainder of the year the battalion fought in the attempts to retake Newel, south of Pskov, and as the new year approached, 1 .Kompanie was transferred to the Leningrad sector.
In January 1944 the remainder of the battalion, which was still with VIII.Armeekorps near Newel was rushed to Gatshina, south of Leningrad, in an effort to halt the Soviet attempts to break out of the Oranienbaum bridgehead. The third company commanded by Leutnant Meyer formed a Kampfgruppe with 9.Luftwaffen-Feld-Division and Grenadier-Regiment 422 and when the first and second companies arrived they were formed into a battle group with Grenadier-Regiment 377 and Panzerjäger-Kompanie 240.
In the confused and desperate fighting that took place around Syaskelevo eleven Tigers were completely destroyed while a number had to be towed during the withdrawal to Volosovo. The commander of 3.Kompanie, Leutnant Meyer, finding himself surrounded, committed suicide rather than surrender and Oberleutnant Diesl, the commander of 1.Kompanie, was killed near Narva on the last day of the month.
In early February the battalion was moved to Narva-Joesuu on the Gulf of Finland north of Narva, and remained in the area until mid-April, taking part in the attempts to reduce the Soviet bridgeheads on the western bank of the Narva river near Auvere and east of modern Sirgala referred to by the Germans as the Ostsack and Westsack respectively.
During this time the companies were separated and fought with the units that were collectively known as Panzer-Kampfgruppe Strachwitz. Operations in the Narva area only ceased when the ground, already marshy, became impassable in mid-April and the battalion used the next seven weeks to carry out urgently needed repairs.
When the Soviet summer offensive began on 22 June the battalion was attached to XXXVII.Armeekorps in the Pskov-Ostrov area, near the junction of the present day Estonian, Latvian and Russian borders. The second and third companies were ordered to counterattack immediately towards the Velikaya river in support of 121 .Infanterie-Division while 1. Kompanie was temporarily attached to the neighbouring I.Armeekorps. The Tigers were employed for the most part in platoon-sized groups in support of infantry and combat engineer units and during this time had their first experience of the US M4 Sherman tank when a single example was destroyed by Leutnant Eichorn of 2.Kompanie. On Sunday, 2 July the battalion began moving to Dünaburg, modern Daugavpils in Latvia, the last tanks arriving on the following Thursday. At that time the battalion was able to report that twenty-two Tigers were combat ready from a total of fifty-two. Four tanks had been abandoned in the battles near Ostrov and had to be destroyed by German artillery.
During July and most of August small units of the battalion – sometimes individual tanks – fought along the Duna river in an effort to hold back the Red Army. It was here on 22 July that 2.Kompanie under Leutnant Otto Carius with just eight Tigers ambushed and destroyed twenty-eight Russian tanks in a single action near Krivani, 12 kilometres north of Daugavpils off the road to Kalupe.
Despite local successes the battalion had lost twenty-seven tanks by late August, at least four of those to captured 88mm guns, and the heavier and more powerful armoured vehicles including the JS-2 tank and ISU-152 self propelled gun which the Russians were by now employing.
On 25 August the battalion moved to Ergli, coming under the command of X.Armeekorps of Heeresgruppe Nord, and fought here in the defence of the port city of Riga claiming, on 26 September, to have destroyed its 1000th Soviet tank since the battalion arrived in Russia almost exactly two years previously.
On 4 October the battalion was ordered to begin preparations to move to Germany to re-train on the Tiger II, however, five days later Red Army units reached the Baltic coast near Memel, modern Klaipeda in Lithuania, cutting off the units of Heeresgruppe Nord and all transport was halted.
Over the next days Hauptmann Leonhardt’s 3.Kompanie with its remaining eight Tigers was attached to schwere Panzer-Abteilung 510 while the thirteen tanks of the first and second companies were employed in the defence of the Memel bridgehead.
On 30 October the crews without tanks, who had been fighting as infantry, were withdrawn to Gdansk and on 12 November Leutnant Leonhardt’s men, after handing over their last six tanks to schwere Panzer-Abteilung 510, were evacuated to Libau, present day Liepaja in Latvia, and from there to Gdansk and finally Paderborn in Germany.
The first and second companies would remain in Memel until 21 January 1945 when they were withdrawn to Germany, managing to take with them the last three surviving Tigers.
GP and MEV variants of the AMPV
The USA has begun the replacement of the old vehicles with the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) project. The U. S. Army is currently testing the new multi-purpose armoured vehicle for support missions. Developed based on the M2/M3 BRADLEY, the mission carrier weighs 35 tonnes and can travel at speeds of up to 60 km/h. Driver and commander are the standard crew. Five versions are planned:
- General Purpose for up to six passengers with remote-controlled weapon station, extensive radio equipment and, if necessary, a stretcher for wounded persons,
- Mortar carrier with 120 mm mortar, 69 rounds ammunition supply, fire control system and radio equipment.
- Armoured command tank for network-based operations with two workstations for the operation of a red net.
- Medical Evacuation for one paramedic and up to six seated or lying wounded persons and
- Medical Treatment for two paramedics, one lying wounded.
At present, troops are testing 29 vehicles. This year, the decision is to be made to start series production of 289 of the 3,000 vehicles required.
The US Army also operates a large fleet of M113-series APCs, but these no longer have sufficient mobility or protection to operate with the M2 Bradley IFV and M1A1/M1A2 MBTs. They will therefore be replaced by the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV), which is essentially an M2 Bradley with its turret removed and fitted with a new armour package including ERA. However, the AMPV programme only targets the replacement of 2,897 M113s at brigade and below levels within the armoured brigade combat teams, leaving an additional 1,922 of the type supporting echelons above brigade. It is the future of the latter vehicles that has been uncertain, with the possibility that they will soon have to be upgraded.
The Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) is the replacement for the M113 Family of Vehicles (FoV) within the Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT), comprising approximately 30 percent of its tracked vehicle fleet.
The General Purpose variant accommodates two crew, six passengers, is reconfigurable to carry one litter, mount crew served weapon, integrates two Joint Tactical Radio System Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit (HMS) or two Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS), Vehicle Intercom (VIC)-3, Driver’s Vision Enhancer (DVE), Duke v3, and Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2)/Blue Force Tracker (BFT).
The Mortar Carrier variant accommodates two crew, two mortar crew, a mounted 120 mm mortar, 69 rounds of 120 mm ammunition, two HMS radios, a SINCGARS radio, VIC-3, DVE, Duke v3, FBCB2/BFT and M95 Mortar Fire Control System.
The Mission Command variant is the cornerstone of the Army’s ABCT Network Modernization Strategy. It takes advantage of increased size, weight, power and cooling limitations and provides a significant increase in Command, Control, Communications and Computer capability. The variant accommodates a driver and commander and two workstation operators, and its red side Network provides full Tactical Command Post capabilities at brigade and battalion levels.
The Medical Evacuation variant includes room for three crew, six ambulatory patients or four litter patients or three ambulatory and two litter patients, two integrated HMS radios, VIC-3, DVE, DUKE v3, FBCB2/BFT and the storage for Medical Equipment Sets. The Medical Treatment variant includes room for four crew, one litter patient, and a patient treatment table.
The AMPV provides significant capability improvement over the M113 FoV in force protection, survivability, mobility and power generation to incorporate the Army’s inbound network and other future technologies.
Weight: 75,000-80,000 pounds
Sustained speed: 34-38 mph
Acceleration (0-30 mph): 24 seconds
Cruising range (at 30 mph): 225 miles
Weapons: Hosts M249, M240, M2 or MK-19; 120 mm mortar
Allied tank crews had every reason to fear the Tiger; its 88mm gun was capable of chewing up every single opponent it faced. From a 30 degree angle it could pierce the front glacis plate of an American M4 Sherman at a range of between 1,800m and 2,100m, the British Churchill IV’s between 1,100m and 1,700m, the Soviet T-34’s between 800 and 1,400m and the Soviet IS-2’s between 100m and 300m. Clearly taking on the Tiger with a Sherman or a T-34 was not a pleasant experience.
Allied tank guns required tankers to close to two-thirds to half the Tiger’s range before they could engage. Neither the M4 Sherman’s 75mm gun nor the T-34’s 76.2mm gun could penetrate the Tiger’s frontal armour at any range. However the T-34 with the 85mm gun could tackle it between 200 and 500m and the IS-2 with its 122mm gun between 500 and 1,500m. Likewise the Soviet 100mm tank gun and the 152mm howitzer could take on the Tiger out to ranges of 1,000m. This meant that as the war progressed, the Soviets were increasingly able to keep the Tiger at arm’s length.
The American 76mm gun, using certain types of armour-piercing shell, could penetrate a Tiger’s armour at just over 500m. Only the later M36 Gun Motor Carriage and M26 heavy tank armed with the 90mm gun proved capable of knocking out the Tiger at long range. Much more successful was the British 17-pounder anti-tank gun that could tackle the Tiger out to 1,000m. As a towed antitank gun, this weapon was in short supply; equally, British armour armed with it – the Sherman Firefly, Challenger, Comet, Achilles and Archer – were too few in number and too lightly armoured. The Sherman Firefly was the only Allied tank committed to the D-Day landings that could take on the Tiger and Panther on anything like equal terms.
The 17-pounder was by far the best anti-tank gun possessed by the British Army towards the end of the Second World War and was a real tank-killer capable of penetrating up to 231 mm armour at 1,000 metres, and as a result it was employed in a variety of guises. The British Army went to war in 1939 with wholly inadequate anti-tank guns, principally the 2-pounder (40mm) developed in the mid-1930s and the 6-pounder (57mm) developed in the late 1930s, though the latter did not enter production until 1941 because the War office insisted on replacing those 2-pounders lost in France. These weapons were quickly outgunned by the German 50mm and 75mm guns.
By early 1942 prototypes of a 3in (76mm) weapon firing a 17lb shot were in hand and by May 1942 the 17-pounder gun was introduced. Hurriedly fitted to 25-pounder field gun carriages, as the split trail carriage was not ready, about a hundred were rushed to the Mediterranean to counter the appearance of the German Tiger tank the following year By mid-1944 the 17-pounder had become the mainstay of the anti-tank regiments of the British and Canadian armies.
It had been hoped as early as 1942 to use the Bishop (a 25-pounder selfpropelled gun based on the Valentine chassis) as a mounting for the new 17-pounder but this was not possible and instead the British Army ended up with the rear-facing Archer variant. While it was far from perfect, 665 examples of the latter were constructed from 1944 to 1945. An experimental self-propelled wheeled mounting was designed by Nicholas Straussler for the gun in 1943. This used a motive unit based on Bedford QL lorry components, but it was not taken up because it was felt it left the crew too exposed when in combat.
The Challenger cruiser tank was also armed with the 17-pounder and 200 of these were ordered and saw action in northwest Europe. Probably the most famous 17- pounder anti-tank gun mounting was the Sherman Firefly VC, which was developed to make up for the slow pace of the Challenger By June 1944 it was the only Allied tank capable of taking on the German Panther and Tiger Similarly, the British Comet was armed with a shortened version of the 17-pounder but the 77mm gun did not have the penetrating power of the latter.
The Soviets were well prepared, as Red Army veteran Mansur Abdulin recorded in his memoirs:
`We knew all the technical characteristics of Tigers, Panthers, Ferdinands and other enemy tanks and self-propelled guns. Our gunners received new anti-tank weapons. We also became acquainted with new self-propelled 152mm guns. . We veterans explained to the greenhorns the particular weaknesses .’.
The T-34/85 was deployed in conjunction with an 85mm self-propelled gun mounted on the T-34 chassis and known as the SU-85. This heavily armoured assault gun appeared in the battles in Ukraine in 1944 and was subsequently replaced by the SU- 100 mounting a more powerful 100mm M 1944 field gun.
The Russians introduced only one new tank, the IS (also known as JS) or Iosef Stalin, although in truth this was not an entirely new design, rather a redesigned KV Although classed as a heavy tank, it was actually roughly the same weight as the Panther medium tank. The IS-1 or IS-85 (after the calibre of its gun) was developed alongside the KV-85 and entered service in September 1943. The IS was initially equipped with an 85mm gun, then a 100mm gun, and finally a 122mm gun, enabling Soviet tank crews to engage any German tank type at extremely long ranges. The IS-2 went into production in late 1943; only 102 were produced in that year, but in 1944 Soviet factories churned out 2,250. The up-gunned IS-2 first saw action in the Ukraine in early 1944, `claiming’ forty-one Tigers and Elefants for the loss of only eight tanks. While the panzers could knock out the IS-2, they had no real answer to its 122mm armament, which easily outgunned them.
It has been calculated that in total eighteen units equipped with Tiger Is and Tiger IIs accounted for 9,850 kills, for the loss of 1,715 tanks. The kill-to-loss ratio, although varying quite widely from unit to unit, averaged almost 6:1. This clearly made a nonsense of the Allies’ preferred 3:1 ratio when taking on a Tiger. Despite Allied tankers’ fear of the Tiger, they soon learned that it was vulnerable on the flanks and at close range. The only way to neutralise a Tiger was to stalk it and attack from close range.
The Soviets greatly respected the Tiger, but were quick to develop ways of overcoming its capabilities, often at great personal cost. Soviet tankers had to close down the 1,000m range of the 88mm gun as quickly as possible, and this meant a nerve-wracking charge towards the frontal armour of a Tiger in a desperate bid to close with it before being hit. If there were enough T-34s, then the Tiger was at risk of being swamped no matter how many enemy tanks it knocked out, especially if it did not withdraw quickly enough.
At Kursk General Rotmistrov recalled, `Our tanks were destroying the Tigers at close range . We knew their vulnerable spots, so our tank crews were firing at their sides. The shells fired from very short distances tore large holes in the armour of the Tigers.’ In describing the battle of Kursk, the Soviet official History graphically recorded:
The battlefield seemed too small for the hundreds of armoured machines. Groups of tanks moved over the steppe, taking cover behind isolated groves and orchards. The detonations of the guns merged into a continuous menacing growl.
The tanks of the 5th Guards Tank Army cut into the Nazi development at full speed. This attack was so fast that the enemy did not have time to prepare to meet it, and the leading ranks of the Soviet tanks passed right through the enemy’s entire first echelon, destroying his leading units and sub-units. The Tigers, deprived in close combat of the advantages which their powerful gun and thick armour conferred, were successfully shot-up by T-34s at close range. Immense numbers of tanks were mixed up all over the battlefield, and there was neither time nor space to disengage and reform the ranks. Shells fired at short range penetrated both the front and side armour of the tanks. While this was going on, there were frequent explosions as ammunition blew up, while tank turrets, blown off by the force of the explosions, were thrown dozens of yards away from the twisted machines.
Recounting the bitter fighting between the Soviet 181 st Tank Brigade and the 1 st SS Panzer Division, the Official History observes that the Soviet tankers showed incredible bravery and sacrifice:
The 2nd Battalion of the 181st Brigade, 18th Tanks Corps, attacking along the left bank of the Psel, clashed with a group of Tigers [led by Michael Wittmann], which met the Soviet tanks with fire from the halt . Several Tigers opened fire on Skripkin’s tank simultaneously. One enemy shell punctured the side, another wounded the commander. The driver-mechanic and radio operator dragged him out of the tank and hid him in a shell hole. But one of the Tigers was heading straight for them. The driver mechanic, Alexander Nikolayev, jumped back into his damaged and burning tank, started the engine and rushed headlong at the enemy. It was as if a ball of fire careered over the battlefield. The Tigers stopped, hesitated, began to turn away. But it was too late. At full speed the burning KV [tank] smashed into the German tank. The explosion shook the earth. This ramming so shook the Nazis that they began a hasty withdrawal.
At Prokhorovka Soviet troops even resorted to using two grenades and a Molotov cocktail in a bundle dubbed `a bottle of Champagne for a hangover!’ to take out Tigers. Veteran Mansur Abdulin remembers how one comrade, Kostia Martynov, desperate to claim a Tiger, dug a trench some 30 metres away out in no-man’s-land:
We see Kostia jump out of his trench and throw the bundle of explosives underneath the caterpillar of the tank. It seems to us that Kostia has plenty of time to take cover before the blast. Then comes the powerful defeating explosion. The Tiger loses its track and twitches, trying to resume its forward movement. But having only one caterpillar, it turns and collapses on its side. Our boys bring some fresh `Champagne’ bottles and soon the Tiger is in flames.
The engagement cost the Germans two Tigers and Kostia his life.
While Allied tank crews were learning how to stalk the Tiger, it often pounced first. Colonel Henry E. Gardiner, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment, US 1st Armored Division, had the unpleasant experience of being surprised by a Tiger in Tunisia. Fighting in an M3 Grant, he had just knocked out a panzer when he recalled:
Just at that point we were hit hard by what later proved to be 88mm fire from a Tiger tank that I had not seen. The M3 had a crew of seven. The driver and gunner were killed, the assistant driver badly wounded and I got some shrapnel in my left arm. The other three men escaped without injury. . I was evacuated to a British tent field hospital near Bone where most of the shrapnel was removed from my arm and after a week I rejoined my battalion.
In the close-quarter tank battles fought among Normandy’s hedgerows in the summer of 1944 British tank crews were under no illusions about their vulnerability to the Tiger’s 88mm gun. Even if the crew survived a hit, they were likely to be machine-gunned as they baled out and into the nearest ditch. The Tiger I sealed its reputation in Normandy at the engagement at Villers-Bocage, though Allied tank crews were already afraid of it. Colin Thomson, an armoured car driver-operator with the 11th Hussars, recalled:
My troop penetrated . as far as Cahagnes where . we saw a large concentration of enemy armour moving towards Villers-Bocage. Round the corner of a narrow lane came a German 8-wheel armoured car . Our lead car gunner let go. The Jerry vehicle went up in a cloud of smoke.
We heard another vehicle . `Please God, it’s not a Tiger!’ someone said. It turned out to be a huge self-propelled gun which we hit with everything we had, destroying it and its crew.
The 8th Hussars to the north advanced to help, but were engaged by four Tigers; they suffered heavy losses and were driven off, Colin Thomson observed, `By the time we reached the outskirts reports spoke of extremely hard fighting there. We began to work up north and north-west and also to the south where, at Tracy-Bocage, the troops came under fire from 88mms.’
Michael Wittmann, while attacking Villers-Bocage a second time with two Tigers and a Panzer IV, drove straight into a British ambush. `When the Tigers were about 1,000 yards away and were broadside to us I told 3 Troop and my gunner to fire,’ recalled Lieutenant Bill Cotton. `The Firefly
[with a 17-pounder gun]
did the damage, but the 75s helped and must have taken a track off one, which started to circle out of control.’
A towed anti-tank gun hit Wittmann’s tank, and the following Tiger was caught by Sergeant Bobby Bramall’s Firefly; Corporal Horne’s Cromwell missed the target, and the Panzer IV had almost got past the second Tiger when Horne drove out behind the German and blasted him. A third Tiger entered the town but was also caught by B Squadron a few dozen yards from the main street at the crossroads of the rue Jeanne Bacon and rue Emile Samson.
The Tigers were quick to react. `They shot back at us, and knocked the Firefly out, as its commander was hit in the head,’ said Lieutenant Cotton. `However at the end of a very few minutes there were three “killed” Tigers.’ The crews escaped because too few British infantry remained to take them prisoner Later Cotton, armed with an umbrella, and with Bramall carrying blankets and petrol, walked in the pouring rain to the panzers and set fire to them to prevent recovery – something the Germans were very adept at:
At about 1700 hours on the 13th, while the Tigers were regrouping, the British withdrew to Tracy-Bocage, 2 miles to the west, having lost twenty-five tanks and twenty-eight armoured fighting vehicles. B Squadron was ordered to time its withdrawal to coincide with a covering barrage that would be laid down on the town. Stan Lockwood had just driven his Firefly across the town square when it stalled. Fortunately Sergeant Bill Moore in the following tank jumped down under small arms fire and attached a tow cable to Lockwood’s tank, towing him out just before the bombardment began.
Second Lieutenant Stuart Hill recalled his regiment, the Nottinghamshire Sherwood rangers Yeomanry, equipped with Sherman tanks, tangling with the Tiger in Normandy on 26 June 1944:
As they cleared Fontenay, they were suddenly confronted by an enormous tank coming round the bend in front. It was hard to know who was more surprised, but John [Semken, commanding A Squadron] shrieked, `Fire, it’s a Hun’, and they loosed off about ten rounds into the smoke. As this cleared away, it was observed that the crew were baling out as small flames came from inside the tank. It was a Tiger of 12th SS Panzer, the first Tiger to be captured in Normandy, and it made an impressive sight at close quarters as both its size and the thickness of its armour became apparent. Although the range had been only 60 yards, not one Sherman shell had penetrated that armour. The fire in the Tiger, we discovered, had instead been caused by a shot hitting the side of the driver’s observation visor and showering white-hot splinters into the tank. The driver screamed that he had been hit and the commander obligingly ordered his crew out.
A Squadron claimed a Tiger, a Panther and thirteen Panzer IVs. The following day B Squadron pushed on to Rauray. resuming his account, Stuart Hill recalled, `By midday Rauray had been cleared and in it were found about eight German tanks, all damaged to some extent, and one of them a Tiger, which seemed to be in perfect working order. We tried to incorporate it into our ranks, but unfortunately the High Command wanted it to be taken back to England.’
Hill had a close shave involving a Tiger on 2 August: The column halted to allow the sappers to come up and clear the mines, when suddenly a Tiger tank emerged from cover and moved to the high ground overlooking the road. It opened fire at about 2,000 yards and hit a tank further back in the column. With both ends of the road now blocked, we were bottled up and the Tiger was out of our range.
I shouted: `Gunner, traverse right. Steady on Tiger. Smoke. 1,750 yards. Fire when ready.’ Our shot landed just in front of the Tiger and the smoke soon obscured it from view. We fired again, this time just to the left of the tank, aiming to keep plenty of smoke between us and it. Other tank commanders did the same, while the air officer accompanying us called up four Typhoon fighter-bombers off the cab-rank to fire their rockets at the Tiger. We fired some red smoke to identify the target, and then the planes came in, very low and with a tremendous roar. The second plane scored a direct hit and, when the smoke cleared, we could see the Tiger lying on its side minus its turret and with no sign of any survivors.
Ultimately it took guts and nerves of steel to kill a Tiger at close quarters, as Hill observed: `Sergeant George Dring, that inveterate destroyer of tanks, stalked a Tiger on foot and then directed his own tank to kill it. Two other Tigers, heavily bogged down in wet ground, were captured intact.’
The Tiger finally met its match on 26 February 1945 when the American M26 Pershing tank went into action with the US 3rd Armored Division. The first encounter did not go well for the Americans, who were guarding a roadblock. A Tiger lurking behind a building just 100 yards away got off three shots. The first 88mm round burst into the Pershing’s turret through the co-axial machine gun port, killing the gunner and the loader. The following shot caught the muzzle break of the 90mm gun, setting off the round in the chamber. The third shot glanced off the right side of the turret and tore off the upper cupola hatch, which had been left open. Ironically, the Tiger then tried to beat a hasty retreat, only to become entangled in a pile of debris and the crew fled. Shortly afterwards Sergeant Nick Mashlonik recalled stalking a Tiger:
Our first exposure to the enemy with the new M26 was very fruitful. We were hit hard by the Germans from Elsdorf. The enemy appeared to have much armour as we received a lot of direct fire and this kept us pinned down. Our casualties kept mounting and the Commanding Officer of our company asked me if I thought I could knock the Tiger out that was almost destroying us. The Company Commander and I did some investigating, by crawling out to a position where we could see from ground level a sight to behold.
The German Tiger was slightly dug in and this meant it would be more difficult to destroy. I decided that I could take this Tiger with my 90mm.
Our M26 was in defilade position, more or less hidden in a little valley. I detailed my driver Cade and gunner Gormick to accompany me on this mission. I would be gunner and have Gormick load. I instructed both of them that once we had fired three shots – two armour piercing and one HE [High Explosive] point detonating – we would immediately back up so as not to expose ourselves too long on the top of the hill.
Just as we started our tank and moved very slowly forward (creeping), I noticed that the German Tiger was moving out of the position and exposed his belly to us. I immediately put a shell into its belly and knocked it off. The second shot was fired at his track and knocked his right track off. The third shot was fired at his turret with HE point detonating and destroyed the escaping crew.
The Tiger was the first of the heavy tanks; although it stole a march on the Allies, it was never produced in sufficient numbers. Nazi Germany was already facing defeat by the time the American Pershing and Soviet Joseph Stalin heavy tanks appeared. British attempts at producing a tank with sufficient firepower in the shape of the Archer, Challenger, Comet and Firefly were little more than inadequate stopgaps.
The Soviet Response
The initial Soviet response to the Tiger I was to order the restart of production of the 57mm ZiS-2 anti-tank gun. Production of this model had been halted in 1941 in favour of smaller and cheaper alternatives. The ZiS-2 which had better armour penetration than the 76mm F-34 tank gun which was then in use by most Red Army tanks, but it too proved to be all but inadequate when faced with the Tiger I.
A ZiS-2 firing APCR rounds could usually be relied upon to penetrate the Tiger’s frontal armour. A small number of T-34s were fitted with a tank version of the ZiS-2, but the drawback was that as an anti-tank weapon the ZiS-2 could not fire a strong high-explosive round, thus making it an unsatisfactory tank gun. The Russians had no inhibitions about following the German lead and accordingly the 85mm 52-K anti-aircraft gun was modified for tank use. This gun was initially incorporated into the SU-85 self-propelled gun which was based on a T-34 chassis and saw action from August 1943. By the spring of 1944, the T-34/85 appeared, this up-gunned T-34 matched the SU-85’s firepower, but had the additional advantage of mounting the gun with a much better HE firing capability in a revolving turret. The redundant SU-85 was replaced by the SU-100, mounting a 100mm D-10 tank gun which could penetrate 185mm of vertical armour plate at 1,000m, and was therefore able to defeat the Tiger’s frontal armour at normal combat ranges.
In May 1943, the Red Army deployed the SU-152, replaced in 1944 by the ISU-152. These self-propelled guns both mounted the large, 152mm howitzer-gun. The SU-152 was intended to be a close-support gun for use against German fortifications rather than armour; but, both it and the later ISU-152 were found to be very effective against German heavy tanks, and were nicknamed Zveroboy which is commonly rendered as “beast killer” or “animal hunter”. The 152mm armour-piercing shells weighed over 45 kilograms (99lb) and could penetrate a Tiger’s frontal armour from 1,000 metres. Even the high-explosive rounds were powerful enough to cause significant damage to a tank. However, the size and weight of the ammunition meant both vehicles had a low rate of fire and each could carry only 20 rounds.
The Two Extremes
The Tiger I enjoyed some spectacular triumphs on the battlefield, but it also endured its fair share of ignominious setbacks. These two contrasting combat reports demonstrate the two extremes of the Tiger I experience.
On 21st April 1943, a Tiger I of the 504th German heavy tank battalion, with turret number 131, was captured after being knocked out on a hill called Djebel Djaffa in Tunisia. A round from a Churchill tank of the British 48th Royal Tank Regiment hit the Tiger’s gun barrel and ricocheted into its turret ring. The round jammed the turret traverse mechanism and wounded the commander. Although the vehicle was still in a driveable condition the crew flew into a panic and bailed out. The complete tank was captured by the British. The tank was repaired and displayed in Tunisia before being sent to England for a thorough inspection.
In complete contrast to the dismal performance of Tiger 131 the Tiger I commanded by Franz Staudegger enjoyed an amazing string of successes. On 7th July 1943, this single Tiger tank commanded by SS-Oberscharführer Franz Staudegger from the 2nd Platoon, 13th Panzer Company, 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler engaged a group of about 50 T-34s around Psyolknee in the southern sector of the German thrust into the Soviet salient known as the Battle of Kursk. Staudegger used all his ammunition and claimed the destruction of 22 Soviet tanks, forcing the rest to retreat. For this amazing feat of arms he was understandably awarded the Knight’s Cross.
The British Response
In contrast to the laissez-faire attitude of the Americans, who correctly assumed that there would never be enough Tigers in the field to present a potent threat, the more experienced British had observed the gradual increase in German AFV armour and firepower since 1940 and had anticipated the need for more powerful anti-tank guns. As a result of the lessons learned in France work on the Ordnance QF 17 pounder had begun in late 1940 and in 1942 100 early-production guns were rushed to North Africa to help counter the new Tiger threat. So great was the haste that they were sent before proper carriages had been designed and constructed, and the guns had to be mounted in the carriages designed for 25-pounder howitzers.
Hasty efforts were also made to get Cruiser tanks armed with 17 pounder guns into operation as soon as possible. The A30 Challenger was already at the prototype stage in 1942 and was pressed into service, but this tank was poorly protected, having a front hull thickness of only 64mm. It was unreliable, and was fielded in only limited numbers – only around 200 were ever built although crews liked it for its high speed. The Sherman Firefly, armed with the 17-pounder, was a notable success even though it was only intended to be a stopgap design. Fireflies were successfully used against Tigers. In one famous engagement, a single Firefly destroyed three Tigers in 12 minutes with five shots and as a result of the superior Allied product capability over 2,000 Fireflies were built during the war. Five different 17-pounder-armed British tanks and self-propelled guns saw combat during the war. These were the A30 Challenger, the A34 Comet, the Sherman Firefly, the 17-pounder SP Achilles and the 17-pounder SP Archer.
German troops using the minenwerfer as an anti-tank gun in October 1918
September 15, 1916, began as a routine day for the German infantrymen in the forward trenches around Flers on the Somme—as routine as any day was likely to be after two and a half months of vicious, close-gripped fighting that bled divisions white and reduced battalions to the strength of companies. True, an occasional rumble of engines had been audible across the line. But the British had more trucks than the Kaiser’s army, and were more willing to risk them to bring up ammunition and carry back wounded. True, there had been occasional gossip of something new up Tommy’s sleeve: of armored “land cruisers” impervious to anything less than a six-inch shell. But rumors—Scheisshausparolen in Landser speak—were endemic on the Western Front. Then “a forest of guns opened up in a ceaseless, rolling thunder, the few remaining survivors . . . fight on until the British flood overwhelms them, consumes them, and passes on. . . . An extraordinary number of men. And there, between them, spewing death, unearthly monsters: the first British tanks.”
Improvised and poorly coordinated, the British attack soon collapsed in the usual welter of blood and confusion. But for the first time on the Western Front, certainly the first time on the Somme, the heaviest losses were suffered by the defenders. Reactions varied widely. Some men panicked; others fought to a finish. But the 14th Bavarian Infantry, for example, tallied more than 1,600 casualties. Almost half were “missing,” and most of them were prisoners. That was an unheard-of ratio in an army that still prided itself on its fighting spirit. But the 14th was one of the regiments hit on the head by the tanks.
Shock rolled uphill. “The enemy,” one staff officer recorded, “employed new engines of war, as cruel as effective. . . . It is necessary to take whatever methods are possible to counteract them.” From the Allied perspective, the impact of tanks on the Great War is generally recognized. The cottage industry among scholars of the British learning curve, with descriptions of proto-mechanized war pitted against accounts of a semi-mobile final offensive based on combined arms and improved communications, recognizes the centrality of armor for both interpretations. French accounts are structured by Marshal Philippe Petain’s judgment that, in the wake of the frontline mutinies of 1917, it was necessary to wait for “the Americans and the tanks.” Certainly it was the tanks, the light Renault FTs, that carried the exhausted French infantry forward in the months before the armistice. Erich Ludendorff, a general in a position to know, declared after the war that Germany had been defeated not by Marshal Foch but by “General Tank.”
In those contexts it is easy to overlook the salient fact that the German army was quick and effective in developing antitank techniques. This was facilitated by the moonscape terrain of the Western Front, the mechanical unreliability of early armored vehicles, and such technical grotesqueries as the French seeking to increase the range of their early tanks by installing extra fuel tanks on their roofs, which virtually guaranteed the prompt incineration of the crew unless they were quick to abandon the vehicle. Even at Flers the Germans had taken on tanks like any other targets: aiming for openings in the armor, throwing grenades, using field guns over open sights. German intelligence thoroughly interrogated one captured tanker and translated a diary lost by another. Inside of a week, Berlin had a general description of the new weapons, accompanied by a rough but reasonably accurate sketch.
One of the most effective antitank measures was natural. Tanks drew fire from everywhere, fire sufficiently intense to strip away any infantry in their vicinity. A tank by itself was vulnerable. Therefore, the German tactic was to throw everything available at the tanks and keep calm if they kept coming. Proactive countermeasures began with inoculating the infantry against “tank fright” by using knocked-out vehicles to demonstrate their various vulnerabilities. An early frontline improvisation was the geballte Ladung: the heads of a half dozen stick grenades tied around a complete “potato-masher” and thrown into one of a tank’s many openings—or, more basic, the same half dozen grenades shoved into a sandbag and the fuse of one of them pulled. More effective and less immediately risky was the K-round. This was simply a bullet with a tungsten carbide core instead of the soft alloys commonly used in small arms rounds. Originally developed to punch holes in metal plates protecting enemy machine-gun and sniper positions, it was employed to even better effect by the ubiquitous German machine guns against the armor of the early tanks. K-rounds were less likely to disable the vehicle, mostly causing casualties and confusion among the crew, but the end effect was similar.
As improved armor limited the K-round’s effect, German designers came up with a 13mm version. Initially it was used in a specially designed single-shot rifle, the remote ancestor of today’s big-caliber sniper rifles but without any of their recoil-absorbing features. The weapon’s fierce recoil made it inaccurate and unpopular; even a strong user risked a broken collarbone or worse. More promising was the TuF (tank and antiaircraft) machine gun using the same round. None of the ten thousand TuFs originally projected were ready for service by November 11—but the concept and the bullet became the basis for John Browning’s .50-caliber machine gun, whose near-century of service makes it among the most long-lived modern weapons.
When something heavier was desirable, the German counterpart of the Stokes mortar was a much larger piece, mounted on wheels, capable of modification for direct fire and, with a ten-pound shell, lethal against any tank. The German army had also begun forming batteries of “infantry guns” even before the tanks appeared. These were usually mountain guns or modified field pieces of around three-inch caliber. Intended to support infantry attacks by direct fire, they could stop tank attacks just as well. From the beginning, ordinary field pieces with ordinary shells also proved able to knock out tanks at a range of two miles.
In an emergency the large number of 77mm field pieces mounted on trucks for antiaircraft work could become improvised antitank guns. These proved particularly useful at Cambrai in November 1917, when more than a hundred tanks were part of the spoils of the counterattack that wiped out most of the initial British gains. They did so well, indeed, that the crews had to be officially reminded that their primary duty was shooting down airplanes. As supplements, a number of ordinary field guns were mounted on trucks in the fashion of the portees used in a later war by the British in North Africa.
If survival was not sufficient incentive, rewards and honor were invoked. One Bavarian battery was awarded 500 marks for knocking out a tank near Flers. British reports and gossip praised an officer who, working a lone gun at Flesquieres during the Cambrai battle, either by himself or with a scratch crew, was supposed to have disabled anywhere from five to sixteen tanks before he was killed. The Nazis transformed the hero into a noncommissioned officer, and gave him a name and at least one statue. The legend’s less Homeric roots seem to have involved a half dozen tanks following each other over the crest of a small hill and being taken out one at a time by a German field battery. The story of “the gunner of Flesquieres” nevertheless indicates the enduring strength of the tank mystique in German military lore.
Other purpose-designed antitank weapons were ready to come on line when the war ended: short-barreled, low-velocity 37mm guns, an automatic 20mm cannon that the Swiss developed into the World War II Oerlikon. The effect of this new hardware on the projected large-scale use of a new generation of tanks in the various Allied plans for 1919 must remain speculative. What it highlights is the continued German commitment to tank defense even in the war’s final months.
That commitment is highlighted from a different perspective when considering the first German tank. It was not until October 1916 that the Prussian War Ministry summoned the first meeting of the A7V Committee. The group took its name from the sponsoring agency, the Seventh Section of the General War Department, and eventually bestowed it on the resulting vehicle. The members were mostly from the motor transport service rather than the combat arms, and their mission was technical: develop a tracked armored fighting vehicle in the shortest possible time. They depended heavily on designers and engineers loaned to the project by Germany’s major auto companies. Not surprisingly, when the first contracts for components were placed in November, no fewer than seven firms shared the pie.
A prototype was built in January; a working model was demonstrated to the General Staff in May. It is a clear front-runner for the title of “ugliest tank ever built” and a strong contender in the “most dysfunctional” category. The A7V was essentially a rectangular armored box roughly superimposed on a tractor chassis. It mounted a 57mm cannon in its front face and a half dozen machine guns around the hull. It weighed 33 tons, and required a crew of no fewer than eighteen men. Its under-slung tracks and low ground clearance left it almost no capacity to negotiate obstacles or cross broken terrain: the normal environment of the Western Front. An improved A7V and a lighter tank, resembling the British Whippet and based on the chassis of the Daimler automobile, were still in prototype states when the war ended. A projected 150-ton monster remained—fortunately—on the drawing boards.
Shortages of raw material and an increasingly dysfunctional war production organization restricted A7V production to fewer than three dozen. When finally constituted, the embryonic German armored force deployed no more than forty tanks at full strength, and more than half of those were British models salvaged and repaired. Material shortcomings were, however, the least of the problems facing Germany’s first tankers. By most accounts the Germans had the best of the first tank-versus-tank encounter at Villiers Bretonneaux on April 24, 1918. British tankers, at least, were impressed, with their commanding general describing the threat as “formidable” and warning that there was no guarantee the Germans would continue to use their tanks in small numbers.
In fact, the German army made no serious use of armor in either the spring offensive or the fighting retreat that began in August and continued until the armistice. In the ten or twelve times tanks appeared under German colors their numbers were too small—usually around five vehicles—to attract more than local attention. The crews, it is worth mentioning, were not the thrown-together body of men often described in British-oriented accounts. They did come from a number of arms and services, but all were volunteers—high-morale soldiers for a high- risk mission: a legacy that would endure. Europe’s most highly industrialized nation nevertheless fought for its survival with the least effective mechanized war instruments of the major combatants.
In public Erich Ludendorff loftily declared that the German high command had decided not to fight a “war of material.” His memoirs are more self-critical: “Perhaps I should have put on more pressure: perhaps then we would have had a few more tanks for the decisive battles of 1918. But I don’t know what other necessary war material we should have had to cut short.” For any weapon, however, a doctrine is at least as important as numbers. In contrast to both the British and the French, the German army demonstrated neither institutional nor individual capacity for thinking about mechanized war beyond the most immediate, elementary contexts.
The use of the 3rd Ukrainian Front’s tank forces during the March 1945 battles is of interest. It had been planned beforehand to use the tanks and self-propelled guns in order to strengthen the defense on prepared lines, and with the start of the German offensive, the tank formations were moved up to these lines.
The tactics of strict defense were adopted by the tank and self-propelled guns – the armored vehicles were dug into the ground among the infantry’s combat positions, or else kept concealed in ambush. In order to facilitate a more responsive command arrangement over the tank formations, they transferred from subordination to the Front to the control of the army commanders.
The tank’s combat formations on the defensive depended on the situation and the assignment. For example, the 18th Tank Corps, having taken position among the combat positions of the infantry south of Seregélyes, assigned each tank brigade its own sector of defense, while the motorized rifle brigade was distributed by battalion among the tank brigades. The defense was organized around individual strongpoints, each of which had 2-5 tanks, a platoon of motorized infantry, and 2-3 guns.
The 18th Tank Corps was reinforced with the 207th Self-propelled Artillery Brigade of SU-100 tank destroyers, which took up positions by battery in the second echelon of defense. At the same time, the tank destroyers had prepared firing positions in the first echelon, to which they moved up during enemy tank attacks. All of this allowed the creation of a dense wall of anti-tank and antipersonnel fire in front of the 18th Tank Corps’ positions, and in the course of 10 days of savage fighting, the enemy was in fact unable to break through the defense in this sector.
Thus, on 7 and 8 March alone, units of the 18th Tank Corps knocked out or destroyed 33 German tanks and self-propelled guns. In return, their own losses amounted to a total of 16 tanks or assault guns, including 2 T-34, 2 ISU-122 and 3 SU-76 knocked out, and 6 T-34 and 3 ISU-122 burned out.
Part of the 1st Guards Mechanized Corps occupied positions in the Heinrich Estate, Sárkeresztúr, Cece, Sárbogárd area. Here the defense was organized around company-sized strongpoints, each of which contained 5 to 8 tanks or self-propelled guns. The strongpoints had standard trenches, machine-gun nests, dug-in combat vehicles, and anti-tank gun positions. The anti-tank guns moved up into their positions only in order to conduct fire, but spent the rest of their time in shelters. The SU-100 tank destroyer batteries were positioned in the second echelon, and with sudden counterattacks they would destroy the enemy’s tanks and halftracks.
Tank ambushes were widely and successfully employed. For these, groups of tanks and selfpropelled guns would take concealment on the flanks of the anticipated axis of advance of enemy tanks, calculating to take shots at their side or rear facing. Artillery guns were usually positioned in order to protect the tanks that were waiting in ambush. Combat experience demonstrated that when organizing tank ambushes, it was useful to use decoy tanks, which by their actions were supposed to lure the enemy armor into the flanking fire of the tanks concealed in ambush.
The 18th Tank Regiment of the 1st Guards Mechanized Corps, which was defending in the Sárkeresztúr area, adopted a rather curious tactic. When the regiment’s positions were attacked by up to a battalion of infantry, in order not to reveal the locations of the tank ambushes, the regiment commander Lieutenant Colonel Lysenko decided to counterattack the enemy with T-34 recovery tanks and armored halftracks. In this fashion, the tankers repelled two attacks by German infantry and took 35 Germans prisoner.
The SU-100 self-propelled artillery guns showed themselves to be quite effective in the March battles. In addition to the SU-100s of the 208th Self-propelled Artillery Brigade and of the two regiments in the 1st Guards Mechanized Corps, with which the 3rd Ukrainian Front started the battle, on 9 March the 207th (62 SU-100, 2 T-34, 3 SU-57) and 209th (56 SU-100, 2 T-34, 3 SU-57) Self-propelled Artillery Brigades arrived to join the Front. Upon their arrival, the 207th Brigade was sent to the 27th Army, and the 209th Brigade went to the 26th Army. Thus, by 10 March 1945, the total number of SU-100 tank destroyers in the area of Lake Balaton (after deducting the combat losses) amounted to 188.
These self-propelled guns were actively used on the defense in cooperation with the infantry in order to repel enemy tank attacks, as well as to cover the bridges across the Sárviz and Sió Canals. They proved quite effective in these tasks. For example, the 208th Self-propelled Artillery Brigade over the course of 8 March and 9 March knocked out 14 German tanks and self-propelled guns, as well as 33 enemy halftracks, while losing 8 SU-100 destroyed and 4 disabled.
In order to combat enemy tanks, the SU-100s primarily operated out of ambush positions. SU-100 batteries were deployed in covered positions, camouflaged in woods, or on the reverse slopes of hills and ridges. In front of them, at a distance of 100-200 meters, firing positions with good visibility and good fields of fire were prepared, and as a rule, they offered 360° of fire. In the positions or next to them, observation posts were set up, in which there would be an officer who had a communications link with the battery. Whenever German tanks appeared at a distance of 1,000 to 1,500 meters, the tank destroyers would move up into their firing positions, fire several rounds, and then use reverse drive to pull back into cover. Such a tactic justified itself when repelling enemy attacks in the areas of Sáregres and Simontornya. For example, on 11 March, a battery of the 209th Self-propelled Artillery Brigade’s 1953rd Self-propelled Artillery Regiment, having taken up an ambush position in a dense patch of woods west of Simontornya’s train station, repelled an attack of 14 German tanks, three of which were set on fire at a range of 1,500 meters.
The normal range for firing from the SU-100 at heavy German tanks was 1,000 to 1,300 meters, but out to 1,500 meters, and sometimes even longer, when firing at medium tanks and self-propelled guns. The SU-100s as a rule fired from fixed positions, but sometimes from short halts. From the indicated ranges, the SU-100 could inflict damage to all types of German armor, and as a rule, with the very first on-target shell.
Cooperation between the self-propelled guns and other units was implemented in the following fashion. The commander of the self-propelled regiment and the rifle regiment commander as a rule were located in the same observation post or had telephone contact with each other. The commanders of the rifle battalion and of a self-propelled gun battery would personally work out all questions of cooperation on the spot, and in case of need, also had telephone communications. The commander of the SU-100 brigade maintained constant radio contact with the commander of the rifle division to which his brigade was attached. This allowed the transmission of information regularly in the course of fighting and the reaching of necessary decisions.
Nevertheless, during the battle, a number of genuine miscalculations in the organization of cooperation with the SU-100s were revealed. For example, fire cover provided by the field artillery for the self-propelled guns was poorly organized, the infantry didn’t render assistance to the crews when attempting to pass through swampy areas of terrain, and several of the all-arms commanders tried to use the SU-100 in the role of infantry support tanks. For example, the commander of the 36th Guards Rifle Division ordered a battery of tank destroyers to lead an infantry attack. Because of the absence of infantry and artillery cover, the SU-100s came under the fire of German antitank guns, as a result of which three of the tank destroyers were left burning.
A substantial shortcoming of the SU-100, which was revealed in the course of fighting, was its absence of a machine gun. Because of this, the vehicle had no close range defense against infantry and proved defenseless against assaulting German infantry. As a temporary measure, it was proposed to give each crew a light machine gun, and to give 8-10 light machine guns to the company of submachine gunners in the SU-100 self-propelled artillery regiments.
By 1943 the M3 and its derivatives were favored over the M2 series, and were the types mostly issued to the armored infantry. They could carry 13 men (i.e. a 12-man rifle squad and a driver), so five could lift a complete platoon of an MG squad, a mortar squad, and three rifle squads.
Between 1939 and 1945 the mobility of the halftrack imparted to all arms the ability to move at a pace that had not been even contemplated in 1918. Halftracks of all kinds moved the infantry, combat engineers, signalers and artillery around the battlefields of World War II at speeds -not even the prophets of armoured warfare had envisaged. Instead of the long lines of marching infantry that advanced across the battlefields of 1918, the frontline soldier of 1945 moved in formations of halftracks carrying not only the vanguard of the infantry but also all the supporting arms.
Various experimental models during the 1930s culminated in late 1940 in contracts for parallel production of two very similar but not identical halftracks: the “Car, Halftrack, M2”, and the “Carrier, Personnel, Halftrack, M3”. The most obvious differences were the M2’s slightly shorter body, with a machine gun rail running round its rim as on the scout car, and no rear door; and the M3’s longer body (and thus greater crew capacity), with a central rear door, and a “pulpit” machine gun position above the cab. Both lines would be produced by a number of companies, in models with slightly differing details and designations; retrospective modifications would further complicate the picture – in all more than 70 distinct models were built.
The impact of the internal combustion engine on the battlefield is frequently quoted with the example of the tank, but it was soon learned that the tank by itself could not operate without support, of which the most important was that furnished by the infantry, followed by those of the engineers and artillery. With the latter two went all the other supply, command and communication functions, which had to have the mobility and speed of the tank. The halftrack was the best way of satisfying this operational requirement, and of all the nations involved in World War II
Halftracked vehicles were used to enhance the mobility of almost every service arm, from infantry and artillery to engineers and medical staff. Their use as armoured personnel carriers (APCs) heralded the development of modern mechanized infantry tactics.
During World War II the main weapon of every mechanized army was the tank, and it has maintained this ascendency to this day. Its combination of firepower, protection and mobility made the tank the main cutting edge of massed attacks, and the main support for defence. However, the fact remained that it could not operate in isolation. Anyone who travels inside a tank under even moderate combat conditions will soon learn that his view is strictly limited. All that can be seen of the world outside the armoured carapace has to be observed through the narrow confines of periscopes, weapon sights and other limited viewing devices.
Thus tank commanders had to be provided with some form of observation outside the vehicle, and it was not too long before this role was undertaken by specialized infantry units travelling with the tanks. These infantrymen acted as the eyes and ears of the tank commander, relaying information and combat data to the crews, originally by manual signals such as f lags and later by radio or even telephones mounted on the outside of the tank. The infantry could look out for targets ahead, warn of obstacles in dead ground, keep an eye out for minefields and hidden anti-tank weapons and generally keep enemy tank-killing infantry squads away.
The problem for the infantry was that to fulfil these tasks adequately they had to keep up with the fast-moving tanks. Early experiments in carrying infantry in trucks soon demonstrated that while the trucks theoretically had the required speed they did not have the mobility to cross rough terrain that the tanks often traversed, and the trucks also lacked the protection that even thin armour could provide against small-arms fire arc shell splinters. When tanks co-operated with truck borne infantry, they usually left the infantry far behind in a very short time.
What was wanted was a vehicle that could keep up with the tanks, provide some form of protection for the occupants, and hopefully also act as a weapon platform. The ideal solution would have been to have the infantry carried in a fully-tracked vehicle, but this solution was initially discarded when it was realized that the infantry vehicles could spend a great deal of their time travelling along paved roads and that contemporary track development was still at a point where speeds were low and track life relatively limited. Another factor against the fully-tracked vehicle was up till World War tracked steering systems were still cumbersome and could not provide the degree of maneuverability demanded. The infantry had to wait until well after World War II before the fully-tracked armoured personnel carrier became a viable service equipment.
Thus an interim between the truck and the fully-tracked vehicle was sought, and indeed found in the halftrack. The halftrack or semitrack, as it is sometimes known, could combine the mobility provided by the fully tracked drive system with the steering system of the wheeled vehicle. As the type was relatively light, it was not always necessary to make use of heavy steel tracks, so the rubber or rubber-based tracks of the type developed by Alexandre Kegresse could be used. During the 1920s and 1930s many nations developed the halftrack concept, most of them to the point where they could be placed into production for the armed forces.
ln the main the halftrack were issued to formations known as mechanized infantry, although the name varied from nation to nation: for instance, in Germany they were known as Panzertruppen and later Panzergrenadiere. The proportion of mechanized infantry to tanks varied somewhat, for some nations decided to go tank heavy and used two tank battalions with one battalion of mechanized-infantry while others had balanced ‘one for one’ proportions; some armies even had more mechanized infantry than tanks, and the proportions varied not only nationally but according to terrain. ln large open areas such as the North German plains more tanks than infantry could be used, but once tanks approached ‘ built-up areas the numbers of infantry increased.
Once mechanized infantry were on the scene it was not long before they were joined by combat engineers who built bridges, demolished obstacles, cleared mines and generally kept up the momentum of armoured moves. They too often used halftracks to move forward and to carry or tow their heavy equipment, and if the engineers were mobile so were the artillery. During World War II self-propelled artillery was not common, most guns and howitzers being towed. Here the halftrack could be used to advantage to keep pace with the tanks, but since the artillery was a supporting arm that rarely had to move directly in the front line there was less need for armour. Thus many halftracks used as artillery tractors and ammunition carriers were little more than halftracked trucks with no armour at all. Armoured artillery tractors were usually used to tow anti-tank guns, for anti-tank units obviously had to operate directly in the face of the enemy. However, some artillery halftracks that also used armour were the mobile forward observation posts. These usually travelled with the tanks to call down supporting fire when needed, and they too required armour for protection.
With the main combat arms of mechanized infantry, artillery and combat engineers mounted in highly mobile halftracks, it was not long before the rest of the supporting arms travelled in them too. Commanders obviously had to keep pace with their forces and halftracked command and communication posts became standard. Recovery units used the mobility of the halftrack to carry their cranes and other recovery equipment, and halftrack ambulances become common place.
Thus by the end of World War II whole formations moved on halftracks, the US Army probably being the best example of this tendency. But with this large-scale move towards protected mobility came an unforeseen shift in combat tactics and capabilities. Many of the halftracks sprouted armament of all kinds, ranging from machine-guns to heavy guns and howitzers. Halftracks became not just weapon carriers but mobile platforms from which the weapons could be used directly. This was particularly true with infantry: the troops no longer had to use their carriers only as ‘battle taxis’ from which they dismounted to fight, but instead used their halftracks as mobile platforms from which they could direct their fire, in both attack and defence. Thus tactics were introduced that allowed the halftracks to move forward firing as they went to deliver their infantry loads directly onto enemy positions or else move through them to wreak havoc in the rear areas. They did not do this in isolation, for they still travelled with the tanks, but at times it was not the mechanized infantry who supported the tank but the tank that supported the infantry. By 1945 the halftrack had thus made possible radical alterations in tactics, and this presaged the balanced battle groups and combat teams of today, where one arm cannot operate in isolation but only as part of a balanced and co-ordinated team.
Halftrack Road Report
With an empty weight of just under eight tons, the basic halftrack APCs have a top road speed of 45mph; fuel consumption is a little better than three miles to the gallon, and range between 180 and 215 miles. They drive very much like a modern four-wheel-drive off-road vehicle – on which the power steering has failed…. The controls for the driver are absolutely conventional, and almost anybody could drive one on the road with minimal training. Operation off-road is a bit more of a challenge, particularly in soft going. Incidentally, all these light armored vehicles vibrate like hell and are extremely noisy – loose bits of iron clank and rattle all over, even without a load of GIs and their kit and weapons, and would-be drivers are advised to carry plenty of aspirin.
Veteran armor officer Duane Klug comments: “The halftrack is a bear to steer at low speeds, although it’s not bad once you get it moving. As long as the front wheels aren’t engaged, it will move along pretty well and is pretty easy to control. But once you engage the front axle it becomes much less responsive. I had to learn to double-clutch it, but if everything is set up right it drives like a regular transmission. It has a surprisingly good turning radius [59ft]. Visibility is good, as long as the armor windshields are up and the side curtains are down. It shakes the heck out of you, though.”
M4A3E8 Sherman “Easy Eight”
In America a much more rational designation system was used. In the project, design, and development stages, a vehicle was given a designation in the T series (best remembered as T for Test). Thus a vehicle might be designated T89. Any experimental modification was indicated by a suffix in the E series (E for Experimental). Thus T1E1, T25E1, or T20E3, in the latter case the “3” indicating the third experimental modification. “T” numbers were normally allocated chronologically. When fully accepted for service by the using arms, the vehicle was “standardised” and given a designation in the M series. Thus M6 or M8. It was not usual for the M number to bear any relation to the original T designation, but towards the end of the war there was a change in favour of this in an attempt to avoid confusion. Thus the Light Tank T24 became the M24 on standardisation, for example. In rare instances a design was standardised from the “drawing board” and never received a T designation; an example was the Medium Tank M3. There were also many instances where vehicles were put into limited production and service before being standardised, and in some cases they never achieved the status of standardisation -an example being the T23 medium tank.
At this stage it must be emphasised that this system of designation was used for every item of military equipment in the US Army, so that it was possible to have an M3 Medium tank, an M3 Light tank, an M3 gun mount, an M3 rifle, an M3 flame-gun, an M3 gun sight and so on. Thus it was normal practice to qualify each item by its full title. Strictly speaking, therefore, it is necessary to say Light Tank M3 to distinguish it from Medium Tank M3 and so on, was indicated by an “A” suffix. An example of this is seen clearly in the Medium Tank M4 series, where engine and other changes gave rise to the M4A1, M4A2, M4A3 etc. Modifications confined to the chassis only were indicated by a “B” series suffix. An example arises in M7 howitzer motor carriage development. The M7 was based on the M3 medium tank chassis, and the same design based on the M4A3 chassis became the M7B2. Had yet another chassis been used subsequently, the designation would have been M7B2, and so on. The “E” series suffix was rarely retained when a design was standardised, but there were exceptions, one such being Assault Tank M4A3E2. It should be borne in mind that any special purpose equipment carried on American tanks was designated separately but following the same system. Thus an M4A1 tank could be seen fitted with an MI dozer blade or a T34 rocket launcher, etc.
Self-propelled artillery in American service was described by the calibre of the weapon with the term “gun/howitzer/ mortar motor carriage” as appropriate. Example: 105mm Howitzer Motor Carriage M37. Other special purpose vehicles were designated similarly to tanks. Example: Tank Recovery Vehicle T1. Names were not officially used for American tanks until the M26 heavy tank was called the Pershing. Before that, however, British names for American equipment (eg, Sherman, Lee) were being used colloquially in American service and some American vehicles had unofficial but commonly used names, such as Hellcat for the M18 GMC or Jumbo for the M4A3E2 assault tank.
Instead of being classified as “standard” equipment, American AFVs were sometimes classified “limited standard”. This category was given to a vehicle which was not fully satisfactory for universal service, but which could be used when necessary. A further classification was “substitute standard”, usually given to obsolescent or expedient equipment due for early replacement but which could still be used pending availability of the new design. Finally there was the “limited procurement” classification given to vehicles for which only restricted use could be foreseen. As the term implies, such vehicles were usually produced only in small quantities. Classification could, of course, be changed as necessary for any given vehicle type.