By the time the new German army was ready to re-arm during the early 1930s, the German armament manufacturers had built up a considerable degree of expertise in heavy automatic weapons. This was especially true of the giant Rheinmetall-Borsig concern, and accordingly it was given a contract to produce a light anti-aircraft gun with a calibre of 20mm (0.787 in), and this was ready for service by 1935. Known as the 2-cm Flak 30, the term Flak standing for Fliegerabwehrkanone (anti-aircraft gun), this light weapon was of the type often known as a cannon, and was the first of a series of weapons t h a t were to become dreaded by low-flying Allied aircraft crews.
The Flak 30 was for its light calibre a rather complex weapon mounted on a carriage that could be towed on two wheels and in action rested on a ground platform. This platform provided a stable firing base with 360° traverse, and had a seat behind the gun for the firer who used, in the Flak 30’s original form, a rather complicated form of reflector sight. These sights became even more complicated when simple predictor systems were built into it, and at one point the small sight had reached a state when it had to be driven by clockwork. In fact they got so complicated that the whole idea was dropped and later versions reverted to simple ‘cartwheel and bead’ iron sights. The gun had a crew of five, but in action was frequently managed by less, especially when the guns were located in static positions, Generally the number was at least four, and usually one man held and operated a stereoscopic rangefinder, though after 1944 this function was deleted as it was found to be operationally unnecessary.
Ammunition was fed into the gun in 20-round magazines, but for some never-fully determined reason the Flak 30 was prone to ammunition jams, Also, although it was perfectly adequate when first introduced, it was later discovered that its rate of fire was too slow to cope adequately with the increased aircraft speeds that prevailed after 1940. Consequently it was replaced on the production line by the later Flak 38, but those already in service were not replaced until they became worn out or were lost to enemy action. In army light anti – aircraft Abteilungen (battalions) there were usually three 2-cm batteries to one 3.7- cm (1.457-in) battery, but as the war continued there were many variations on this theme. The Flak 30 was used not only by the Germans. Before 1939 some were sold to the Netherlands and even to China. In Germany the Flak 30 was also used by the Luftwaffe for ground defences, and the German navy had many specialized naval mountings. Some saw service for the defence of armoured trains, and the weapon was one of those mounted on several types of halftracks or trucks for the defence of mobile formations and convoys. The Flak 30 was frequently used in the ground target role, and there was even a special armour-piercing round for use against tanks.
2-cm Flak 38
By 1940 it was already appreciated that the low rate of fire of the2-cm(0.787-in) Flak 30 was too low for future target speeds, so it was decided to increase the rate of fire in order to increase the possible numbers of projectiles hitting the target. It was also decided to redesign the gun to get rid of the inherent jamming problem. Rheinmetall-Borsig was not given the contract for this project. It went instead to Mauser, who came up with a new gun that was outwardly similar to the Flak 30 but internally much was changed to provide a cyclic rate of fire of 420 to 480 rounds per minute. The ammunition, feed system and most of the carriage remained much the same as before. So did the complicated sights which were later simplified, as on the Flak 30.
The 2-cm Flak 38, as the Mauser, design was known, entered service in late 1940 and eventually replaced the Flak 30 on the production lines. It served alongside the Flak 30 and was also used by the Luftwaffe and the German navy. There was even a special version for use by the German army’s mountain units that could be broken down into pack loads. This used the same gun as the Flak 38, but the carriage was much smaller and lighter: it was known as the 2-cm Gebirgsflak 38 and was intended to be a dual-purpose weapon for use against ground targets as well as against aircraft. By 1940 it was appreciated that aircraft targets were not only getting faster but also heavier and better protected against ground and air fire. Undertaken with typical German thoroughness, operational analysis revealed that although the high rate of fire of the Flak 38 was more likely to ensure a target hit, the low explosive payload of the projectile was unlikely to inflict enough damage to ensure a ‘kill’.
These rockets were fired from a six-tube launcher mounted on a towed carriage adapted from the 3.7 cm PaK 36 carriage. This system had a maximum range of 6,900 metres (7,500 yd). I am uncertain whether these weapons were used in the Western Desert, but photographs record them in Tunisia, Sicily and Italy, Normandy and the NWE campaign, and of course on the Russian front. Nearly five and a half million 15 cm rockets and six thousand launchers were manufactured over the course of the war.
The 15-cm (5.9-in) German artillery rockets were the mainstay of the large number of German army Nebelwerfer (literally smoke-throwing) units, initially formed to produce smoke screens for various tactical uses but later diverted to use artillery rockets as well. The 15-cm (5.9-in) rockets were extensively tested by the Germans at Kummersdorf West during the late 1930s, and by 1941 the first were ready for issue to the troops.
The 15-cm (5.9-in) rockets were of two main types: the 15-cm Wurfgranate 41 Spreng (high explosive) and 15- cm Wurfgranate 41 w Kh Nebel (smoke). In appearance both were similar and had an unusual layout, in that the rocket venturi that produced the spin stabilization were located some two-thirds of the way along the rocket body with the main payload behind them. This ensured that when the main explosive payload detonated the remains of the rocket motor added to the overall destructive effects. In flight the rocket had a distinctive droning sound that gave rise to the Allied nickname ‘Moaning Minnie’. Special versions were issued for arctic and tropical use.
The first launcher issued for use with these rockets was a single-rail device known as the ‘Do-Gerät’ (after the leader of the German rocket teams, General Dornberger). It was apparently intended for use by airborne units, but in the event was little used. Instead the main launcher for the 15-cm (5.9-in) rockets was the 15-cm Nebelwerfer 41. This fired six rockets from tubular launchers carried on a converted 3.7-cm Pak 35/36 anti-tank gun carriage. The tubes were arranged in a rough circle and were fired electrically one at a time in a fixed sequence. The maximum range of these rockets was variable, but usually about 6900m (7,545 yards), and they were normally fired en masse by batteries of 12 or more launchers. When so used the effects of such a bombardment could be devastating as the rockets could cover a considerable area of target terrain and the blast of their payloads was powerful.
On the move the Nebelwerfer 41s were usually towed by light halftracks that also carried extra ammunition and other equipment, but in 1942 a half-tracked launcher was issued. This was the 15-cm Panzerwerfer 42 which continued to use the 15-cm (5.9-in) rocket with the launcher tubes arranged in two horizontal rows of five on the top of an SdKfz 4/1 Maultier armoured halftrack, These vehicles were used to supply supporting fire for armoured operations. Up to 10 rockets could be carried ready for use in the launcher and a further 10 weapons inside the armoured body. Later in the war similar launchers were used on armoured schwere Wehrmachtschlepper (SWS) halftracks that were also used to tow more Nebelwerfer 4 Is, The SWS could carry up to 26 rockets inside its armoured hull.
The 15-cm (5.9-in) rockets were also used with the launchers intended for the 30-cm (11.8-in) rockets, with special rails for the smaller rockets fitted into the existing 30-cm (11.8-in) launcher rails.
PRO document WO 291/2317, “German use of the multi-barrelled rocket projector”, dated 07 Jan 1944, has a couple of things to say on this question.
It gives safety zones from several sources. A German circular dated March 1942 gives safety zones for own troops for 15cm rockets as 500m in range and 300m in line from each edge of the target area, and says that concentration of own troops should be avoided for 3000 metres short of the target. Other reports give safety zones of 500 yards and 600 metres.
It also gives the results of three firing trials with captured rockets:
15cm Nebelwefer trial in North Africa
Rounds QE Mean range (m) m.d. dispersion in range (m)
10 6° 3′ 2710 252
5 30° 7018 130
5 45° 7723 115
15cm HE trial in North Africa
Rounds QE Range (yds) m.d. range (yds) m.d. line (yds)
10 6° 3’ 2954 247 77
4 30° 7675 142 37
5 30° 8446 127 34
Trial in England, 15cm HE and smoke
Type Rounds QE Range (yds) m.d. range m.d. line time of flight (secs)
HE 22 15° 4565 107 42 17.73
Smoke 15 15° 3509 117 33 13.60
PRO document WO 232/49, “Role of rockets as artillery weapons”, says that with Land Mattress the dispersion in range approaches that of guns, but in line is still six times as much. It also says that the safety zone for Land Mattress is 500 yards.
At 8000+ yards, a single 6 rocket Nebelwerfer can place them onto a football field? Considering the heavy payload and the range, that’s pretty good chucking. If I’m reading the figures correctly, and if a football field is about 100m long, then it means that it would put half of them within a football field’s length of the MPI — in other words, the 50% zone would be two football fields long.
Whether the MPI is accurately adjusted onto the target is another question, and as the point of MRLs is surprise fire I would expect the registration process to be less accurate for NbWs than tube artillery because of the practice of using silent or offset registration to preserve surprise.
Diagram of German M19 5cm automatic mortar as sited in the Channel Islands and at points on the Atlantic Wall.
From the very start of the war, the German Army placed a great deal of store in mortars of various calibres and deployed them to every theatre of war, from North Africa to the Balkans and north-west Europe. The lightest calibre mortar produced expressly for the German Army was the 5cm leichte Granatwerfer 36 (leGrW36), which had a weight in action of 30.9lbs, considerably heavier than anything used by the Allied armies. Despite this it fired a HE bomb of just under 2lbs in weight, which was less than the weight of the bombs fired by the British 2in mortar or the Japanese Model Type 98 of comparable calibre. At the start of the war, the leGrW36 was standard equipment with every platoon within an infantry regiment of the German Army and required three men for its operation. It was used at company level to provide the company commander with immediate fire support to platoons and sections. At the time of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, there were eighty-four of these mortars in service with each division. The crew between them carried forty-five rounds of ammunition ready to use, and with a firing rate of forty rounds per minute this gave them just over one minute in action. However, these supplies would not have been expended so quickly and targets would have been engaged selectively in order to conserve ammunition and provide the maximum fire support to those areas where it was most needed. The mortar had a barrel length of 19.3in and could fire at angles of elevation between 45 and 90 degrees, with a maximum range of 550 yards with a HE bomb.
The ammunition for the 5cm mortar was termed Werfergranate 36 and was made with a cast-steel casing. It was fitted with the Werfergranatzunder 38 fuse, which also had ‘graze’ action. For safety purposes the fuse only became armed some 60 yards out from the muzzle after firing. The graze action on the fuse meant that if the bomb were to descend through trees, there was a high possibility that it would brush against branches which would set off the detonation train of the fuse to produce an air burst action. This type of fuse was fairly common at the time and other armies also had versions incorporating similar actions for the same effect. The ammunition for the leGrW36 was carried in pressed steel containers, each holding ten rounds ready to use.
It has been argued that the 5cm mortar of the German Army was actually over-engineered and fabricated from the best quality metals. This is supported by the comments made in a report following an examination made on captured examples which were also test fired in 1941, by the British Army which stated that is was ‘well-constructed and easy to operate, but the degree of accuracy is unnecessarily high’. The barrel was attached to the baseplate by means of a locking pin, which allowed it to be moved through its arc of firing independently of the baseplate’s angle to the ground. The first examples of the mortar had been issued during the re-armament programme in the mid-1930s and these were fitted with a collimating sight. It was later decided to dispense with this, as on the British 2in mortar. Like that weapon, it was left to the experience of the firer to judge the angle of the barrel when in use. The leGrW36 could be broken down into two parts for carrying by the crew. This was achieved by removing the locking pin and disconnecting the elevating mechanism so that the barrel and baseplate became two separate loads. The 5cm mortar was used by Gebirgsjäger (Mountain Troops) during operations where they were engaged in anti-partisan actions among the peaks in regions such as Crete, Greece and Yugoslavia. The Germans nicknamed it the Zigeuner-Artillerie (Gypsy Artillery) because the weapon was quick and easy to move from one location to another on the battlefield. Despite its usefulness in such terrain, the Germans came to realise the weapons were too heavy, too expensive and too complex for the limited downrange effect they provided and eventually decided to follow the move of the Soviet Red Army concerning the use of 5cm mortars, and by 1943 the GrW34 had been withdrawn from service. Production of ammunition was halted but it remained in service with some of the more remote garrisons such as the Channel Islands, where stocks of ammunition were unused, except for a few rounds expended for training purposes.
The Gebirgsjager were specialist infantry with a typical division having 14,131 troops of all ranks, 3,506 mules and horses along with more than 550 bicycles for the ‘Cyclist Battalion’ within its organisational structure. The bicycles were a cheap and efficient method of moving a battalion over distances without having to rely on motor transport. Some of the bicycles were fitted with brackets at various points, such as the crossbar and handlebars, to permit heavy weapons including machine guns and the 5cm mortar to be carried. Ammunition could be carried in panniers on the rear or in special saddlebags. The bicycle battalion of the Gebirgasjager had six 5cm mortars and three 8cm mortars, while the two infantry regiments combined had a total of fifty-four GrW36 and thirty-six GrW34.
The Germans occupied the British Channel Islands in July 1940 after the surrender of France, and the islands would remain in German hands for almost five years. During that time the three main islands in the archipelago, Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney, were fortified out of all proportion to their actual strategic value. The garrison spread across the islands increased to an eventual strength of around 46,000, including some 15,000 forced labourers who were taken to the islands to build the defences which encircled each of them. Although there were elements of the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine, which provided anti-aircraft batteries and coastal artillery units, the main bulk of the force was provided by the infantry. Initially this had been 216th Division but this was replaced by 319th Division in May 1941. The infantry deployed all the usual standard weapons such as machine guns and flamethrowers, but they also prepared defensive emplacements for mortars, including the 5cm GrW36 and the heavier 8.1cm GrW34, of which there were about thirty-nine and forty-three respectively deployed to Jersey. One of these positions was located at La Crete Fort, built on a promontory between the harbour at Bonne Nuit Bay and Giffard Bay on Jersey’s north coast. The site had been used as a defensive point since the seventeenth century and updated in the nineteenth century. The buildings were modified by the Germans to accept mortars and machine guns, and included a guardhouse that could be used by the garrison of twenty troops. The site overlooked the sea on three sides and from there the mortars could be traversed in all directions with unimpeded views to engage any would-be assault force. Another mortar-firing position was built at St Aubin’s Fort, which dates from the sixteenth century and lies at the western end of St Aubin’s Bay on the south coast of the island. The special emplacement had a concrete platform from which the crew could traverse the mortar to engage targets at all angles of approach.
Apart from the two standard types of service mortars, the occupying forces also bolstered the defences with captured weapons which included a range of French and Soviet mortars. On Jersey this included at least twenty-eight French 50mm mortars which were given the German Army service nomenclature of 5cm GrW210(f) and are understood to have been taken from the defences of the Maginot Line. Soviet weapons included eleven 52-PM 37 mortars known in German service as 5.2cm GrW205(r) and a few 82-PM 36 which the Germans referred to as the 8.2cm GrW274(r). These began arriving on the island in late 1941 and 1942. One of the units recorded as using these weapons on Jersey was the 4th Battalion, 582nd Infantry Regiment, which included the 643th Battalion, the Russiskaya Osvoboditelnaya Armiya (Russian Liberation Army). Soviet troops volunteering to serve with German units were posted at low key defensive positions along the Atlantic Wall in those areas where it was considered unlikely that an Allied invasion would come. One of these areas was the Channel Islands and, as such, most of the Soviet troops sent here would have been trained in the use of Soviet weaponry.
The islands had been under occupation for more than fifteen months when Hitler issued a directive on 20 October 1941 which ordered that permanent defences be prepared on each of the islands. Directive No. 441760/41 for the ‘Fortification and Defence of the British Channel Islands’ was marked ‘secret’ and contained instructions that: ‘Defence measures on the Channel Islands must guarantee that a British attack will be repulsed before reaching the islands irrespective of whether the attacks are by air, by sea, or a combination of both. It must be taken into account that the enemy may use bad weather for a surprise attack. Immediate steps to strengthen the defence measures have already been ordered.’ The campaign into the Soviet Union was only three months old and going very much in Germany’s favour, and one would have thought this would be Hitler’s main priority, but in this directive we see that he is concerning himself with a minor aspect in the overall conduct of the war. This concern has led historians to conclude that he became obsessed with holding on to these British possessions at whatever cost. The war was also going in favour of Rommel’s Afrika Korps in North Africa, where the British and Commonwealth forces had been pushed back to Egypt. Yet, here he was devoting time to draft directives concerning occupied territories of little importance other than for propaganda.
The islands had already been subjected to several raids by British commando units, conducted mainly against Guernsey, with the aim of establishing the strength of the garrison. By interrogating prisoners, the British were able to build up a picture of what was happening by 1941 and gauge morale of both the civilian population and the military government. These raids achieved more through their irritating effect by keeping the Germans on a state of alert rather than any genuine military success. However, they did create a reason in Hitler’s mind to continue defending the islands. His October 1941 directive continued by stating: ‘For the permanent fortification of the Channel Islands, which must be pressed forward energetically in order to create an impregnable fortress, I therefore order the following …’ The document continues by outlining the responsibilities of the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine on the islands, but emphasis is given in particular to the role and duties of the army. One of the paragraphs of the directive states that: ‘For the Army the most important constructions are close-meshed flanking installations spacious enough to contain guns with a calibre sufficient to penetrate armour 100mm thick, and for defence against tanks which may be landed from barges.’ Recommendations for storage of ammunition are all outlined and how such construction work, in keeping with installations along the Atlantic Wall, would be built using ‘foreign workers, especially Russians, Spaniards, but also Frenchmen’. These were slave labourers under the direction of Organisation Todt. The Atlantic Wall defences they built would eventually stretch for over 1,600 miles, from Norway to the Spanish border. It absorbed 18.6 million cubic yards of concrete and almost 1.2 million tons of steel to create thousands of emplacements, from the smallest to the largest, which housed long-range guns which could fire shells more than 30 miles across the English Channel to bombard the town and harbour facilities at Dover in Kent.
There were many different types of installations built, into which were mounted weapons of all types from machine guns to massive pieces of artillery capable of firing shells many miles. One design mounted automatic mortars in armoured cupolas, an idea which had occurred to military planners as early as 1934, and the Dusseldorf-based company of Rheinmettall-Borsig was awarded a contract to develop such a design. At the time the French Maginot Line was at an advanced stage of building and some of the defences incorporated mortars mounted in steel cupolas, and this idea may have inspired the German planners. The French opted to equip their cupolas with either 50mm or 81mm mortars, while the Germans decided on just mortars of 5cm calibre based on the GrW36 weapon, which, by coincidence, was also manufactured by Rheinmettall-Borsig. One theory put forward as to why the lighter calibre was chosen is because it would not have placed too much of a strain on production and supply in the way a larger calibre would have. Armament factories in Germany could have coped with extra production and certainly those armaments factories in occupied countries, such as France, could have added to the supply. The truth is probably due to size and weight of the ammunition, which could be handled by infantrymen instead of requiring specialist handling equipment. The M19 automatic mortar fired standard bombs from a metal tray-like magazine which was pre-loaded with six bombs. The 5cm HE bomb weighed 1lb 15.5oz, and together with the weight of the complete magazine each would be just over 12lbs. If this had been done with the GrW34 8cm HE bombs, each of which weighed 7lbs 8oz, the weight would have been over 45lbs and the magazine tray would have been much larger and heavier. Indeed, size was a major contributing factor and to put it in simple terms of logistics, more of the smaller 5cm bombs could be stored inside the bunker than the larger 8cm bombs.
Rheinmettall-Borsig produced ten studies into developing a complete system for an automatic mortar before making a final choice which would become the M19 5cm Maschinengranatwerfer. The operational role of the system was to provide firepower to cover areas of ‘dead ground’ which could not otherwise be observed. This was usually an area on the coastline with steep cliffs, but that was not exclusive. Apart from firing the 5cm calibre mortar bomb, the weapon used in the M19 system was completely different to the standard GrW36 used by the infantry. Using standard dismountable mortars in such a defensive role would have only been a short-term solution and they would have needed to be removed periodically for service. Emplacing a weapon mounted in a specially-produced turret or cupola would provide a permanent position, ready to provide all-round 360-degree traverse and able to come into action at a moment’s notice to cover all points of approach to the defensive site. Initially, these automatic mortars were intended for installation in the Westwall and the Eastwall, a defensive system also known as the Oder-Warthe-Bogen Line. This was built between 1938 and 1940 on the border between Germany and Poland. It covered a length of around 20 miles and included around 100 main defensive emplacements. After the successful campaigns in 1939 and 1940, it was decided not to install the weapons in these locations and instead they would be sited at intervals along the Atlantic Wall, which included several being built on the Channel Islands of Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney.
The M19 installation on the island of Jersey was built at Corbière Point at the western end of the island, which was turned into a strongpoint to defend the headland. From here its high rate of fire could be useful in engaging targets at close quarters and overlap with the firepower of machine guns and two 10.5cm field guns also sited at the point. The neighbouring island of Guernsey had four M19 automatic mortar installations, including one located at Hommet, overlooking Vazon Bay on the north-west coast, where its firepower could be integrated with that of machine guns, at least three pieces of artillery with 10.5cm calibre and a 4.7cm gun of Czechoslovakian origin. On Alderney there were two M19 strongpoints with other similar installations built along the much-vaunted Atlantic Wall, including three in Norway, nine in Holland, one in Belgium, twenty-two along the French coast and twenty along the Danish coastline, with four more planned but not built. For such a small weapon it absorbed a huge amount of resources in manpower to build the emplacement, with tons of concrete and steel in its construction. The sites of the M19 automatic mortars were out of all proportion compared to those built for heavier weaponry in defensive positions. The M19 mortar could fire HE bombs at a rate of between sixty and 120 rounds per minute, although the higher rate of fire was rarely used in order to minimise stresses and prevent the weapon from overheating. The crew could engage targets at ranges between 54 and 820 yards, which was closer than artillery could achieve, and together with support fire from other weapons such as machine gun, any infantry attack would have been met with fierce opposition. Indeed, one M19 position on the Eastwall held out for forty-eight hours when attacked by troops of the Red Army in early 1945.
The M19 weapons were mounted in steel cupolas which had an internal diameter of 6ft 6in to accommodate the three-man crew during firing. Initially, there were two main designs of cupola, the 34P8 and the 49P8, but it was a third type, the 424PO1, which became the most widely used with armour protection 250mm thick. The cupolas were mounted on specially-prepared bunkers designated ‘135’, with concrete protection up to 11.5ft thick, and the ‘633’, which was the most common design and the type used in the Channel Islands. The M19 bunkers were divided into several rooms including the firing room and had accommodation for up to sixteen men. Each bunker had its own independent generator to provide power to traverse the firing platform and cupola, but in the event of a power failure the weapon and cupola could be elevated and traversed by means of hand-operated wheels. The ammunition storage room had racks for thirty-four trays, each pre-loaded with six bombs, giving a total of 204 bombs ready to fire. Ammunition boxes containing ten bombs each to reload the spent trays were stored in this room, and it was the task of the crew members to reload these. In total an M19 bunker could have ammunition reserves of up to 3,944 bombs stored in readiness for use. These bunkers were equipped with field telephones and optical sight units such as the Panzer-Rundblick-Zielfernrohr, an armoured periscope with a magnification of × 5. Because it was an indirect fire weapon, the M19 had to be directed on to its targets and integrate its fire by overlapping with neighbouring weaponry.
The firing platform on which the mortar was mounted could be elevated when firing and lowered when not in use. The loaded ammunition trays were fed up to the platform by means of an elevator where the loader removed them and fed the trays into the left-hand side of the weapon’s breech. As it fired, a mechanism moved the tray along to feed the next bomb into the weapon, and the process continued until the empty tray emerged on the right-hand side of the weapon, where a handler removed them and placed them in the descending elevator section. These were removed by another member of the crew and taken to the ammunition room, where they were reloaded ready for reuse. The M19 could fire the standard types of Wurfgranate 36 bombs, which these were fitted with colour-coded graduated propellant charges to be used according to the range required. The red charge was for use at ranges from 22 to 220 yards and the green charge was for ranges from 220 to 680 yards. There were training bombs which had no filling and could not be fired, which were really for familiarising crews with handling procedures of the weapon. There were two training systems developed to teach crews how to operate the M19; the first was the Sonderanhangar 101 mounted on a trailer and the other was the Ubungsturm, which replicated the complete cupola layout
Preparing the weapon to fire, the operator lifted the barrel clear of the breech by means of a cam and lever mechanism which allowed a bomb on the loading tray to be aligned with the chamber. As the barrel was lowered over the bomb, the firing pin in the breech was activated to initiate the propellant charge. The recoil forces on firing unlocked the barrel a fraction of a second later and the cam mechanism lifted the barrel clear of the breech, and another bomb was loaded ready to fire as the tray was fed through.
As the Allied campaign to liberate Europe continued in the second half of 1944, the Germans had to rethink their defensive strategy. From September 1944 they renewed construction work on the Westwall to improve defences and began to install M19 systems at certain locations. The actual numbers of M19 systems built and turrets installed varies according to sources. Some, for example, state that perhaps seventy-three such installations were built in the Atlantic Wall. These did not cause the Allies any unnecessary problems and those along the Westwall were largely ineffective, while those in the Channel Islands never fired a shot in anger. In summary, it was indeed a great deal of effort for such a small weapon which did not play a decisive role in stopping or even slowing down the Allied advance.
Firing 4.5 inch rockets from M4-Sherman “Calliope” multiple rocket launcher, mounted on M-4, No. A-3 tank. 14th Armored, France.
T40/M17 mounted on M4 Sherman
While numerous rocket launcher mounts were developed for fitting to M4 series vehicles, very few saw operational use or reached production status.
Rocket Launcher T34 (Calliope): This consisted of 60 4·6in rocket tubes mounted in a frame above the turret. The two bottom sets of 12 tubes each could be jettisoned if necessary on all variants except the M4A1. The mount was traversed with the tank turret and elevated by a rod linked to the gun barrel. The Calliope was a “limited procurement” weapon, developed in 1943 and first used by 2nd Armored Division in France in August 1944. This weapon saw limited combat use until the end of the war.
The T34 Calliope Rocket Launcher was developed in 1943 and consisted of an array of sixty rocket tubes on a frame mounted above the turret of a Sherman tank. The tubes traversed with the turret and could be raised or lowered via a connecting rod to the gun barrel. The name came from its resemblance to the musical steam organ which has similar pipes. The T34 saw action with the US Army in 1944-45, firing 4.6-inch or 114-mm rockets, while the T34E2 saw this calibre increased to 7.2-inch or 183 mm.
Rocket Launcher T34E1: As T34 but with 14 tubes in two bottom projector units.
Rocket Launcher T34E2: Similar in appearance to the T34, but longer, the T34E2 held 60 7·2in rockets and the entire mount could be jettisoned if necessary in an emergency. This mount saw limited combat use, 1945.
Rocket Launcher T39: A mount of enclosed box construction with doors over the tubes. It held 20 7·2in rockets. Experimental only.
Rocket Launcher T40(M17) (Whiz-bang): This rocket launcher held 20 7·2in rockets in a box-like frame and was elevated hydraulically from the 75mm gun controls. The entire mount could be jettisoned if required, and the rockets could be fired singly or in salvoes. This “limited procurement” weapon was classified “limited standard” and saw some combat use in 1944-45.
Rocket Launcher T40 (short version): Experimental version of the above with shorter rocket tubes and 75mm gun removed and replaced by elevation mechanism for launcher. Access door for crew added in side of vehicle which was an M4A2.
Rocket Launcher T72: Similar to T34 but with very short tubes. Not used operationally.
Rocket Launcher T73: Similar to T40 but held only 10 rockets. Not used in combat. Experimental only on M4A1.
Rocker Launcher T76: This was a M4A1 with a 7 ½ in rocket tube replacing the 75mm gun. Had an opening in turret front around the mounting to allow gases to escape on firing. Reloaded from inside turret. Experimental only, 1944. Same weapon mounted on M4A3 HVSS was designated T76E1. Rocket Launcher
T105: A single 7·2in rocket projector in box-like case mounted in M4A1 in place of 75mm gun. Developed from T76, August 1945. Did not proceed past trials stage.
Multiple Rocket Launcher T99: Two small box-like launcher mounts, each holding 22 4·5in rockets, mounted each side of turret for vehicle with 76mm gun. Few produced 1945; also fitted experimentally to M26 heavy tank.
The German Army recognised the need for a more powerful form of anti-tank weapon and the design of a horse-drawn, 3.7 cm anti-tank gun (designated 3.7 cm Pak L/45) by Rheinmetall commenced in 1924 and the first guns were issued in 1928. However, by the early 1930s, it was apparent that horse-drawn artillery was obsolescent, and the gun was modified for motorized transport by substituting magnesium-alloy wheels with pneumatic tyres for the original spoked wooden wheels. Re-designated the 3.7 cm Pak 35/36, it began to replace the 3.7 Pak L/45 in 1934 and first appeared in combat in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. It formed the basis for many other nations’ anti-tank guns during the first years of World War II. The KwK 36 L/45 was the same gun but adapted as the main armament on several tanks, most notably the early models of the Panzer III.
The Pak 36, being a small-calibre weapon, was outdated by the May 1940 Western Campaign, and crews found them inadequate against allied tanks like the British Mk.II Matilda, and the French Char B1 and Somua S35. Still, the gun was effective against the most common light tanks, such as the Renault FT-17 and saw wide service during the Battle of France and the T-26 during Operation Barbarossa. The widespread introduction of medium tanks quickly erased the gun’s effectiveness; miserable performance against the T-34 on the Eastern Front led to the Pak 36 being derisively dubbed the “Door Knocker” (Heeresanklopfgerät, literally “army door-knocking device”) for its inability to do anything other than advertise its presence to a T-34 by futilely bouncing rounds off its armor.
Not surprisingly The Pak 36 began to be replaced by the new 5 cm Pak 38 in mid 1940. The addition of tungsten-core shells (Pzgr. 40) added slightly to the armour penetration of the Pak 36. Despite its continued impotence against the T-34, it remained the standard anti-tank weapon for many units until 1942. It was discovered that Pak 36 crews could still achieve kills on T-34s, but this rare feat required tungsten-cored armour piercing ammunition and a direct shot to the rear or side armour from point-blank range.
As the Pak 36 was gradually replaced, many were removed from their carriages and added to SdKfz 251 halftracks to be used as light anti-armour support. The guns were also passed on to the forces of Germany’s allies fighting on the Eastern Front, such as the 3rd and 4th Romanian Army. This proved particularly disastrous during the Soviet encirclement (Operation Uranus) at the Battle of Stalingrad when these Romanian forces were targeted to bear the main Soviet armoured thrust. The Pak 36 also served with the armies of Finland (notably during the defence of Suomussalmi), it was also deployed in Hungary, and Slovakia.
In 1943, the introduction of the Stielgranate 41 shaped charge meant that the Pak 36 could now penetrate any armour, although the low velocity of the projectile limited its range. The Pak 36s, together with the new shaped charges, were issued to Fallschirmjäger units and other light troops. The gun’s light weight meant that it could be easily moved by hand, and this mobility made it ideal for their purpose.
The replacement for the outdated Pak 36 was the 50cm Pak 38. The longer barrel and larger projectile produced the required level of kinetic energy to pierce armour . The PaK 38 was first used by the German forces during the Second World War in April 1941. When the Germans faced Soviet tanks in 1941 during Operation Barbarossa, the PaK 38 was one of the few early guns capable of effectively penetrating the 45 mm (1.8 in) armor of the formidable T-34. Additionally, the gun was also equipped with Panzergranate 40 APCR projectiles which had a hard tungsten core, in an attempt to penetrate the armor of the heavier KV-1 tank. Although it was soon replaced by more powerful weapons, the Pak 38 remained a potent and useful weapon and remained in service with the Wehrmacht until the end of the war.
The 7.5 cm PaK 40 (7.5 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 40) was the next generation of anti-tank gun to see service. This German 7.5 centimetre high velocity anti-tank gun was developed in 1939-1941 by Rheinmetall and used extensively from 1942-1945 during the Second World War. It was the PaK 40 which formed the backbone of German anti-tank guns for the latter part of World War II. Development of the PaK 40 began in 1939 with development contracts being placed with Krupp and Rheinmetall to develop a 7.5 cm anti-tank gun. Priority of the project was initially low, but Operation Barbarossa in 1941 and the sudden appearance of heavily armoured Soviet tanks like the T-34 and KV-1, increased the priority. The first pre-production guns were delivered in November 1941.
In April 1942, Wehrmacht had 44 guns in service. It was remarkably successful weapon and by 1943 the PaK 40 formed the bulk of the German anti-tank artillery.The PaK 40 was the standard German anti-tank gun until the end of the war, and was supplied by Germany to its allies. Some captured guns were used by the Red Army. After the end of the war the PaK 40 remained in service in several European armies, including Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Norway, Hungary and Romania.
Around 23,500 PaK 40 were produced, and about 6,000 more were used to arm tank destroyers. The unit manufacturing cost amounted to 2200 man-hours at a cost of 12000 RM. A lighter automatic version, the heaviest of the Bordkanone series of heavy calibre aircraft ordnance as the BK 7,5 was used in the Henschel Hs129 aircraft.
The Pak 40 was effective against almost every Allied tank until the end of the war. However, the PaK 40 was much heavier than the 50 cm PaK 38, It was difficult to manhandle into position and its mobility was limited. It was difficult or impossible to move without an artillery tractor on boggy ground.
The PaK 40 debuted in Russia where it was needed to combat the newest Soviet tanks there. It was designed to fire the same low-capacity APCBC, HE and HL projectiles which had been standardized for usage in the long barreled Kampfwagenkanone KwK 40 main battle tank-mounted guns. In addition there was an APCR shot for the PaK 40, a munition which eventually became very scarce.
The main differences amongst the rounds fired by 75 mm German guns were in the length and shape of the cartridge cases for the PaK 40. The 7.5 cm KwK (tank) fixed cartridge case is twice the length of the 7.5 cm KwK 37 (short barrelled 75 mm), and the 7.5 cm PaK 40 cartridge is a third longer than the 7.5 cm KwK 40.
The longer cartridge case allowed a larger charge to be used and a higher velocity for the Armour Piercing Capped Ballistic Cap round to be achieved. The muzzle velocity was about 790 m/s (2,600 ft/s) as opposed to 750 m/s (2,500 ft/s) for the KwK 40 L/43. This velocity was available for about one year after the weapon’s introduction. Around the same time, the Panzer IVs 7.5 cm KwK 40 L/43 gun and the nearly identical Sturmkanone (StuK) 40 L/43 began to be upgraded with barrels that were 48 calibers long, or L/48, which remained the standard for them until the end of the war.
In the field, an alarming number of L/48 cartridge cases carrying the hotter charge failed to be ejected properly from the weapon’s semi-automatic breech, even on the first shot (in vehicles). Rather than re-engineer the case, German Ordnance reduced the charge loading until the problem went away. The new charge brought the muzzle velocity down to 750 m/s, or about 10 m/s higher than the original L/43 version of the weapon. Considering the average variability in large round velocities from a given gun, this is virtually negligible in effect. The first formal documentation of this decision appears on May 15, 1943 (“7.5cm Sturmkanone 40 Beschreibung”) which details a side by side comparison of the L/43 and the L/48 weapons. The synopsis provided indicates very little difference in the guns, meaning the upgrade had little if any benefit.
All further official presentations of the KwK 40 L/48 ( “Oberkommando des Heeres, Durchschlagsleistungen panzerbrechender Waffen”) indicate a muzzle velocity of 750 m/s for the gun. As for the PaK 40, the desire for commonality again appears to have prevailed since the APCBC charge was reduced to 750 m/s, even though case ejection failures apparently were never a problem in the PaK version of the gun.
For reasons which seem to be lost to history, at least some 75 mm APCBC cartridges appear to have received a charge which produced a muzzle velocity of about 770 m/s (2,500 ft/s). The first documented firing by the U.S. of a PaK 40 recorded an average muzzle velocity of 776 m/s for its nine most instrumented firings. Probably because of these results, period intelligence publications (“Handbook on German Military Forces”) gave ~770 m/s as the PaK 40 APCBC muzzle velocity, although post war pubs corrected this (Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 30-4-4, “Foreign Military Weapons and Equipment (U) Vol. 1 Artillery (U) dated August of 1955-this document was originally classified).
In addition, German sources are contradictory in that the Official Firing Table document for the 75 mm KwK 40, StuK 40, and the PaK 40 dated October, 1943 cites 770 m/s on one of the APCBC tables therein, showing some confusion. (“Schusstafel fur die 7.5cm Kampfwagenkanone 40”).
The 88 mm gun (eighty-eight) was a German anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun from World War II. It was widely used by Germany throughout the war, and was one of the most recognized German weapons of the war. Development of the original models led to a wide variety of guns.
The name applies to a series of guns, the first one officially called the 8,8 cm Flak 18, the improved 8,8 cm Flak 36, and later the 8,8 cm Flak 37. Flak is a contraction of German Flugzeugabwehrkanone meaning “anti-aircraft cannon”, the original purpose of the eighty-eight. In informal German use, the guns were universally known as the Acht-acht (“eight-eight”), a contraction of Acht-komma-acht Zentimeter (“8.8 cm”). In English, “flak” became a generic term for ground anti-aircraft fire.
The versatile carriage allowed the eighty-eight to be fired in a limited anti-tank mode when still on wheels, and to be completely emplaced in only two-and-a-half minutes. Its successful use as an improvised anti-tank gun led to the development of a tank gun based upon it. These related guns served as the main armament of tanks such as the Tiger I: the 8.8 cm KwK 36, with the “KwK” abbreviation standing for KampfwagenKanone (“fighting vehicle cannon”).
In addition to these Krupp’s designs, Rheinmetall created later a more powerful anti-aircraft gun, the 8,8 cm Flak 41, produced in relatively small numbers. Krupp responded with another prototype of the long-barreled 88 mm gun, which was further developed into the anti-tank and tank destroyer 8.8 cm Pak 43 gun, and turret-mounted 8.8 cm KwK 43 heavy tank gun.
At the outbreak of war the artillery equipment of the Wehrmacht was standardised on a few calibres, and the weapons were in general of sound and well-tested design. The army’s field weapons were of 10.5cm, 15cm and 21cm calibres, and the design philosophy ensured that a gun of given calibre and a howitzer of the next larger calibre were interchangeable on the same carriage, thus simplifying production, supply and maintenance. Anti-aircraft defence was built around the 2cm and 3.7cm light guns, the 8.8cm medium gun and the 10.5cm heavy gun; anti-tank weapons were the 3.7cm gun and a 7.92mm anti-tank rifle for infantry use. One or two improved designs were undergoing routine development with the intention of bringing them into service as and when the need arose.
The demands of war soon spoiled this arrangement. When it came to forecasting the future, the OKW was no more visionary than any other comparable body and the appearance of new weapons in the hands of the enemy frequently led to sudden demands on designers to develop powerful antidotes. An example of this was the sudden flurry of activity in the anti-tank field consequent upon the appearance of the virtually unstoppable Soviet T34 tank. The users’ demands on the gunmakers were always the same: improve the performance of the gun, increase its range, increase its velocity, but please do not increase its weight. How these demands were translated into reality will be seen on subsequent pages but, as a general rule, the paths open to the designers were well-defined. The only way to improve the performance of a conventional gun is by increasing the muzzle velocity, and this can be done m a variety of ways.
The first and most simple technique is to increase the size of the propelling charge or to develop a more efficient propellant, while still operating the gun at the same pressure. This, in round figures, demands a four-fold increase in propellant quantity to obtain a 60% increase in muzzle velocity, and contains several disadvantages in the shape of erosive wear, redesign of the chamber and cartridge case, and economic production of the propellant.
The second simple method is to increase the length of the barrel, thus keeping the projectile exposed to the accelerating effect of the exploding propellant for a longer time. To obtain the 60% increase in velocity would demand a 300% increase in barrel length-scarcely a practical measure.
An increase in chamber pressure combined with a moderate increase in barrel length will also increase velocity. The standard 60% increase could thus be achieved by a 50% increase in pressure coupled to a 50% increase in barrel length, but again this is scarcely a practical answer. One solution, increasingly adopted by many nations towards the end of the war, was a 50% reduction of projectile weight which increased the velocity by 40%- but the ballistic coefficient (the `carrying power’ of the projectile) was proportionately reduced. Deceleration in flight was hence more rapid, leading to less range than a full-weight projectile would have achieved at the same velocity.
Owing to these conventional design limitations, the war initiated the examination of more and more unconventional solutions. One of the first, which had been developed well before the war, was the production of high-velocity guns in which the rifling consisted of a few deep grooves into which fitted curved ribs on the outer surface of the shell, imparting positive rotation. This was developed because the conventional copper driving band was incapable of transmitting the enormous torque of high velocity projectiles’ excessive radial acceleration without shearing. The ribbed or `splined’ shell solved the problem of transmitting spin, but a copper band still had to be fitted to provide the gas-seal necessary at the rear of the shell. This was an expensive and complicated solution, suited only to large weapons produced in limited numbers, and much research was begun to try and overcome the torque defect of the copper driving band, with the additional incentive of trying to find a material in less critical supply.
The first development was the Krupp Sparführung (KpS) band-a bimetallic band of copper and soft iron, although zinc was sometimes added to dilute the copper and to assist in effecting the iron/copper joint. There was little or no performance advantage, merely an economy of copper. Next came the Weicheisen (FeW) soft iron band, the use of which was restricted to large calibre high-velocity guns. It could withstand torque very well, but the process of putting the band on the shell (by a powerful radial press) work-hardened the metal to the point where it became difficult to `engrave’-or force into the gun’s rifling. It was this defect that restricted Weicheisen bands’ use to high-pressure large-calibre weapons.
The final development was the Sintereisen (FeS) wintered iron band, formed from small iron particles bonded together under intense pressure to form a malleable band. This engraved well, resisted shear stresses, and was economical of material in short supply, but in its first application was found to wear out the gun barrels faster than a conventional copper band. Further development evolved a new form of barrel rifling with wider lands and grooves, and this-together with the reintroduction of increasing twist-improved matters to a degree where the German technicians opined that even if they had sufficient copper available they would still prefer to use sintered iron, particularly at higher velocities. One interesting result was the discovery that, while copper bands resulted in the gun barrel wearing out first at the chamber end of the rifling, FeS bands promoted wear at the muzzle since the coefficient of friction was directly proportional to the velocity.
When the increases in performance made available by increasing the barrel length and the size of the charge, and the provision of improved rifling and banding, had been taken to their extremes, it became necessary to explore less well-trodden paths. The first unorthodox solution offered was the `coned bore’ gun, the theory of which predicated that if the barrel was made with a gradually-decreasing calibre (and if the projectile was designed to adapt to the diminution) then, since the base area of the shot is reducing while the propelling gas pressure either remains-depending on the cartridge design-constant or increases then the unit pressure on the shot base will increase and the shot will be given greater velocity. The original idea was patented in 1903 by Carl Puff and the drawings accompanying the specification (British Patent 8601 of 27th August 1904) show a projectile almost identical to those later developed in Germany. Puff, however, does not appear to have pursued his ideas as far as a working gun, and the idea lay dormant until taken up by a German engineer named Gerlich in the 1920s. In co-operation with Halbe, a gunmaker, he developed a number of high-velocity sporting rifles with tapered bores and flanged projectiles, marketed in limited numbers during the 1930s under the name Halger, while at the same time attempting to interest various governments in the possible use of these weapons as high velocity military rifles. He also worked for both the United States’ government and the British Army on taper-bore rifles, but neither felt that there was much virtue in the idea; Gerlich returned to Germany c. 1935, and his subsequent activities have escaped record.
By this time others were exploring the idea: Rheinmetall-Borsig, Krupp, Bochumer Verein and Polte-Werke all had experimental programmes varying in degree of involvement. Rheinmetall-Borsig eventually became the most involved; the firm’s Dr Werner Banck, who took charge of development in late 1939, continued to work on it throughout the war and ultimately became one of the most knowledgeable men in the world on the subject of taper-bore guns.
The 75/55-mm tapered bore 7.5-cm Pak 41.
Two classes of weapon were eventually categorised: the taper bore, in which the barrel tapered evenly from breech to muzzle, and the squeeze bore, in which the barrel was parallel for some distance and then tapered sharply to effect the `squeezing’ of the projectile, finishing as a parallel bore of smaller dimension. An alternative design of squeeze bore was one in which a tapered extension was placed on the muzzle of an otherwise conventional gun. The projectiles used with these two classes were much the same in design, though experience showed that the taper bore shot had to be somewhat stronger in construction than the squeeze bore models owing to the different times throughout which the shells underwent stress in compression.
Towards the end of the war the taper bore concept was gradually discarded in favour of the squeeze bore designs, since these were a good deal easier to manufacture. Making a tapered and rifled gun barrel was no easy task, even with sophisticated machine tools, whereas production of a smoothbore `squeeze’ extension to fit the muzzle of an otherwise standard gun was much less exacting and less wasteful of time and material. Weapons as large as 24cm calibre were fitted with such extensions (in this case reducing to 21cm) and were fired quite successfully.
The only active-service use of the taper or squeeze systems was in the anti-tank class, where three weapons (2.8cm/2.1cm, 4.2cm/2.8cm and 7.5/5.0cm) entered service. In the anti-aircraft field, while the velocity increases gave promise of considerably improved performance and where many experimental weapons were built and fired, no guns were ready for service before the war ended. There was a rule of thumb that said a squeeze bore adaptor could be expected to increase velocity and maximum range by about a third. Velocities of as much as 1400mps (4595fps) had been achieved but it was felt that, bearing in mind wear-rates and dispersion at extreme ranges, service velocities of 1150-1200mps(3775- 3935fps) might be consistently reached.
Successive Royal Navy post-Dreadnought classes were basically improved versions of that pioneering warship. The next significant advance came with the Orions (Orion, Conqueror, Monarch, and Thunderer, constructed between 1909 and 1912). They were improvements over previous designs and were promptly called super dreadnoughts. Their new 13.5-inch guns gave considerably increased firepower for a small addition in weight and size; range was increased to a spectacular 24,000 yards. The Orions’ main batteries were arranged on a pattern pioneered by the U. S. Navy that would prevail until the last battleship was designed: All turrets were mounted on the centerline, and fore-and-aft turrets were superimposed one on the other, a vast improvement on the German and previous RN wing turrets. The Orions’ armor was extended up to the main deck, eliminating a major weakness of the early dreadnought classes. Still, they suffered from the same lack of beam, which gave inferior underwater protection compared to the German ships. The unsound British argument was that greater beam made the ship more unsteady and reduced speed. The Orions, as noted, were also the last RN dreadnoughts to position their firing platforms directly abaft the forward funnel.
The next major advances in battleship design were seen in the five impressive Queen Elizabeths (Queen Elizabeth, Valiant, Barham, Malaya, and Warspite, completed in 1915-1916). Well ahead of anything the German Navy would produce, they were confidently designed to outrace a retreating enemy fleet. The Queen Elizabeths were the world’s first large oil-burning warships. The Admiralty knew full well that the Germans would be unlikely to go over to oil-burning entirely, as the Germans, unlike the British, were presumed to lack an assured oil supply in wartime. (Of course, with their penchant for invading other countries, the Germans might have been expected to take over Romania’s oil fields, which is what they later did in World War I.) Also, oil gave considerably greater thermal efficiency, discharged much less smoke, and released all personnel from the filthy, time-consuming bondage of coaling. Oiling was simply a matter of running out hoses and opening valves. Thus Great Britain, with no domestic oil resources of its own, had given hostages to the world’s petroleum producers.
The Queen Elizabeths were also the first to mount 15-inch main battery guns, and all five units fired those guns at Jutland. They and two units of the following Revenge class (Revenge, Royal Oak, Ramillies, Resolution, and Royal Sovereign, completed 1916-1917) were the last RN battleship class to fight in World War I and, with the Elizabeths, were the only capital ships of any naval power to use their main guns against enemy battleships in both world wars. (Three more units, Renown, Repulse, and Resistance, were suspended, then canceled in 1914 at the outbreak of war.)
The dreadnought was easily the most expensive weapon of World War I. By contrast, the most costly war tool of World War II (1939-1945) was the U. S. Army Air Force’s B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber. Obviously, the battleship’s status had considerably depreciated since 1918; not one battleship was laid down and completed during World War II.
Yet paradoxically, there were considerably more battleship-to-battleship clashes in World War II than in World War I, although, as in World War I, there would be only one large fleet battleship action. Yet despite their diminished role in World War II, roughly the same number of battleships would be lost as in World War I (23 versus 25, including self-scuttlings).
Like the other naval powers, all battleship-oriented, the Royal Navy entered World War II with a collection of World War I-era battleships, modernized and unmodernized, and with new battleships on the way. It also had the only battleships in any navy designed and completed during the 1920s, Nelson and Rodney. Except for the Nelson class, the Royal Navy during World War II would lose one each from its other battleship classes, in all losing three battleships: Royal Oak, Prince of Wales, and Barham. The oldest of the Royal Navy’s battleships serving in World War II were the five Queen Elizabeths. Of them, Valiant, Warspite, and Queen Elizabeth had been given the most complete reconstructions of any RN battleship. The unmodernized Barham would be lost to submarine torpedo, taking 862 crewmembers, in 1941. Later came the five Royal Sovereigns, of which Royal Oak was lost in Scapa Flow, with 786 dead, in 1939, again to a German submarine torpedo. These later but cheaper warships were not as highly valued as the Queen Elizabeths, perhaps because they were slower and they did not undergo nearly as extensive a modernization. In fact, the Admiralty seriously considered expending two of this class as blockade ships off the German coast. One, Royal Sovereign, was loaned to the Red Fleet for the war’s duration.
The newest RN battleships of World War II were the King George V class (King George V, Prince of Wales, Duke of York, Anson, and Howe, not to be confused with the King George V class of 1911-1912). Again, one unit of this class, Prince of Wales, was lost during the war, this time to aerial attack by the Japanese in December 1941. The class was severely criticized for its 14-inch main guns. This retrograde decision (after all, the considerably older Nelson and Rodney boasted 16- inch guns) was made in order to get at least the first two units of the class completed in 1940, by which date conflict with Germany was expected. As it was, only King George V was ready for service in 1940. Like the Nelson class, the King George V class had significant maingun mounting problems. Nonetheless, the Royal Navy generally felt that the class gave good value for the money.
A follow-on class, the Lions, was designed to mount 16-inch guns, but the realities of World War II saw to it that these battleships did not get past the laying-down stage, if that. Even so, as late as 1943-1944, there was actually a brief flurry of interest in completing the Lions, which went nowhere. Two years into World War II, Great Britain laid down HMS Vanguard as a mount for the never-installed 15-inch guns of the freak giant battle cruisers Glorious and Courageous, long since converted to aircraft carriers. Vanguard was basically Winston Churchill’s idea (the prime minister always had a soft spot for battleships) and was supposed to reinforce the RN fleet at Singapore. But long before Vanguard was launched in 1944, the Singapore bastion had fallen ignominiously, and Prince of Wales (along with the battle cruiser Repulse) had been lost to Japanese airpower off Malaya. Work proceeded very slowly during the war on Vanguard, the largest and last British battleship ever built; it was not completed until 1946, never fired a shot in anger, and was scrapped in 1960.
The cancellation of the Lions and the slow pace of construction on Vanguard should not be taken as an indication that the Royal Navy had given up entirely on battleships. Incredibly, the First Sea Lord (i. e., the highest-ranking RN officer), Admiral Andrew Cunningham, in May 1944, well after Taranto, Pearl Harbor, and the loss of Prince of Wales and Repulse, argued that, for the postwar Royal Navy, “the basis of the strength of the fleet is in battleships and no scientific development is in sight which might render them obsolete” (quoted in Eliot A. Cohen, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime, New York: The Free Press, 2002, pp. 121-122). Admiral Cunningham was no armchair theoretical navalist, but probably the best admiral the Royal Navy produced during World War II. Yet by the time Cunningham made his lamentable projection, the Royal Navy had ceased all battleship construction except for its leisurely work on Vanguard; after World War II it would lose no time in scrapping all its surviving battleships (except for Vanguard).
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REPORT ON EVENTS WHICH OCCURRED IN 14in TURRETS
23rd TO 25th MAY
Friday, 23rd May
A – Events prior to First Action
The order to load the cages was given late in the afternoon. In the course of loading the following defects developed:-
No. 2 gun loading cage: Front flashdoors could not be opened fully from the transverser compartment and the cage could not be loaded. Examination showed that the front casing had been badly burred by being struck by the lugs carrying the guide rollers on the gun loading rammer head when the latter was making a “withdrawing” stroke.
This was cleared by filing and the other gun loading cages were examined for the same defect. Slight burring was found in some cases and was dressed away.
No. 1 gun: On ramming shell the second time after the order “Load”, the shell arrestor at the shell ring level jammed out and could not be freed before the first action.
While steaming at high speed, large quantities of sea water entered “A” turret round the gun ports and through the joints of the gunhouse roof. It became necessary to rig canvas screens in the transverser space and bale the compartment.
No. 2 central ammunition hoist: Arrestor at shell ring level would not withdraw after ramming shell. It is impossible to strip this in place in the Mark II mounting, and the arrestor was removed complete. The axis pin of the pinion driving the inner tube of the arrestor had seized. There does not appear to be any effective means of lubricating this pin. The pin was drilled out and removed and the arrestor re-assembled. It was not, however, possible to replace the arrestor before action stations was ordered, because at this stage a defect developed in the hinge trays of the forward shell room as described below. This latter defect was taken in hand immediately in order to free the revolving shell ring and was completed a few minutes after action stations. It was not then considered advisable to proceed with replacing the arrestor.
Hinge trays at forward shell room fouled the locking bolt on the revolving shell ring: both trays being bent.
Saturday, 24th May
During the early hours hydraulic pressure failed on the revolving shell ring ship control in “B” turret. This was due to the pressure supply to the turret from the starboard side of the ring main being isolated. The revolving shell ring ship control is fed from the starboard side only, and the non-return valves on the pressure main adjacent to the centre pivot prevent pressure being fed to the starboard side and the revolving shell ring ship control from the port side in the event of the former being isolated from the ring main. Similar conditions exist on the port side of “A” and the starboard side of “Y”. It is considered essential that a cross connection be fitted in the shell handling room with two non-return valves so that the revolving shell ring ship control can be supplied from either side of the ring main.
B – Events during the First Action
The following defects developed in “A” turret:-
On several occasions the shell ring rammers fouled the brackets on the hinge trays for No. 11 interlock. Shell could not be rammed until the bearing of the turret was changed. This also occurred in “Y” but did not prevent ramming.
No. 1 gun only fired one salvo, due to the events described in A (i).
After the second salvo, No. 24A interlock failed on No. 2 shell ring rammer. It was tripped after a short delay and thereafter assisted by hand.
About halfway through the firing, the tappets operating the shell ring arrestor release gear on No. 4 rammer failed to release the arrestor. Subsequent examination has shown that the shaft carrying the levers operating these tappets had twisted. The rammer was kept in action by giving the tappets a heavy blow at each stroke.
Shortly after this, a further defect occurred on No. 4 shell room rammer. When fully withdrawn the rammer failed to clear No. 7 interlock and the ring could not be locked. This was overcome by operating the gear with a pinch-bar at every stroke.
Throughout the engagement the conditions in “A” shell handling room were very bad; water was pouring down from the upper part of the mounting. Only one drain is fitted and became choked; with the result that water accumulated and washed from side to side as the ship rolled. The streams above and floods below drenched the machinery and caused discomfort to the personnel. More drains should be fitted in the shell handling room and consideration given to a system of water catchment combined with improved drainage in the upper parts of the revolving structure. Every effort is being made to improve the pressure systems and further attempts will be made as soon as opportunity occurs to improve the mantlet weathering, but a certain amount of leaking is inevitable.
No mechanical defects.
The following defects occurred in “Y” turret:-
Salvo 11 – No. 3 central ammunition hoist was raised with shell but no cordite; No. 25 interlock having failed to prevent this. The interlock was functioning correctly before the engagement. There has been no opportunity to investigate this. It is also reported that the reason no cordite had been rammed was that the indicator in the cordite handling room did not show that the cage had been raised after the previous ramming stroke. This caused the gun to miss salvoes 15 to 20.
Salvo 12 – Front flashdoors of No. 2 gun loading cage failed to open and cage could not be loaded. Flashdoors on transfer tubes were working correctly and investigation showed that adjustment was required on the vertical rod operating the palm levers which open the gun loading cage doors. To make this adjustment, three-quarter inch thread had to be cut on the rod. This defect was put in hand after the engagement had been broken off and was completed by 1300. It would appear that the operating gear had been strained, possibly by the foreign matter in the flashdoor casing making the doors tight. The doors were free when tried in the course of making the repair. This caused the gun to miss salvo 14 onwards.
Salvo 20 – Owing to the motion of the ship, a shell slid out of the port shell room and fouled the revolving shell ring while the latter was locked to the trunk and the turret was training. The hinge tray was severely buckled, putting the revolving shell ring out of action. The tray was removed, but on testing the ring it was found that No. 3 and 4 hinge trays of the starboard shell room had also been buckled and were fouling the ring. The cause of this is not yet known. The trays were removed and as the action had stopped by this time, No. 4 tray was dressed up and replaced. The ring was out of action until 0825.
C – Events subsequent to First Action
During the day in “A” turret, No. 1 central ammunition hoist shell arrestor was driven back with the intention of carrying on without it by ramming cautiously. The gun and cages were then loaded, but owing to the motion of the ship the round in the central ammunition hoist cage slid forward until its nose entered the arrestor, putting the hoist out of action again. Subsequent examination has shown that the anti-surging gear in this cage was stiff and consequently did not re-assert itself after ramming to traverser.
D – Events during the Second Action
No. 1 gun fired only two salvoes owing to central ammunition hoist being out of action as described above in C, para 1. At salvo 9, No. 3 central ammunition hoist shell arrestor jammed out.
“B” and “Y” Turret
E – Events subsequent to Second Action
No. 3 central ammunition hoist shell arrestor was removed complete from the hoist. Time did not allow of it being stripped and made good, but it was intended to use the hoist without it. The gun and cages were loaded in this manner.
F – Third Action
First Salvo – Shell rammed short into No. 3 central ammunition hoist cage. In trying to remedy this a double ram was made, putting the shell ring out of action. The second shell was hauled back by tackle, clearing the ring. The base of the shell in the central ammunition hoist cage was jamming against the upper edge of the opening in the hoist. This could not be cleared as the central ammunition hoist control lever cold not be put to lower. After much stripping the trouble was located in a link in the control gear which was found to be out of line.
G – General
With pressure being kept on shell room machinery for a long period, much water has accumulated in the shell rooms and bins. Suctions are fitted from 350-tomnm pumps only and these are not satisfactory for dealing with relatively small quantities of water. Drains are urgently required. It is suggested that a drain be fitted at each end of each shell room and larger drain holes be made in the bins; present drain holes being quite inadequate and easily choked.
The drains should be led to the inner bottom under the cordite handling room. Non-return valves and flash-seals could be fitted if considered necessary.
On passage to Rosyth after the action, two further hinge trays in “Y” shell handling room were buckled by fouling the revolving shell ring.
The official approval of the Armstrong 40-pounder RBL gun included this drawing which gave details of the gun sights and breech vent-piece.
Originally trained as a lawyer, Sir William George Armstrong (1810-1900) turned his talents to engineering, inventing hydraulic engines and cranes. In 1854 he patented a wrought iron rifled cannon that incorporated a number of graduated reinforcing bands, giving it a distinctive stepped profile. Armstrong also developed a unique “shunt” type of rifling, with each groove cut to two depths to accommodate the system’s special studded projectiles. The deeper half of the groove provided extra space to ease loading, whereas, upon firing, the studs shifted to the shallow side to provide the close fit within the bore necessary for accuracy. The powder charge was contained in a separate bag. The breech mechanism consisted of a separate wrought iron vent piece that was inserted into a slot in the top of the piece and locked into position by way of a large screw in the rear of the gun. A copper ring in the face of the vent piece expanded on firing to seal the breech and prevent the escape of gasses and subsequent loss of energy.
In July 1855, Armstrong submitted a 3-pounder breechloader for tests to the master general of the ordnance, and after a series of trials against other designs a special committee approved it for the British service on 16 November 1858. Upon the acceptance of his design, Armstrong relinquished all patent rights to the Crown and was subsequently appointed superintendent of the Royal Gun Factory at Woolwich in November 1859. By March 1861, Armstrong had overseen the manufacture of 941 of his guns for the British army, as well as guns for the Royal Navy. The most popular Armstrong for field use, the 3-inch 12-pounder, had a range of some 2,200 yards. One of the more long-lived Armstrongs, the Model 1862 “Pattern G” 40-pounder, remained in service until 1920. Production of the Pattern G totaled some 810 guns. The 70-pounder 6.4-inch breechloading Armstrong fired a 79.8- pound projectile loaded with a 5.4-pound bursting charge 2,183 yards. Examples of large 8.5-inch (150-pounder) 120-inch-long muzzle loading Armstrongs weighed up to about 15,790 pounds and required a 20-pound charge.
Armstrong Model 1862 “Pattern G” 40-pounder
A number of different carriages for guns employed for Land Service were available. A wooden siege carriage with wheels and attached limbers, enabled the guns to be drawn by teams of heavy horses.
For guns mounted in fortifications they could be mounted on two different types of carriage. The first was an iron traversing carriage, enabling the gun to be traversed right and left, with recoil being absorbed with a carriage being mounted on a slide. Others were mounted on high “siege travelling carriages” for use as semi-mobile guns in forts, firing over parapets.
Many were re-issued to Volunteer Artillery Batteries of Position from 1889, with 40 Pounders among 226 guns issued to the Volunteer Artillery during 1888 and 1889. The 1893 the War Office Mobilisation Scheme shows the allocation of thirty Artillery Volunteer position batteries equipped with 40 Pounder guns which would be concentrated in Surrey and Essex in the event of mobilisation. They remained in use in this role until 1902 when they were gradually replaced by 4.7-inch Quick Firing (QF) guns. A number were used for some years afterwards as saluting guns.
Designer W.G. Armstrong Co.
Manufacturer W.G. Armstrong Co.
Royal Gun Factory
Produced 1859 – 1863
No. built 1013
Variants 32cwt, 35cwt
Mass 32 cwt (3,584 pounds (1,626 kg)), later 35 cwt (3,920 pounds (1,780 kg)) gun & breech
Barrel length 106.3 inches (2.700 m) bore & chamber
Shell 40 pounds 2 ounces (18.20 kg)
Calibre 4.75-inch (120.6 mm)
Breech Armstrong screw with vertical sliding vent-piece (block)
On 1 November 1918 the Canadian Corps would take Valenciennes. The small city was only 30 kilometres from Le Cateau but the artillery tactics and techniques were four years apart, and it made a world of difference.
In late October Haig reckoned the Germans were on their last legs, with Turkey and Bulgaria knocked out of the war and Italy preparing to attack the tottering Austrians. With the Americans and French attacking, it was time for the BEF to launch one final blow. To get the British First Army in position for the anticipated Battle of the Scheldt, they first needed to take Valenciennes, which lay east of the Scheldt Canal. Because of the rain and German-controlled flooding, the low ground west of the canal was flooded for a distance of perhaps a thousand yards; in addition, there was barbed wire on the eastern bank and the German troops (and machine guns) were safely positioned in houses. A frontal assault across the canal was out of the question. However, the canal swung round the city and to the south XXII Corps had got across. If the Germans could be thrown off Mt Houy (which was only 150ft high, but about 50ft higher than the surrounding country-side, and blocking observation of German artillery to the east), they could be levered out of Valenciennes.
However, the Germans recognised the key ground and they had plenty of guns; in addition, troop morale was reasonably firm. From 24 to 28 October several British attacks were made, all rushed and poorly supported, more in hopes that the Germans were weak than in confidence that the attacks would succeed. But the British troops were at the limit of their supply lines (railheads were 30 miles back, and lorries were in short supply), casualties had thinned the ranks and everyone was tired. The Scots of the 51st (Highland) Division pushed up Mt Houy, but their last attack on 28 October was driven back from the crest by a German counter-attack, despite support from nine brigades of field artillery and fourteen batteries of heavies.
The Canadian Corps was now moved in to make the attack. The Canadians had been facing the canal, but since the main thrust could not be made there, they were available. The 4th Canadian Division relieved the 51st Highlanders, and moved up guns and shells; they took several days to plan their attack. Few infantry and plenty of support was a key element of their plan: ‘to pay the price of victory, so far as possible, in shells and not in the lives of men’. The delay also allowed time to coordinate infantry, machine guns and artillery. The Canadians knew there had been several failed efforts to take Mt Houy, and steadily increasing German artillery fire showed the enemy’s determination to hold the position; however, the Canadian gunners were just as determined to crush German resistance by weight of shell.
The attack would be some 2,500 yards wide (about 1½ miles). One Canadian infantry brigade would attack (by this stage of the war, that meant about 1,200 men). Generally speaking, about 10 per cent of any unit was left out of battle in case there were heavy casualties. For that one infantry brigade, there were eight brigades of field artillery and six of heavy artillery. The first objective was basically Mt Houy, and the second was 2,000 yards beyond it, clearing a few villages and the suburbs of Valenciennes.
There was no preliminary bombardment, but most of the heavy artillery fired well ahead of the infantry, hitting the German defence in depth and the reserves. No fewer than 39 6-inch howitzers were assigned to fire one round per minute over the front of the attack, a ratio that equated to 1.6 shells per 100 yards and the bursting radius was over 500 yards. McNaughton was putting ‘a practically continuous rain of chunks of steel across the whole front of the attack’. That was the first phase; when the Germans were pushed off Mt Houy and lost their observation posts there, more Canadian guns could fire, and the second phase of the attack narrowed to 1,000 yards. Some 55 howitzers would fire 2 rounds every 3 minutes, so it became 3.6 rounds per minute per 100 yards.
In all, 144 18-pounders and 48 4.5-inch howitzers would fire a creeping barrage (effectively 7 tons of shells per minute), deliberately moving at only 100 yards in four minutes (later slowing to five minutes) so that the infantry would have no problem keeping up. The field from the foremost howitzers would fire some smoke shells but would also hit selected strong-points ahead of the 18-pounders. The infantry, in turn, pulled back from the foremost positions on the lower slopes of Mt Houy so the artillery would have a straight (and convenient) line for its starting barrage. Machine guns fired both forward and flanking barrages, taking advantage of the topography: Mt Houy was an exposed salient. The infantry would be attacking from the southwest with machine guns firing from the south and heavy artillery firing from the north. Additional machine-gun and heavy artillery barrages were planned for the right flank of the attack, covering the ground with fire instead of sending more infantry into battle. Planning also took into account where German reserves were likely to be and thus where counter-attacks were likely to start. Since the towns and villages were full of refugees, the French had forbidden unnecessary shelling. (The Germans were continuing to use gas shells, and the Canadian troops were upset about its use around unprotected civilians; they were prone to confiscate gas-masks from German prisoners and give them to civilians. They were also taking relatively few prisoners at this stage in the war.) The Canadians decided only to hit counter-attacks on the edge of towns; this meant that the Germans had a good night’s sleep in a building but they were easier to kill in the open. The half-circle of British positions allowed enfilade fire not only on the front line but on roads (for harassing fire) and on reserves. Counter-battery work was not neglected, with 49 guns assigned to obliterate the 26 known German battery positions. The gunners slept by their guns in case the Germans got wind of the attack.
One battery was assigned a particularly devious mission. It was deliberately sited where it could fire into the rear of the German positions, and shortened its range as the attack progressed. Not only did this prevent it from hitting the Canadian infantry, but the Germans would think their own artillery was shelling them and their morale would suffer accordingly.
At dawn, 05.15 hrs, on All Saints’ Day the bombardment crashed out and the infantry moved forwards. German artillery fired promptly and accurately but mainly at the British artillery, with little or no effect. (Gibbs called it a ‘fierce line of fire’ but noted that it quickly ended as counter-battery fire took effect.) The hapless German infantry soldiers, meanwhile, were deluged with shell-fire. Gibbs wrote, ‘our barrage rolled like a tide wiping them off the map of France’, and the New York Times headlined the story ‘British Gunfire Paralyses Foe’. Prisoners, ‘stupefied and demoralised’, surrendered freely, including a complete company that was trapped in the fog and smoke; perhaps the first thing they saw of the Canadians was their bayonet points. With these advantages, the first objective was reached on time. A few machine-gun nests and a single field gun held out during the advance to the second objective, inflicting casualties before being overrun by the experienced infantry. The heavy artillery fire stayed ahead of the barrage and deliberately smashed some rows of houses where the Germans were known to have positions (any refugees killed here were regarded as collateral damage). Once the objectives were secured, it was time to see what the Germans would do. Each of the infantry battalions moved a 6-inch trench mortar forwards, and three brigades of field artillery moved on to the slopes of Mt Houy. Their observers moved to the top, so they could quickly engage any target they saw. Shortly after noon German infantry was seen forming up and the planned protective barrage was employed: 11 batteries of 6-inch howitzers rolled a barrage over the Germans. The survivors lost all interest in attacking. Between 15.00 and 16.00 hrs more movement was seen on the right flank, and on-the-fly plans were made to hit the Germans once they had fully formed up. At 16.35 hrs the situation was judged ripe, and 9 batteries of 6-inch howitzers obliterated another counter-attack.
The results were gratifying. Mt Houy was taken and the Germans were levered out of Valenciennes. (Another Canadian brigade had squelched forwards to the canal to test the German positions, and found almost no resistance. By mid-morning two Canadian battalions were solidly across. The German infantry had withdrawn very quickly, probably realising from the noise of the bombardment on their left rear flank that their comrades could not hold under such a maelstrom.) Over 800 dead Germans were found around Mt Houy alone, and 1,800 prisoners taken. The 2,149 tons of shells had done their work. But the Canadians also suffered 501 casualties, out of the 1, 200 infantry in the attack. Massive (and well handled) firepower could reduce casualties – not least by allowing fewer infantry to attack – but there was no avoiding a substantial percentage of casualties. The three British divisions attacking further to the south took over 1,600 prisoners and counted 300 dead; their casualties were higher than the Canadians’, but by this stage of the war a well supported Allied attack could easily break any German line. The Canadians had used every trick in the Allied arsenal and noted a number of ideas for the future but their brutally effective use of artillery had not solved all the problems of the Great War.