Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Udalov at Ogledow

Oskin wasn't the only one to score a Gold Star from the first battle with King Tigers. Udalov, the commander of the IS-2 tank platoon, got one as well.

"Award Order
  1. Udalov, Vasiliy Aleksandrovich
  2. Rank: Guards Senior Lieutenant
  3. Position, unit: IS-2 platoon commander, 71st Independent Guards Heavy Tank Regiment
    is nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
  4. Year of birth: 1918
  5. Nationality: Russian
  6. Party affiliation: VLKSM member
  7. Participation in the civil war, subsequent action in defense of the USSR, and Patriotic War: since June 27th, 1941
  8. Wounds or concussions in the Patriotic War: none.
  9. In the Red Army since: 1937
  10. Recruited by: Intevsk recruitment office, Tambov oblast
  11. Prior awards: Order of the Patriotic War, 1st class.
Brief and specific description of heroism in battle or achievements: in battles approaching the Vistula river, the IS tank platoon commanded by Guards Senior Lieutenant Udalov allowed our forces to continue towards Vistula. He was the first in his regiment to cross the Vistula and form an ambush next to a road near Strzelce to prevent an enemy counterattack from crossing the river. Between August 11th and 13th, the enemy attempted to attack several times with newly arrived heavy tanks in the direction of Staszów. Comrade Udalov did not allow the enemy to reach Staszów, and entered battle with 27 enemy tanks on August 13th, 1944 from an ambush. As a result of a fierce tank battle and maneuvering from his ambush, Udalov's platoon deflected the enemy attack and Udalov himself destroyed 3 of the enemy Tiger B tanks. Udalov's tank travelled 955 km by then, working for 205 engine-hours compared to the warranty period of 150 engine-hours, but due to careful and skilful maintenance, Udalov's tanks are in full working order.

For crossing the Vistula and holding the foothold on the west shore, he is worthy of the title of Hero of the Soviet Union."

CAMD RF 33-793756-49

Monday, 29 June 2015

M-8-16 Rocket Launcher

"1.Report on the M-8-16 Launcher

The experimental M-8-16 launcher developed by NII-3 was brought to trials. The launcher is designed to cooperate with infantry and has the following design:

A one-axle trailer has 8 two meter long paired rails for M-8 rockets. The launcher has a horizon calibration mechanism composed of two elevation screws with pads. Vertical and horizontal aiming is achieved with elevation and traverse mechanisms. The launcher uses M-5 sights. The pyrotechnic trigger is of the new simplified type. The pyrotechnic charges are ignited with the stock trigger mechanism and battery, mounted on the launcher.

The experimental M-8-16 launcher weighs about 400 kilograms and is transported (according to NII-3 design) as a trailer behind a 1.5-ton truck with a full ammunition load and 5 more loads in the truck (80 rockets).

One volley consists of 16 rockets. The maximum range is 5300 meters. Angles of elevation: minimum 5 degrees, maximum 50 degrees. Horizontal traverse: +/- 5 degrees.

The M-8-16 launcher is designed mainly for rockets that use fast-burning (pyrocotton) gunpowder. Until these rockets enter mass production, the launcher can use standard M-8-16 rockets.

2. Purpose of trials

The purpose is to check the suitability of accepting the M-8-16 launcher into service in the Red Army.

3. Plan and methodology
  1. Plan: The trials will be conducted according to the trials plan, approved by the deputy chief of the Main Directorate of Mortar Armament, Military Engineer 1st Class Kuznetsov. According to the program, the following goals were made:
    1. Check the robustness of individual components during transport and firing.
    2. Check off-road performance of the launcher on various roads.
    3. Establish the time required to move from transport position to firing position and back. Check the convenience and speed of aiming horizontally and vertically. Establish the crew size necessary to service the launcher. 
    4. Determine the safety of the crew during firing and the locations that they must be in.
    5. Check the stability of the launcher after firing (movement as a result of firing).
    6. Find design and production defects and determine how to correct them.
  2. Methodology: 
    1. Trials are conducted in battle conditions in the region of the 222nd Infantry Division in the region around Tashirovo.
    2. The robustness of the launcher and off-road performance was established on the way to positions and during firing. 
    3. The number of required crewmen, time from travel to firing positions, convenience and speed of firing, safety and crew placement, stability when firing, and design defects were determined during training exercises and combat. In total, M-8-16 launchers fired 4 volleys at the enemy in the village of Tashirovo and in the ravine north-west of Tashirovo. 
      1. November 6th, 1941: The launcher was towed to the firing position on a highway by a 1.5 ton truck. The range was 4400 meters. The launcher fired 3 volleys are various targets. Before the volleys, 1-2 shots were fired to sight in.
      2. November 7th, 1941: The launcher was towed by three horses, attached to a 45 mm gun limber. The range was 3700 meters. One volley was fired at enemy positions. Before the volley, 2 shots were fired to sight in.
        Fire correction and observation was done from an observation point 200-400 meters away from the target.
4. Results
  1. Trials and reviews from commanders confirm the necessity of creating M-8-16 mortar units and including them into infantry regiments.
  2. The experimental M-8-16 launcher mostly meets requirements, but has a number of design and production defects:
    1. The suspension is inadequate (the wheels are too small), which limits off-road performance.
    2. The design of the trails is unsatisfactory, which makes it difficult to move the system from travel position to firing position, especially calibrating the horizon. 
    3. The sight mount is attached incorrectly, making it necessary to use a quadrant to aim vertically instead of the sight. It is not possible to aim at the most frequently used angles (the guides get in the way).
    4. The turning and elevation mechanism handles are too far away from each other and not brought out far enough, which makes aiming inconvenient and requires help from another crew member.
    5. There is no equipment to move and turn the launcher by hand (instructions, handles, straps).
  3. The launcher can be transported both by a 1.5 ton truck and horses. The off-road performance when towed by a truck is limited only by the off-road performance of the truck. When towing with horses, a pair of artillery horses with a standard artillery rig.
  4. 5 men are enough to service the launcher (commander, gunner, 3 loaders). The launcher can fire from a trench. While firing, the crew can stay 8-10 meters away to either side, either in cover or out.
  5. The rockets disperse 200-400 meters away from the target as observed by forward observers, more than standard M-8 launchers.
    Mostly, when firing at 4400 meters at live targets, the rounds deviated 150-200 meters lengthwise and 200-250 meters widthwise.
    The movement of the system after firing is negligible, despite the poorly designed trails.
  1. Trials of the M-8-16 launcher in combat showed many positive points. The launcher is light, maneuverable, can be transported by horse, performs well on bad roads and off-road when escorted by infantry, can fire at targets inaccessible by regular M-8 launchers.
  2. Tactically, it is reasonable to use M-8-16 launchers in batteries of 4, integrating them into an infantry regiment.
  3. The following changes should be made to the design:
    1. Replace the suspension with one similar to the 45 mm gun, or just copy that entirely. 
    2. Add handles and straps to make turning and pushing the launcher by hand more convenient.
    3. Design a crate similar to the 45 mm gun ammunition crate to store one volley worth of rockets (16 rockets). 
    4. Design skis that can be attached to the launcher in the winter.
    5. Change the horizontal calibration mechanism such that the launcher is supported by 4 retractable trails that can be quickly moved from travel position to firing position and back.
    6. Reduce the weight to 250-300 kg without compromising the robustness of parts, with the requirement that a pair of artillery horses should be able to tow the launcher and limber.
    7. Reduce the height of the launcher by 15-20 cm without reducing the clearance.
    8. Make the following changes to the elevation and traverse mechanisms:
      1. Replace elevation and traverse mechanism handles with flywheels.
      2. Move the flywheels further out.
      3. Their placement should be such that aiming can be done by one person.
      4. The carrier and sight placement should allow for zeroing of the launchers. Have a removable aligner that can be attached to the guides.
    9. In order to simplify service and get rid of problems associated with charging batteries in infantry units it is desirable to have mechanical pyrotechnic charges.

The M-8-16 launcher, with the aforementioned changes, can be accepted into service with the Red Army and will be a powerful infantry support weapon in attack and defense."

Sunday, 28 June 2015

World of Tanks History Section: How France Lost Vietnam

In the 20th century, Vietnam was a part of French Indochina. The first French tanks arrived there in December of 1919, two platoons of light Renault FT-17s in Saigon and Hanoi. As these tanks were destined for prolonged tropical service, their wooden idlers were replaced with steel ones.

WWII began. In 1941, when France was already defeated, the Japanese knocked out the last of the colonial forces and Vietnam ended up in their hands. The new "masters" did not lead an easy life; they had to fight the Viet Minh, or League for Independence of Vietnam, led by the famous Ho Chi Ming. After Japanese defeat in WWII, the Viet Minh managed to liberate the majority of North Vietnam.

In the fall of 1945, the French returned to reclaim their colony. The Vietnamese already developed a taste for their newly won freedom and no longer wished to bend to former overseas colonists.

Seek the wind in the jungle

In the battle between the Vietnamese and the French, the latter seemed to have the advantage. They had plenty of vehicles: French Hotchkiss tanks, captured Ha-Go and Type 89s, Lend-Lease Chaffees and Shermans. Plus, APCs, SPGs, and amphibious cars, irreplaceable when fighting on rice paddies and swamps. Aside from mass production vehicles, there were also improvised ones. The French did not hesitate to mount armour on jeeps and trucks.

Tanks showed themselves well in battle against the Japanese, successfully crushing them from Burma to New Guinea. However, as American specialists reported, using them in French Indochina was a constant headache. For the Japanese, the jungle was foreign, their garrisons easy to isolate and crush with a superior force. The Vietnamese fought in greater numbers, and the jungle belonged to them. French and American regular units did not have this advantage.

As much as the French tried, they could almost never cut off the Viet Minh from its supplies. This is not surprising, considering that some operations required the movement of tanks equal to the distance between Seoul and Tokyo. One platoon of motorized infantry on APCs needed a lot more supplies than the same amount of Vietnamese soldiers on foot carrying four days worth of rice and weighing half as much as the average European.

The French did not bring a single tracked bulldozer to tear through the jungle. Regular civilian bulldozers were vulnerable to a sniper's bullet. While French armoured columns slogged through the few winding roads, the Vietnamese took shortcuts straight through the jungle. Frequently, they managed to overtake the French on foot. However, the Vietnamese "tail" had more than just porters. A single bicycle could carry up to 300 kilograms, plus Soviet trucks slowly started appearing, about 800 by the end of the war.

Neither tanks, nor amphibious cars, nor paratroopers helped the French surround and defeat the Viet Minh. As a rule, they were already gone or managed to slip through the encirclement. Some units sacrificed themselves to let others escape. While losing many more men than the French, Vietnam was slowly winning the war.

Complete defeat

The French position became strategically nonviable in 1949, when the Chinese army reached the borders of Vietnam. Now, the Vietnamese could rest and train on Chinese territory. In 1953 the Korean War ended, allowing the USSR and China to devote their full attention to Vietnam and its struggle against colonial oppression.

China shared its trophies readily: 105 mm howitzers, recoilless guns, mortars and bazookas. The USSR was no slouch either, even sending rocket artillery. The Vietnamese learned to manufacture their own weapons, up to rockets and heavy mortars.

The French forces were scattered among hundreds of fronts. In the evening of December 9th, 1951 the garrison of the Tu-Vu fort, 300 Maroccans and 5 tanks, was attacked by a significant Viet Minh force. Theoretically, the French forces were well fortified and could fight the enemy. The problem was that they were separated by a river, which also complicated sending reinforcements.

After a 40 minute long artillery barrage, the Vietnamese attacked with cries of "Tien len!" (forward!). French tanks depressed their guns as low as they would go, meeting the attackers with fire and tracks. On their tiny strip of land next to a checkpoint, the tanks were like chained elephants. The Vietnamese, losing dozens of people, climbed on the tanks in an attempt to shove incendiary grenades into their barrels or fire through observation ports. In the end, the tanks were shot up at point blank range with bazookas. All crews died with their vehicles.

French convoys met mines and ambushes on the narrow roads. The Vietnamese hid in the grass which could reach a height of several meters. Armoured vehicles were knocked out with bazookas and petrol bombs, infantry was cut off with suppressing fire. Then, the attackers methodically destroyed all trapped trucks. In 1954, French Mobile Group 100 was defeated in such a way. Despite the heroism of the drivers that kept driving even after their trucks caught fire so that they didn't block the road, the group lost all of its artillery, 85% of its vehicles including armoured cars, and several hundred dead.

The finale of the war at Dien Bien Phu became its symbol. The French wanted to create a stronghold that could threaten surrounding territories. The idea was logical, but inflexible. As a result, the situation was reversed. The stronghold was vulnerable to heavy guns and rocket launchers hidden in caves. The same situation with previous strongholds repeated itself, but this time the Vietnamese had more men and the battlefield was even more remote.

The Vietnamese prepared thoroughly. They dug roads through mountains and jungles, and camouflaged themselves well. Any attempt to supply Dien Bien Phu by air was met with 37 mm AA gun fire. The French only had about 100 C-47 transport planes for all of Indochina, so any loss was a noticeable one. In any case, moving any useful amount of cargo with such a miserly amount of aircraft was impossible. A few light tanks and APCs made it to the stronghold, but there was no fuel for them. On May 7th, 1954, fort Isabelle the last point of resistance in Dien Bien Phu fell.

On July 21st, 1954, an agreement was signed in Geneva dictating the complete withdrawal of French forces from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The French reign in Indochina was over, but all was not calm. A new war would erupt in only a few years.

Original article available here.

Saturday, 27 June 2015


"Decree of the State Committee of Defense

On the introduction of vodka supplies into the active Red Army
  1. Starting with July 25th, 1941, begin issuing 100 grams of 40% vodka per day to active Red Army soldiers and commanders.
  2. The People's Commissariat of Food Production must produce sufficient amounts of vodka at vodka factories close to the points of distribution, and the Chief Intendant of the Red Army comrade Khrulev must organize the supply for all active units of the Red Army.
  3. In order to avoid long range transport of vodka, the Commissariat and Chief Intendant must organize stationary or mobile distribution facilities in places where there is no vodka factory nearby. Provide the map of distribution facilities to A.I. Mikoyan for approval.
  4. Distribute vodka in 25 and 40 decaliter barrels, as well as metal milk cans and, for factories close to the front, standard glass wine bottles.
    The People's Commissariat of Defense must ensure that the barrels, cans, and crates are returned to the factories.
  5. The following must be done:
    1. The People's Commissariat of Forestry, People's Commissariat of Construction Materials, Chief Directorate of Industry of the Council of Commissars of the RSFSR, and Chief Forestry Protection must provide sufficient amounts of oak to the People's Commissariat of Food Production at the latter's expense to produce barrels, according to attachment #1.
    2. Chief of Lumber Trading of the Council of Commissars must provide 10,000 cubic meters of crates per month to liquor and vodka factories of the People's Commissariat of Food Production, checking daily to see if there is extra transport capacity for transporting oak to factories that produce barrels.
    3. The People's Commissariat of Ferrous Metals must take the following from the Council of Commissars' reserves and supply in equal parts in August and September: 150 tons of nails, 80 tons of cold rolled strips, 25 tons of rivets, 600 tons of metal hoops for wine containers.
  6. The People's Commissariat of Food Production, Chief Directorate of Manufacturing Cooperation of the Council of Commissars of the RSFSR, Directorate of Manufacturing Cooperation of the USSR, People's Commissariat of Forestry of the USSR, People's Commissariat of Local Production of the RSFSR, People's Commissariat of Meat and Milk Production, must provide, starting with July 25th of this year, daily production of 25 and 40 decaliter barrels in amounts according to attachment #2, sending them to liquor and vodka factories three times per month.
  7. Commanders must ensure strict order when issuing vodka, ensuring that it is actually issued to active Red Army personnel strictly in the approved amounts, ensuring that there is no over-consumption or self-distribution."

Friday, 26 June 2015

Sherman Reliability

I mentioned the Sherman's reliability in Soviet hands before, but it's always nice to have some confirmation.

"Award Order
  1. Name: Stepanov, Konstantin Ivanovich
  2. Rank: Junior Lieutenant
  3. Position, unit: tank commander, 1st Tank Battalion, 233rd Dnestr Tank Brigade, 5th Motorized Corps
    is nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
  4. Year of birth: 1922
  5. Nationality: Russian
  6. Party affiliation: none
  7. Participation in the civil war, subsequent actions in defense of the USSR, and the Patriotic War: 2nd Ukrainian Front since March 10th, 1944
  8. Wounds or concussions in the Patriotic War: none
  9. In the RKKA since: 1941
  10. Recruited by: Bezhbulyak recruitment office, Bashkir ASSR
  11. Previous awards: none
Brief and specific description of heroism: during battle between August 21st and 30th, 1944, he demonstrated courage, heroism, and bravery. In battles for Vaneshti village, while surrounded, he maintained his composure and calmly eliminated enemy soldiers and vehicles. His tank destroyed 2 PzIV tanks, 4 AT guns, 2 mortar batteries, and more than a company of enemy soldiers and officers.

In subsequent battles in the Kamineshty village region on August 24th, he was among the first to engage the enemy group, destroying 12 vehicles with infantry and ammunition, and 40 carts wtih ammunition.

His tank travelled 1500 miles and is still fully functional.

For demonstrated courage, heroism, and bravery, he is worthy of the title of Hero of the Soviet Union."

CAMD RF 33-793756-45

Seems that the battalion commander didn't deem it too necessary to write down what kind of tank he was driving, but the use of miles gives it away. The 223rd Tank Brigade was indeed using Sherman tanks.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Lend Lease Complaints

"To the GABTU BTU chief, Major General of Tank Forces, comrade Korobkov

The poor state of American and Canadian tank shipments is causing difficulty for units that receive these vehicles. A lack of armament, parts, instruments, and tools leads to units being formed without having all the necessities for battle. This happens because tanks are being shipped from America, without proper attention paid to equipping them. This is the only thing that can explain the following facts:
  1. Canadian Valentine tanks: unlike the English tanks of this model, these tanks have Browning machineguns. Spare fuel tanks, jumper cables, headlights, track tightening tools, are shipped separately, and often arrive when tanks have already been sent to the front. Radios also come separately. Instead of #19 radios that come with English tanks, Canadian tanks get #11 radios. The radios do not come in full sets. Antennas and tools come separately from the radios. All of this cargo comes in pieces and asynchronously, and there is always something missing when we need to equip tanks.
  2. American M3 light tanks: arrive without machineguns. There are no wrenches for fuel tank nuts, oil tanks, final drive casings, and sparkplugs. Other tools are also often missing. As with Canadian vehicles, radios for M3 light tanks come separately and not in full. Their arrival is not in any way tied to formation of tank units.
    In order to install a radio on an M3 light tank, one Browning machinegun must be removed. According to the manual, the opening for the machinegun must be closed with a special cover, but not one single cover has arrived. After installation of a radio, 40% of all M3 light tanks have a hole in the front armour that is 121 mm in diameter. For tanks of the 101st Brigade, this opening was welded over with a patch, under contract with factory #112 QA. I took measures to weld over the holes in other tanks, but the factories refuse to do this work and things are going slowly. 
  3. American M3 medium tanks: these tanks are equipped in a completely unsatisfactory manner. Tanks often come with no machineguns or spare parts. There are no tools in the tanks. The tools that are shipped separately to warehouse #37 are enough to equip no more than 30% of the tanks, and all of it has been given to units that departed to the front lines.
    Units that have yet to depart or have yet to form have no spare parts or tools.
    The situation with spare parts is so serious that they need to be obtained at any cost. There is not a single tool for tightening tracks available, no spark plug wrenches. There are no simple wrenches to tighten or unscrew a nut.
    These tanks are not combat-ready. The smallest miscalibration, and they will be useless, and the crews helpless to fix them.
    16 M3 medium tanks recently arrived with no commander's cupola. According to reports from the 5th department of the BTU, 29 more arrived with no turrets. I inquired at warehouses #37 and #60, but they have not received any turrets. These 45 medium tanks are also not combat ready. The turrets must be received immediately, same as with the tools.
    There is not a single spare battery for any American tank. The 190th Tank Brigade has 3 completely functional M3 medium tanks with no batteries. These tanks are needed to form a new tank unit, but the brigade cannot issue them.
    English medium and light tanks also have inconsistent loadouts. Most tanks don't have a full set of tools and equipment. No shipping manifest is provided, so it is impossible to know which tools were not sent and which were lost along the way.
Having reported the above, I feel that it is necessary to do the following:
  1. Tanks should be loaded onto ships in America and England fully equipped, with armament, tools, parts, instruments, and equipment. Each tank needs to include a list of armament, parts, and instruments in Russian.
  2. The radios must ship with tanks. The radio part and tool sets should accompany the radios.
  3. Immediately send covers for M3 light tank machinegun openings. Until they arrive, manufacture 200 of them at some factory in Gorkiy according to sketches.
  4. Insist that Canadian and English Valentine tanks are equipped consistently.
  5. Immediately obtain commander's cupolas and turrets for M3 medium tanks from America and do not send any more tanks without turrets.
  6. Immediately send 200 spare oil radiators for the M3 medium and 100 for the M3 light and the same amount of batteries.
Chief of foreign vehicle acceptance, Engineer-Lieutenant-Colonel, Muravich"

Wednesday, 24 June 2015


Even more common Lend Lease vehicles like Shermans don't show up too often in award orders, but here's a real rarity, an M10 tank destroyer!

"Award order:
  1. Name: Suslov, Aleksey Nikolayevich
  2. Rank: Guards Starshina
  3. Position, unit: SU-M-10 driver, 387th Guards Demblin SPG Regiment
    is nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
  4. Year of birth: 1914
  5. Nationality: Russian
  6. Party affiliation: none
  7. Participation in the civil war and subsequent action in defense of the USSR and the Patriotic War: Patriotic War, Central Front since October 25th, 1941, 1st Belorussian Front since June 28th, 1944.
  8. Wounds or concussions in the Patriotic War: light wound on December 18th, 1941, light wound on April 9th, 1942, light wound on November 6th, 1942.
  9. In the Red Army since: 1941
  10. Recruited by: Orekhov recruitment office, Kostroma oblast.
  11. Previous awards: "For Bravery" medal, November 18th, 1944, Order of the Patriotic War 2nd Class on January 23rd, 1945.
Brief and specific description of heroism: During the combat actions of the regiment, his vehicle was always in the battle formation of the battery. For instance, when capturing Inowroclaw, the SPG battery containing comrade Suslov reached the south outskirts of the city and caught up to retreating fascists. With fire and tracks, they destroyed 70 fascists and scattered some of them, preventing them from mounting any effective resistance.

As a result of a brave and rapid offensive that provided decisive support for our infantry, the city of Inowroclaw was liberated. During the battle, comrade Suslov's SPG destroyed up to a company of infantry, 10 machinegun nests, and two dugouts.

The combat mission was completed with honour, having no losses on our side."

CAMD RF 33-793756-46

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Finnish Impressions of the T-34-85

"The new Russian T-34 tank armed with an 85 mm gun has the following differences compared to model 1942 and 1943 tanks:
  1. Armour: the armour is mostly the same design and same thickness. The hull in general has no advantages over the precursor. The turret is roomier. The armour is improved in the front. It resists 47-75 mm guns well at medium and long range. The sharper shape of the front increases the chance that armour piercing shells will ricochet. The quality of armour is higher than on the model 1943 tank.
  2. Power plant: the diesel engine is the same type, but more carefully produced, is 20-30 hp more powerful, and has a longer lifespan under medium loads. The oil system is of the same type, but oil consumption is reduced by 30-40%. The exhaust is less smoky. The air filter does its job. In the summer, the diesel engine overheats less, in the winter, it starts more easily. The electrical equipment has isolated copper wiring.
  3. Armament: the 85 mm gun is a compact tank gun, identical to the German 88 mm tank gun in main parameters, losing out slightly in range and trajectory due to superior quality of German gunpowder. Compared to the 75 mm tank gun, the new Soviet gun has superior armour piercing and high explosive capability. The design of the gun is very good. It is smaller than the German 75 and 88 mm guns. The design is simple. It surpasses the 76 mm gun in flat shot range by 1.5-2 times.
  4. Observation devices: the refractive telescopic sight is greatly superior to the sight of the model 1942-1943 T-34 tank. The clarity of the sight is on the level of the German 75 mm model 1940 gun. The field of view was increased by 15%. The markings are more convenient when firing on tanks up to 1000 meters. Injury during motion is nearly impossible due to comfortable pads. The periscopic observation device is simple, has a clear glass block, and is convenient to use. The commander's cupola allows the commander to observe the battlefield, and the turret traverse mechanism is a positive influence on the gunner's target acquisition. 
  5. Radio: the new radio is very compact and reliable. The quality of communication at short ranges is improved. It is located in the turret and does not require a separate crew member to operate.
Conclusions: the new T-34 tank is significantly different from the previous model, not only in armament, but in terms of general combat characteristics. Drawbacks of this tank include the control system, suspension, and transmission. Currently, this type of tank is one of the best medium tanks, on par with new German tanks."

Monday, 22 June 2015

Common Questions: Sherman Preference

In discussions of which was better, the T-34 or the Sherman, one often encounters the claim that even the Soviets admitted that the Sherman was much better, as some elite unit (elite is usually only its only identification) traded in all of their T-34s for Shermans before some operation or other. This statement is likely a highly mutated version of what is stated in the book "Comrade Emcha" about the tanks of the 1st Mechanized Corps:

"Prior to the assault on Berlin, this formation's tank companies were completely re-equipped with new M4A2 Sherman tanks, handing over their T-34/85 vehicles to other units of 2nd Guards Tank Army."

Ignoring how it's completely unreasonable for an experienced formation to swap over all of their tanks before a pivotal battle, let's look at the composition of the 2nd Guards Tank Army prior to its offensive on Berlin.

"Tanks and SPGs in the Army on April 18th, 1945
1st Mechanized Corps: M4A2: 165, ISU-122: 21, SU-85: 6, SU-76: 16, total 213 vehicles, including 5 M4A2 tanks in repairs.
In total, the Army has 630 vehicles, of those T-34: 260, M4A2: 184, IS-2: 38, ISU-122: 41, SU-85: 11, SU-76: 75."

As you can see, the 1st Mechanized Corps does indeed have no T-34s left, but the two other corps (both Guards formations, so no quarrel about eliteness here) are full of them. Clearly, the Red Army thought it was perfectly fine to have T-34s attacking Berlin. But what about the other claim? Did the 1st Mechanized Corps really trade in all their T-34s? Let's rewind the clock a little bit.

"Composition of the Army units:
1st Mechanized Corps: 37th Mechanized Brigade: M4A2: 10, 19th Mechanized Brigade: M4A2: 4, 35th Mechanized Brigade: M4A2: 17, 219th Tank Brigade: M4A2: 22.
In total the corps has: M4A2: 72, MkIX: 2, SU-76: 17, SU-85: 11, ISU-122: 13, total: 115."

March 11th, 1945, the unit still has the same structure: a bunch of Sherman brigades supported by light, medium, and heavy SPGs. There are no T-34s here to trade in. 

Let's go further back still.

"By the end of September 11th, 1944, the Army units have the following vehicles:
1st Mechanized Corps: 15 M4A2 tanks, of them 2 in minor repairs, 11 in medium repairs, 2 in major repairs, 30 MkIX tanks, of those 15 in medium repairs. These tanks were received on September 10th and 11th after factory repairs."

Way back in September of the previous year, long before anyone was planning an offensive of Berlin, there are still no T-34s here. The only tanks the 1st Mechanized Corps lost between then and Berlin were the Valentine MkIXs.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Lend Lease Shipping

As many of you probably know, tanks that arrived at Soviet ports were already (mostly) assembled and packed in a thick layer of protective grease and covers. Vehicles that were a little easier to assemble, like trucks, came in a much more compact form factor.

These Studebaker trucks were assembled at Soviet factories starting in December 1941, but the trucks arrived faster than they could build them. The last of the trucks were finished long after the war, in 1947. 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

World of Tanks History Section: USSR's "Foreign" Medals

The Red Army drove the war off Soviet land by the end of 1944. Ahead lay countries that Germany conquered, its allies, and of course, the "heart of the beast", Germany itself. Seven special medals mark the war path of Soviet soldiers and officers beyond the borders of the USSR. The Technical Committee of the Chief Intendant Directorate of the Red Army started working on them on April 19th, 1944. On June 9th, these medals were approved by an order from the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet.

Despite their great significance, the medals were laconic. On the front, simple words: "for liberation" or "for capture". On the back, the date of the event and a small five-pointed star.

So which European cities were immortalized in brass in these seven "foreign" medals?

For the Liberation of Belgrade

In late September of 1944, Yugoslavia was occupied by Army Group F, the 2nd Tank Army, and Army Group Serbia. Elements of the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts, three Bulgarian armies, and units of the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia opposed them in the Belgrade Strategic Operation. The goal of this operation was the destruction of the enemy in Yugoslavia and interruption of routes that could allow the enemy to evacuate to Greece.

Before October 10th, the Red Army captured the Great Morava dale, captured the city of Pancevo, defeated the enemy south of Belgrade, and surrounded a large number of German forces south-east of the city. This prolonged the siege of the Yugoslavian capital. Soviet forces only entered Belgrade on October 14th. In six days, the city was completely liberated.

About 70,000 people were awarded the Liberation of Belgrade medal.

For the Liberation of Warsaw

The 1st Belorussian Front reached Warsaw in July of 1944, and tried to take the city straight from the march. The attempt failed. After Operation Bagration, Rokossovskiy's forces did not have the strength.

By January of 1945, the Red Army pulled up its reserves. One of the largest operations of the later war began, the Vistula-Oder Offensive. At this time, the Germans pulled back some forces to the Western Front in order to attack in the Ardennes. The timing was right.

Pushing the enemy back across the Vistula, Soviet forces crossed the river, surrounded the enemy from the west, and began the siege. On January 17th, after fierce battles, Warsaw was cleared of the enemy and came under Red Army control.

As of 1995, about 700,000 people were awarded the Liberation of Warsaw medal.

For the Capture of Budapest

In 1945, Germany had just one ally left in Europe: Hungary. The Budapest Offensive Operation was carried out by the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts starting on October 29th, 1944, and lasted almost three months, until February 13th, 1945. The battles in this operation were so fierce that Budapest was nicknamed "Stalingrad on the Danube".

In November-December, the Red Army reached the outer defensive perimeter of the Hungarian capital. An attempt to take the city straight from the march failed, and the Soviet forces spent some time dealing with the enemy north and south of the city in order to encircle the German and Hungarian forces within. This was accomplished by the end of December, even though the enemy attempted three powerful counterattacks. An offer to surrender was presented to the surrounded garrison on December 29th, but the negotiators could not even approach the enemy positions. Both groups were fired upon by machineguns and mortars. Three negotiators were killed.

For four weeks, fierce street battles raged in Budapest. The main role in these battles was played by Soviet assault groups and sappers. Pest, the Eastern part of the city, fell on January 18th. On February 13th, the forces defending Buda surrendered.

About 362,000 people were awarded the Capture of Budapest medal.

For the Capture of Koenigsberg

Koenigsberg was a fortress for all its existence. The Red Army's East Prussia Offensive of 1945 was one of the most difficult and bloody.

The Soviet command only started preparing for the final offensive of Koenigsberg in March of 1945. It was assigned to the forces of the 3rd Belorussian Front and the Zemland army group commanded by I. Bagramyan. The fight for the city began on April 6th.

Before assaulting forces entered Koenigsberg, it was "worked over" by artillery for several days. As with many other cities, assault groups were widely used, small mixed units, most effective in street fighting. The Red Army managed to cut off the Koenigsberg garrison in only two days. A breakout was attempted on April 9th, unsuccessfully. After that, understanding the futility of resistance, the enemy surrendered. The last resistance in the city was extinguished on April 10th.

About 760,000 people were awarded the Capture of Koenigsberg medal.

For the Capture of Vienna

Soon after Budapest, the Germans carried out their last large offensive on the Eastern Front, at Lake Balaton. The operation failed, and the Soviet counterattack made a push for the Austrian capital: Vienna.

The battl for the city started on April 6th. Germans had to be squeezed out of every city block. By April 10th, the garrison was surrounded from three sides, and had only one path to retreat, over the Imperial Bridge. An attempt was made to capture it with marines dropped off by the Danube fleet, but the resistance was too great. The offensive stalled a mere 500 meters from its goal.

The decisive attack started on April 13th. It was so quick that the city was in Red Army hands by noon. What little was left of the garrison left by the bridge.

Over 277,000 people were awarded the Capture of Vienna medal.

For the Capture of Berlin

On April 16th, 1945, elements of the 1st Belorussian Front and the 1st Ukrainian Front began the most important and largest Red Army offensive operation in Europe: the assault on Berlin. It took five days to reach the city. On April 21st, the Red Army was at the outer defensive lines.

The city held until May 2nd. Soviet assault groups cleared it out house by house, block by block. This was a difficult task, considering that any robust house was turned into a fortress and the streets were covered in obstructions, pillboxes, and barricades.

On April 29th, the Soviet forces flew the Banner of Victory over the Reichstag. On the next day, Hitler committed suicide, realizing that help will not come and the Third Reich has come to an end. Berlin fell on the night of May 2nd.

Over 1,100,000 people were awarded the Capture of Berlin medal.

For the Liberation of Prague

Berlin fell, but a fairly strong group of German forces remained in Czechoslovakia. The Prague operation was the last to be carried out by the Red Army in the Great Patriotic War.

When Soviet forces approached Prague, the large German garrison retreated westward. At the same time, an uprising erupted in Prague. As a result, a large enemy force was encircled east of the city.

Soviet forces made a rapid march to Prague on the night of May 8th to May 9th and occupied it on the same day. The Germans surrendered on May 11th, 1945, after a series of powerful attacks and artillery strikes. The last battle of the Great Patriotic War was over.

Approximately 400,000 people were awarded the Liberation of Prague medal.

Original article available here.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Pre-War Night Vision

"Information on the IR devices "Dudka" and "Ochki"
  1. On March 19th, 1940, a letter arrived from the ABTU chief to the LVO Armoured Forces chief, on the topic of army trials of the "Dudka" device, with the conclusions of the commission from the 7th Army.
  2. The materials that arrived were sent to the department chief, who reported to the ABTU chief, based on which a "Dudka" device and materials on it were requested by ABTU.
  3. The chief of the 5th department of Supply Directorate sent all materials and a "Dudka" device to ABTU (see letter from April 11th, 1940).
  4. The "Dudka" device was demonstrated to ABTU command and Committee of Defense representatives, after which it was sent to the GABTU proving grounds for testing.
  5. After trials, conclusions were composed on May 15th, 1940. The following participated in the trials:
    1. Military engineer 2nd grade Kravtsev (BTU)
    2. Military engineer 2nd grade Malyavin (proving grounds)
    3. Military engineer 1st grade Rybalko (NIIST)
  6. After trials, the 3rd BTU department chief, military engineer 1st grade Afonin, wrote his conclusions and sent them to GABTU chief, Lieutenant-General Fedorenko.
  7. All materials on testing (aside from 3rd department conclusions) were sent to the Supply Directorate deputy chief, military engineer 1st grade Malkov, advising against ordering a batch of "Dudka" devices. At the same time, they asked for removal of defects discovered in the device and presentation of the new device for trials.
  8. In May of 1940, the director and secretary of the party bureau of factory #211 visited ABTU, bringing with them a letter from their engineers proposing the construction of the "Ochki" device. The letter was left with the BTU deputy chief, military engineer 1st grade comrade Alymov.
  9. By order from the ABTU chief, the department chief, comrade Kravtsev, prepared a letter addressed to the People's Commissar of Defense, Marshal Timoshenko, with a request for producing "Ochki". The project was attached.
  10. The Affairs Directorate of the People's Commissariat of Defense sent a letter to the ABTU chief, approving the production of "Ochki".
  11. The "Ochki" project was assigned to Lieutenant Colonel Dorofeev, who composed the requirements, which were approved by the BTU chief.
  12. On June 25th, 1940, a decree by the Committee of Defense was issued to approve the assembly of 10 "Ochki" (5 pairs). The deadline for these units was October 15th, 1940.
  13. "Ochki" were finished in December. After factory trials, they were sent to the GABTU proving grounds for trials. At the same time, factory #211 produced other night vision devices for trials.An order was given to test "Ochki" in winter conditions.
  14. Trials took place in January-February of 1940 and the following conclusions were made:
    1. Winter trials showed that it was possible to use IR illumination to drive tanks.
    2. Improved night vision devices can completely solve this problem.
    3. The tested designs need to be improved and simplified.
    4. Summer time trials are necessary.
  15. The results of the trials were delivered to the Committee of Defense.
  16. At a meeting between factory #221 and Lieutenant-Colonel Dorofeev, the former agreed to sign a new contract for improvements to "Ochki".
  17. BU produced a contract for factory #221. Technical requirements were approved by Major-General of Technical Forces, comrade Lebedev, and signed by BTU chief comrade Korobkov and 3rd department chief, comrade Afonin."

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Order #227 in the 4th Tank Army

"August 14th, 1942

To the deputy People's Commissar of Internal Affairs, Commissar of State Security 3rd class, comrade Abakumov

Despite the overall positive reaction to comrade Stalin's order #227, there were a series of negative and downright anti-Soviet statements made by individual troops and commanders, such as:
  • Red Armyman Katasanov from the 2nd battalion, 22nd Motorized Infantry Brigade said that "There are a lot of orders, but if there is no strength left, you can write as many orders as you want, nothing will help."
  • Red Armyman Shelopayev of the 113rd Tank Brigade's motorized infantry battalion said: "It's nonsense, there were similar orders before, and we still leave cities behind. This order won't help, we'll keep running until the Volga."
  • Red Armyman Andreev from the administrative platoon of the 121st Tank Brigade said: "You can write any order you want for us, we won't do it, same as before. Other orders said that you must fight cowards and panic-mongers up to execution on the spot, but there were no measures taken. It will be the same with this order. It will soon be forgotten."
  • Deputy commander of a tank battalion in the same brigade, Korotayev, said: "Innocent commanders and groups of infantry will suffer from this order, when they panic it's hard to hold them. Good commanders may suffer."
  • Red Armyman Kizshin from the HQ battery of the 18th Infantry Division said: "To battle, so that I might get wounded and go to the hospital for a few months, then the war will be over. The order says not one step back, but the ones that wrote it run first."
Up to 20 such statements were made in the units of the 4th Tank Army. The unit commanders have been informed by NKVD special departments. Despite discussions of comrade Stalin's order with personnel, there were cases of cowardice, sabotage, and dereliction of duty by individual soldiers and commanders. NKVD special departments take measures against cowards and panic-mongers, who sap the resolve of units, throw down their weapons, and flee from the battlefield.

During the aforementioned time period, 24 men were executed. This includes squad commanders in the 414th Infantry Regiment, 18th Infantry Division, Styrkov and Dobrynin, who cowardly ran from the battlefield, abandoning their squads. They were detained by a blocking squad and executed in front of their units on the orders of the special department.

Red Armyman Ogorodnikov from the same regiment shot himself in the left arm. His deed was discovered and he was handed over to a military tribunal.

There were cases where entire operations failed due to cowardice. For instance, during the night between July 31st and August 1st of this year, 176th Tank Brigade left positions without orders, and let the enemy take these valuable heights. An investigation revealed that the HQ chief Major Maksimov was at fault, who was arrested by the special department and is awaiting trial.

The commander of the 6th Battery, 616th Artillery Regiment, 184th Infantry Division, Lieutenant Radbil, did not fulfil the order to support infantry and tanks on July 30th, and when the battery was shelled by the enemy, he said "Anyone who wants to can save the battery, I'm walking away from this"

Based on Order #227, three blocking squads were composed, each of 200 men. These units are armed with rifles, submachineguns, and light machineguns. Members of the special departments command these units. As of August 7th, 1942, 363 men have been detained by these units, of which 93 just escaped encirclement, 146 fell behind their units, 52 lost their units, 12 escaped from enemy captivity, 54 ran from the battlefield, and 2 had questionable wounds.

After careful checking, 187 were sent back to their units, 43 to a reinforcements base, 73 to NKVD camps, 27 to penalty companies, 2 to medical examination, 6 were arrested, and as mentioned above, 24 were executed.

The military council has been informed of the above.


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Reactive Armour and Edge Effect

Penetration mechanics of even simple steel are complicated enough, but can be somewhat simplified for most uses, such as penetration tables and video game calculations. However, when reactive armour is thrown into the mix, how does one evaluate its increase in protection? How does the edge effect, present in only a small percentage of hits on conventional armour, affect it? An article in the Armoured Journal (Bronetankoviy Vestnik) by A.I. Anisko, S.V. Bodrov, D.A. Rototayev, and A.A. Scinarenko attempts to answer this question.

"Reactive armour is used to protect tanks from HEAT shells. Usually, these are removable containers with thin steel plates, sandwiching an explosive element. In order to place these elements correctly on the hull, one must first consider the protection of the reactive armour when used with the main armour. One methodology counts it as an equivalent thickness added to the main armour in certain conditions of HEAT shells striking the center of the container. Consider the dependence of the protection of the reactive armour and the time of reaction of the HEAT jet and protective plates. When the point of impact is moved from the center to the edge of the plate, the penetrative power of the HEAT shell decreases by 30-60%. However, the contribution of the edge effect to the protection of reactive armour has not been explored. 

A contained with two reactive armour elements were tested. The test was performed by detonating the warhead of a 93 mm AT grenade at an angle of 60 degrees. The warhead was placed to imitate a hit to various parts of the container (fig. 1). The peripheral points were 10-15 mm away from the side of the element."

Fig. 1. Locations of hits to the container.

The following is the data obtained when detonating the warhead, averaged over 5 trials for each point. Remaining penetration is defined as penetration through a plate of medium hardness steel after passing through the reactive armour. Q is defined as the contribution of the reactive armour to protection, obtained by subtracting remaining penetration from penetration through the same steel plate when no reactive armour is present. This table contains both the predicted and experimentally obtained Q.

Point Remaining penetration Q (calculated) Q (experimental)
A 211 266 258
B 37 452 462
C 274 214 225
D 292 179 207
E 86 420 413
F 376 126 123

When hit in the center, the reactive armour has the greatest effectiveness, adding over 450 mm to the thickness of the armour. When hit in the sides, the effectiveness is about half as much, even less when the HEAT jet hits the corners of the plate. This is caused by the various sizes of the plate fragments that interact with the HEAT jet, as well as the number of fragments it is likely to pass through. 

The scientific model is pretty good, as you can see from the small differences between the predicted and observed values of Q. The model predicts that about 25% of the surface area of the reactive armour element will give more than 400 mm of additional protection, about 50% contributes more than 350 mm, and about 75% contributes more than 300 mm to the tank's armour.

The equation that governs this distribution is Q=123.85+3.4x1+3.77x2-0.027x12-0.016x22 and looks like this when plotted.

Fig. 2. A line equal to the protection contribution Q in a coordinate plane defined by x1 and x2.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Lisow Finisher

Remember that battle in the Lisow direction where a battalion of shiny new King Tigers was stomped into the ground? Isayev wrote that the tanks were falsely identified as Panthers, but perhaps not entirely, as this award order suggests.

"Award Order:
  1. Name: Novikov, Vasiliy Ivanovich
  2. Rank: Guards Lieutenant
  3. Position, unit: tank reconnaissance platoon commander, 3rd Tank Battalion, 53rd Guards Fastov Order of the Red Banner, Order of Bogdan Khmelnitskiy Tank Brigade
    is nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
  4. Year of birth: 1921
  5. Nationality: Russian
  6. Party affiliation: VKP(b) candidate
  7. Participation in the civil war and subsequent actions in defense of the USSR and Patriotic War: South Front (February 1942-August 1942), North Caucasus Front (August 1942-December 1942), 1st Baltic Front (February 1944-April 1944), 1st Ukrainian Front since June 15th, 1944.
  8. Wounds or concussions in the Patriotic War: wounded on January 19th, 1945
  9. In the Red Army since: October 1940
  10. Recruited by: Pushkin recruitment office, Moscow oblast
  11. Previous awards: Order of the Red Banner, August 1st 1944
Brief and specific description of the heroism or achievements: as a reconnaissance platoon commander, comrade Novikov demonstrated exceptional bravery and heroism in battle for the Socialist Motherland. during action with his battalion from January 12th, 1945 to January 19th, 1945. During this period, he personally destroyed many enemies and enemy vehicles including 4 tanks: 2 Tigers, 1 Panther, and 1 PzIV. With his gun, he killed about 200 German soldiers and officers

Comrade Novikov was the first to cross the German state border, destroying 4 AT guns, 2 field guns, crushed 5 MG nests, and destroyed up to 50 cars with military cargo.

In battles for Radomsk, he was among the first to burst into the city and captured up to 50 enemy soldiers and officers.

He is worthy of the title of Hero of the Soviet Union."

CAMD RF 33-793756-34

Tiger, King Tiger, close enough. The Panther and PzIV may not have been misidentifications, as the Tiger unit was refilled with whatever was available, including Panthers and PzIVs.

"14 January 1945: 3 tanks of the 2./schwere Panzer-Abteilung 501 fight near Kielce. Several Tigers continue fighting in the following days in the big pocket, but all have to be blown up after running out of fuel. Tiger 323 (Oberfeldwebel Schaffer) breaks through a 12-ton bridge and is abandoned. The remnants of the battalion gather at Griinberg (Silesia). In this area, several crews received surplus armored vehicles (2 Panthers, 3 Panzer IVs, 2 Hornisse tank destroyers and several Hetzer tank destroyers from the maintenance facility at Brieg)."

The rest of the heroisms of Lieutenant Novikov are not confirmed in the German diary, as the unit neglects to make any entries until January 21st.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Common Questions: A Matter of Ratios

"We estimated that the offensive will start on January 12th, 1945. The Russian advantage was 11:1 in infantry, 7:1 in tanks, 20:1 in artillery. Evaluating the enemy as a whole, it would not be excessive to count 15 times more forces on land and 20 times more in the air. I do not underestimate the German soldier. He is an excellent warrior, and can be thrown into battle against an enemy with five times the numbers without hesitation. With proper control, due to his brilliant qualities, he negated this numeric advantage and won." - Heinz Guderian, Panzer Leader

In various discussions, this 5 to 1 ratio shows up quite a bit, either as a ratio of casualties or a ratio of required advantage to defeat a German force. Sometimes it is more, sometimes it is less, but 5 being a nice round number it is repeated quite often to illustrate the claim that the Allies only conquered Germany with the might of industry and "human waves", despite superior German technology and soldiers.

However, these claims seldom hold any actual numbers or evidence behind them. Let us briefly explore the feasibility of this claim.

Despite being a much larger country, the Soviet Union did not possess a proportionally larger population. The German census in 1939 counted a population of about 79 million. The Soviet census in 1937 counted about 162 million people. Assuming that both countries could raise similar proportions of fighting men, it becomes quite clear that a 5:1 casualty ratio is simply not possible here, as the Wehrmacht could simply kill literally every single Soviet citizen with ease. Glantz's essay The Soviet-German War 1941-1945: Myths and Realities gives some more numbers:

Date German forces in theater Red Army forces in theater
June 1941 3,117,00 2,680,000
June 1942 2,152,000 5,313,000
July 1943 2,786,400 6,724,000
July 1944 1,562,400 6,425,000
April 1945 1,960,000 6,410,000

As you can see, the estimate was correct. The Red Army never had a 5:1 advantage over the Germans, not even towards the very end. If Guderian's mythical soldiers were capable of taking on a force five times their size, they could have won at any point during the war, and won soundly. 

Ok, maybe the ratio was not as high as 5:1, but common belief still holds that the Wehrmacht dealt horrific losses to the Red Army and lost only when crushed under a mountain of corpses. Glantz also quite clearly illustrates that this is not true. While Soviet military casualties were quite horrible (14.7 million people), German casualties were also staggering: 10,758,000 lost on the Eastern Front. However, Germany did not fight alone. The Axis Minors fought with them, and adding up only Hungary, Italy, Romania, and Finland adds another 1,725,000 casualties to the German side, for a total of 12,483,000, or a ratio of 1.17:1. Quite a slim advantage.

Edit: it appears that many commenters believe that Glantz's numbers do not accurately represent the amount of Red Army forces and were purposefully chosen to minimize the number of troops available. Livejournal user buckina_new compiled a nice chart using Krivosheev's data about the number of men in the Red Army every quarter.

As you can see, the figure is more or less stable at around 6.5 million after the initial mobilization was complete, just like Glantz's data suggests. 

Sunday, 14 June 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Victorious '45

Soviet tank armies were at their peak in 1945, a powerful fighting instrument. Each unit could contain up to a thousand tanks and SPGs, and that's not including artillery, infantry, wheeled vehicles, and auxiliary units. At the start of the war, it was unthinkable for a tank army to penetrate 500-700 kilometers into enemy defenses in mere days, surrounding and crushing his forces, pursuing those that retreated and not letting them take up favourable positions. At the end of the war, this was reality.

A fist, not a palm

Combat experience taught Soviet armoured forces to fight with more than gun caliber and armour thickness. Reconnaissance, communication, and cooperation became the cornerstones of successful operations. The army joined its spread out fingers into a single mighty fist.

Sufficient time was dedicated to planning each offensive, from two weeks to a month and a half. During this time, details would be covered for each level of forces, from tank armies to battalions. HQ staff worked with enormous amounts of information: maps, aerial photos, city plans, radio intercepts, information obtained from local civilians and prisoners.

Due to increased reliability of vehicles and improved driver skills, it became possible to gather up forces in regions far from the front lines. Tank armies moved out in secrecy, usually at night. Special roads were designated for tank units, use by all other types of forces was forbidden.

When tanks were in position a few tens of kilometers from the front line, officers studied enemy defenses and negotiated cooperation with other types of forces. Tankers, pilots, infantrymen, artillerymen all shared their experience, furthering their understanding of their colleagues. After such discussions, they even recognized each other over the radio.

Tanks approached their starting positions as late as possible, usually when hundreds of thousands of artillery shells were already falling on their enemies. In theory, tank armies were supposed to enter a "clean" breach, retaining their strength for operations in the enemy rear. In reality, it was the tank attack that helped break through enemy defenses.

In the final battles of the Great Patriotic War, tank armies were covered from the air by a large amount of fighters, ground attackers, and bombers. In the summer of 1945, during the war with Japan, the 6th Guards Tank Army even received their own air reconnaissance squadron.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee

Towards the end of the war, a lot of attention was dedicated to preparing units that were small in number, but complex in organization. They were composed of tanks, SPGs, submachinegunners on all terrain vehicles, machineguns, mortars, and powerful army level  radios. These groups burst into cities, blocked roads, crushed unsuspecting enemy columns, captured key positions. For instance, in April of 1945, only 20 tanks and SPGs with a company of submachinegunners and air support burst into the center Vienna and held on until the arrival of main forces.

Soviet tanks appeared in the German rear so quickly that the enemy had no time to react, and often confused them for his own. Here, creativity helped. A regular bucket attached to the barrel of a T-34's gun looked a lot like a muzzle brake used on a German tank. While the enemy was confused, precious seconds were gained.

During the start of the war, German tankers provided their propaganda ministry with great amounts of footage and photographs of their lightning fast breakthroughs. In 1945, the situation was reversed. Now, it was the Soviet media that had ample materials. German vehicles, abandoned without fuel or suddenly captured when being loaded off a train, stacks of trophies and endless columns of prisoners. The Soviet people who were waiting for victory had a lot to look at.

Soviet tankers rushed forward, filling up their tanks with captured fuel and continuing on, crushing any resistance.

American M17 AA SPGs became an excellent method of covering tanks in cities. A torrent of bullets from four machineguns swept away the infantry that was trying to fire at tanks. Domestic large caliber DShK machineguns were also valued by tankers.

Power in unity

All types of forces tried to help out each other. Forward observers called in artillery fire from radio-equipped tanks. Artillery covered the flanks of breakthroughs. Aircraft impeded enemies that tried to discover and attack tank columns, delivered fuel, airmen were assigned to ground forces to guide airplanes on target. In return, tankers sent special squads to capture airstrips, where technicians immediately began to work on cleaning up the base for Soviet aircraft.

Berlin barricades, several meters thick, could withstand a hit from a tank shell. Sappers came to the aid of tankers, blowing up barricades with explosive charges or AT mines.

Holding initiative, Soviet forces could restore knocked out tanks left on the battlefield, as well as recover the wounded. Tanks were repaired so quickly that 90% of reinforcements came from repaired tanks, not from factories. Medics returned two thirds of all casualties to the front lines. In these conditions, no wonder weapon the Germans dreamt of could save the Third Reich, nor could their rapidly dwindling tank aces.

In 1945, the Red Army had six tank armies. All of them had the title of Guards, a title not given easily. Soviet tankers earned them in thousands of battles on all fronts from Germany to the Far East. These were the elites of the Red Army, one of the most powerful in the 20th century.

Original article available here.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Tragic '41

Paradoxically, the Red Army fought many wars by the summer of 1941, but none of them serious. Enemies of the USSR in small wars of the 1930s had little in the way of modern tanks, aircraft, and often could not offer significant resistance. All types of forces, including armoured, had a very small percentage of commanders who had experience against a strong and well equipped enemy. Germany invaded the USSR with the idea that it was going to be a breeze, but there's a reason why there's a collection of German memoirs about 1941 called "Wooden Crosses instead of Iron".

Calm before the storm

It would not be proper to say that the Red Army tank forces lived in the past and the commanders had no idea, at least approximately, what the next war would be like. Books and articles written by Soviet military theorists talked about the importance of massed uses of tanks, with mandatory tight cooperation with infantry, motorized infantry, artillery, and aircraft. Armoured forces were not just for penetrating enemy defenses, but for deep operations in the enemy rear, against his headquarters, reserves, and communications. In defensive operations, tanks were supposed to isolate enemy forces that broke through and destroy them with ambushes or counterattacks.

Spain, Khalkin-Gol, and Finland showed that new tanks must be well armoured, well armed, and have reliable communication and supporting vehicles. Factories received many orders from the military for powerful radios, fast tractors, and various armoured transports.

Here is where the bottleneck was. The USSR could not magically produce tens of new factories. No country in the world could. When WWII began in 1939, even Great Britain and the United States ran into problems with supplying their growing armies with modern equipment and vehicles. It took time to mobilize factories for war.

Nobody knew how much time there was. The world was getting ready for a large war that could start in a month or in ten years. This caused problems with technological deficiency, shortage of manpower, and other difficulties of early war.

Weakness in armour

All problems with Soviet armoured forces remorselessly showed themselves in the first battles. 

It was difficult to find the advancing enemy along the enormous fronts. The Germans did not march in an unbroken line, they collected their forces into fists and decided where to strike. Even if scouts could discover these forces, they frequently could not inform their commanders in time. There were too few tanks with sufficiently powerful radios. Due to this problem with communication, commanders could not react in time.

The difficulty in using any armoured unit lies in the fact that you don't need to just transport your tanks. You need to deliver fuel, ammunition, supporting infantry and artillery. There was a catastrophic lack of transport vehicles, and STZ-5 agricultural tractors, the backbone of the support forces, were weak and slow. Two or three such vehicles were required in order to tow one heavy gun or howitzer.

Even if the commander decided to use only tanks, this did not solve his problems. Old vehicles, T-26, T-28, BT, were worn out and prone to breakdowns. New KVs and T-34s suffered from growing pains like unreliable engines and poor visibility. By the start of the war, no instruction manuals have been produced for these vehicles. Considering that most drivers had miserly experience in driving these new heavier and more complicated tanks, it is not difficult to imagine why many were lost due to technical reasons.

Endure, withstand, prepare

At first, the Red Army had to fight by Germany's rules. In these difficult conditions, the Soviet people protected their motherland as well as they could. 

Tanks that were supposed to fight in large groups were separated into small units or even down to individual vehicles, like in Spain. Often, they had to compensate for the rest of the army. Tankers performed reconnaissance, attacked without infantry cover, became the rebar of defensive lines, guarded headquarters. 

Due to a lack of support, Soviet tanks quickly became targets for German AT guns, which were difficult targets to find and suppress. Sadly, the times when KV tanks were invulnerable were long gone. The Germans managed to gather experience in fighting these heavily armoured vehicles.

It happened that tanks penetrated as deep as German headquarters, but tanks alone could not cement that victory. The Germans, with combined forces groups composed of tanks, infantry, and artillery, encircled Soviet forces and deflected their attempts to break out. Any tank that was knocked out was a permanent loss, since the Germans controlled the battlefield.

Taking heavy losses in vehicles, the Red Army moved from mechanized corps to smaller tank and mechanized divisions. Instead of 375 tanks, these divisions had 215. Further restructuring went down to independent battalions and brigades of 53 tanks, in no small part because it was easier to command a smaller unit.

First bricks in the building of victory

Slowly but surely, the tank forces regained their footing after that first punch. The Germans felt this already in the fall of 1941. 

One of the most famous and most successful tank brigades in 1941 was Mikhail Yefremovich Katukov's 4th Tank Brigade. It was fairly well armed: more than half of the tanks were new T-34s and KVs, but most importantly, its tankers received bitter experience in the summer of 1941, and that experience was well learned.

In early October, Katukov's men deflected the attacks of the German 2nd Tank Group at Mtsensk. Tankers of the 4th Brigade carefully performed reconnaissance and coordinated their actions not only with infantry and artillery, but with aviation. Tanks had special defensive lines prepared, and were carefully camouflaged. The result was noticeable: the Germans lost not only tanks at Mtsensk, but AA guns and howitzers, a rarity for the time.

The tone of German reports changed around this time. Guderian, who did not notice new T-34 and KV tanks in the summer, suddenly started complaining about their "complete supremacy", while the German offensive in this sector stalled. For its skilful and courageous actions, Katukov's tank brigade was the first to earn the status of Guards.

The experience earned in 1941 was bought at a high price, but was summarized in orders and instructions, and spread among surviving tankers and new replacements. Victory was still far away. New battles lay ahead.

Original article available here

Friday, 12 June 2015

8,8 cm Pak L/130

Having seen the 88L/100 Pak, might as well take a look at its larger predecessor, the L/130.

Just the barrel of the gun weighs 5300 kilograms, almost as much as a T-60 tank (5.8 tons). To compare, an entire Pak 37 weighs 327 kg in combat. If this thing was built, it was not going to work like a traditional AT gun.

Naturally, such an enormous beast could not be carried around in one piece, or the barrel would deform under its own weight. Here is a drawing of a connection that joined two parts of the barrel. The barrel separated into three parts in total.

1330 m/s, very nice. DeMarre (with the KwK 43 as reference, by German penetration standards) gives this gun 304 mm of penetration. 

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Exemplary Commander

Award Order
  • Name: Rogozin, Anatoliy Vasilievich
  • Rank: Major
  • Position and unit: Commander of the 3rd Tank Battalion, 36th Red Banner, Order of Suvorov, Order of Kutuzov Tank Brigade
is nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
  1. Year of birth: 1916
  2. Nationality: Russian
  3. In the Red Army since: 1937
  4. Party affiliation: VKP(b) member since 1940
  5. In battle since (where and when): South-Western Front: June 1941 to July 1941: Don Front: October 1942 to February 1942, 1st Belorussian Front: since July 1944
  6. Wounds or concussions: heavily wounded in July of 1941
  7. Previous awards: Order of the Red Banner and Order of the Patriotic War 2nd Class
  8. Recruited by: Kushva recruitment office, Sverdlovsk oblast
Brief and specific description of heroism or achievements: Major Rogozin showed exceptional skill when commanding his tank battalion, personal bravery and courage, exceptional force of will and the ability to rationally control himself in the most difficult battles.

When breaching German defenses west of Kostrzyn, Major Rogozin's battalion was one of the first to rush westward. Destroying the enemy's deeply echeloned defenses, his tanks were the first to reach Munchenberg which was covering the approach to the lair of the fascist beast: Berlin. 

The battalion, with no losses of its own, destroyed the following in battles for this city: 8 Panther tanks, up to 4 batteries of artillery, 180 soldiers and officers, captured 87 prisoners, 23 cars with military cargo, 5 functional guns and many small arms.

Continuing his rapid offensive, Major Rogozin's battalion was the first in their brigade to reach the outskirts of Berlin, and started up a street battle in the Frankfurter Gasse street. The Germans dug in a Tiger tank there in order to impede the progress of our tanks and infantry. Comrade Rogozin bravely drove forward and burned up the Tiger in a quick duel. Inspired by their commander's heroism, the tankers and infantrymen bravely moved out and captured the bridge and barricades.

The battalion delivered heavy casualties to the enemy in battles around Frankfurter Gasse, Aleksandr Strasse, and Kostrzyn Platz, capturing many trophies.

The battalion captured the Silesia train station, and with it 100 train cars, 4 locomotives, 2 warehouses with military goods, and 94 soldiers and officers. During these battles, the battalion has negligible casualties: one tank burned up, 3 tanks disabled, 12 men wounded, and 4 men killed.

For skilful command of the battalion, dealing significant damage to the enemy with minimal losses, personal courage and bravery in battle with the German invaders in the streets of the fascist lair, he is worthy of the top government award: the title of Hero of the Soviet Union."

CAMD RF 33-793756-40

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Stonne, 1940

In 1940, France, a European superpower, was crushed under the onslaught of German forces. The French signed a humiliating peace in Compiegne, in a train car. The city and train car were the same as where Germany signed their capitulation 22 years prior.

Anglophone historians, looking at 1940-1941, compare the rapid fall of France with the successful evacuation at Dunkirk, Battle of Britain, and the North Africa campaign. They tend to not shy away from the conclusion that the French army was bad and that they fought poorly.

However, as one German officer said, he will never forget three battles: Stonne, Stalingrad, and Monte-Cassino. Stonne was in fact in France, the same France that "didn't know how to fight".

A mountain in a torrent

One of the most terrifying tank attacks came at the French in May of 1940 from where they least expected it. Heinz Guderian's tanks passed the wooded mountains of the Ardennes. Crushing an unfortunate French division in their path, "Fast Heinz" made it to the Meuse river. A portion of the forces crossed the river, engineers quickly built a bridge for vehicles, and the foothold was expanded the next morning. German divisions rushed towards the heights south of the French city of Sedan, towards the small village of Stonne.

At dawn on May 15th, a battalion from the German division Grossdeutschland with support from tanks moved to attack the village. The French defenses consisted of infantry, a handful of armoured cars, and 25 mm AT guns. These guns welcomed the Germans by leaving two PzIVs on the battlefield. The more agile PzIIs managed to break through into the village. German infantry, initially chased off with machinegun fire, restored their spirits and fortified on the outskirts of the village. A large German force flanked the village. The French, threatened with encirclement, retreated, leaving behind their armoured cars. The Germans tried to follow, but that cost them two more tanks. Germany won the first round.

Having received reports of the German attack, the French command sent 15 Hotchkiss H39 tanks to Stonne. The description of this counterattack could apply to any battle of the Red Army in the first months of the Great Patriotic War: as soon as the Germans opened fire at the infantry, it went prone and refused to follow the tanks, despite the commander's best efforts. The result of the tank attack was the same: the Germans held out, and the French lost several tanks.

By this time, Stonne grew from a small village to a key point on the map. Ten more tanks were moving towards it: the armoured colossus that was the B1 bis.

Day of fire and metal

Heavy B1 bis tanks were similar to British "rhombuses": their tracks went all the way around the hull, an archaic solution for the start of the 1940s. However, the thick armour and powerful armament, a 75 mm howitzer and 47 mm gun, made the French heavyweight the best tank in its class.

According to tradition, each B1 bis had a personal name along with a serial number. For instance, Lieutenant Caraveo's tank was called Tulal, after a city in Morocco.

May 15th was one continuous battle for Stonne. The village changed hands several times. French infantry continued to show little enthusiasm when supporting its armoured forces. Without support, even the most powerful tank is vulnerable. After two attacks, only 3 B1s remained in action.

Having gathered their forces and pulled up a few Hotchkisses and FCM 36es, the French managed to knock the Germans out of Stonne by noon. The Germans responded with an artillery barrage and a dive bomber strike, turning the village into ruins. In the evening, the Germans were left holding Stonne.

Night fell. The opponents gathered their strength and called up reinforcements. Nobody doubted that there was more to come. The morning was going to be hellish.

Tragic heroism

Before dawn, Stonne was worked over by French artillery. After the barrage, the French attacked again. This time, 14 B1 bis tanks drove into battle.

Famous French tanker, Captain Pierre Billotte, commanded a tank named Eure in this battle. On one of Stonne's streets, he met with a column of German tanks. He ordered the 75 mm gun to destroy the head tank, methodically shot up one tank after another, then moved on. The German guns were not powerful enough to cause his tank any harm. A second column encountered by Eure met the same fate. By the end of the day, Billotte had 13 tanks and 2 AT guns to his name. After the battle, his tank had nearly 150 dents from enemy shells. There were no penetrations.

On the next day, only two tanks, Tunis and Mistral, turned 50 German trucks, tractors, and APCs, several light tanks and AT guns into scrap metal in only half an hour.

The battle for Stonne continued for another week, but the B1s did not participate. They were moved to other parts of the front. However, one cannot leave out the battle of a tank called Jeanne D'Arc on May 28th. It lost its 75 mm howitzer, but kept fighting with machineguns and tracks. Two more hits jammed the turret and damaged observation devices. The tank was hit 90 times, but only a shell from an 88 mm AA gun finally stopped it. The crew managed to leave the tank and return to their lines.

Any army could be proud of tankers like these. It is not their fault that victory requires more than heroism, but cooperation, logistics, tactics, and many other components.

Original article available here.