Saturday, 31 May 2014

3rd Army in East Prussia

A lot of people seem to hold the opinion that the Red Army fought exclusively with human waves, and their tank forces were no different. Hundreds of T-34s would fling themselves at Tigers and Panthers, until the mountain of T-34 hulls disabled them. Fantastical kill ratios as assigned to German armoured units: 5 to 1, 10 to 1, 15 to 1. These numbers are, of course, ludicrous. For instance, consider the reports of the 3rd Army from January 14th, 1945 to March 26th, 1945, conveniently listing the ratios between their tank forces and those of the enemy (CAMD RF 233-2356-776).

"Penetration from the Rozhan foothold, destruction of the Przasnysz garrison, and offensive battles in East Prussia, before the outskirts of the Koenigsberg fortification region, January 14th - February 6th, 1945"

This looks good, let's see the ratios of forces. At the start of the offensive, the ratio of Soviet to German tanks and self-propelled guns shows an advantage to the Soviet side, but not a great one: 1.5 to 1.

On the next day, the enemy calls in reserves. The Soviet 3rd Army still has 131 tanks, but now the enemy has 204 tanks instead of 84, a ratio of 0.6 to 1!

On January 16th, the Germans counterattack. Those buying into the myth of superior German armour would expect the Red Army to suffer a crushing defeat when their enemy has nearly twice as many tanks, but no such thing happened. On January 17th, the German tank division begins retreating. "After four days of fierce fighting, the defeated enemy started rolling back without pause to the nort

h. Our forces crossed the south border of East Prussia and reached Neidenburg on the 7th day of the operation, despite only being scheduled to do so by the 8th day." 78 enemy tanks were captured or destroyed.

The next ratio is calculated on January 27th, at Ortelsburg. A much smaller Soviet force encounters the majority of the retreating Grossdeutchsland division and some infantry divisions. The ratios are nearly even: the Red Army unit has 10% more infantry companies (German companies are estimated to be 50-60 men per company on average, Soviet companies are currently 40-50 men), 50% more machineguns, and 30% less tanks. Surely the Germans will win this time?

"By February 2nd, the army, having crushed enemy resistance and moved forward by 5 kilometers..." Oops, looks like the Germans can't win even they have lots more tanks.

Continuing on in the document, for an offensive on February 14th, the 3rd Army has only 31 tanks and SPGs in the offensive zone, whereas the enemy has 40. You can already guess where the Germans' advantage in armour got them: the Red Army advanced 6-11 kilometers in the first day of the offensive. By February 19th, the enemy is down to 36 tanks, while the Red Army is still at 31.

The next encounter that's relatively close is on March 25th, for Heiligenbeil. The Soviets have 40% more tanks. The outcome is predictable. There is no data for this battle, but the total German losses "for the last period of the operation" consist of 100 captured vehicles and 143 destroyed, 225 captured and 387 destroyed in total.

I'll also post the conclusions written up by the army commander.

"Armoured forces:
  1. Use of tanks and SPGs:
    1. The tanks and SPGs mostly met their given objectives, despite powerful anti-tank defenses and difficult terrain.
    2. Armoured and mechanized forces of the Army drew most of the tanks of the German Grossdeutschland division to them, and caused significant losses to the enemy forces. Their contribution ensured the destruction of the Przasnysz garrison.
    3. Practice shows that tanks and SPGs should be used in a centralized manner, with special care taken when choosing the direction of deployment.
    4. Tanks and SPGs should move in with the first wave of infantry, and not fall behind in any case. Only leave the barest minimum in reserve.
      When the enemy defenses are penetrated to a distance of 1-3 km, tanks and SPGs can pick up tank riders, and rush ahead of advancing infantry (examples: tanks and SPGs in the Podos-Stary battle, capture of the Chorzele town by 66th Tank Regiment and 1294th SPG Regiment, and others).
    5. In winter conditions (January-February), the use of tanks played a positive role.
  2. Poor use of tanks and SPGs:
    1. The 40th Infantry Corps split up an SPG regiment and used it in a decentralized fashion.
    2. Some tank and SPG unit commanders prefer to sit in basements rather than observe the battlefield (35th Infantry Corps, 1888th SPG Regiment).
    3. Some crews are poorly trained (poor orienteering, slow movement, slow rate of fire).
    4. Some tanks lag behind advancing infantry.
    5. Some units have poor cohesion."
Tanks are also mentioned in the conclusions of enemy actions.

"4. Massed use of tanks and SPGs began on the second day of the offensive, when the Grossdeutschland division was rushed into battle to restore the line (up to 120 tanks used).
5. The Germans used up their operational reserves too soon, and this resulted in them being destroyed south of river Ozhitz in the tactical defensive zone."

And, the obligatory...

"13. The enemy is much weaker during the winter than during the summer."

Friday, 30 May 2014

NII-48 Experiments, 1946

"Include the following topics in the research work for 1946:
  1. Production tanks and SPGs:
    1. Develop armour types for:
      1. Light and medium tanks and SPGs, capable of resisting 75 and 88 mm guns with the muzzle velocity of 1000 m/s.
      2. For heavy tanks and SPGs, capable of resisting 88 mm guns with the muzzle velocity of 1000 m/s and 122 mm guns with the muzzle velocity of 800 m/s.
    2. Improve the hull and turret of the IS-3 tank:
      1. Hull:
        1. Improve the connection between mudflaps and tank side.
        2. Increase the robustness of the rear of the hull.
        3. Increase the perpendicular robustness of the hull.
        4. Increase hull floor strength.
        5. Increase the hull roof strength.
      2. Turret:
        1. Develop reliable protection against 88 mm shells with the muzzle velocity of 1000 m/s.
        2. Improve the robustness of the gun mount.
        3. Strengthen the top of the turret.
        4. Develop a method of protecting the turret ring from shells.
      3. Put KDLVT brand steel into production for IS-3 tanks.
  2. Prototypes:
    1. T-54 tank
      1. Determine the armour that will protect the hull and turret from 75 mm and 88 mm shells with the muzzle velocity of 1000 m/s.
      2. Improve the shape of the hull from the point of view of robustness and shell resistance.
      3. Improve the armour of the turret to the point that it resists shells as well as the front of the hull.
      4. Develop armour screens for the T-54 to protect it from HEAT shells up to 105 mm in caliber inclusive and Faust type anti-tank rockets.
      5. Develop a robust track and track pin (increase track life to 3000 km).
      6. Investigate the optimal location for ammunition in the tank.
    2. 701 tank
      1. Determine the type of turret and hull armour that would will protect the hull and turret from 88 mm shells with the muzzle velocity of 1000 m/s and 122 mm shells with the muzzle velocity of 800 m/s.
      2. Remove all weak spots revealed during gunnery trials of the 701 hull.
      3. Improve the armour of the turret to the point that it resists shells as well as the front of the hull.
      4. Develop armour screens for the 701 tank to protect it from HEAT shells up to 105 mm in caliber inclusive and Faust type anti-tank rockets.
      5. Develop a robust track and track pin (increase track life to 3000 km).
  3. Experimental work:
    1. Complete research on tank armour up to [illegible] thick. Compare the resistance of heterogeneous and homogeneous armour to 75, 88, 122, 105 and 128 mm shells at angles of 0 degrees, 30 degrees, 45 degrees, and 60 degrees.
    2. Develop rolled and cast armour that can protect from the following shells
      88 mm at 1000 m/s
      105 mm at 900 m/s
      122 mm at 800 m/s
      122 mm at 1000 m/s
      128 mm at 900 m/s
      128 mm at 1100 m/s
      1. Homogeneous
      2. Cemented
      3. Surface hardened with high frequency current
      4. New design
    3. Develop methods of connecting tank armour up to 300 mm thick.
    4. Develop methods of protecting tanks from Panzerfausts, HEAT shells, and grenades. Test these methods on medium and heavy tanks.
    5. Develop methods of protecting the floor of tanks and SPGs from anti-tank mines.
    6. Develop automatic welding with austenitic electrodes. 
    7. Develop new types of austenitic electrodes that do not cause cracks in metal when welding.
    8. Develop a quenching technology that will prevent cracks on highly hardened armour.
    9. Develop steel for tank and SPG suspensions and design components to be resistant to HE and HEAT shells.
    10. Develop identical technical requirements for non-armoured tank and SPG components.
    11. Develop a unified method for controlling suspension raw materials.
    12. Develop instructions for welding tank and SPG hulls.
    13. Revisit the technical requirements for development and testing of armour during peace time.
    14. Process the materials on armour and tank metallurgy retrieved from Germany and present a report with conclusions and recommendations."

A few notes on this document. "Tank 701" is more commonly known as "Object 701", and eventually became the IS-4. Also, fans of comparing gun penetrations may skim over this document, but they should not. While this document doesn't mention any numbers, it mentions the protection from the 88 mm gun with the muzzle velocity of 1000 m/s (88L/71 KwK 43 in the Tiger II) as a requirement for light (what a lofty goal!) and medium vehicles, but protection from the 122 mm D-25 is already in the domain of the heavies. What a future-proofed gun the D-25 was! 

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

World of Tanks History Section: How the Pershing Became Super

In December of 1942, Americans fighting in Africa first ran into a new German armoured "beast": the Tiger. Having inspected the holes its 88 mm gun made in Stuarts and Shermans, and having understood its effectiveness, Americans asked their commanders for a vehicle with similar characteristics.

More armour, bigger gun

From 1942, American engineers worked on a series of potential medium tanks: T20, T22, T23, with 75 mm guns. Information about the Tiger and Panther caused the engineers to increase the caliber, and in 1944, the T26 tank began trials, armed with a 90 mm gun and protected by 102 mm of armour.

While the T26 was being developed, American headquarters debated whether or not they need such a tank. Some generals, including Patton, deemed the tank excessive. Their opinion was that tanks do not fight tanks, that was the task of anti-tank guns and SPGs. The Sherman's 75 mm gun was more than enough to fight lightly armoured targets and infantry. Other high ranking officers, such as General Jacob Devers, argued that the creation of a tank with a powerful gun and thick armour is an important and necessary task.

Arguments about the T26 lasted until the Allies landed in Europe in 1944. Here, it turned out that the Sherman was a bit weak against German anti-tank guns, Tigers, and Panthers. Work on the T26 sped up. In February of 1945, the tank was accepted into service as M26 "Pershing". In that same month, the first Pershings were delivered to Europe.

The M26, even with many superior characteristics compared to the Sherman, still lagged behind the Germans. A real heavy tank was needed, and the US could not design one quickly, even with its industrial might. As a compromise, the M26 was armed with a 90 mm gun, tested at Aberdeen, and sent to Europe, to the 3rd Armoured Division.

Belton Cooper's Super Pershing

In the beginning of 1945, Major Arrington, the chief of the repair service of the 3rd Armoured summoned one of his subordinates, Lieutenant Belton Cooper. "Cooper, you are the only one of our officers brave enough to keep a slide rule in your trunk. I have a chance for you to show what you're capable of." - Cooper recalls in his book, Deathtraps.

Arrington didn't want to lose his new M26 in the first battle. He ordered Cooper to increase the vehicle's armour. The Americans' favoured tactic, covering the front armour in anything they could find and pretending they are a pile of sandbags, could not work here, the gun was too visible. Lieutenant Cooper had to act different.

"We found 38 mm thick boilerplate in well equipped German workshops. We decided to make the front armour multi-layered. We cut out V-shaped plates shaped like the front of the tank. The tank was protected by 102 mm of cast armour and two 38 mm boilerplates with a space in between them. Despite the softness of the boilerplate, we hoped that the angle and layered armour will cause German shells to ricochet."

The modification added five tons to the front of the tank, not foreseen by the designers. The American torsion bars groaned, but held out.

A helmet for a tank

That's not all! Americans love to fight over an elongated ball that they call a football for some reason. One of the rules of this game is that you must wear a helmet to protect your head. And yet, there was no helmet to put on your tank. Cooper describes the improvement to the turret: "We cut out a chunk from a destroyed Panther 88 mm thick, 150 by 60 cm. In the center, we cut a hole for the gun, on the sides, two smaller ones, for the sight and machinegun. We slipped this plate on the gun and welded it to the front armour.

Now the M26 was reliably protected from German shells, at least from the front. Another problem arose: the elevation mechanism didn't expect another 650 kg of armour. As a result of Cooper's improvisations, the vertical elevation angles were somewhat reduced. The tank could move and shoot, but only directly down.

"We cut out a counterweight from 38 mm steel. They weren't enough, we needed more weight, but how much, and where? We decided to perform an experiment. We cut out a few plates 30 by 60 cm and put them on the back of the counterweight. Moving them back and forth, by trial and error, we found the point of balance."

As a result of all these "improvements", the weight of the vehicle grew by 7 tons, and the front of the tank was 5 cm lower than before. Of course, after this, there could be no mention of good mobility, but American tankers were happy to have a tank with a powerful gun (albeit with slow two-piece loading) and good front armour.

The tank was nicknamed "Super Pershing" by the 3rd Armoured. According to Belton Cooper, it fought twice. First, in the beginning of April 1945, in Germany, between Weser and Nordheim. An unidentified armoured target was destroyed by the tank. In another battle in late April, the Super Pershing allegedly destroyed a King Tiger, hitting it in the bottom and detonating its ammo rack.

Article author: Andrei Ulanov. Andrei Ulanov is an historian and an author of books and articles on the Great Patriotic War. His most prominent works are "Order in Tank Forces" and "First T-34s" (co-authored with Dmitriy Shein). Currently, he is working on books on AT measures of Soviet infantry and combat use of T-34 tanks in 1942.

Sources: Cooper, B. Deathtraps: Survival of an American Armoured Division in WWII, Moscow, Eksmo, 2007

SU-76 Review

A lot of people claim that Soviet evaluators are too harsh on foreign vehicles, such as the Churchill or Chaffee, but that has nothing to do with the origin of the vehicles. For instance, here is a report on the SU-76 (SU-12, not its much more popular successor) that is just as unrelenting.

"VII. Conclusions
  1. Accuracy and practical rate of fire, shooting on the move or stationary from the ZiS-3 gun in the SU-76 SPG are within calculated norms. The aiming mechanisms and Hertz panorama do not provide the gunner with adequate working conditions. The periscopic observation devices are unsatisfactory, and their location does not result in sufficient observation range. The ammunition rack is incompletely developed, shells are not securely affixed and fall out when moving.
  2. The maximum and average speeds are satisfactory. The SPG is less maneuverable than the T-70, and is insufficient. The fuel and oil expenditure is normal.
  3. SU-76 SPGs contain a series of design and production defects, which results in an unreliable vehicle in general and the transmission and suspension components in particular.
    1. The gearbox from the GAZ-AA truck, when subjected to stresses such as those that come from a jammed track, is destroyed due to breaking gear teeth in the first intermediate gear.
    2. The issue of preventing the track from jamming on the drive wheel when turning is not resolved, the teeth on the drive wheel do not match the track openings. The deflectors do not prevent tracks from jamming and become useless within 250-300 km of motion.
    3. The weakened final drives, flexible clutches, and supplemental friction clutch do not save the transmission from breaking.
  4. In order to prevent aforementioned breakdowns, SU-76 SPGs must be driven in accordance with the following rules:
    1. Turn smoothly, without bursts, as turning rapidly will result in gearbox breakages.
    2. After 20-25 km of march and before heading out, adjust tracks, inspect and tighten idler carriers and support idlers.
    3. Before heading out and when stopped on a march, inspect the splinting of gearbox mechanissm and main friction clutches, keep an eye on the condition of the sliding bars and rods in the gearbox, check the work of the blocking mechanism.
VIII: Summary
  1. SU-76 SPGs released in April by factory #38 did not pass warranty trials due to design defects of the transmission and suspension.
  2. A qualified driver that performs careful maintenance can be expected to get 200-400 km of reliable service life our of a SU-76."
CAMD RF 38-11355-1553

Of course, such an unacceptable vehicle did not remain in production. It was discontinued and a new, more reliable SU-76M took its place.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

German Steel vs. Soviet Steel

The debate on who had better quality armour is likely one that will rage eternally. Sadly, both sides are largely devoid of metallurgy specialists. However, some metallurgy specialists from NII-48 (CAMD RF 38-11355-832) conveniently compared the two.

"4. Quality of armour based on damage

Light anti-bullet armour, 8-15 mm thick

German and Czechoslovak homogeneous armour with Brinell hardness of 2.6-2.85, when hit with a 12.7 mm DShK bullet at a speed of 840 m/s holds approximately as well as domestic armour.

However, the presence of spalling of the German armour, in up to 85% of penetrations, indicates that the armour is very brittle, due to its high hardness. The brittleness is demonstrated when a DShK fires in bursts, armour fragments of up to 40-50 mm in size fall off, but without cracks.

45 mm shells give the same result. Breaches in armour, usually 1.5 times the caliber size, are formed. The edge of the breach is always very dry, crystalline. In some cases, the metal shows separating layers.

However, despite the brittleness of the armour, no through cracks were developed, likely due to the plate's thinness and low pressure on it.

Anti-shell armour, 20-40 mm thick

20-40 mm thick armour is homogeneous, hardened to 3.0-3.2 on the Brinell scale.

The resistance of the captured samples largely coincides with technological norms in the production of domestic armour.

However, despite the decreased hardness of anti-shell armour of PzIII tanks compared to anti-bullet armour, the amount of brittle damage is significantly higher. The behaviour of vehicle #233 is characteristic of the tanks: 75% of all penetrations resulted in fragments up to 3 calibers in size spalling off, as well as through cracks, resulting in the armour plate falling into pieces. Identical behaviour was observed with the surface-hardened armour on vehicle #131.

The armour of captured tanks is of low quality, and based on existing technical conditions for domestic armour, would be deemed unacceptable, due to its brittleness, cracking, and spalling.

Conclusions: based on the above, the following conclusions can be made:

  1. The armoured steel of captured tanks is usually more hardened than domestic steel. The chemical composition of captured steel provides nothing interesting for domestic metallurgy.
  2. Typically, only homogeneous high hardness armour is used. Heterogeneous (cemented) armour is used only for reinforcing front armour plates (armour screens).
  3. Despite the high hardness, the quality of the foreign armour is lower than domestic homogeneous armour.
  4. The layering characteristics of foreign armour are generally good by the standards of domestic armour.
  5. Based on the technical standards of domestic armour, captured German armour is unacceptable, due to its brittleness and tendency to crack, spall, or fragment when hit."

Monday, 26 May 2014

Soviet Tank Tactics, 1945

CAMD RF 233-2356-776 contains a record of experience of the 1st Belorussian Front in 1945, including a wealth of information on fighting in Berlin and on its approaches. The full document is hundreds of pages long, so I will skip the parts that don't have to do with tanks. There is still plenty left!

"Each infantry battalion was reinforced with a SU-76 battery, a SU-152 battery, a company of sappers, and was supported by one mortar regiment, the division's artillery regiment, which included all the division's mortars, 76 mm and 45 mm guns firing directly from the front lines, one burst from the division's rocket artillery, and howitzer batteries.

Penalty companies deployed at the flanks were each reinforced with a SU-76 battery, a platoon of sappers, and were supported by [same artillery support as above]"

"The penetration of enemy defenses in the Berlin operation was done with five infantry divisions reinforced by 12 SPG and tank regiments (240 units of armour), across a 7 km front with the average density of 265 artillery and mortar barrels per kilometer of front."

"During artillery barrages, infantry, with submachinegun companies in the front lines, reinforced with SPGs and engineering tanks, and IS tanks in the second line, took up positions 150-200 meters from the objectives and opened fire from all infantry weapons at the enemy's front trenches, reinforcing the fire when the artillery barrage ended."

"The following is the recommended composition of an assault group: 1-2 mounted machinegun units, 1-2 DShK machineguns, 1-2 sapper units, 3-8 flamethrowers, 2-3 chemists with smokescreens and incendiary chemicals, an anti-tank rifle unit, 3-4 guns of all types (45, 76, 122 mm, and sometimes even 152 mm), and 2-3 tanks and SPGs"

"Late battles are characterized by a large amount of "Faust" grenade launchers, used not only against tanks, but also against infantry and artillery."

"From experience gathered in Poznan, buildings that were reinforced by the enemy were captured in cooperation with infantry. Tanks opened fire at hardpoints and upper floors, while the infantry cleared the first floor and basement. In some cases, tanks used their hulls to cover machinegun nests and allow infantry to run across streets and squares, protecting it from artillery and rifle fire.

In this manner, on January 1st, 1945, when capturing a building at Object 64, an was assault group composed of 15 infantrymen, two chemists with flamethrowers, two T-34 tanks and one SU-152. Under the cover of tank and SPG fire, the infantry and flamethrower chemists entered the first floor of the building, set it on fire, and entirely destroyed the enemy inside.

When capturing or blocking forts, tanks and SPGs opened fire at the portholes, while assault groups rushed forward, and then destroyed or forced the fort to surrender. In this manner, on February 10th, 1945, when blocking fort #5, an assault group composed of three high power guns, two T-34 tanks, a platoon of infantry, a platoon of sappers, and a unit of flamethrower chemists was used. The assault happened like so: after the guns opened fire at the top floors, the sappers and chemists approached the walls, and tanks with a sapper unit approached the gates. Chemists threw smoke bombs and grenades across the walls, covered the moat with smoke, and the infantry and tanks suppressed the upper floors while the sappers blew the exterior and central gates. A reserve platoon of submachinegunners was then used to fight inside the fort.

When clearing the city of Zoloch, the main unit during street fighting was an assault group, supported by three SU-152s. The group included a battalion of infantry and other reinforcements. Battles in cities and settlements make it impossible to build a wide front and reduce the mobility of tanks and SPGs. In battles for Poznan, the following formations were used (see diagram 1-v and 2-v).

Based on experience in large cities, keep the following in mind:

  1. The operation of tanks and SPGs in large cities is more difficult due to limited maneuverability, cramped spaces, separation of units, and difficulty in commanding them.
  2. Tanks and SPGs are mainly used in assault squads (reinforced infantry platoon, company, or an assault group up to a reinforced battalion). An assault squad uses 2-3 tanks or SPGs. An assault group can have a company of tanks or a battery of SPGs.
  3. Tanks and SPGs follow its assault unit and support it with fire across streets or at windows and enemy emplacements.
    Aside from the tankers' main task, to support their infantry and destroy the emplacements that impede it, the tankers successfully fought enemy tanks. On January 28th, 1945, a tank company captured sectors 133, 137, 126 (Poznan), and using the wide Gurna-Vilda street to move two platoons abreast, approached their objective, but met an ambush of 7 tanks. The company commander placed one platoon on the eastern outskirts of 118 and the other on the northern outskirts of 125. From 200 meters, the platoons opened fire at the enemy simultaneously. As a result, 6 enemy tanks were burned, one escaped.
    Tanks were also used to transport infantry and sappers in order to capture areas. In the morning of January 29th, a platoon of tanks carrying infantry from the 2nd Battalion 226th Guards Infantry Regiment, with the support of two SU-152s reached the north outskirts of 103, where the infantry dismounted and fought in the houses of that sector, while the tanks opened fire at enemy concentrations impeding the advance of infantry.
    When infantry reached north outskirts of sectors 104 and 105, the tank platoon entered sector 81 (city stadium) and allowed 2/226 Guards Infantry to fortify. As a result, one enemy tank was destroyed, and up to 300 vehicles were captured.
    Special attention should be paid to massed machinegun fire. The distance between vehicles moving through the city should be such that every vehicle must be able to protect the one in front of it from being hit with grenades, incendiary bottles, and "Faust" rounds from the upper floors. This distance is about 75-100 meters. Tanks and SPGs should never move in a line. If one tank moves on the right side of the street, it must aim at the houses on the left side, and the next tank should move on the left side, aiming at the right houses. All hatches of tanks and SPGs should be closed.
  4. When moving tanks through streets, parks and squares, the possibility of hidden holes, traps, and basements must be considered. Tanks and SPGs must move carefully, observing the vehicles in front of them. Tanks stuck in a hole or a trap must be protected by infantry and other tanks. Keep a unit of infantry, tanks, and sappers in reserve to free stuck tanks.
  5. AT guns are destroyed by tanks and SPGs with frontal fire from cover. If there is a way to flank an AT gun, it must be used. Houses of medium robustness and barricades can be destroyed with tank guns and SPGs (76 or 85 mm). Extra robust buildings must be destroyed with ISU-122 and ISU-152 SPGs, as well as IS-2 heavy tanks. Flamethrower tanks may be used, under the cover of artillery and regular tanks, to burn out garrisons of bunkers, pillboxes, or buildings.
  6. A tank company or a battery may be assigned to a battalion, company, or reinforced platoon of infantry. Organization of cooperation when assaulting large buildings is very important. It is very important to study approaches to objectives. Taking the Object 63 fortress was preceded by reconnaissance of the area by the tank company and infantry company commanders, followed by reconnaissance by tank and SPG commanders.
    From 9:00 on February 1st to 20:00 February 2nd, four tanks and two SU-152 SPGs (in turn, one tank supported one SPG) approached the alley on the north-eastern side of Object 60 and opened fire to knock a path for infantry through buildings. Two passages were made, one in the front wall (where there were three doors blocked with barricades) and one in half-basement windows to the left. The passages were meant for sappers and infantry to enter the fortress.
    From 20:00, tanks transported sappers and submachinegunners to the openings. The second SU-152 supported this operation with fire.
  7. When organizing city battles, a tank unit commander must:
    1. Study the layout of the anti-tank defenses on the perimeter and inside the city.
    2. Study, with subordinates, up to the most minute detail (using terrain, a map, a schematic, air photos, by questioning locals) the layout of the city, its streets, squares, gardens, important buildings, constructions, the type of buildings, especially in the direction of the unit's movement. Have a precise map with street names.
    3. Distribute tanks among assault squads and groups, based on either previous decisions or an order from the combined arms commander, handing out objectives of supporting infantry and controlling given sectors and objects.
    4. Prepare and distribute methods for overcoming obstructions.
    5. Carefully study issues of cooperation:
      1. Mark lines, objects, attack directions, and determine cooperation signals with infantry.
      2. Determine signals for starting and stopping artillery fire.
    6. Organize supplies and repairs for tanks.
  8. Keep in mind that a city battle is split into individual battles for buildings and sectors, and avoid giving large-scale objectives. The overall objective should be split up into sequential precise objectives of capturing given objects.
  9. When fighting in the city, keep in mind that the individual actions of tank and SPG units decide success in their sectors, and the most important preparations for battle are done at the crew/platoon level.
  10. Careful reconnaissance and observation has a decisive effect in city battles. Commanders at all levels should aim to have close contact with infantry, which will mark targets impeding its progress for tanks. Assault groups should include scouts from tank units. Intelligence data should be constantly updated with observations from tanks and SPGs in order to open fire independently, without prior requests from infantry.
    As a result, tanks and SPGs should not just randomly move forward, but towards the suppression and destruction of specific targets.
  11. When organizing cooperation, carefully establish signals that infantry will give upon reaching an objective, and constant connection with infantry. In street fighting, proven methods of communication are coloured flares, bursts of tracer bullets in the direction of spotted targets. Communication using couriers and communications officers is very important in the city.
  12. Each tank should have a group of 4-5 submachinegunners constantly attached to it in order to guard the tank and protect it from enemy tank hunters armed with "Faust" grenade launchers.
  13. When deciding to use tanks or SPG units in city battles, keep the following in mind:
    1. Assign SU-76 and SU-85 regiments to infantry divisions and regiments for distribution between assault groups and squads. The norm is an SPG regiment, not an infantry regiment.
    2. Independent heavy tank or SPG regiments (IS, ISU-122, ISU-152) are assigned to infantry divisions in order to reinforce assault groups in more difficult and important sectors.
      Heavy tanks and SPGs are tasked with destroying buildings and tanks that cannot be destroyed with 76 or 85 mm guns.

      SU-152 SPGs play a big role in city battles, as a part of assault squads or groups. With their powerful guns, they destroy enemy tanks and hardpoints, make passages in walls, destroy houses.
      On February 20th, 1945, the 394th Guards Heavy SPG Regiment had 5 SU-152s available, and the task to clear 8th, 9th, and 10th sectors directly against the south walls of the citadel (see map). SPGs acted in two groups, jointly with infantry, flamethrower T-34s, and regular T-34s. The first group was composed of three SU-152s, two T-34s, and 26 infantrymen, and was tasked with clearing sector 10. The SPG on the left flank covered the rest of the group from fire coming from sectors 8 and 9. The second group, composed of two SU-152s and three flamethrower tanks headed towards the eastern part of sectors 8 and 9. SPGs came right up to houses, destroyed enemy emplacements, made breaches in the houses so infantry could pass. On narrow streets, the SPGs were positioned so that they could help each other with crossfire.
      SPGs moved up in turns (see diagram #2). The task to clear out the sectors was completed, the SPGs cleared the way for infantry to approach the citadel with powerful fire.

      February 11th, 1945, the 394th GHSR was tasked to cooperate with 240th Guards Infantry Regiment and 74th Guards Infantry Division to take control of Object 85 (a hospital), which was a four-storey tall brick building with deep basements. After a small artillery barrage, two battalions from the 240th regiment attacked and captured the basements in Object 85. The enemy remained in the top floors, and controlled all the passages. With SMG fire and grenades, infantry was not allowed to move up to the higher floors.
      After several unsuccessful attempts, the infantry commander called in artillery fire at the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floor. SPGs came within 100-150 meters, and destroyed the top floors of the building using 68 shells, allowing our infantry to capture the object.
      The most characteristic battles were the ones for the citadel. From February 21st to February 23rd, the regiment's 5 SU-152 SPGs cooperated with elements of the 74th Guards Infantry Division. The SPGs had a task: at 8:00 on February 21st, approach the wall with the central gates and fire through breaches in the wall at the first and second towers of the second wall, in order to capture the gate.
      Despite poor conditions of the approaches, SU-152s went up to the moat 10-20 meters from the wall and fired at the targets for three hours, using 200 shells. The fire of the SPGs allowed the infantry to capture the citadel.
      At dawn on February 23rd, sappers made a narrow passageway for tanks in the first wall. SPGs, tanks, and infantry moved through this passage to the center of the citadel, and captured it.
  14. Due to difficulties in controlling units split up into small groups or individual tanks, the control of the battle becomes decentralized, and tasks are given by commanders of infantry battalions and companies, regardless of rank. Tank and SPG unit commanders remained at the observation points of the infantry regiment commanders, controlling the correct use of tanks and SPGs, encouraging energetic and skilful actions of their crews, organizing reconnaissance, and providing constant material and technical supplies to the battlefield.
    In all cases, a tank commander must have a reserve (company of tanks or battery of SPGs) to deflect counterattacks and refill assault groups and squads to replace knocked out vehicles or evacuate broken down or stuck vehicles.
  15. Due to the higher than usual expenditure of ammunition in city battles, it is important to keep the tanks supplied. The commander must have the first rear echelon 1-1.5 km behind the battle zone (with repair tools, 1.5 ammunition refills and 0.5 fuel refills) in order to quickly refill and repair vehicles.
    Refuel at night or in cover. When transporting ammunition, carry it right up to the tanks. Designate a tank or SPG as an ammunition carrier for each company/battery.
    When organizing supply lines, ensure that vehicles do not get lost in the city by assigning specially trained officers that can guide the vehicles from the rear echelon to the first.
    In cases when a tank unit is split up and assigned to infantry regiments, split the first rear echelon into two groups which will then follow both infantry regiments and supply their tanks and SPGs. In all cases, strive to have the rear as close as possible to the front, taking cover from artillery fire behind buildings.
  16. The above does not cover all practical methods of city fighting, and is just an excerpt from experience gathered from fighting in cities.
Commander of the Armoured and Mechanized Forces of the 8th Guards Army, Guards Major-General Vainrub
HQ Commander of the Armoured and Mechanized Forces, Guards Major Pokalchuk

Confirmed: Chief of the War Experience Usage Department, Guards Lieutenant-Colonel Baranovskiy"

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Odd One Out

Here's a picture of the inside of a flamethrower modification of the T-34.

As you can see, the seat of the hull gunner/radio operator is replaced with the flamethrower device. So how many crewmen does this tank have? Three? Wrong.

"Composition and duties of the flamethrower T-O34 tank.

1. Composition and locations of the crew of the T-O34

1. The crew of the tank consists of 4 men. The commander of the tank is placed in the turret, to the left of the gun, near the aiming mechanisms. The driver is placed in the driver's compartment. The turret commander is placed in a seat to the right of the gun, and the flamethrower technician, located outside the tank."

The flamethrower technician does not run after the tank into battle, of course, but is tasked with refilling and repairing the device.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Burning Rubber

A method of improving rubber life.

"To Deputy Chief of ABTU, comrade Panfilov

According to your recommendation, tilted wheels will be installed on the production A-7M vehicle. This modification leads to improvements when moving on wheels, as it significantly increases the lifetime of the rubber (see report #061 on field trials of A-7M tanks model 1939, pages 185-191 and 208). When driving on tracks, this modification leads to no changes.

Using tilted wheels will decrease parts commonality and introduce the possibility of confusion when using spare wheels in the field. Please confirm the necessity of using tilted wheels.

Senior Military Representative of ABTU, Military Engineer 2nd grade, Kozyrev."

"To the Chief of the Red Army ABTU, Army Commander 2nd grade, comrade Pavlov
Copy to: factory #183 director comrade Maksarev

Factory #183 notified you with letter #S01271 on March 5th that the replacement of wheels with tilted ones on A-7 and A-7M vehicles is not suggested. In a telegram from April 18th of this year, the factory reports that there was no answer to its letter from ABTU.

GlavSpetsMash asks you to confirm that replacing wheels with tilted ones is not recommended due to the reduction of parts commonality.

I propose to the factory #183 director that he should not make any changes to the production process without prior agreement from GlavSpetsMash.

GlavSpetsMash Chief, Surenyan"

Despite the arguments, handwritten comments on the page order tilted wheels to be put into production. There seems to be no record of this modification actually making it into production, though.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Cheating at Statistics 7: Korner the Conjurer

I could spend the rest of my life cranking out "Cheating at Statistics" articles by simply comparing kill claims from Tiger battalions (especially the SS ones) to the actual casualties suffered by the other side, so I'll limit myself to particularly interesting ones. For instance Karl Körner, a truly amazing tank commander that destroyed some astronomical amount of tanks. Let's take a look at Tigers in Combat II to see what Schneider has for us on this outstanding individual and his unit.

"18 April 1945: Blocking positions are occupied on a road from Protzel to Bollersdorf (at Ernsthof). An enemy armour assault originating from Grunow is repelled; sixty-four enemy tanks and one Tiger II are knocked out.

19 April 1945: ...
four enemy tanks knocked out
On the road to Strassberg, a Josef Stalin company is lined up; at the edge of Bollersdorf more than 100 T-34/85s are crowded together. He opens the engagement by knocking out the lead and trail Joseph Stalin tanks...the three Tigers wipe out the T-34/85s. They then dispatch the remaining Josef Stalins....
...In the late afternoon, the 3 Tigers are attacked by around thirty T-34s...all the enemy tanks are put out of action.
...more Josef Stalins restart their advance and are knocked out..."

The amazing adventures of Korner's Tigers keep going, but I'll stop here. Wow, what  a feat, 130 T-34s, over a company of IS-2s (at least seven tanks) and then 64 of some unspecified tanks. That's over two hundred vehicles! Let's see who the unfortunate sods were that received such a brutal punishment.

CAMD RF 233-2356-776 (fragment)

The 5th Shock Army is shown rolling through Bollersdorf and Strassberg. The only other units around are infantry, and even they were too far north to run into Korner. It's these guys he fought for sure. 

Let's take a look at the composition of the 5th Shock Army. In 1945, it included the 26th Guards Infantry Corps, 9th Infantry Corps, 32nd Infantry Corps, and 11th Tank Corps. Aha, tanks! Let's see what that unit is composed of. The 11th Tank Corps consists of the 20th, 36th, and 65th Tank Brigades.

Uh-oh, there is already a problem! I don't see a single Guards Independent Heavy Tank Breakthrough Battalion in the area, and that is the only unit that would even have IS tanks. That claim is out. 

Let's keep going. A Tank Brigade each has a Tank Battalion, 21 tanks apiece. That means, at maximum strength, the 5th Shock Army would possess 189 tanks. It is unclear where Korner found at least 12 more tanks to destroy. 

Now, maybe there were a handful of double claims, nothing too unusual. Let's see what the 5th Shock Army has to say about the battles of April 18th and 19th.

"By the end of April 18th, 1945, tank units bypassed this system of lakes and canals, and reached a more favourable terrain for maneuvers. By 21:00, they reached the Schultzendorf-Batszlow-Reichenberg line.
Developing the offensive, and fiercely fighting the enemy that was determined to not let tanks through the forests north of Straussberg, tank units burst into the forest at 21:00 on April 19th, and reached Steinbeck, Bizov, and Blumental."

That's it. No mention of enemy tanks at all. The conclusions section whines a little bit about Panzerfausts and Panzerschrecks, but that's it. The 5th Shock Army ran over the 103rd SS Heavy Tank Battalion in a single day, and didn't even notice.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014


"January 10th, 1944
To comrade Beria

The NKTP (factory #183) developed a device that can mount and detach 40 kilogram naval smoke canister (MDSh) on T-34 tanks. In the absence of a need for smoke, the holder can be used to carry additional diesel tanks.

The device has been tested and recommended for mass production. Blueprints of the device and additional gas tanks have been developed. The device has the following tactical-technical characteristics:

  1. Mobile (attached to the tank) and immobile (dropped from the tank) generation of smoke.
  2. Amount of MDSh canisters carried: 2.
  3. Duration of burning for one canister: 9-11 minutes.
  4. Length of opaque smoke: 500-600 meters.
  5. Mass of the device with two canisters: 100-102 kg.
  6. Capacity for one diesel tank: 65 L.
  7. The device is simply designed and easy to produce.
We deem it appropriate to attach this device to domestic medium and heavy tanks. The project is being transferred to GOKO's jurisdiction.


Interestingly enough, such a device already existed several years prior. Here is a picture from May of 1941 with a KV tank that carries two MDSh canisters.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Tank Stakeouts

The story of the single KV of Raseiniai that stopped Kampfgruppe Raus is well known. However similar incidents occurred occasionally, even if they didn't become as widely known as Raseiniai.


Today, another Republican tank crew was saved, out of the three that were stuck in fascist territory near Saragosse. The miracle did not happen by itself, it happened as a result of boundless heroism of the soldiers, their stubbornness and belief in their abilities.
The brave trio just got to the front lines of government officials. We honour them, scratched up and singed. They slowly tell their story, exhausted, but happy.

The tank was immobilized with several shells. It was surrounded by fascists. The crew shot back for twelve hours, but, after showering the tank with grenades, the fascists closed in. The crew locked themselves in, and decided to not give up alive. The fascists climbed up on the tank and called to the crew. The crew did not answer. 
The Italians and rebels decided to open the tank. They climbed all over it with mallets and crowbars. The tank was closed up like a safe. The bolts held. 
After several hours, the fascists were tired, and decided to have dinner right on the tank. After dinner, they took a nap. One of the crewmembers moved. The rebels heard him, rolled off the tank, and renewed their attack. 
They started throwing incendiary grenades at the bottom of the tank. Rubber started burning. "We sat still, silently, and smoked," tells the commander. "It was around 19 hours into the siege."
The fire burned for a while, and went out. It did not get to the gas tanks. The crew could hear the rebels' conversation. It was decided that they would not leave until the tankers' corpses were dragged from the tank.
The attack resumed once again. There was nothing left to hope for. The crew decided to commit suicide if the enemy gets inside. 
Suddenly, a shell exploded nearby. Then, another, a third, and yells of the wounded. Republican artillery, and other Republican tanks, established the location of the tank, and provided it with covering fire. 
The shooting stopped. The fascists ran off and hid. The decisive moment has come. This was the last chance for rescue.
The commander managed to turn the cannon and make three shots. After that, he took off the lock, and ordered the turret commander to run. The fascists opened fire. He dove behind a bump. The commander returned fire with his machine gun and ordered the driver to evacuate. He himself went last.
The rebels covered them with a rain of bullets. The trio lay close to the ground, until the fascists got tired of shooting. Another sprint, and then another, and another. Exactly 24 hours since the start of their resistance has passed.
They stand here now, drinking and smoking. They are giving precise directions to other soldiers in an armoured tractor that will recover their tank. 

Mihail Koltsov, Pravda, October 19, 1937."

A similar incident occurred during the Winter War, but with a much more valuable tank. While the Republicans didn't exactly have a surplus of T-26es, the tank in question was completely unique. During the Winter War, it was not yet decided which of the three new heavy tanks, the KV, T-100, or SMK, was the best. All three prototypes were sent into battle.

"The SMK tank was leading the column, and took a lot of fire. One of the shots jammed the main turret, and silenced the gun. The tank made it to the road. At the Kameri-Wyborg fork, the driver must have missed the stack of crates, and drove on to it. An explosion roared, and covered the area in thick brown smoke. The tank stopped. After the smoke cleared, Lieutenant Petin got out to investigate. The SMK stood next to a massive crater. The explosion destroyed the track and idler, and damaged transmission bolts. The electrical system was damaged, the bottom of the tank was bent. Even though there was a 40 degree frost, the snow surrounding the tank has melted. 

The driver, V. I. Ignatiev, was stunned by the explosion, and temporarily lost consciousness. The crew did not leave the tank. The T-100 and KV approached, and stopped nearby. The T-100 crew was made of volunteer testers. One of them, E. I. Roshin, wrote: "Our vehicles approached the damaged SMK, and covered it with our armour. The T-100 was in the front and to the right, the KV was in front and to the left, forming a triangular fortress. We stood like this for several hours, trying to repair the tracks of the SMK. We were dressed well, in new coats, boots, wool helmets, gloves. We could endure the bitter cold, but the damage was too heavy. The road wheels were damaged, as well as the tracks, and we could not get the heavy vehicle to move."
Lieutenant Toropov's engineering team tried to tow the tank using a 25-ton T-28 tank. They worked at night, under enemy fire, but could not tow the massive tank, firmly lodged in the crater. The damaged track and idler made it necessary to leave it in no man's land.

The Finns tried to tow away the SMK, but our artillery protected the tank. Finnish scouts managed to crawl up to it and steal a hatch cover. Kotin, when retelling this story, mentioned a curious fact. The factory producing armour for the SMK was behind schedule. The Kirov factory, unwilling to wait, produced their own hatch cover, using leftover low-carbon steel. The Finns stole this cover from the SMK, and, when it made its way to German labs, they decided that all Soviet tanks are made from "raw" steel.
The heavy tank remained in the crater until the end of the war. It was eventually moved with the combined forces of six T-28 tanks."

- Konstruktor Boyevih Mashin, Popov at al, Lenizdat, 1988.

A rare photograph of the SMK exists, taken by the Finns, in the process of attempting to tow it. 

Next situation is somewhat more Raseiniai-like, with a happier ending. Lieutenant Semyen Fillipovich Shmakov, company commander in the 500 independent tank battalion, received an Order of Lenin for his heroism. From his award order:
"On August 27th, 1942, at 8:00, along with the 994th infantry regiment of the 186th infantry division, on his KV-8 tank, he attacked the village of Voronovo. Escorting his company though the heavily fortified enemy lines of defense, he destroyed enemy pillboxes, and fortifications with fire from his tracks, and enemy forces with his gun and machine guns. He twice attempted to cross the river Navia. The second attempt was successful, but he was struck by heavy artillery and mortar fire, as a result of which his tank lost an idler and tore a track. The tank stopped on enemy occupied territory. From August 27th, 1942 at 9:00 to present time, Lieutenant Shmakov and his crew, without leaving the tank, courageously defended it for 198 hours while under constant artillery and mortar fire. While the tank was being sieged, it destroyed 11 pillboxes, 6 cannons, 3 machine gun nests, and up to 100 German soldiers and officers. Shmakov, despite his exceptionally difficult situation, provided care and encouragement for his crew, and was an example of courage and determination. In order to obtain water for his crew, he manually bored a hole through the radiator, allowing him to gather 1.5 canteens. He has currently managed to repair the track. As soon as he manages to lock it back on, the tank will be able to return on its own.

Commander of the 500th Independent Tank Battalion, Captain Torgilin 
Military Commissar of the 500th Independent Tank Battalion, Company Commissar Antonov"

Friday, 16 May 2014

World of Tanks History Section: 1st Guards Tank Brigade in Berlin

In the far off Fall of 1941, when the 4th Tank Brigade was sent into battle with the words "Only you stand between the Germans and Moscow", it is doubtful that any of its tankers could predict where and how the brigade will finish its combat path in that great war. Maybe it will burn up in an encirclement, like many others have that summer in the Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltics. Maybe it will hold on a bit longer.

Then, in the Fall, they managed to survive, and keep standing. They slowed down the German tank wedge, won time for a new corps to take up positions behind them. For these battles, the 4th Tank Brigade received the title of 1st Guards.

In April of 1945, it was all different. Mikhail Efremovich Katukov, no longer a Colonel, but a Colonel-General, was in command of the 1st Guards Tank Army, which included the 1st Guards Tank Brigade. Moscow was still behind them, but by now it was far to the east. In front of them was the enemy's lair, Berlin. However, first they needed to overcome the "Berlin Gates", Seelow Heights, where the Eastern guests were going to be met with anything but hospitality.

On approach to Berlin

On April 15th, 44 T-34-85 tanks were ready for battle in the brigade. Another 17 SU-85 and SU-100 SPGs in the attached 400th Guards SPG Regiment. In the night of April 16th, the brigade crossed Oder and concentrated on the Kostrzyn foothold. In a few hours, their last and most difficult fight began.

If it was 1941 or 1942, the brigade would meet their end here, in burnt out and destroyed boxes, but it was the victorious year of 1945.

"Acting on order, the brigade followed attacking infantry at 7:30 on April 16th, overtook it, and took Sachsendorf in battle by 8:30. Advancing further, the brigade met fierce resistance from previously readied defenses at Seelow Heights. Thanks to a skilled flanking maneuver, the tanks entered the heights at 20:00 on April 16th, captured one of the heights, and threw the enemy's defenses into disarray."

Things were far from kicking down the doors, as this was only the first of the three lines of defense. Katukov's tankers only reached Marksdorf in the evening of April 18th, cutting off the retreat of the 11th SS Tank Corps. Over the next two days, the brigade was "deflecting frenzied attacks from the SS-men", as was written in contemporary memoirs.

On the evening of April 20th, 1945, strike groups from the 1st Belorussian Front broke the last line of defense at Seelow Heights, the so called "Wotan Line". On April 22nd, Soviet tank units cut the communications of the defending 9th Army and the 4th Tank Army, which overextended to aid it. In two more days, the trap closed fully. It contained up to 200,000 enemy soldiers, and a lot of vehicles. The majority of them lie forever in the forests near the small city of Halbe.

In the enemy's lair

The 1st Guards Tank Brigade was already fighting in Berlin. At dawn, the brigade was joined by lagging soldiers from the 21st Motorized Infantry Brigade. The assault on the city began.

"By morning on April 24th, the brigade crossed river Spree on rafts near the Kepenik region. A part of the corps' advance guard, the brigade advanced towards Adlershof and Johannisthal. At 5:00, they encountered heavy resistance at the north-western edge of Johannisthal, a Berlin suburb. At 11:30, the brigade fully controlled Johannisthal, where 10,000 citizens of allied nations were freed from camps."

The path into the city had to be ground out through several streets. Considering the experience of previous battles, the tanks marched in a "pine tree" pattern. The vehicles on the right side of the street fired at the left side, the left side on the right. 100-150 meters in front of the tanks, infantry removed Panzerfaust troops. Often, fighting was done as in an encirclement: the Germans let the forward units slip past them while hiding in basements among the civilians, or entered the rear through tunnels.

"The enemy turned all stone buildings into fortresses, placing submachinegunners and Panzerfaust teams into them. Unlike previous battles, they opened fire en masse from the top floors of buildings. Light and heavy AA guns were used as anti-tank guns. Guns from heavy tanks on improvised mounts were used as well. Many city streets had barricades, some of them reinforced concrete. Each barricade had minefields in front of it. SMG gunners and Panzerfaust teams were aided by tanks and SPGs, two to five."

A commander's death

On April 27th, the 1st Guards Tank Brigade entered the north-western outskirts of Schöneberg. Here, when suppressing a German AT gun placed in the church belltower, the brigade commander, Abram Matveevich Temnik, met his end. The commander of the nearby IS tank regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Veniamin Aaronovich Mindlin, recalls:

"Nice! You are still alive? Excellent!" I heard Temnik's voice in my headphones. "Where are your tanks?"
"Hello! I am at the crossroads. Did you see the flares?"
"Good. I have a question. See the red church? It is in front of you, to the right. The Fritz have a 75 mm gun there. It's shooting at my tanks from point blank range! Can you take it out? First Guardsmen always pay their debts!"
"I'll try sending SMG gunners."
"What can your infantry do? Fire from your "wolfhounds"!"
"We tried, the brick is very old, more than a meter thick..."
"Let's take them together, from both sides! I'm gathering the HQ for an attack."
"Why HQ? Where is your SMG battalion?"
"Fighting for the train station. There are labyrinths there, they can't spare a single man!"
"Why throw HQ into battle?"
"What else can I do? I will lead the attack myself. When can you start?"
"In about five minutes."

Temnik was swinging around his Mauser pistol and yelling something. I could see his red face and his moustache through my binoculars. His coat was gone, his shirt glistened with medals.

Seeing their brigade commanders, the retreating guardsmen halted. Both groups merged. Temnik stopped running for only a second, then waved his Mauser and stormed forward. Everyone was running close to him, and were close to the fence, when suddenly, in the very middle of the attackers, an explosion shot up.

This all happened in fractions of a minute. Another two or three, and we would be with him. In war, in battle, there is always just a little bit missing.

The tracks clattered, engines roared, shells from IS tanks whistle overhead. The SMG gunners rose up again and ran for the church.

After the explosion, Temnik's group was covered in dust and smoke. The dust settled. Temnik and his officers were lying on the pavement."

The command of the brigade was taken over by the HQ commander, Guards Colonel Katirkin.

Ending the war with six tanks

The brigade continued to plow its way forward. In the night from April 29th to April 30th, along with elements of the 20th Guards Motorized Infantry Brigade and the 88th Infantry Division, they knocked the enemy out of the last sector before the zoo. On the evening of April 30th, battles for the zoo itself began. At that point, only six working tanks remained in the brigade.

A few kilometers to the north, units of the 3rd Shock Army were storming the Reichstag.

On May 1st, 1945, at 16:00, by orders from the Corps commander, the brigade transferred its six tanks and their crews to the 20th Guards Motorized Infantry Brigade, as well as 89 SMG gunners from the motorized infantry battalion, and was transferred to the second echelon. The battle and the war was over for the 1st Guards Tank Brigade.

Article author: Andrei Ulanov. Andrei Ulanov is an historian and an author of books and articles on the Great Patriotic War. His most prominent works are "Order in Tank Forces" and "First T-34s" (co-authored with Dmitriy Shein). Currently, he is working on books on AT measures of Soviet infantry and combat use of T-34 tanks in 1942.

1. Report on combat actions, 1st Guards Tank, Cherkov, twice Order of Lenin, Red Banner, Orders of Suvorov, Kutuzov and Bogdan Khmelnitskiy Brigade, as a part of the 8th Guards Mechanized, Carpathian, Red Banner, Order of Suvorov Corps of the 1st Guards Tank Army of the 1st Belorussian Front from April 16th to May 2nd, 1945 (CAMD RF 299-3070-771)
2. V. Mindlin, The Last Battle is the Hardest. A memoir tale. Znamya, 1985. #4. pp 90-124

Original article available here.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

S-53 Turret

of investigation of several issues of equipping the T-34 tank with a stock or expanded turret ring with an 85 mm S-53 gun
January 14th, 1944


When developing working blueprints of turrets for tanks with stock or expanded turret rings, take into account the following:
  1. The main aiming device is the refracting scope. Also install the 10-T-15 telescopic sight.
  2. Instead of a periscope, the gunner should use a MK-4 sight.
  3. The angle of gun elevation should be no less than 22 degrees and the angle of gun depression should be no more than -5 degrees.
  4. The turret should fit 35 machinegun disks in the turret bustle. The turret with the stock turret ring should replace these disks with shells.
  5. The gunner's seat should be adjustable height-wise. In the turret with an expanded turret ring, make the commander's chair removable instead of having it flip back.
  6. Put the radio in the turret in the tank with the enlarged turret ring."
CAMD RF 38-11355-2224

The "T-34 with stock turret ring" is most commonly known as T-34-76. Photographs of this old tank with the new gun can be seen here

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Camouflage Rules

You've read fond reviews of Soviet camouflage from the Germans. Here are the secrets to remaining unseen! These are rules for camouflage of a single person, but a lot of these apply to tanks as well.

"Death to German occupants! Military engineer 1st class Bobrov

Memo for scouts on camouflage

Military publisher of the People's Commissariat of Defense, 1942

Correct: while observing the enemy, hide in grass.
Incorrect: do not rise above the grass, the enemy will see you. 

Correct: if there are bushes nearby, hide in them, covering your helmet with branches.
Incorrect: do not use branches when you are in grass, they will stand out and will give you away.

Correct: in the forest, observe while hiding in trees.
Incorrect: do not hide on branches with no leaves, you will be seen.

Correct: in a sparse forest, remain prone behind a tree.
Incorrect: do not stand behind a tree trunk, you will be easily spotted.

Correct: in hilly terrain, observe from the base of a hill.
Incorrect: do not climb up to the top, you will be seen immediately.

Correct: remove some logs from a stack, and observe through it.
Incorrect: do not stand at full height behind it, your head and shoulders will stand out.

Correct: if there are many large rocks nearby, hide in their shadows.
Incorrect: do not sit in the sunlight where you can be seen.

Correct: when observing from a building, stay in the shady side of the top floor.
Incorrect: do not go up against the window, you will be seen against its outline.

Correct: near a fence, use it as cover and look through it.
Incorrect: do not look out from above the fence or around it.

Correct: in a field covered in craters from shells and bombs, hide in one, you will be hard to see.
Incorrect: do not hide behind solitary bushes, the enemy will be watching them.

Correct: when digging yourself a ditch, cover the dirt with grass.
Incorrect: bare dirt will be easily seen.

Correct: if you are not shooting, hide your body in the ditch, especially your shoulders and head.
Incorrect: do not stick your head out for no reason, the enemy's sniper will spot you.

Correct: crawl from bump to bump on un-forested areas.
Incorrect: do not walk at full height.

Correct: move through the bottom of a ravine.
Incorrect: do not move near its edges, you will be seen.

Correct: move through the shaded side of a clearing, you will be hidden from sight.
Incorrect: if you walk on the sunny side, you will be seen from land and air immediately.

Correct: when fording a stream, approach the shore carefully.
Incorrect: do not come out of the other side directly across from where you went in.

Correct: if there is nowhere to hide from an enemy plane and there are many stumps around, sit and take the shape of a stump.
Incorrect: do not lie down.

Correct: in the night, when moving between bushes, raise your legs high.
Incorrect: do not get your rifle or helmet stuck on bushes, do not step on dry branches.

Correct: if you need to light a fire, light it in cover or in a tent.
Incorrect: if you light a fire in the open, the enemy will see it.

Correct: in mountainous terrain, move across the side of a hill.
Incorrect: do not walk on its crest.

Correct: in forested mountain areas, walk through the forests, even though it is harder.
Incorrect: do not walk out in the open.

Correct: in the mountains, observe and fire from behind cliffs and rocks.
Incorrect: do not climb out up to the crest, you will be seen from afar.

Correct: when moving across a field in a greatcoat, stick to dark spots (melted snow, dung).
Incorrect: a dark coat against the snow will give you away.

Correct: in winter camouflage overalls, remain in the snow.
Incorrect: you will be seen on dark spots.

Correct: when moving on skis, hide your skis and poles in the snow.
Incorrect: dark skis can be seen against the snow.

Correct: in a forest, observe and fire from behind a fallen tree or other cover.
Incorrect: do not stand or move around at full height."

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Composite Armour

"April 9th,, 1916
To His Excellency, the Minister of Warfare

Report of Samuil Ignatiyevich Shevchenko, resident of Lugansk, 2nd section of Konyushennaya street

Right now, one of the best methods of protection is to resist the strike, no matter how strong. I have invented a method of withstanding any enemy strike with good odds. For this, armour can be weaved from fine twine. The strings should be 3/4 inches thick, and tightly packed together. The thickness of this armour should be no less than 28 inches.

This armour will be very useful. A strike against this armour will be elastic and will not bring any destruction. I would back it with steel armour, at least 4 inches in thickness. In order to counter the strike, you need to place the two substances together in a layer that is an arshin thick to make a fortress wall that can be placed anywhere. This method will save a large percentage of human lives. It should be used, time is of the essence. Existing and new methods of destruction bring a lot of death, and my idea can help against that.

In case Your Excellency deems my invention viable, I ask Your Excellency to notify me, and I will personally demonstrate this fabric I invented.

S.I. Shevchenko"
RGVIA 803-1-1816

Monday, 12 May 2014

Lend Lease Impressions: M24 Chaffee


1. Armour.

The armour is insufficiently thick for modern requirements, as it does not protect even from anti-tank rifles and grenades. The front machinegun and removable hatch weaken the already insufficient armour further.

The hull shape is superior to that of previous American tanks (M3 light, M3 medium, M5A1), but is worse than modern domestic tanks.

Fig. 43: Hull and turret armour

The drawbacks of this shape include the insufficient turret armour angle and relatively large height. Advantages of the hull design include convenience of the hatch opening mechanisms and good visibility due to the commander's cupola.

2. Armament.

The 75 mm tank gun with a muzzle velocity of 610 m/s does not meet modern firepower requirements (penetrates 82 mm at 500 meters with the M-62 shell). Advantages of the armament include:
  1. Good accuracy and precision when firing from one spot, a high rate of fire of 9-10 RPM.
  2. Good accuracy when firing on the move at speeds up to 25 kph, due to the gyroscopic stabilizer.
  3. Good visibility and the commander's ability to control the turret increases mobility of fire and makes indicating new targets convenient.
  4. The compact recoil mechanism concentric with the barrel leaves a lot of room for the crew.
Drawbacks of the armament include:
  1. Poor optical sights, with a scale for only one type of shell.
  2. Leaking oil reservoirs of the recoil mechanism after prolonged firing.
  3. Only one turret rotation speed with the commander's controls reduces precision of aiming and makes pointing out targets difficult.
  4. It is hard to hold the periscopic observation device in place and the inconvenient location of the device in the commander's hatch makes it difficult to point at a new target and reduces mobility of fire.
  5. The front and AA machineguns lack sights, and make it difficult to provide effective fire.
3. Engine.

Two Cadillac engines provide satisfactory mobility to the tank. Scorching of the block pad is explained by poor tightening of the nuts, and is not a design flaw. Drawbacks of the engine include:
  1. High fuel quality requirements.
  2. The design is complicated, with many components and secondary systems, which require observation and maintenance.
  3. It is difficult to remove certain components such as fuel lines, starters, etc.
  4. It is impossible to discover an engine fault in motion, as the working engine will keep spinning the broken engine, and none of the instruments warn you of this.
4. Transmission.

The hydraulics, gearbox, demultiplexer, double differential and final drives work reliably. The M24 transmission has an advantage over the M5A1 transmission, as its engines are united into one power source.

The connection of the engines to the demultiplexer in the engine compartment, and not in the driver's compartment (like in the M5A1) introduces only one crankshaft instead of two, and makes the installation of the engine and transmission much easier.

The design of the gearbox makes it easier to detach each engine from the transmission. This design makes it difficult to drive the tank due to the nature of the mechanical demultiplexer. 

Advantages of the transmission include:
  1. Simplicity of controls.
  2. Reliability.
  3. Low maintenance requirements.
Drawbacks include difficulty in manufacturing.

5. Suspension.

The suspension worked reliably, with the exception of a rubber tire that fell off a road wheel. The torsion bars and shock absorbers work reliably and make for a smooth and highly dampened suspension.

Drawbacks of the suspension design include the track pins. The two pins and two holes on the tracks deform during use, and make disassembling and assembling tracks very difficult.

Controlling the tank:

The tank can be controlled from the seat of the mechanic-driver or his assistant. The hydraulic gearbox makes it so that the gears have to be changed rarely, and the driver mostly uses the accelerator and brake levers. This system makes it easy to drive the tank and reduces the level of training required for the driver.

During trials, there was only one case where the demultiplexer became misadjusted due to a lengthening of the parallel pulling. The adjustment mechanism is easy to access and readjusting it was not difficult. Otherwise, the mechanisms worked reliably. Signal lamps that indicate low pressure or high temperatures in the engine and gearbox make it easy to avoid problems. A drawback of the instrument panel is a lack of an oil manometer. 

Usage statistics:
  1. Average speed:
    1. Highway: 30 kph
    2. Dirt road: 17.5 kph
      These are worse than the speed of the M5A1, but better than the SU-76, and are satisfactory.
  2. Maximum speed:
    1. Highway: 55 kph
      With the effective hp/ton of 12.2, this is good.
  3. Average gasoline consumption per 100 km:
    1. Dirt road: 300 L
    2. Highway: 203 L
      This is high. The oil consumption is negligible.
  4. Off road performance is good.
  5. Range on dirt roads is 160 km. For this vehicle class, that is not enough.
  6. The amount of maintenance required is about the same as on tanks with a regular mechanical transmission, and can be done by the crew.
  7. The fuel used was B-70 with an addition of one cubic centimeter of R-9 per one liter of gasoline. This mix allows the engine to develop maximum power without deteriorations and breakdowns.
  8. Lubricating oil was used for the engine. It works well with this type of oil.
  9. MK oil was used for the differential and demultiplexer. Use lubricating oil in the winter.
  10. The fluid in the hydraulics was the American [illegible]-10 at all times of the year. A substitute was not used.
As the result of trials of the American light M24 tank, it was established that:
  1. The tank does not meet modern requirements.
  2. The following elements are interesting for domestic tank design:
    1. Recoil mechanisms.
    2. Ease and simplicity of driving the tank."