Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Befehlspanzer mit Panzer IV-turm

Bergepanther with Pzkpfw.IV(H) turret Command tank.

Bergepanther mit aufgesetztem Pzkpfw.IV(H) turm als Befehlspanzer (red arrow) Notice the Tiger (P) VK 4501 in the front railcar.

The vehicle was a combination of SdKfz 179 Bergepanther with early chassis (belonging to the first 12 units in this unit, built from June, 1943). With an adapted turret (screwed permanently) from a cannibalized PzKpfw lV Ausf H in the Bergepanther hull. The purpose of the transformation was "close" the open hull of Bergepanther with a armored turret, in order to better protect of his crew. With the hull closed by a turret, one of these rescue vehicles was converted into Command Car.

The gun was just a dummy and the absence of of the gun breech allowed a larger space on the tower for extraradio and map tables. The result was a command tank with a fixed turret, plus a name that was absolutely mind numbing: Bergepanther mit aufgesetztem Pzkpfw IV(H) turm als Befehlspanzer. The work was done as a field conversion, and only one vehicle is known to have been converted. It served with the Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 653 (equipped with Ferdinand and, later, Jagdtiger vehicles) on the Eastern Front in 1944.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


A Sd.Kfz. 9/1 hoisting a Maybach HL 120 TRM engine into a Panzer III.

 SdKfz 9/2 lifting a Tiger turret.

For the most part, the standard tank recovery vehicle remained the heavy-duty 18-ton prime-mover (Zugkraftwagen). The heaviest of the half-tracks, two at least were required for towing a Panther and three for a Tiger. About 2,500 were built by the firm of Famo at Breslau and Warsaw between 1938 and 1944.

A new upper body was used for the Sd.Kfz. 9/1 which mounted a 6 t (5.9 long tons; 6.6 short tons) capacity crane in lieu of the crew's bench seat and the cargo compartment. It was issued to tank maintenance units beginning in September 1941. A larger, gasoline-electric, 10 t (9.8 long tons; 11 short tons) crane was fitted on the later Sd.Kfz. 9/2, but this required outriggers to stabilize the vehicle before operations could begin. There was also a tank recovery version with a giant spade-like metal plate connected to the rear of the frame. The spade holding frame could be lifted straight up for transport. It was meant to stabilize the vehicle while winching a heavy object on soft ground.

The Kfz. 100 Büssing NAG 4500 A was produced for the German armed forces from 1942 to the end of the war. Over 13.800 vehicles were produced, and they were converted into different versions. One of these versions was fitted with a turntable crane, the Bilstein Drehkran, which had a maximum lifting capacity of 3 Ton. These vehicles were used in field repair units, where they were used for lifting engines, gun barrels and also for towing assignments.

Nominally, provision was made in a 1944 tank regiment for two Bergepanzer III recovery tanks and four 35-ton Bergeschlepper towing tanks (probably an early designation for the Bergepanthers). The Bergepanzer III, based on the PzKpfw III Ausf M, N and J, was nevertheless something of a rarity - only to be found in Panzer Regiments 3, 16 and 130 and SS-Panzer Regiment 9 in Normandy.

Altogether 271 were built by Alkett of Berlin who were responsible for more than half the production of the PzKpfw III.

The heavy tank battalions, with their Tigers, normally had Bergepanthers, which were rarer still. There were two in schwere Panzer Abteilung 503 and one in schwere SS-Panzer Abteilung 101 but none in schwere SS-Panzer Abteilung 102. The Bergepanther (SdKfz 179) was produced by Demag to meet the Armaments Ministry's requirement for a heavy-duty recovery vehicle able to cope with the Tiger and Panther. Between 1943 and 1944, 347 were built by Demag and MNH. The vehicle was a conversion of the Panther Ausf D and G, with the turret removed and housing a winch and its motor in a square open-top compartment with mild steel sides which could be extended upwards with wood flaps and had a tarpaulin cover. At the rear was a massive spade anchor, operated by the winch, to hold the vehicle down during the actual recovery operation. For lifting work there was a jib that could be fixed on either side of the hull roof and on the front plate mount. The fuel capacity of the Bergepanther was increased to 1075 litres.

German Tank Hunters

The first weapon of the German Panzerjäger ( armour hunters or tank hunters) was the humble Panzerbüchse which was in service from 1917 through to 1943. Panzerbüchse literally means "armour rifle" and German anti-tank rifles originated back in 1917 with the Mauser 1918 T-Gewehr, the world's first anti-tank rifle. It was created as an immediate response to the appearance of British tanks on the Western Front. A single shot manually operated rifle, it enjoyed moderate success, with approximately 15,800 rifles eventually produced. The Panzerbüchse 39 (PzB 39) was the main German anti-tank rifle used in World War II. It was an improvement of the unsuccessful Panzerbüchse 38 (PzB 38) rifle.

German Panzerbüchse development resumed in the late 1930s. In an effort to provide infantry with a man-portable lightweight anti-tank rifle. The task fell to Dipl.-Ing. (certified engineer) B. Brauer at Gustloff Werke in Suhl who designed the Panzerbüchse 38 (PzB 38). It was a manually loaded single-shot weapon with a recoiling barrel. When fired, the barrel recoiled about 9 cm, which opened the breech and ejected the spent cartridge casing. The breech block was then arrested in the rear position, remaining opened for the gunner to manually insert a new cartridge. The gunner then released the cocked breech with a lever at the grip. The breech and barrel would then move forward again and the trigger was cocked in preparation to fire. This rather complicated mechanism was prone to jamming as the system easily fouled in field use.

Although manufactured with pressed steel parts that were spot-welded, because of the complicated vertical breech block mechanism the Panzerbüchse 38 was difficult to manufacture and only a small number of 1,408 PzB 38 rifles were built in 1939 and 1940 at the Gustloff Werke plant; only 62 of these weapons were used by German troops in the invasion of Poland in 1939.

The Panzerbüchse 39 was the next development, and was found to be a major improvement as a result the Panzerbüchse 38 declared obscelescent and production was immediately switched to the Panzerbüchse 39. However it too featured a vertical breech block mechanism and used the same cartridge. It retained the barrel of the PzB 38 and had an only slightly increased overall length of 162.0 centimetres (63.8 in); weight was reduced to 12.6 kilograms (28 lb). Its performance data was basically the same as that of the PzB 38. To increase the practical rate of fire, two cartridge-holding cases containing 10 rounds each could be attached to both sides of the weapon near the breech - these were not magazines feeding the weapon, they simply enabled the loader to extract the cartridges (that he still had to manually insert into the gun) from the conveniently placed magazines. 568 PzB 39 were used by the German army in the invasion of Poland; two years later, at the beginning of the war against Russia, 25,298 PzB 39 were in use by German troops; total production from March 1940 to November 1941, when production ceased, was 39,232 rifles. The PzB 39 remained in use until 1944, by which time it had become hopelessly inadequate against all but the lightest armored vehicles.

OKW recognised the need for a more powerful form of anti-tank weapon and the design of a horse-drawn, 3.7 cm anti-tank gun (designated 3.7 cm Pak L/45) by Rheinmetall commenced in 1924 and the first guns were issued in 1928. However, by the early 1930s, it was apparent that horse-drawn artillery was obsolescent, and the gun was modified for motorized transport by substituting magnesium-alloy wheels with pneumatic tyres for the original spoked wooden wheels. Re-designated the 3.7 cm Pak 35/36, it began to replace the 3.7 Pak L/45 in 1934 and first appeared in combat in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. It formed the basis for many other nations' anti-tank guns during the first years of World War II. The KwK 36 L/45 was the same gun but adapted as the main armament on several tanks, most notably the early models of the Panzer III.

The Pak 36, being a small-calibre weapon, was outdated by the May 1940 Western Campaign, and crews found them inadequate against allied tanks like the British Mk.II Matilda, and the French Char B1 and Somua S35. Still, the gun was effective against the most common light tanks, such as the Renault FT-17 and saw wide service during the Battle of France and the T-26 during Operation Barbarossa. The widespread introduction of medium tanks quickly erased the gun's effectiveness; miserable performance against the T-34 on the Eastern Front led to the Pak 36 being derisively dubbed the "Door Knocker" (Heeresanklopfgerät, literally "army door-knocking device") for its inability to do anything other than advertise its presence to a T-34 by futilely bouncing rounds off its armor.

Not surprisingly The Pak 36 began to be replaced by the new 5 cm Pak 38 in mid 1940. The addition of tungsten-core shells (Pzgr. 40) added slightly to the armour penetration of the Pak 36. Despite its continued impotence against the T-34, it remained the standard anti-tank weapon for many units until 1942. It was discovered that Pak 36 crews could still achieve kills on T-34s, but this rare feat required tungsten-cored armour piercing ammunition and a direct shot to the rear or side armour from point-blank range.

As the Pak 36 was gradually replaced, many were removed from their carriages and added to SdKfz 251 halftracks to be used as light anti-armour support. The guns were also passed on to the forces of Germany's allies fighting on the Eastern Front, such as the 3rd and 4th Romanian Army. This proved particularly disastrous during the Soviet encirclement (Operation Uranus) at the Battle of Stalingrad when these Romanian forces were targeted to bear the main Soviet armoured thrust. The Pak 36 also served with the armies of Finland (notably during the defence of Suomussalmi), it was also deployed in Hungary, and Slovakia.

In 1943, the introduction of the Stielgranate 41 shaped charge meant that the Pak 36 could now penetrate any armour, although the low velocity of the projectile limited its range. The Pak 36s, together with the new shaped charges, were issued to Fallschirmjäger units and other light troops. The gun's light weight meant that it could be easily moved by hand, and this mobility made it ideal for their purpose.

The replacement for the outdated Pak 36 was the 50cm Pak 38. The longer barrel and larger projectile produced the required level of kinetic energy to pierce armour . The PaK 38 was first used by the German forces during the Second World War in April 1941. When the Germans faced Soviet tanks in 1941 during Operation Barbarossa, the PaK 38 was one of the few early guns capable of effectively penetrating the 45 mm (1.8 in) armor of the formidable T-34. Additionally, the gun was also equipped with Panzergranate 40 APCR projectiles which had a hard tungsten core, in an attempt to penetrate the armor of the heavier KV-1 tank. Although it was soon replaced by more powerful weapons, the Pak 38 remained a potent and useful weapon and remained in service with the Wehrmacht until the end of the war.

The 7.5 cm PaK 40 (7.5 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 40) was the next generation of anti-tank gun to see service. This German 7.5 centimetre high velocity anti-tank gun was developed in 1939-1941 by Rheinmetall and used extensively from 1942-1945 during the Second World War. It was the PaK 40 which formed the backbone of German anti-tank guns for the latter part of World War II. Development of the PaK 40 began in 1939 with development contracts being placed with Krupp and Rheinmetall to develop a 7.5 cm anti-tank gun. Priority of the project was initially low, but Operation Barbarossa in 1941 and the sudden appearance of heavily armoured Soviet tanks like the T-34 and KV-1, increased the priority. The first pre-production guns were delivered in November 1941.

In April 1942, Wehrmacht had 44 guns in service. It was remarkably successful weapon and by 1943 the PaK 40 formed the bulk of the German anti-tank artillery.The PaK 40 was the standard German anti-tank gun until the end of the war, and was supplied by Germany to its allies. Some captured guns were used by the Red Army. After the end of the war the PaK 40 remained in service in several European armies, including Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Norway, Hungary and Romania.

Around 23,500 PaK 40 were produced, and about 6,000 more were used to arm tank destroyers. The unit manufacturing cost amounted to 2200 man-hours at a cost of 12000 RM. A lighter automatic version, the heaviest of the Bordkanone series of heavy calibre aircraft ordnance as the BK 7,5 was used in the Henschel Hs129 aircraft.

The Pak 40 was effective against almost every Allied tank until the end of the war. However, the PaK 40 was much heavier than the 50 cm PaK 38, It was difficult to manhandle into position and its mobility was limited. It was difficult or impossible to move without an artillery tractor on boggy ground.

The PaK 40 debuted in Russia where it was needed to combat the newest Soviet tanks there. It was designed to fire the same low-capacity APCBC, HE and HL projectiles which had been standardized for usage in the long barreled Kampfwagenkanone KwK 40 main battle tank-mounted guns. In addition there was an APCR shot for the PaK 40, a munition which eventually became very scarce.

The main differences amongst the rounds fired by 75 mm German guns were in the length and shape of the cartridge cases for the PaK 40. The 7.5 cm KwK (tank) fixed cartridge case is twice the length of the 7.5 cm KwK 37 (short barrelled 75 mm), and the 7.5 cm PaK 40 cartridge is a third longer than the 7.5 cm KwK 40.

The longer cartridge case allowed a larger charge to be used and a higher velocity for the Armour Piercing Capped Ballistic Cap round to be achieved. The muzzle velocity was about 790 m/s (2,600 ft/s) as opposed to 750 m/s (2,500 ft/s) for the KwK 40 L/43. This velocity was available for about one year after the weapon's introduction. Around the same time, the Panzer IVs 7.5 cm KwK 40 L/43 gun and the nearly identical Sturmkanone (StuK) 40 L/43 began to be upgraded with barrels that were 48 calibers long, or L/48, which remained the standard for them until the end of the war.

In the field, an alarming number of L/48 cartridge cases carrying the hotter charge failed to be ejected properly from the weapon's semi-automatic breech, even on the first shot (in vehicles). Rather than re-engineer the case, German Ordnance reduced the charge loading until the problem went away. The new charge brought the muzzle velocity down to 750 m/s, or about 10 m/s higher than the original L/43 version of the weapon. Considering the average variability in large round velocities from a given gun, this is virtually negligible in effect. The first formal documentation of this decision appears on May 15, 1943 ("7.5cm Sturmkanone 40 Beschreibung") which details a side by side comparison of the L/43 and the L/48 weapons. The synopsis provided indicates very little difference in the guns, meaning the upgrade had little if any benefit.

All further official presentations of the KwK 40 L/48 ( "Oberkommando des Heeres, Durchschlagsleistungen panzerbrechender Waffen") indicate a muzzle velocity of 750 m/s for the gun. As for the PaK 40, the desire for commonality again appears to have prevailed since the APCBC charge was reduced to 750 m/s, even though case ejection failures apparently were never a problem in the PaK version of the gun.

For reasons which seem to be lost to history, at least some 75 mm APCBC cartridges appear to have received a charge which produced a muzzle velocity of about 770 m/s (2,500 ft/s). The first documented firing by the U.S. of a PaK 40 recorded an average muzzle velocity of 776 m/s for its nine most instrumented firings. Probably because of these results, period intelligence publications ("Handbook on German Military Forces") gave ~770 m/s as the PaK 40 APCBC muzzle velocity, although post war pubs corrected this (Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 30-4-4, "Foreign Military Weapons and Equipment (U) Vol. 1 Artillery (U) dated August of 1955-this document was originally classified).

In addition, German sources are contradictory in that the Official Firing Table document for the 75 mm KwK 40, StuK 40, and the PaK 40 dated October, 1943 cites 770 m/s on one of the APCBC tables therein, showing some confusion. ("Schusstafel fur die 7.5cm Kampfwagenkanone 40").

The 88 mm gun (eighty-eight) was a German anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun from World War II. It was widely used by Germany throughout the war, and was one of the most recognized German weapons of the war. Development of the original models led to a wide variety of guns.

The name applies to a series of guns, the first one officially called the 8,8 cm Flak 18, the improved 8,8 cm Flak 36, and later the 8,8 cm Flak 37. Flak is a contraction of German Flugzeugabwehrkanone meaning "anti-aircraft cannon", the original purpose of the eighty-eight. In informal German use, the guns were universally known as the Acht-acht ("eight-eight"), a contraction of Acht-komma-acht Zentimeter ("8.8 cm"). In English, "flak" became a generic term for ground anti-aircraft fire.

The versatile carriage allowed the eighty-eight to be fired in a limited anti-tank mode when still on wheels, and to be completely emplaced in only two-and-a-half minutes. Its successful use as an improvised anti-tank gun led to the development of a tank gun based upon it. These related guns served as the main armament of tanks such as the Tiger I: the 8.8 cm KwK 36, with the "KwK" abbreviation standing for KampfwagenKanone ("fighting vehicle cannon").

In addition to these Krupp's designs, Rheinmetall created later a more powerful anti-aircraft gun, the 8,8 cm Flak 41, produced in relatively small numbers. Krupp responded with another prototype of the long-barreled 88 mm gun, which was further developed into the anti-tank and tank destroyer 8.8 cm Pak 43 gun, and turret-mounted 8.8 cm KwK 43 heavy tank gun.

Vehicle designs

Designs of the Panzerjäger vehicles varied based on the chassis used, which could be of three types:
  • Early war open-topped superstructure on a light tank chassis
  • Mid-war fully enclosed crew compartment on a medium or heavy tank chassis, as an added-on entity not usually integral to the original hull armor
  • Late war unarmoured or shielded mounting on a half-track chassis
Notable tank destroyers in the Panzerjäger classification were:
The later Jagdpanzer designation was used from the beginning for the following more integrally armored vehicles:

German Self-Propelled Artillery

The Germans were early entrants into the field of SP artillery, albeit in a rather half-hearted way. In March 1940 Alkett converted 38 PzKw IB chassis to the artillery role by removing the turret and building up a huge superstructure into which was set the 15cm slG infantry gun. The vehicle could be used in the indirect fire mode, but it was more commonly used as a direct-fire weapon in spite of its thin armor. They were used in the French campaign of 1940 and the concept proved sound, but the actual vehicles were fir from ideal.

The replacement used the PzKw II made wider and longer, with an additional roadwheel each side. This permitted the gun to be mounted much lower than in the original version. Although much superior to the earlier PzKw I-based vehicle, only 12 were built in 1941 and all were dispatched to North Africa, where they served until early 1943. In the meantime, interest had turned to better-protected vehicles that could serve right up in the front lines. The original concept of a SP infantry gun thus evolved into a heavy assault gun, and those vehicles are covered separately.

The development of SP artillery had been envisioned as early as 1934, but by 1935 attention had turned to a tank with a 105mm howitzer. Thus, it was not until early 1940 that approval was given for development of a true SP artillery piece. In January 1942 Krupp showed a prototype of a 105mm howitzer on the PzKw IV chassis and in July a contract for 200 was placed. This was to be an interim design, as the Automotive Design Office really wanted a weapon with 360° traverse and capable of dismounting tor use separate from the carrier vehicle. This resulted in the "Heuschrecke 10" vehicle with a light howitzer in a dismountable turret. In the meantime, however, it had become clear that the interim design was both heavy and expensive and Rheinmetall and Alkett were called upon to. mount the 105mm howitzer on the chassis of the PzKw II light tank. Using experience previously acquired in mounting the 15cm infantry gun and the 75mm Pak on this vehicle, they demonstrated the vehicle in July 1942. The contract for the PzKw IV SP vehicle was thereupon cancelled. In fact, the Heuschrecke 10 never entered series production, and the Rheinmetall/AJkett SdKfz 124 "Wespe" soldiered on to the end of the war.

The companion heavier piece to the Wespe was the 15cm sFH18/l howitzer on a hybrid PzKw III/1V chassis. Approval tor development was given to Alkett in July 1942 and a prototype shown in October, along with the very similar Hornisse SP anti-tank gun. The first production vehicle came off the line in January 1943 as the SdKfz 165 "Hummel". For the most part they served in mixed battalions, one per panzer division, with two 6-gun batteries of Wespe and one of Hummel.

In the meantime the availability of captured chassis in France led to the conversion of significant numbers into SP artillery for the use of local forces. Most of the chassis were too small to handle anything larger than the 105mm howitzer and were actually marginal for that role. In particular, a reluctance to undertake extensive modifications left the engine at the rear, which limited the maximum elevation of the piece, and hence the range. The one exception was the Lorraine tractor, which had a large, open bed at the rear. The usefulness of the Lorraine with the 15cm howitzer was such that it was the only one of the French conversions to be shipped out of theater, with one battalion going to the 21st Panzer Division in North Africa.

If the second half of 1942 proved anything about the Eastern Front at the operational level, it was that the panzers were more than ever not merely the army’s core, but its hope. The Reich’s manpower resources continued to erode, making it impossible to keep the infantry divisions at anything like authorized strength. A new generation of personal weapons was coming off the drawing boards. Light machine guns, assault rifles, and rocket launchers would enhance the infantry’s firepower and fighting power alike beginning in 1943. But at unit level the new hardware would at best be able to balance the lost men. In a wider context the Reich’s factories could not produce enough of it to replace existing weapons in anything but fits and starts. What had begun in the 1930s as a choice to enable forced-draft rearmament had become a necessity in the context of forced-draft war. The panzers must be the focal point of the army’s post-Stalingrad reconstruction.

Seven panzer and three motorized divisions—four if the 90th Light Africa Division were counted—had gone under in Stalingrad or surrendered in Tunisia. More than half the rest had been battered back to near-cadre status at Rzhev, on the south Russian steppes, or from Leningrad to points south. Reorganizing and reequipping them took most of a year. Even more than their predecessors, the revised tables of organization and equipment tended, in practice, to be approximations depending on what was available. The tank regiment was returned to its authorized two-battalion strength, each with four companies of 22 tanks—Panzer IVs in theory; in practice a mix of IIIs and IVs, depending on what was available. The antitank battalion was up-gunned to three batteries of open-topped, self-propelled Marders carrying the 75mm PAK 40, the definitive German antitank gun in the second half of the war, which inflicted much of the damage credited to the 88. The artillery regiment converted one of its battalions to self-propelled, full- tracked mounts: twelve 105mm howitzers and six 150mms. Both equipments were excellent. The lighter Wespe (Wasp), based on the still-useful Panzer II chassis, was a rough counterpart of the US M7 Priest. The 150mm Hummel (Bumblebee), with a chassis purpose-built from Panzer III and IV components, outmatched anything any other army’s self-propelled divisional artillery would see until well into the Cold War.

leFH 18/2 auf PzKw II (SdKfz124) (Wespe)
This vehicle mounted the 105mm light field howitzer on a slightly lengthened PzKw II chassis. The engine was moved forward to the center of the vehicle to create space at the back for the fighting compartment, the sides of which were extended upward. The howitzer could traverse 17° each side of center and elevate from -5° to +42°, and this relatively high elevation for an SP mount gave a range of 10,500 meters. The vehicle carried 32 rounds of ammunition. A light machine gun was carried, but not mounted, on the vehicle for close-in defense. Some vehicles were completed without guns as ammunition carriers to carry 90 rounds. These could be converted to gun vehicles in the field with little trouble if required. The vehicles were effective and popular in all theaters except Italy, where they proved underpowered for operations in mountains.

sFH 18/1 auf PzKw III/IV
The standard SP heavy field piece mounted the 15cm sFH 18/1 on a hybrid PzKw III/IV chassis, essentially a PzKw IV lengthened slightly with the engine moved forward to the center. The piece had a traverse of 15° each side of center, while the open bed at the rear allowed an elevation of+42° to yield close to the piece's theoretical maximum range. A light MG was carried, but not mounted, for local defense. The driver and radio operator sat at the front and the gun crew of four at the rear. The Hummel carried only 18 rounds tor the howitzer, and a version without the gun but with extra ammunition racks was also built as an ammo carrier to provide two such vehicles to each six-gun battery. The lack of a muzzle brake (eliminated alter the prototype) prevented the weapon from firing with uppermost (eighth) charge.

sFH 13/1 auf Lorraine Schlepper (SdKfz 135/1)
This was the most common, and successful, of the conversions of French chassis into SP artillery. Because of the open rear compartment the Lorraine was a good basis for conversions and 94 were used for the 15cm howitzer, 12 lor the 10.5cm howitzer, and 170 for 7.5cm Pak, all using a similar configuration. In fact, the only real alterations were the addition of the superstructure sides, the gun, and a recoil spade at the rear (the spade not being present on the anti-tank vehicle). Because of the light weight of the tractor the old 15cm sFH 13 was chosen in lieu of the more powerful sFH 18. It was mounted with 5° of traverse each side and 0 to +40° elevation, but only eight rounds of ammunition could be carried. As mounted in the vehicle, the howitzer had a maximum range of 8,600 meters.

10.5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f)
There were two main types of self-propelled guns in the German Army during WW2. One was fitted with an anti-tank gun and the other with an artillery howitzer, like the 10.5cm leFH 18 (Sf.) auf Geschutzwagen 39H(f) self-propelled gun. The vehicle fitted with the artillery howitzer was called a ‘Geschuetzwagen’, which is literally translated as a ‘gun vehicle’. The letters ‘SF’ stand for ‘Selbstfahrlafette’ – self-propelled carriage. The letter (f) indicates that the chassis was of French origin.

There was enough room for the crew to be transported towards the battlefield whilst protected from small arms fire and shell shrapnel. The vehicle had good mobility and could follow the infantry almost anywhere. The gun was quicker to get ready for action and fire on targets than towed artillery guns. They were cheaper and faster to build than a new vehicle. They used the chassis of an obsolete captured French tank and an existing artillery howitzer. Putting the 10.5cm leFH 18 howitzer on top of the Hotchkiss tank chassis was a more efficient use of manpower from the traditional form of German artillery battery transportation. Even in WW2, horse power was still widely used although tracked vehicles were also used when available.

Geschützwagen Tiger für 17cm Kanone/21 cm Mörser
In November 1942, Krupp received order to design the vehicle (waffentrager) using Tiger II components, which was to be part of the "Grille" series. It was to be able to mount 170mm Kanone 72 L/50 gun which could deliver a 68 kilogram projectile up to 25500 meters in range or a 210 mm "Mörser" (a howitzer actually) with a maximum range of 16500 meters firing a 111 kg shell. Grille 17 had its armament mounted on the rail platform inside the hull allowing it to be dismounted at any time and used independent of the actual tank itself. The maximum elevation of the main gun was 65º and its azimuth just 5º at right or left. In order to achieve the 360º fully rotation the gun and its turntable had to be placed in the ground which was folded and carried in the back of the vehicle.

German Recce Armoured Cars

In the German concept of mobile war, wheels were only marginally less important than tracks. That said, the first example was unimpressive: an open-topped scout car built on a civilian truck chassis, with a two-man crew, 8mm of armor, and a light machine gun. Entering service with the cavalry, by 1939 it had devolved to the infantry’s reconnaissance battalions as one step above bicycles. Next step was a two-step: the development and introduction of the Leichter Panzerspähwagen Sonderkraftfahrzeug (SdKfz) 221/222—a Teutonic mouthful that translates as Armored Reconnaissance Car Special Purpose Motor Vehicle 221/222, and thankfully shortens simply to Armored Car 221/222. The latter, definitive version began joining reconnaissance battalions during 1938. A four-wheeled, five-ton vehicle, with a 20mm cannon or a light antitank rifle in an open-topped turret and a two-man crew, it could do 50 miles per hour on roads, half that across country, thanks to its four-wheel drive and a relatively powerful engine. The 222 was popular in service and easy enough to manufacture that a number were exported to Nationalist China, where it was also well liked.

The 222 is best understood as an upscale version of the Daimler scout car coming into British service about the same time. It could gather information but was ill-suited to fight for it. Apart from that, the German army had enough of a tradition of heavy wheeled vehicles to encourage the simultaneous development of the SdKfz Heavy Armored Car 231—Six-Wheeled. The 231 could trace its origins to a civilian-developed vehicle whose initial version was too heavy and too expensive. Rejiggered into a six-wheel design built, initially, around a Daimler-Benz truck chassis, the 231 first entered service in 1932. Its ancestry was both visible and problematic. It looked like a civilian automobile, in that unlike the 222, its engine was up front and vulnerable even given the well-sloped 14.5mm armor. At almost six tons, the weight was too heavy for the chassis, and the suspension was a constant source of concern despite the good road speed of 40 miles per hour. Like the 222, it was easy to manufacture—a thousand were created by the time production ceased in 1935. But even more than the Panzer I, the Armored Car 231 was used as a training vehicle and relegated to second-line service as fast as a replacement could be made available.

That replacement kept the designation, but was an entirely different vehicle: an eight-wheeled, rear-engineered design built on a Buessing-NAG chassis. It could do over 50 miles per hour on roads, 30 miles per hour off road. With dual steering, all-wheel drive, and independent suspension, its cross-country capacity even through sand and mud exceeded any wheeled, armored vehicle in any army, despite its relatively heavy weight. Its turret-mounted 20mm cannon and 15mm armor were adequate for the scouting mission that was its fundamental purpose, and from its first entry into service in 1938, the Achtrad “eight-wheeler” was popular with its crews. The complexity that made it difficult and expensive to manufacture was an acceptable tradeoff, especially given the increasing quality of unit-level maintenance in the Panzer arm. The new 231’s major tactical drawback was its size. At seven feet eight inches and 8.3 tons, it was not exactly suited for “sneak and peek.” For “shoot and scoot,” however, the Achtrad was unmatched during the war’s first half, and its size enabled the inclusion of a radio system that added “communication” to its long list of positives.

The 222 and 231 spawned a long list of modifications. Most were specialized radio vehicles. The 222 in particular was too small to carry both a radio and a cannon. Its near-sister SdKfz 223 was distinguished by a smaller machine-gun turret and carried a third crew member. Both six- and eight-wheel versions of the 231 also had radio versions with frame aerials. These, perhaps because of their distinctive appearance, are disproportionately featured in illustrated works despite their relatively small numbers.

As a footnote the design staffs, after years of work, finally developed the war’s best armored car. The SdKfz 234/2 Puma had it all: high speed, a low silhouette, and a 50mm L39 still effective against tanks in an emergency. Unfortunately, by the time the Puma and its variants entered production, the panzers’ need for a long-range reconnaissance vehicle was itself long past. Now their enemies all too often found them.

Hungarian armor part 1 - 44M Tas and Tas Rohamlöveg

Hungarian armor part 1 - 44M Tas and Tas Rohamlöveg

Today, we are going to have a look at some of the interesting Hungarian armor pieces. Obviously, it would be logical to start with the Turán, or the Toldi tanks, but are a bit boring :) We'll get to them at some point later.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Axis T-34 Use

During World War II, German Wehrmacht and Waffen SS formations were the biggest non-Allied users of Soviet built T-34s ever. During the fighting on the Eastern Front (1941-45), Germans captured few hundred of various models of T-34 (Tridsatchedverka). Large number of T-34/76s (models A to F) were captured, on the contrary to only few T-34/85s captured. T-34/76s were more often captured since from 1941 until early 1943, Soviets were partially on the retreat and Germans were on the offensive. T-34/85s appeared on the battlefield in the winter of 1943/44, when Germans were already retreating westwards after successful Soviet offensives. Overall, more than three hundred captured T-34s were used in combat as late as March of 1945. Other, retired or battle damaged T-34s were used as sources of spare parts (for captured T-34, SU-85, SU-100 and SU-122) and for testing purposes or target practice as late as 1944.

First T-34/76s entered German service as early as Summer of 1941, during the early stage of Operation Barbarossa. 1st, 8th, 10th and 11th Panzer Division, were the first Wehrmacht units which were equipped with captured T-34s. When in March 1943, SS Panzer Corps recaptured Kharkov, some fifty various T-34/76s were captured. All of those were being repaired in local tractor (tank) factory which was overrun by the Germans. Later on they were repaired (modified to German standards) and repainted (and marked) in the same factory designated - SS Panzerwerk (SS Tank Workshop). All of them entered service with 2nd SS Panzer Division "Das Reich". All T-34/76s were grouped into a special 3rd (Pz. Jag. Abt) Panzer Battalion (part of "Das Reich") exclusively equipped with captured T-34/76s. SS-Hauptscharfuhrer Emil Seibold from 3rd Panzer Battalion scored 69 kills including those on his T-34 during July and August of 1943 at Kursk. Also 3rd SS Panzer Division "Totenkopf" used captured T-34s. In the summer of 1943, few captured T-34/76s were even operated by Italian crews. In the winter of 1943/44, 20th Panzer Division (21st Panzer Abteilung) captured a large number of T-34 (model 1943) tanks which were very quickly put in service. In December of 1944, number of T-34/76s from Das Reich were handed over to 1st Ski Jager Division. In 1944, 5th SS Panzer Division "Wiking" captured first example of a newer T-34/85 during their fighting in central Poland and also pressed into service.

The Ukrainian “Liberation Force” of Vlasov also used many captured T-34s, which showed a blazon with the traditional St Andrew cross and “ROA” (for Russian Volunteer Army)

Romanian Army
A few of these Soviet tanks were captured by the Romanian Army in the course of the Russian Campaign, their advanced design impressing the Romanians to such an extent that Maresal (marshal) Ion Antonescu proposed producing a copy for the Army's use, but Romania's limited industrial capacity made such a project impossible. Captured T-34's saw limited local use by Romanian forces during the war, two reported in service as of November 1942, while four others, wornout or otherwise unserviceable, ended their days as training vehicles for antitank gunnery recognition, performance tests, target practice, and so forth after being shipped back to the homeland from the Crimea in March 1944.

Finnish Army
The first T-34 captured by the Finns in the war, which had been acquired in September 1941.  The T-34 was probably the best tank in the world in 1941— certainly no other vehicle matched its combination of firepower, protection, and mobility, or indeed even came close.  And the Finnish examples were to demonstrate the T-34's amazing prowess quite vividly in the battles to come.  The Finns called the T-34 the “Sotka,” which was a species of sea duck, presumably because the tank's strikingly sloped hull and turret made it look like a swimming duck, although there are other stories about the origin of the name.  At any rate, “Sotka” caught on throughout the Finnish forces.

Italian Captured Russian AFVs
Italians captured some Soviet armour in the East. These were probably 12 vehicles in total - 2 armoured cars (BA-6/BA-10) and 10 unspecified tanks. Two of the latter were STZ built T-34 Model 1941/42. One of them is depicted in one of the colour plates of the "new" Vanguard on T-34/76 tanks. This is definitely STZ Model 1942 tank of 120th Motorised Artillery Regiment, 3rd "CELERE" Inf. Division.

Andrea Galliano says that the orders from OKW stated that all the captured materiel in excess of that used directly by the Italian units on the Russian Front had to be handed over to the Germans.

The Italians nevertheless smuggled a complete T-34 to Italy, where it was studied.

Hungarian Army
Captured T-34 received the Hungarian cross and were used against Soviet troops from 1942.

The T-34[above] with red-white-green stripes around the turret. Probably 1944 at Nadvornaja.

Captured Soviet Vehicle registration plates:
BA6 4-6
T27 9-10 H-024 to H-032
T28 1 H-037
T26B 1 H-035
BT5-7 3-6+
T38 1
T40 1
T60 1
T34/76 T34/85 2+ (seen 3 ex of T34/76 in photos)
KV1 1
STZ-3 2
BA-10 5-10
-Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WW Csaba Becze