Monday, 30 November 2015

Counter-tactics

"To the HQ Chief of the 37th Army, Colonel Blazhey

During recent offensive action, our units encounter groups of tanks and SPGs (2-5) in the depth of enemy defenses. These groups, without closing their distance, open fire at ranges of 1500 meters from short stops, and stop the advance of our infantry. When fired upon by our artillery, they do not engage in a battle, but retreat, then appear again and fire from either the same place or a different place. This maneuver has become commonplace with the Germans. It delays the advance of our units, and sometimes results in losses. It is necessary to quickly find a way to deal with this tactic, with the main role being given to artillery.

In practice, our units have the following ways of dealing with these tank and SPG groups:
  1. Pulling these enemy forces into a battle.
  2. "Trapping" these enemy groups with direct fire weapons. The enemy groups are tracked, and once they stop at a position to open fire, they are suddenly shot up.
  3. Ambushes, usually involving groups of infantry that lead the enemy tanks and SPG into the ambush.
  4. If it is not possible to trick the enemy into approaching, it is possible to fire on them with multiple weapons. The guns range in with HE shells and, performing the necessary conversion calculations, destroy the enemy with AP shells.
  5. The points of attack are pre-sighted by our artillery. When the enemy tanks appear in places they already used, they are usually destroyed with the first shot.
  6. Artillery moves in turns. While half of the guns moves to the next line, the other half must be constantly ready to destroy enemy tanks and SPGs. The second half may only move out when the first half reached their new positions, set up observers, and ranged in on likely areas where the enemy can appear.
  7. While infantry moves, its supporting artillery may not, even for a moment, stop observing the infantry's flanks and nearby hills before the enemy is spotted there. They must remain in constant readiness, ranged in on these targets.
  8. Each gun must have anti-tank shells.
  9. Our infantry must actively draw in the enemy, not giving them the opportunity to leave the battlefield unharmed.
The aforementioned tactics of dealing with enemy tank and SPG groups give positive results. However, tactics must be found to destroy these groups completely, with no remainder, as soon as they attempt to fire on our infantry. The enemy's tactic must be turned into a deadly trap.

I ask you to devote attention to exploring the issue of fighting individual groups of tanks and SPGs, and raise the objective of studying the experience of unit commanders. Artillery unit commanders and artillery officers should be primarily involved in the solution of this problem.

Your conclusions and recommendations, with the indication of the most successful techniques of destroying the aforementioned groups, should be submitted to the Front HQ by March 25th, 1944.

Deputy HQ Chief of the 3rd Ukrainian Front, Major-General Burenin
Senior Assistant of the Chief of the Operations Department, Colonel Pleshkov"

Sunday, 29 November 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Wolf's Lair Under Tank Tracks

The last 70 kilometers before Berlin were one of the most dangerous regions for tanks in the Great Patriotic War. From Seelow Heights to the capital of Germany, Soviet tanks had to tear their way through 8 defensive lines. Where there wasn't a town turned into a fortress, there was a forest with mines and barricades, moats, rivers, and anti-tank ditches. Terrain preferred by tanks could only be found west of Berlin.

Soviet commanders sent four of the six tank existing armies to storm Berlin, as well as individual tank and mechanized corps, brigades, and regiments. Tankers received the last wave of reinforcements for the war. The Red Army had over 6000 tanks and SPGs to send to Berlin. Even experienced crews, not to mention newbies, had little experience fighting in large cities. Until now, most contributions to city fighting were made by infantry and artillery. Armoured forces needed to gather this experience in combat and write one of the most notable pages in the history of Soviet tanks.

Seelow Clench

On April 16th, 1945, a Soviet artillery barrage fell on the Germans surrounding the Kostrzyn foothold. On G.K. Zhukov's orders, 140 floodlights were turned on to light the way of the attacking forces. The air, full of smoke and dust, turned into a blinding screen that impeded both Soviet and German soldiers.

Zhukov's plan involved the penetration of the Seelow Height defenses by combined arms forces, not tank ones. However, the Germans managed to pull back their main forces out of the range of Soviet artillery, and by the middle of the first day it was clear that a quick penetration of enemy defenses would not be possible. Meanwhile, the Germans were sending more and more forces to Seelow Heights, including those formerly defending Berlin. The situation was made more difficult due to Zhukov's hope on aircraft clearing the way. Poor weather allowed minimal interference from the air force.

The Marshal made a difficult choice: send in tank armies of the 1st Belorussian Front without waiting for a breakthrough. Even armour could not buy rapid success. The Red Army was like a man slowly and painfully making his way through thorny bushes. Units lots men and machinery, but a loss of tempo meant that the Germans had more time to strengthen Berlin, already a formidable fortress.

The difficulty of the offensive created another problem: assault groups formed specifically for fighting in Berlin disintegrated. On April 22nd, Zhukov ordered the formation of new groups, with the inclusion of tanks and entire tank units. Since the plan was to fight around the clock, daytime and nighttime groups were created.

The capital of the Reich awaited its last battle. Its streets were crossed with barricades, tanks were dug in at intersections, each house was a stronghold. Volkssturm militia supplemented the ranks of the defenders.

Block by block

One of Hitler's last orders said "There is no need for each defender of the Imperial capital to know the art of war in detail. It is more important that each defender is encouraged by fanatical will and desire for victory." Volkssturm, riled up by fascist propaganda, had no shortage of fanaticism and had plenty of Panzerfausts.

Infantry was needed to protect tanks from Panzerfausts. Mechanized units and combined arms formations had enough infantry to protect their armoured vehicles. Dedicated tank units did not fare as well. Due to a lack of infantry, some tanks were stuck in the close rear, but Germans with Panzerfausts managed to sneak in even there.

Tank brigades used assault groups that included four tanks, two SPGs, one 76 mm gun, two high caliber DShK machineguns, and two mortars. There were only two infantry squads, about 20 men. At the same time, a mechanized unit's assault group had more tanks, more guns, and more infantry (two companies, at least five times as many men). In these conditions, one could not hope for reliable protection from Panzerfausts.

Here is how assault groups fought: two head tanks each fired on their side of the street. They were followed by SPGs, 30-40 meters back, who destroyed any weapon emplacements that revealed themselves. Behind them, machineguns mounted on cars worked on targets on the roof and upper floors. Where 12.7 mm bullets were not enough, shells from the last two tanks would do the job.

By the evening of April 25th, Soviet forces penetrated the innermost and most protected fortification line. Battles after that took place in the city center. Allied bombers already partially destroyed this part of the city, and the Germans did their part, turning the ruins into a deadly maze. Barricades often hid dug-in tanks, pointing their barrel through a narrow slit. Discovering these ambushes ahead of time was impossible.

The Last Push

The lack of infantry forced even headquarters to enter the firefight. On April 27th, the commander of the 1st Guards Tank Brigade, A.M. Temnik and commander of the 21st Mechanized Brigades, P.E. Laktionov were heavily wounded. Both colonels died on the next day, narrowly missing victory. Some tank units received infantry when already in battle. For example, the 2nd Tank Army received the 1st infantry division of the First Polish Army.

Assault groups covered block after block, but individual Germans with Panzerfausts tried to seep through the front lines and take up positions in territory that was already cleared. The Red Army had a very simple and effective tactic of dealing with them: any house or block where Panzerfaust crews were found was levelled with artillery fire.

On April 30th, Soviet forces reached the Reichstag. On the next day, the Poles and 12th Guards Tank Corps tried to take the Tiergarten railroad station. Even Polish courage and Ural steel was not enough: "as a result of fierce resistance from the enemy inside the building, behind powerful fortifications, the corps was unsuccessful." Tiergarten only fell late that night.

At the same time, elements of the 2nd Guards Tank Army were storming the Berlin Zoo. "War in a zoo" might sound funny, but not in Berlin, and not in 1945. This was the site of the commandant's headquarters, so the zoo was turned into a fortress. One of the main elements of the zoo's defenses was the AA tower, Flakturm am Zoo. This enormous structure could withstand hits from 152 mm shells, and 203 mm concrete penetrating shells could only destroy it partially. Battles for the zoo and the neighbouring racetrack lasted until May 1st.

The last battle in Berlin was fought by tanks of the 4th Guards Tank Brigade, destroying the German group trying to break out from the vicinity of the Spandau prision.

It is hard to overstate the impact of tanks on the assault on Berlin. However, victory is one thing, and experience is another. The conclusions of Soviet commanders, based on careful examination of many documents, was unanimous: "The use of tank armies to capture cities cannot be recommended based on experience of the Berlin operation."

Original article available here.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

The Last Soviet Heavyweight

The last fighting machine named after Stalin would be the last Soviet heavy tank. It appeared at a time when the trend of constant increase in the weight of tanks came to a stop. Without the ability to grow protection and armament of tanks at the expense of weight, the designers of the IS-8 (T-10) used a number of creative solutions.

The end of an era of giants

Starting from late 1943, Soviet tank designers steadily increased the mass of their heavy tanks. Eventually, the initial stages of tank projects stepped over the psychological limit of 50 tons. The IS-3 was an exception, but it was essentially a deep modernization of the IS-2. Interestingly enough, there were doubts at the very top of the Main Armour Directorate (GBTU) about the suitability of the IS-3 for service. The Object 701, which hit a mass of 55 tons during the prototype phase, seemed much more desirable. Development of the future IS-4 was moving slowly: the first prototypes were ready for the summer of 1944, but the tank was constantly changed, and, despite being designed as an answer to the Ferdinand, only reached mass production in 1947. By that time, production of the IS-3 not only started, but also ended, netting a total of 1555 tanks.

The IS-4 was already yesterday's news in 1945. In the winter of 1945, the design of a new tank began, the IS-7. This designation, as well as the index "Object 260", covered three tanks that were significantly different in their design and characteristics. Designed as a counter to the German Maus, the IS-7 was the most perfect fighting machine of its class. The characteristics of the tank that was finalized in 1948 boggle the mind even today: with a mass of 68 tons, it could reach a speed of 60 kph, all with the armament and protection no less than that of the 189 ton German monster, even superior in some regards.

However, the increasing mass was a trap for heavy tanks. ChKZ managed to produce the IS-4 with great difficulty: only 55 tanks in 1947 and 155 more in 1948. The IS-7 was even more problematic: it needed a new engine, the production of which was yet to be mastered. The 68 ton weight meant that new recovery vehicles were needed, and the tactical mobility of the tank was questionable. Few bridges, even railroad ones, could carry such a monster. There was also an issue with railroad platforms that could carry sufficient weight. The problems that were bypassed in one way or another in 1941 caught up. The same issues would have to be resolved if the KV-3, KV-4, or KV-5 reached mass production.

Weighing all pros and cons, Soviet leadership made the only correct choice. On February 18th, 1949, the Council of Ministers of the USSR had a meeting which included the commanders of the Armoured and Mechanized Forces, as well as representatives from GBTU. The result of the meeting was decree #701-270ss, which stopped the development and production of tanks heavier than 50 tons. The IS-7 was doomed, as was the IS-4 (the last 19 tanks were amde in 1949).

The same decree ordered SKB-2 of ChKZ and the experimental department of factory #100 (Chelyabinsk) to begin development of a new heavy tank, no more than 50 tons in weight. The design had to incorporate components from the IS-4 to speed up development. At the same time, the armour layout and hull design were to be taken from the IS-3, as the most appropriate for this weight. The design team had very limitd time: the first three tanks were to be ready in August of 1949, and another ten in September, for military trials. In total, only half a year was allotted to the production of a new tank, which was yet to be designed.

Working together

In order to solve such a difficult problem, two competing design bureaus were involved. On March 19th, 1949, the factory #100 design group was included in the newly created VNII-100 (Leningrad). The first task given to the institute was the design of the new heavy tank. J. Ya. Kotin headed this new team. Leningrad was tasked with development, and workers in Chelyabinsk put their designs into metal. 41 members of VNII-100 were sent to Chelyabinsk. The vehicle also got a Chelyabinsk index. Vehicles developed in Leningrad were designated Object 2##, whereas Chelyabinsk tanks were Object 7##. For example, the IS-4 was Object 701, and IS-7 was Object 260. This vehicle received the code 730, or Object 730.

Some sources claim that the Object 730 was based on the IS-4, but that, to put it lightly, is contestable. The IS-5 was effectively a new tank, only inheriting the V-12 engine from the IS-4, and, initially, the cooling system with two large fans. Otherwise, the vehicle that was designed in April of 1949 was the product of a completely different school. The IS-4, especially its hull and turret, was the product of 1943 technology. Since then, Chelyabinsk produced the IS-3, which had almost identical armour, and Leningrad produced the IS-7, which left the IS-4 far behind. Other components were greatly improved over the previous 5 years. A large amount of work was done on the suspension, transmission, and other components during the design of the IS-7. Additionally, as mentioned above, the development was mostly based in Leningrad, and the experience of local tank designers was fully applied to Object 730.

Looking closely, the IS-5 is a creative reformatting of the IS-7 mod. 1948. The front pike with driver's periscopes on the side, the rear with its characteristic slope, the V-shaped bottom of the hull and curved sides, all this indicates the heritage of the Object 730. The turret, a combination of IS-3 and IS-7 solutions, also has nothing in common with the IS-4. Since the mass of the IS-5 was limited to 50 tons, the armour had to be reduced for the first time since the KV-1S. Thanks to scientific work to increase the effectiveness of armour without thickening it, a series of solutions were implemented, making the tank more protected than the IS-3. Compared to the IS-4, and especially the IS-7, the protection of the tank decreased. Such was the cost for lowering its weight to 50 tons.

Another regression was seen in the armament. The D-25T, which was installed in the IS-2, IS-3, and IS-4, was already not enough for the military in 1944. The IS-7 received a new 130 mm S-70 gun, but it was not possible to install it in an IS-5. As a result, the IS-5 received the same D-25T. The armour and armament of the tank was closer to the end of WWII, rather than the end of the 1940s.

A tank of compromise

The Americans faced the same problem around the same time. Starting with the 64 ton T-29 Heavy Tank, American tank designers managed to develop a final tank weighing in at 65 tons. While Soviet tank designers were working on the 50 ton IS-5, their American colleagues were working on the T43 heavy tank with a 55 ton limit. As a result, the M103 Heavy Tank turned out to be slightly heavier at 56.7 tons, but this was still significantly lower than the 65 ton heavy tanks of the late 1940s.

The cost of weight reduction was weak armour. The turret suffered the most. A significant advantage of the American tank was its 120 mm gun, but this made the vehicle very large. The characteristics of the FV214 Conqueror were similar, but it turned out to be even heavier than the M103, 65 tons. One can say that all leading armies of the world made the same step back, but the Americans and British managed to improve the tank's armament. The cost was increased size, and therefore weight.

Even though the armament and armour were steps back, it would be wrong to consider the IS-5 a failure. For the late 1940s, armour that was completely immune to the German 88 mm gun was standard. The D-25T was equally modern, as its enemies weren't German tanks, but those of the former allies.

Even the M46 and M47 Patton tanks that appeared in the late 40s and early 50s were not proper adversaries for the IS-3, let alone the new tank. Until the 105 mm L7 gun began appearing in foreign tanks, the front armour of Soviet heavies was reliably impenetrable. By the way, trials of the IS-5 hull performed in May-June of 1950 showed that the front armour withstands hits from 122 mm shells at 100 meters. The Soviet Army received a modern heavy tank.

As mentioned above, many technical solutions migrated from the IS-7 to this tank. This includes the novel bundled torsion bars. This system allowed the length of the torsion bars to be drastically reduced. Other elements of the suspension (road wheels, idlers, tracks) were further improvements of IS-3 components. The suspension looked similar, but the design was drastically altered and reliability improved. It was designed in such a way that it could be installed on other IS series tanks without significant changes.

In the mid 1950s, IS-2, IS-3, and ISU vehicles were modernized. This meant that the new tank and the old tanks had identical suspensions. The use of a 750 hp V-12 engine allowed for superior mobility compared to the IS-3. The maximum speed increased to 42 kph. Several types of planetary transmissions were developed for the IS-5. It's worth mentioning that some components were tested on IS-4 and IS-7 vehicles lightened to 50 tons.

Preliminary blueprints were shown to the state commission in April of 1949. By June, working blueprints were complete. For several reasons, there was a delay, and the first hull only reached ChKZ on July 30th, and second on August 9th. The first IS-5 was finished on September 14th. The tank had a 6-step gearbox and planetary transmission from the IS-4. Trials showed that the transmission and cooling system do not last for the required 2000 km warranty period. As a result, an 8-step planetary transmission developed by VNII-100 was installed, a design with roots in the IS-7. Instead of a fan-based cooling system, an ejector system was used, like on the IS-7. Two more tanks were build in December of 1949, which participated in the winter trials.

Renaming

Trials requested by decree #701-270ss started with a half-year delay, in February of 1950. Three tanks were finished by April 5th and sent to Lomonosov, near Leningrad, where they underwent trials for the duration of April. Defects discovered during those trials were corrected by ChKZ, after which the tanks underwent more trials at Kubinka in October-November of 1950. Earlier, in June-July of 1950, the tanks underwent trials in Central Asia. In total, 13 IS-5 tanks were built in 1949-1950, and another 2 in 1951.

Changes were constantly made to the IS-5 to improve reliability. The tank served as a test bed for multiple systems, including an autoloader mechanism. The total sum of improvements was so great that it was decided that the tank should be renamed. In early 1953, the tank was named IS-8. This would be the name the tank would serve under, had Stalin not died on March 5th, 1953. In May, the tank was already referred to as only Object 730 in letters. It's possible that this was just a precaution to weather the power struggle in the Politbureau. On June 26th, L.P. Beria was arrested, and N.S. Khrushchev came into power.

The new heavy tank was accepted for service by a decree of the Council of Ministers on November 28th, 1953. This same decree assigned it the index T-10. The first 30 T-10s were built in 1954, and 190 tanks were built in the first series at ChKZ. Kotin's tank was the last to carry the name of a notable Soviet leader. 15 years prior, Kotin worked on the SMK heavy tank (Sergei Mironovich Kirov), which started the trend of naming heavy tanks instead of giving them numbers.

The T-10 was a temporary measure. In 1952, a program began to create a next generation tank, the result of which was the Object 777. The T-10 was destined to outlive its successor, which never moved past a scale model, as well as the next wave of heavy tanks, which birthed Objects 277, 279, and 770. In 1958, LKZ began production of T-10s, but only once did annual production surpass 200 units. In 1965, ChKZ built the last 60 T-10s, and that was the end for Soviet heavy tanks. A new type of tank appeared on the horizon, including the best parts of heavy and medium vehicles, the Main Battle Tank.

Original article by Yuri Pasholok.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Friend or Foe

"April 20th, 1945
10:00

Urgent
Important

To all commanders of formations, units, and squads
Stavka directive #11073

Due to the possibility of a meeting between Soviet and Anglo-American forces in the near future, an agreement with Allied Command was reached regarding identification of Soviet and Anglo-American forces:
  1. Soviet forces (infantry, tanks, aviation) identify themselves with a burst of red signal flares. In addition to flares, Soviet tanks are marked with a white stripe on the side turret and a white cross on top. The stripe and cross must be 25 cm wide. Do not apply these markings to all tanks, but only leading ones that are most likely to encounter English or American forces.
  2. Anglo-American forces (infantry, tanks, aviation) identify themselves with a burst of green signal flares. In addition to flares, Anglo-American tanks are marked with yellow or cherry red fluorescent plates at night and a white five-point star in a white circle on horizontal surfaces of the tank.
  3. Soviet and Anglo-American aircraft are identified with national markings aside from the established flare signals.
I. Stalin."

"April 23rd, 1945
12:15

Chief of the General Staff directive #11075

Insignia used by Soviet and Anglo-American forces to identify themselves established by Stavka directive #11073 have been compromised. Starting on April 23rd, the following signals will be used:
  1. Soviet forces (infantry, tanks, aviation) identify themselves with a burst of white signal flares. In addition to flares, Soviet tanks are marked with white triangles on the left and right side of the turret, and the turret roof.
  2. Anglo-American forces use the same signals as before.
Antonov."

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Horsing Around

"To the commanders of the 5th, 16th, 33rd, 43rd, and 49th Armies

The commander of the Western Front ordered this: due to the decline in the state of roads and impossibility of using wheeled vehicles as a means of transportation, equip communications officers sent to the front with riding horses. For this purpose, create special horse groups attached to the HQ of regiments, divisions, brigades, and armies.

Report on the execution of this order.

HQ Chief of the Western Front, Lieutenant-General Sokolovskiy
Military Commissar of the Western Front, Brigadier Commissar, Kazbintsev"

Via kris_reid.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

T-34 Tractor Decree

"State Committee of Defense Decree #5568s
April 8th, 1944
Moscow, Kremlin
  1. Allow the commander of Amoured and Mechanized Forces (comrade Fedorenco) to organize, beginning in April of 1944, production of tractors on the T-34 chassis at tank repair factories, with a quota of 50 per month.
  2. Use T-34 tanks that are submitted for major repairs with irreparable damage to the turret and armament to build tractors.
  3. T-34 tractors should be assembled and supplied according to T-34 blueprints approved by GBTU, without a turret or armament (with the exception of the radio operator's machinegun). The tractors must have a commander's cupola, installed in the roof of the fighting compartment.
  4. Conversion of T-34 tanks is done under the quota established by GOKO for the Chief Directorate of Tank Repair for tanks.
Deputy Chair of the State Committee of Defense
V. Molotov"

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Resilient Gunner

"Award Order
  1. Name: Unzhakov, Aleksei Fillipovich
  2. Rank: Senior Sergeant
  3. Position, unit: Gun commander, 1620th Light Artillery Regiment
    is nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
  4. Year of birth: 1923
  5. Nationality: Russian
  6. Party affiliation: VKP(b) member
  7. Participation in the Civil War and the Patriotic War (where, when): 1943: Bryansk, 2nd Baltic, 3rd Belorussian, 1st Baltic Fronts
  8. Wounds or concussions in the Patriotic War: one wound
  9. In the Red Army since: 1943
  10. Recruited by: Toboyansk recruitment office, Omsk oblast
  11. Prior awards: "For Performance in Battle", June 26th, 1944
Brief and specific description of heroism or achievements: On August 20th, 1944, near Bogachi village, the enemy attempted a large tank attack with the goal of penetrating the front. 52 German tanks were thrown at a region defended by only two artillery squadrons. 12 tanks headed for Sergeant Unzhakov's gun. They drove at full speed, firing from their guns and machineguns, tank riders firing their submachineguns. Sergeant Unzhakov kept up his crew's morale with jokes and words of encouragement, motivating them to stand to the death, unafraid of the enemy's superior numbers, preparing for the uneven fight. When the closest tank reached a range of 400 meters, the first shot knocked off its turret. The remaining tanks neared with every second, aiming to crush the brave men with their tracks. Unzhakov shot them up at point-blank range. One after another, a second, third, and fourth enemy tank burst into flames. The Germans wavered and turned back. SPGs supporting the enemy tank attack hit the gun. Unzhakov's gun was destroyed, the crew disabled, and he himself was wounded. In a few minutes, the Germans repeated their attack in greater numbers. This time there were 22 tanks, supported by a Ferdinand from the flank. Unzhakov, while wounded, saw a nearby gun that was functional, but its crew was dead. With all his will, the 21 year old Siberian crawled to the gun and opened fire, one man against many steel beasts. Losing blood, the heroic artilleryman destroyed two more tanks and an armoured car. The remaining enemy tanks, seeing that they are faced with powerful artillery fire, were forced to retreat. However, before they left, they dropped off their tank riders. 70-80 fascists were coming for Unzhakov. They split up into two groups, looking to flank him. With his last remaining shell, he dispersed one group, and fought with grenades and his submachinegun against the second until he was carried off by other artillerymen, unable to fight from blood loss. In a difficult and uneven battle with the enemy Senior Sergeant Unzhakov personally destroyed 4 Panther tanks, 2 medium tanks, 1 armoured car, and up to 50 fascists.

He is worthy of the title of Hero of the Soviet Union with the award of the Gold Star medal."

CAMD RF 33-793756-49

Monday, 23 November 2015

Artillery at Kursk

Remember the ZiS-3 battery at Teploye that beat up some Tigers? That was only a small part of the battle. The overall engagement was much more grand.

Diagram 22. 3rd Anti-Tank Artillery brigade vs. enemy tanks, July 8th, 1943

The diagram shows an assembly of "up to 300 tanks and SPGs" against the anti-tank line, with an attack at 8:30, 11:30 (up to 200 tanks), 12:30 (up to 150 tanks), and 13:20 (up to 100 tanks). A German unit identified as "32nd Tank" broke through the line, but was repulsed by 2nd battery. 23rd and 16th tank units were also repulsed in the western part of the line. The 12:30 attack made some kind of complex maneuver over the positions of the 7th battery and retreated.

But enough about diagrams, let's look at some photos!

"German Tiger tank, destroyed by artillery from the 2nd Destroyer Division near Teploye"
"Fedinand SPG, destroyed on July 5th near height 257.3 by 4th battery, 642nd Gun Artillery Regiment, 5th Artillery Division, Reserve of the Supreme Command"

"German Ferdinand SPG destroyed by our artillery near Teploye."
"Inside of the Ferdinand SPG."


"Result of a direct hit by a 152 mm shell."
"Ferdinand SPG knocked out by our artillery."

"Two direct hits from 122 mm shells to the turret. Fire from 3rd battery, 642nd Gun Artillery Regiment, 5th Artillery Division, Reserve of the Supreme Command."
"Medium tank knocked out by direct hits from 76 mm shells, 7th battery, 1007th Light Artillery Regiment, 12th Artillery Division, Reserve of the Supreme Command, on July 6th, 1943, near Malaya Zorka."

"Tanks knocked out at height 257.1 by fire from 6th battery, 642nd Gun Artillery Regiment and 4th battery, 540th Light Artillery Regiment"
"A German tank after two hits by 152 mm shells to the turret. Destroyed at height 248.5 (Ponyri) on July 8th, 1943 by indirect fire from the 1st battery, 86th Heavy Howitzer Artillery Brigade."

"A German tank, destroyed on July 9th, 1943 near Ponyri station by 9th battery, 753rd Gun Artillery Regiment, 5th Artillery Division, Reserve of the Supreme Command."
"Ferdinand SPG destroyed on July 5th, 1943 near Podlesnaya by 4th battery, 753rd Gun Artillery Regiment."

"German Ferdinand SPG knocked out on July 6th, 1943, near height 255.1 by 3rd battery, 642nd Gun Artillery Regiment, 5th Artillery Division, Reserve of the Supreme Command. A 107 mm shell destroyed the track near the drive wheel."
"Ferdinand SPG knocked out on July 5th, 1943 near height 243.1 by 7th battery, 206th Howitzer Artillery Regiment, 5th Artillery Division, Reserve of the Supreme Command. A 122 mm howitzer shell destroyed the tracks."

"German medium tank and Ferdinand SPG (right) knocked out at height 257.1 (north) on July 8th, 1943 by direct fire from 6th battery, Corps Gun Artillery Regiment and 4th battery, 540th Light Artillery Regiment, 5th Artillery Division, Reserve of the Supreme Command."

"German tractor knocked out and burned up by fire from 2nd battery, 496th Howitzer Artillery Regiment, 12th Artillery Division, Reserve of the Supreme Command. July 15th, 1943."
"SPG hit by several 152 mm shells in the vicinity of 1st of May Farm"

You can see the rest of the photos from the album here.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

World of Tanks Armoured Fantasy: Tank on a Wire

"Electricity will bloody up the armoured snout of fascism. Electrotanks will be the first do do this." Electrical engineer A.I. Bogun-Dobrovolskiy was not shy in his choice of words when he wrote an accompanying letter to his invention in July of 1941.

Fuel is as important to a tank as armour or armament. If fuel runs out or freezes, the tank becomes a bunker. A fuel explosion almost always spells the death of the tank and crew. Many inventors asked themselves, why not build an electric tank?

Bogun-Dobrovolskiy's Electric Tank

"Electrotank: a mobile remotely controlled combat vehicle. The electrotank (ET) can be armed with a torpedo, a mine, or an HE charge up to 200 kg. The ET can deliver an explosive in any direction and detonate it."

According to the author's description, the vehicle consisted of three parts. The first was the power converter, a light mobile system that could attach to any three-phase power source. The inventor assumed that one will be easy to find on any battlefield. "Suburbs, industrial regions, power plants, an electrified village, a farm, etc." The power converted had a rotating drum split into three parts. Each sector had a separate cable for powering the tank's engine and its armament.

The inventor proposed two engines, one per track. Their simultaneous work could propel the tank forward, or, by using only one, spin the tank in place. According to Bogun-Dobrovolskiy, this solution "removes the need for a gearbox, simplifies the complex kinematics of clutches and controls in an ordinary tank."

The ET's hull was a light welded design, protected by light armour. The author stresses that the tank's suspension should be robust and its hull should be low. The payload was placed in a special contained in the hull. The operator could detonate it remotely from a command post, which could be any tank or armoured car. There was also an option to detonate the payload on impact.

Unlike many other inventors, Bogun-Dobrovolskiy mentioned the drawbacks of his design along with the advantages. The drawbacks included a short range, limited by the 300 meter cable, the disposable nature of the tank, and problems with a power source. On the other hand, the engineer highlighted that the tank would be very cheap, only 6000 rubles without a payload.

Electric tank on skis

Soon after Bogun-Dobrovolskiy, I.M. Emchenko sent a proposal for an electric tank to the Commissariat of Defense. His first letter, sent in September of 1941, was not answered. After a year and a bit, he sent another.

The very first lines of his letter praised his invention: an aerodynamic hull, thick armour, fire safety. This was not especially unusual compared to other inventions, but the project was rather unusual.

Like the ET, Emchenko's tank was powered by a cable, propelled by two motors that were connected to a portable generator. The cable would be buried 100 mm into the ground as the tank  moved using some device. The inventor also discarded the idea of tracks, instead preferring "six skis for the tank to move on." The spiked strips would move one by one, imitating tracks. Emchenko insisted that his tank could climb a slope of 60-70 degrees and have a range of 2 km. "In case of emergency, the skis could be retracted and the tank lowers itself to the ground.", becoming an immobile bunker.

The tank would be small (3.2 meters long, 1.8 meters wide, 1.1 meters tall) and have thick 98 mm armour on all surfaces. Emchenko planned his tank's speed at 30 kph. The armament (a machinegun and a flamethrower) was fitted in a spherical turret, opposite of one another. "The machinegun can destroy targets up to 3 m away in a 360 degree arc." The author did not explain why the machinegun's range was so low. The turret could be fitted with another machinegun, to protect the cables. Finally, Emchenko proposed that spiked drums could be fitted on the front of the tank to help it cross over obstructions up to 1 meter tall and clear minefields. The tank would be controlled by a crew of two, who would have to lie down inside it.

The commissariat did not react to the project once again. Emchenko did not rest, and proposed a third variant of his tank in 1943. The spiked skis were replaced with "turtle feet", the armament gained an AT rifle. The armour thickness increased to 120 mm. The speed doubled, but the tank became a single-seater. A sketch was attached to the description. There is a marking on the margins of the letter: "Archive and add to previously sent materials, reply to the author." It seems that he finally received an answer, but it was definitely not positive.

Bruskin's Electric Armour

If either of those tanks saw the light of day, they could be equipped with special electric armour, the patent for which was filed by Astrakhan citizen D.A. Bruskin. The idea consisted of two or more armoured plates with a difference in electrical potential. Bruskin wrote: "The potential created by a generator can, for a short amount of time, achieve sufficient power to weld." The inter-armour space was very small, and the external armour was thin, but the author expected it to be penetrated.

"A bullet that penetrates the outer armour and hits the inner armour will close the circuit. The tip of the bullet will heat up and flatten, making its subsequent path difficult." This is how the author expected his electric defenses to work.

Bruskin's idea was unusual, but not novel. In 1940, an engineer named Nikolayev reported to Stalin himself about his two-layered armour. The outer layer was very hard, and the inner layer was made from boilerplate. It could, according to the author, resist a weakened bullet with a changed trajectory. "In being destroyed, it protects!" exclaimed Nikolayev. His excitement was cooled by poor performance in trials. As for Bruskin's electric armour, it remained on paper.

Original article available here.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Thunder Over Stalingrad

The Battle of Stalingrad was coming to an end. Heavy fighting continued inside the city, the Germans nearly reached the Volga. The Soviets sent meagre reinforcements into the city, while at the same time saving up strength for a counteroffensive, scheduled for November 19th, 1942.

The weather was poor, with fog and rain, and snowfall began on the day of the offensive. In these conditions, aircraft could do little to help the attackers. It was up to tank and artillery to make a path for infantry.

A Fuse for Uranus

Three Soviet Fronts, Don, South-West, and Stalingrad, expected to put up 20,000 guns and mortars. This meant that for every kilometer in the breakthrough region there were 70 or more barrels aiming at the Germans. An artillery barrage of this caliber was unheard of on the Soviet-German front. In order for it to be successful, an enormous amount of preparations must be completed.

A countless number of guns and mortars were towed through the few roads and through the steppe. There weren't enough horses or tractors, and the latter broke down. There were cases where on the way to the front, up to half of the already miserly tank park went out of commission. Most artillery regiments had to ferry their cannons in two or three trips.

The positions were prepared in advance, especially for reinforcement units. The Red Army had a dire shortage of vehicles, fuel for trucks, and food for horses, and logistics suffered as a result, especially for attacking units. Nevertheless, every battery had to have a day worth of rations (aside from the emergency reserve), and a reserve of fuel.

Guns and mortars need ammunition, lots of ammunition. At the beginning of Operation Uranus, artillery units received 1.5 to 3 ammunition loads. The numbers for the whole operation are even more impressive: 122 mm guns and 152 mm howitzers of the Don Front had over 9 ammunition loads.

In order for the ammunition that was delivered through such hard labour to not go to waste, Soviet units performed recce in force two days before the offensive to discover the true location of enemy units. The chief of artillery of the Don Front, Vasiliy Ivanovich Kazakov, wrote: "Without proper reconnaissance and correctly processed information, the only thing you can do is make a pretty looking plan and, having fired off thousands of shells, still not reached your goal."

This "orchestra" of many thousands needed careful direction. Five minutes before the barrage, a command was given on all channels: "Operation!", meaning that all communication must cease. Soon after, the Soviet god of war began its careful destructive work. Every minute on the Don Front alone, five or six thousand shots were fired.

The Soviet offensive began on November 19th, and after only four days the forces of the Stalingrad and South-West Fronts joined up at Kalach-on-the-Don. The Germans at Stalingrad were surrounded, and they would not break out.

Soviet artillery was learning the difficult science of war, and Kazakov, carefully summarizing combat experience, taught his artillery how to fight.

God of War's Hammer

During preparations, fire was only planned for discovered targets. Ammunition would not be wasted on unknown regions. The most attention was directed to pillboxes, which were a thorn in the side in many past battles. Every pillbox and dugout had a card associated with it that detailed when it was discovered, its design, how many firing ports it has, and where they are aimed. All targets were marked on a panoramic photo.

Commanders paid great attention to cooperation between artillery, tanks, and infantry, as well as direct fire. Each company commander received cooperation tables. Each battery commander was shown lines and targets at which he would be shooting. For additional reliability, all communication cables had a backup, and were buried in the snow.

The first barrage was spread out over the whole depth of the German defense. The fuses of the shells were set for fragmentation, for maximum damage against the unsuspecting German infantry. After that, the artillery spent half an hour methodically destroying the German defenses. Each battery was working on one specific target.

After that came the suppression period. At this time, the barrage is aimed at the front lines, then shifts in depth for ten minutes, then moves back to the front line for five minutes. During this barrage, the fuses are set for explosive action, in order to reliably destroy fortifications.

Now, Soviet tanks and infantry could start attacking. The artillery kept up their work, supporting the attacking units with their wave of fire. A special group of guns and mortars was used for this task.

The first target was located 200-280 meters away from the front line, after which the barrage moved up in increments of 100 meters. Main lines were designated every 200-300 meters, and the artillery would focus on them for 2-3 minutes. On average, for every 100 meters of target line, 9 76 mm shells, half as many 122 mm shells, and one third as many 152 mm shells fell every minute. If infantry moved too fast, a signal was sent, and the barrage would move along. If the infantry stalled, then the volume of artillery fire at their targets would double. Intermediate targets were fired on for two minutes, and then the barrage would move without a signal from infantry. For this stage, the fuses were set for fragmentation.

While infantry and tanks moved after the barrage, the main group continued its work on the enemy's main defenses.

Mortars were first used in the barrage, then moved up after the infantry. Katyusha launchers aimed their first strike at the front line. During the second round, they fired in depth, up to 400 meters from the front lines. Their third burst was timed to coincide with the last barrage. After that, the Katyusha rockets were aimed at ravines and reverse slopes in depth of the German defenses.

Vasiliy Ivanovich Kazakov will make it through the entire war. His artillerymen, gathering up experience, will crush the German tanks on the north side of the Kursk salient, cover the crossings over the Dnieper, crush enemy fortifications in Belarus and Poland, from Vitebsk to Poznan. After the war, Kazakov will become the commander of artillery of the Soviet Occupational Force in Germany, Marshal of Artillery, and the first Chief of Land AA Artillery, showing himself a true master of the art of war. But his first step towards glory was here, at Stalingrad.

Original article available here.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Panzerclub


"Private Vasiliy Vataman knocked out two Germans in hand to hand combat using a Panzerfaust as a club. During the battle for Neisse, he jumped into an enemy trench. A German officer kicked away his PPSh, so he picked up a Panzerfaust.

Photo credits: Anatoliy Yegorov
Neisse, Germany, March 1945
1st Ukrainian Front."

Upgunning

"Decree of the State Committee of Defense #3289ss
Moscow, Kremlin
May 5th, 1943

On the issue of increasing the firepower of tanks and SPGs.

In connection with the actions described in decree #3187ss issued on April 15th, 1943, the State Committee of Defense decrees that:
  1. The NKV (comrades Ustinov and Grabin) and NKTP (comrades Zaltsmann and Kotin), factory #9 (comrade Gonor) and Kirov factory (comrade Dlugach) must design blueprints, produce, and install an 85 mm gun with ballistics identical to the existing AA gun into two KV-1S tanks and two experimental IS tanks, and deliver them for government trials by July of this year. The commander of the Armoured and Mechanized Forces of the Red Army (comrade Fedorenko) and GAU chief (comrade Yakovlev) must perform trials and deliver their conclusions to GOKO by July 10th of this year.
  2. The NKV (comrades Ustinov and Grabin) and NKTP (comrades Zaltsmann and Kotin), factory #9 (comrade Gonor) and Uralmash (comrade Muzrukov) must design blueprints, produce, and install 85 mm guns with ballistics identical to the existing AA gun into two SU-122 SPGs and deliver them for government trials by July 1st of this year . The commander of the Armoured and Mechanized Forces of the Red Army (comrade Fedorenko) and GAU chief (comrade Yakovlev) must perform trials on the "SU-85" and deliver their conclusions to GOKO by July 10th of this year.
    UZTM drector comrade Muzrukov must send intermediates to factory #9 to produce experimental 85 mm guns to be fitted into the KV-1S, IS, and SU-85.
  3. Factory #9 (comrade Gonor) and Uralmash (comrade Muzrukov) must prepare for production of an 85 mm tank gun and SPG gun without awaiting results of trials.
  4. NKV (comrades Ustinov and Grabin) and NKSM (comrades Akopov and Slonimskiy) in cooperation with the commander of the Armoured and Mechanized forces (comrade Fedorenko) and GAU (comrade Yakovlev) must provide GOKO with conclusions regarding the 76 mm SPG proposed by TsKB and NATI.
Chair of the State Committee of Defense, I. Stalin."

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

AA into AT

"Decree of the State Committee of Defense #735ss
October 5th, 1941

On the creation of AT regiments
  1. Form 4 AT regiments from the reserves of the Moscow AA corps, each with 8 85 mm AA guns and 8 37 mm AA guns.
    These regiments must be ready by October 6th, 1941.
  2. Form 20 AT regiments, each with 8 85 mm AA guns and 8 37 mm AA guns or 45 mm guns.
    The first six regiments must be ready by October 8th, 1941.
    The next four, by October 10th, 1941.
    The other ten, by October 15th, 1941.
  3. Chiefs of the Central Directorate of the People's Commissariat of Defense must give priority to these regiments when equipping them with armament, prime movers, and other equipment.
  4. The formation of these regiments will be managed by the Military Council of the Moscow Military District, under the supervision of the Chief of Artillery, comrade Voronov.
  5. NKO (comrade Fedorenko) must provide prime movers for the nine regiments formed in the MMD by October 8th.
Chair of the State Committee of Defense, I. Stalin."

Via gistory.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Red Rambo 2

Remember Ovcharenko who took on 50 Germans with an axe? This guy trumps even that kind of Hollywood level badassery.


"Award order
  1. Name: Ogurtsov, Vasiliy Vasilyevich
  2. Rank: Guards Senior Sergeant
  3. Position and unit: squad commander, 1st platoon, 4th squardon, 45th Guards Don Cossack Order of the Red Banner Order of Bogdan Khmelnitskiy 12th Cavalry Regiment
  4. Is nominated for the state award of Hero of the Soviet Union
  5. Year of birth: 1917
  6. Nationality: Russian
  7. Party affiliation: none
  8. Participation in the Civil War, subsequent combat action in defense of the USSR, and the Patriotic War: Patriotic War since July 11th, 1941
  9. Wounds and concussions: wounded on September 25th, 1941, November 17th, 1942, April 16th, 1943
  10. In the Patriotic War since: July 11th, 1941
  11. Previously awarded: For Courage medal on September 26th, 1943, Order of the Red Star on February 24th, 1944
Brief and specific description of heroism: on October 12th, 1944, standing guard on the Inets-Shushtorokh-Sishterya route, Senior Sergeant Ogurtsov with two cossacks saw an enemy column near height 286: 30 submachinegunners and three SPGs. The cossacks suddenly opened a hurricane of fire on the SPG crews and enemy cars. The infantry turned to run, but the SPG crews decided to fight the three courageous Guardsmen. The cossacks threw grenades and knocked out two of the SPGs, then engaged in hand to hand combat. In this uneven battle, Ogurtsov personally killed 8 enemy soldiers and smashed an officer's head in with his submachinegun stock. Three more German soldiers attacked with knives. Ogurtsov knocked down one with his broken submachinegun, pushed another to the ground, and chewed through his throat with his teeth. An enemy tanks suddenly appeared, but Ogurtsov hid in an enemy SPG and threw a grenade, disabling the tank. The crew was killed by cossacks. Total trophies consisted of 30 vehicles with cargo, 2 SPGs, 1 tank, 8 motorcycles, 3 cannons, over 2000 shells, and various other supplies and military equipment."

An interesting thing about this award order is that the typewriter that it was written on is damaged. Periodically, I see documents typed up that are missing one letter, later written in with a pencil. This one, however, uses an even better solution: the "k" key from presumably a German typewriter was used to replace a broken Cyrillic "к" key.

As for Ogurtsov, he wasn't quite done yet.


"On December 26th, 1944, s a part of his squadron during the offensive at Kechked, Guards Senior Sergeant Ogurtsov and his squad were one of the first to enter the city, where they captured an APC full of Germans and entered in hand to hand combat with German and Hungarian fascists. With fire from his SMG he killed four enemy soldiers and killed a German officer with his shovel. Even when German tanks came to the enemy's aid, comrade Ogurtsov continued to destroy the Germans until his last minute, when he died fighting the tanks.

He is worthy of the state award Order of the Patriotic War 2nd Class."

Monday, 16 November 2015

Tungsten Woes

"To Deputy GAU Chief, Major-General Hohlov

In the end of August of this year, NII-24 received samples of captured German 37 and 47 mm subcaliber armour piercing and welded shells. After their analysis, the institute gave a conclusion on the design and metal, and sent all materials regarding subcaliber shells to your address on August 25th, 1941.

The institute made the following conclusions:
  1. It is necessary to test shells of this design.
  2. Perform trials on shells produced from non-deficit materials. Experimental 45 and 76 mm subcaliber shells based on the Komissan prototype were tested at the Sofrino proving grounds with the following results:
    1. Thanks to the decrease in mass, the muzzle velocity greatly increased: up to 1010 m/s for the 45 mm gun and 550 m/s for the 76 mm regimental gun mod. 1927.
    2. However, this increase in velocity did not result in increased penetration. For example, the 45 mm gun could not penetrate a 50 mm plate from 200 meters (a dent was formed).
This performance can be explained by the fact that the core of the shell should be produced from a special alloy, analogous to the one used by Germans (75% tungsten, 2% cobalt, 4% carbon), or it will shatter into small pieces on impact with armour, even if it's made from high-carbon instrumental steel with vanadium. At the same time, members of UVNA and Artkom insist that the German shells be reproduced using the aforementioned alloy. NII-24 protested, giving the following reasons:
  1. There are no tungsten reserves. Even if results of testing are successful, these shells cannot be practically put into production.
  2. These cores can only be produced with grinding tools are are available at only a few factories.
Despite these reasons, UVNA sent a letter on September 19th, 1941, again bringing up the subject of producing subcaliber shells, with the motivation that 3rd Department of Artkom has a deal with the Institute of Hard Alloys to produce the required amount of alloy, similar to the one used in German samples.

Our colleague from the metals laboratory was also in this institute, and he was told that it is theoretically possible to produce this alloy, but the chief of the special laboratory comrade V.Ya. Raskin explained the cost at which this alloy would come. The price is as follows: the amount of alloy required to make one core for a 76 mm subcaliber shell is the same as for 30 aircraft factory cutting tools.

The Artkom representative, comrade Lyagoshin, tried to prove that once we can test a copy of the German shell we can look for a substitute to tungsten. Engineer Lyagoshin must not have understood that the main component of the alloy must be an element that, when alloyed with carbon, gives a density of 15.0 and Rockwell hardness of about 80. In any other case, the result will be the same as NII-24 observed with Komissan shells.

Based on the above, NII-24 is categorically against the UVNA proposal to produce experimental shells based on the captured German subcaliber shells.

If UVNA desperately needs to test subcaliber shells, they can perform tests with captured German subcaliber shells, which GAU has plenty of.

NII-24 Director Averchenko
NII-24 Chief Engineer Matyshkin"

Via kris-reid.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

World of Tanks Armoured Fantasy: Ramming Tanks

With the appearance of artillery and firearms, the distance at which enemies engaged in battle constantly grew. In the 19th century, this distance was already measured in kilometers. New types of explosives could tear apart stone walls, shells could penetrate thick steel.

In these conditions, the ram became archaic, both the device and the tactic. If the enemy was engaged at point blank range, it was usually as a last resort. This happened many times in WWII, when pilots and tankers would ram the enemy only when no other option remained. Nevertheless, some inventors thought about specialized tanks designed to ram the enemy. Here are there such examples, differing in levels of talent and creativity.

Tank-Rhinoceros

The first example is the most logical. Knowing that a ramming tank also sustains damage from the collision, auto mechanic A.I. Kudryavtsev proposed a special ramming tank in February of 1942. "The tank will have the following novel elements: 1) Hull 2) flaps for protecting the air intakes 3) road wheels for movement on rails", he wrote.

The hull was equipped with a front bulge, intended for ramming. Kudryavtsev insisted that it should be made from cast steel. The suspension was protected with armoured skirts. Additionally, the tank would have cast steel girders installed at an angle to increase robustness and act as additional protection.

The proposed flaps consisted of two simple armoured plates, between which air was taken in. The concept of moving on rail was not fully explored: "The blueprints for the suspension, (i.e. road wheels for transporting the tank on rail over large distances) were not completed... so I will not describe them." Kudryavtsev did describe the armament for his creation: a 155 mm howitzer, 76 mm gun, and three machineguns.

The 100 ton ram-tank would have been 9 meters in length, and three meters in height and width. The armour was 50 mm all around, with the exception of the ramming bulge. The 2000 hp engine would propel the tank at 35 kph. The crew consisted of 7 men.

The author's moderation separates this design from many other fantasies. Not willing to invent a whole new vehicle, he wrote: "The other components, engine, transmission, etc, can be taken from tanks that are already in production."

Ram on Spokes

This was not the case for Rybnikov (initials unknown), who in March of 1943 proposed a "speed ram" to the Commissariat of Defense. The description fit on a blotter sheet, and the sketch takes up only a scrap of paper, but even these modest sources reveal the author's imagination.

"The design of the tank is unique in its use of large diameter wheels (3-4 meters) instead of tracks with long spoke-spurs" The author did not have rims for these wheels, instead each spoke would end with a spring to dampen the impact of movement. The author's reasoning was that "Due to the spokes instead of tracks, it is harder to knock out the tank, as the odds of hitting one spoke are low, and even if several spokes are destroyed, the tank will keep moving." The spokes would also have paddles and buoys to help the "speed ram" cross water hazards.

The purpose of the design was described as follows: "The tank could be used to ram enemy vehicles, personnel, and headquarters, due to its sudden appearance in the enemy rear with tank riders." A battering ram was not included in the design, nor was any other armament. Aside from the suspension, the author only included an open platform for infantry. Perhaps he intended to describe them in a later letter, but the Department of Inventions received no further correspondence from Rybnikov.

Litovchenko's Tank Destroyer

The aforementioned vehicles at least resembled tanks. The "Ram-Destroyer" proposed by P.A. Litovchenko in December of 1942 was one of the most unusual military projects of the 20th century. This can be seen from the colourful description: "This combat vehicle lacks vulnerable areas, as the armour and irregular motion in a broken line create conditions that would make ordinary methods of fighting tanks ineffective." The inventor claimed that his "Ram-Destroyer" would have perfect off-road performance, deliver incredibly powerful blows (up to 452 tons!), and be universal in attack and defense. What wonderful mechanism did he invent?

Litovchenko was inspired by a construction pile driver. In his imagination, this peaceful device became a weapon. The author wrote: "The crew controls a massive metallic ball, which can be lifted up and fall from there, delivering a powerful strike and allowing the vehicle to move horizontally. The crew can direct this ram towards any objects, and destroy it."

The description took a handful of pages, and turned out very confusing. The gist of the device was this: the main element of the design was a ramming ball. The upper hemisphere held a diesel engine. The ball had a large cylindrical pipe through its axis. The heat generated by burning fuel would activate the piston inside the pipe. Inertia would tear the whole device away from the earth, and propel it upwards. Steering was done with propellers mounted on symmetrically placed cockpits connected to that same pipe. Realizing the danger to the crew's health, Litovchenko proposed that the cockpits be equipped with spring shock absorbers. Finally, gyroscopes would keep the vehicle stabilized.

The text did not contain even a hint of tactical-technical characteristics. However, the sketches allow an estimation of the author's wild fantasy. The specialists' verdict on the "Ram-Destroyer" was brief. One illustration carries a short note: "Send to the archive."

Original article available here.


Saturday, 14 November 2015

World of Tanks Armoured Fantasy: Tracked Amphibians

The ancient Russian prince Oleg put his ships on wheels and raised their sails when he attacked Constantinople in 907. This shows the age of the idea of combat vehicles that can move both on sea and on land.

Amphibious tanks appears only several years after regular tanks. By the start of WWII, they were widespread among all large tank-building nations. Among many projects were those which would never see the light of day, as experts considered them to be little more than fantasy, such as these three.

Blyamka's Amphibious Tachanka

On August 4th, 1942, the chief of the 3rd department of the NKVD, Major Rogov, received a memo. Attached was a blueprint of an unusual fighting vehicle. The blueprint's author was a Polish POW, Josef Yanovich Blyamka. "The proposed "mechanical tachanka" is an amphibious tankette with good aerodynamic qualities, high speed, mobility, and off-road performance, armed with two machineguns with a 2-3 man crew."

Blyamka pointed out that his vehicle was effective during offensive as well as defensive actions. The author also pointed out that his "mechanical tachanka" could fight in areas covered in hamful chemicals. "It is air-tight and air is only delivered through special anti-chemical windows".

Blyamka did not compose a more detailed description, and only listed a few tactical-technical specifications. They were translated from Polish, and were not always understandable. The armour was to be 10 mm thick, and be equipped with "a rubber cover" (presumably a liner). A "wheel ribbon" presumably meant the tracks.

The hull of the "mechanical tachanka" was to be aerodynamic. With a length of 5.1 meters, Blyamka estimated the height to be 0.6 meters. More likely, it would have been about a meter, which is still very low. Sadly, no decisions were made regarding this design, or they did not survive to this day.

Vetchinkin's armoured motorboat

Another project from 1942, but on a completely different level of quality. Its archive folder is covered in secret stamps from GABTU and the Artkom. The project was indexed "tracked amphibious motorboat GKA-1500". It was designed by a group headed by professor N.S. Vetchinkin, the inventor and designer of various other amphibious vehicles.

The description started like so: "The GKA-1500 uses an armoured floating hull... 8 large hollow buoyant wheels, with a tank-type torsion bar suspension... Steel cable tracks with paddles... The tracks propel the vehicle through water along with the engine." The number was derived from the combined horsepower of the vehicle's engines: 1500 hp.

Vetchinkin based his work on that of American designer Albert Hickman. Thanks to its parallel sides and curved bottom, it had good stability and seafaring characteristics. The hull was placed on tracks, a portion of which was equipped with paddles. The submerged half of the tracks "becomes a rowing implement and, hanging in the water, acts as a large diameter paddle-wheel. The vehicle also had propellers on the rear. The buoyant wheels would paddle water towards them, which would decrease the GKA-1500's initial setting.

The 17-ton amphibious motorboat was supposed to reach a speed of 50 kph on water and three times that on land. The fuel reserves were enough for 4 hours at full speed of 8 hours in economy mode.

The hull was 9 meters long, the width was 2 meters, and 3.1-3.2 meters with tracks. With the gun turret, the vehicle was 3 meters tall. A crew of 20 would fit into this volume.

What tasks was the GKA-1500 meant for? Coast guard and landing operations. Vetchinkin wrote "The ability to take a military craft from the water to the shore, move independently on land, and leave back into the water, combined with a high speed and the ability to fire on the move, like a land tank, gives a very noticeable advantage to a navy... when fighting an enemy that does not have similar vehicles."

However, the military component of the project was not thought through at all. The armament of the vehicle was not specified in the description. The only thing mentioned about armour was that its thickness would have the sacrificed for buoyancy. It's likely that Vetchinkin decided that if the military accepts his chassis, then the armament and protection would be their problem. However, the Commissariat of Defense did not see a need in the GKA-1500, and its blueprints settled down in the archives.

Tanks on ice

Perhaps the most interesting idea for the use of armoured vehicles on rivers was proposed shortly before the start of the Great Patriotic War, in the spring of 1941. Even its origins were unusual: the papers arrived to the General Staff from the directorate of north-eastern labour camps. The author was a prisoner of camp #4, engineer Evsey Lvovich Zelinskiy. His proposal was titled "use of ice floes to organize a tank campaign deep into the enemy rear, by camouflaging tanks as sheets of ice".

Zelinskiy proposed that tanks be placed in massive ice crystals ("ice cabins"). The author wrote: "The walls of the ice cabin would be reinforced with wood to retain integrity after collisions". These designs were equipped with propellers powered by the tanks themselves. The tank engines were supposed to run inside the artificial icebergs.

Zelinskiy explained that since it's impossible to navigate rivers with amphibious tanks during ice drifts, there would be no hazards in the way of the tanks other than natural ones. "Even if the enemy knows that tanks are hidden in the ice, he cannot organize an artillery barrage large enough to destroy all the ice." The tankers would receive heated air inside the "ice cabins". The author was sure that the crew could remain inside the ice indefinitely.

The response to Zelinskiy's proposal from the Bureau of Inventions did not survive to this day. The engineer himself was rehabilitated by the Supreme Court of the USSR. Information on his "ice garages" was only found in the archives recently.

Original article available here.

Friday, 13 November 2015

AA Gun Camo Umbrella

Here's an interesting little gizmo I found a manual for, a camouflage "umbrella" for 85 and 76 mm AA guns. It allows you to keep your gun position covered up while still being able to shoot at aircraft.

Here's a diagram of the frame. It looks like two half-parasols with 3200 mm long spokes. The two halves are connected in the middle, as well as to the gun mount.



Crew installing the camouflage net. A standard net with 5 cm by 5 cm cells with green or white fabric patches is pulled over the spokes. Rope is used to hold together the camo net around the opening where the barrel of the gun is supposed to elevate.



After installation (top) the net is covered in additional camouflage material such as branches or straw (bottom). 


The gun can fully elevate through the opening in the camo net and rotate freely. The camo net can be set up in 50-60 seconds and removed in 15-20 seconds by a well trained crew.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Demolition Man

"Award Order
  1. Name: Ranzhev, Pavel Konstantinovich
  2. Rank: Guards Lieutenant
  3. Position, unit: commander of an ISU-122 SPG, 383rd Guards Zhitomir Order of the Red Banner Heavy SPG Regiment
    is nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
  4. Year of birth: 1919
  5. Nationality: Russian
  6. Party affiliation: VKP(b) member
  7. Participation in the Civil War and subsequent combat action in defense of the Soviet Union: participant in the Patriotic War since November 1941: Central Front from November 1941 to January of 1943, Volkhov Front from January 1943 to March 1943, 1st Ukrainian Front from June 1944 to present.
  8. Wounds and concussions in the Patriotic War: wounded on April 30th, 1945
  9. In the Red Army since: 1939
  10. Recruited by: Kovrov recruitment office, Vladimir oblast
  11. Prior awards: Order of the Red Banner, March 11th, 1943
Brief description of heroism or achievements: A commander of an ISU-122 SPG, Guards Lieutenant Ranzhev demonstrated courage and heroism in battles for Berlin. Accompanying an offensive of tanks and infantry, he destroyed 26 stone buildings turned into strongholds by the Germans. On April 30th, in battles for the Kaiser Alley, the SPG was ignited by an enemy shell. Comrade Ranzhev, risking his life, put out the fire, fixed his vehicle with his crew, and continued fighting. He destroyed 1 tank, 3 guns, and 12 soldiers with Panzerfausts who took positions in stone buildings and were impeding the progress of tanks and infantry.

For demonstrated courage and heroism in battles for Berlin, comrade Ranzhev is worthy of the title of Hero of the Soviet Union."

CAMD RF 33-793756-40

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Gun Stabilizers

"State Committee of Defense Decree #3828s
July 28th, 1943
Moscow, Kremlin

On the production of experimental stabilizers for a tank gun.

The State Committee of Defense decrees that:
  1. The People's Commissariat of Shipbuilding (comrade Nosenko) and the Chief of the People's Commissariat of Shipbuilding Special Design Bureau (comrade Rozanov) must:
    1. Produce an experimental prototype of a stabilizer for the 75 mm gun on the M3 Medium tank and present it for trials by September 1st, 1943.
    2. Design and produce a stabilizer for the 76 mm gun on the T-34 by October 15th and 85 mm gun on the IS by November 15th, 1943.
  2. The NKTP (comrade Malyshev) must provide the People's Commissariat of Shipbuilding the opportunity to install the experimental stabilizer by November 5th, 1943.
  3. GBTU (comrade Vershinin) must:
    1. Send the People's Commissariat of Shipbuilding one functional M3 Medium with an American stabilizer and one functional T-34 tank.
    2. Provide the tanks sent to the People's Commissariat of Shipbuilding with maintenance personnel and fuel.
    3. Perform trials of the experimental stabilizers and report to GOKO with their conclusion on accepting the stabilizers into service, for the T-34 by November 5th, 1943, and for the IS by December 5th, 1943.
  4. The People's Commissariat of Shipbuilding (comrade Nosenko) and GBTU (comrade Vershinin) must report to GOKO by December 10th, 1943, with a proposal for mass production of tank gun stabilizers.
  5. Central Planning (comrade Voznesenskiy) must allocate funds for 12 metal cutting machines and 28,000 rubles for instruments in the 4th quarter of 1943 to the People's Commissariat of Shipbuilding Special Design Bureau, and the NKTP (comrade Yefremov) must provide the tools for these funds by October 20th, 1943.
  6. The People's Commissariat of Defense must send 25 qualified workers from Moscow to the People's Commissariat of Shipbuilding Special Design Bureau that are not suitable for army service by August 10th, 1943.
Deputy Chair of the State Committee of Defense, V. Molotov"

Monday, 9 November 2015

PTRD vs Ferdinand


"To the chief of the operations department of the 25th Corps HQ

Anti-tank rifles are ineffective against new German SPGs and heavy tanks. For example, during the battles of December 14th-15th, 1943, AT rifle units were engaged to fight counterattacking Ferdinand SPGs. The Ferdinand's armour could not be damaged with AT rifle fire, and only several direct hits to the tracks forced the SPGs to depart from the trenches and maneuver with the goal of not showing their flank, even though no instances of serious damage to the tracks by AT rifle fire was observed.

Until the battles of December 14th-15th, AT rifle crews were not used in battle for their intended purpose. AT rifle fire was used against dug in enemies, to destroy his machineguns, and for suppression of direct fire guns.

Until new AT measures arrive that are capable of dealing with new SPGs and heavy tanks, keep AT platoons and companies at the regimental level. Due to the relatively low weight of the AT rifles, they can quickly be moved to threatened sections of the front to be used against enemy light and medium tanks, dugouts, and be used in AT defenses.

Operations Department Chief, Major Alekseev."

Via altyn73.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

World of Tanks History Section: The Desert Fox

The alliance of Germany and Italy in WWII was very unbalanced in a military sense. In 1939 and 1940, the Wehrmacht was relentlessly redrawing the map of Europe in Germany's favour. Meanwhile, the Italian Army failed at everything they attempted with similar stability. France, Greece, North Africa, everything ended up the same way: defeat and confusion.

The African campaign started off well. Marshall Rodolfo Graziani's troops pushed the British over 100 kilometers eastward, towards Alexandria. This was the end of their success. The offensive stalled in the middle of September of 1940 due to problems with supplies, poor command over the forces, and Graziani's unacceptable passivity.

The British took advantage of the situation and began a counteroffensive with only 36,000 soldiers in their Nile army. By February of 1941, the 250,000 strong Italian group was defeated and thrown back 700 kilometers. In order to help their allies, the Germans decided to send a limited contingent of troops to Africa, led by the promising but yet unknown Lieutenant-General Erwin Rommel. North Africa became his territory, a source of glory, and the place where he faced the greatest defeat of his career.

Overly effective aid

Africa was always considered a secondary theater of war by German command. Rommel arrived there with orders to support the Italians and halt the British offensive. It is hard to imagine any other outcome with the knowledge that the number of German-Italian forces never exceeded 140,000 men, and at the time of Rommel's arrival, it was even less.

The general had an interesting approach to fulfilling his orders. Without waiting for his main forces to arrive, he suddenly attacked the British. The attack was so sudden and his actions so daring and successful that the British were knocked out of the Libyan province of Cyrenaica. German-Italian forces reached the Egyptian border.

On one hand, Rommel's action caused great joy in Germany, on the other hand, German command desperately tried to hold back the reckless general who the German Chief of Staff Franz Halder called an "overreaching soldier". Nothing helped, not orders from Germany, not a visit from Friedrich Paulus, who was personally sent to Africa to deal with the shrewd commander.

By spring of 1942, Rommel was akin to the bogeyman for the British. The tone of one of Claude Auchinleck's orders is illustrative of the general opinion among the British forces: "There is a real danger that our friend Rommel will be a sorcerer or scarecrow for our soldiers... He is in no way a superman, even though he is energetic and very capable... I want you to use any means necessary to disperse the idea that Rommel is anything more than an ordinary German general."

Viscount of Alamein's fox hunt

The idea that Germany might seize the Suez Canal seemed very real. The canal was of utmost importance to the British, as Japan entered the war and British colonies were threatened. Rommel's defeat was no longer just a matter of honour, but a matter of life and death. Enormous forces were sent to Africa: infantry, tanks, aircraft. Germany did not have the ability to do this, as they were impeded by Allied aircraft on Malta and the British Navy, which dominated the Mediterranean. The situation in Africa had to change, and it changed. This happened during the operational pause after the First Battle of El-Alamein.

Switching commanders several times, the Allies left Bernard Montgomery in charge of their combat unit, the 8th Army. Compared to his predecessors, he was more decisive and capable of getting results. In August-September of 1942, he successfully deflected Rommel's offensive at Alam el Halfa and started preparing his response.

Montgomery never rushed into battle without assurance that he had enough forces to crush the enemy. He had no shortage of reinforcements: by the Second Battle of El Alamein, the British amassed over 1000 tanks, and every fourth was a new Sherman. Rommel had less than half of the tanks that the British did, and that's only quantitatively. German and Italian tanks lagged behind in quality, since a significant part of their armour consisted of weakly armoured and poorly armed Italian tanks. Rommel openly referred to Italian tanks as "rags".

In September of 1942, with just over a month until Montgomery's offensive, Rommel (already a Field Marshall) left for Germany for medical treatment: his forces were ravaged by dysentery and jaundice. Hitler saw Rommel, heard his tale of hardships that befell the Afrika Corps, and promised to send more tanks and weapons, including the latest Tiger tanks. The Fuhrer's promises were nothing but hot air, especially since the British were solidly in control of the Mediterranean and were sinking most of the supplies meant for Rommel.

Montgomery, with his characteristic thoroughness, led a misinformation campaign. Under his orders, tanks were disguised as trucks and vice versa, fake fuel pipelines were built, a whole network of fictional radio stations was deployed. Even the phases of the moon were taken into account, as the Allies were going to attack at night. and natural light was important.

The last battle of El-Alamein

In Rommel's absence, Georg Stumme was in command of the Afrika Corps. When British artillery opened fire on German positions on the evening of October 23rd, 1942, he was not ready. On the other hand, the British also did not achieve the desired effect. They dealt damage to German infantry and artillery, disrupt their communications, but when dawn came, their infantry was still making their way through Rommel's "devil gardens", as the German minefields were called.

On the morning of October 24th, Stumme personally came to the front lines to figure out the situation, taking only two companions with him. On the way, his car drove into an ambush and was fired upon. Stumme did not survive this encounter. The cause of his death was not a bullet or shrapnel, but a heart attack. The driver did not notice when Stumme fell out of the car. His body was only found a day later.

The British codenamed this stage of the offensive "Lightfoot". In reality, every step of the way was heavy indeed. The German defenses had to be slowly ground down, and even Italians, usually not exceptional in combat, showed themselves well. In addition, when Rommel returned to Africa on October 25th, his forces undertook a series of fierce counterattacks.

In the first four days of the operation, the Allies barely moved forward by seven kilometers. After that, a part of Montgomery's forces changed to the defensive, and a part started regrouping. This stage of the battle is called a dog's brawl by several sources. The British delivered local attacks here and there, tiring out the Germans, and chewing off their defenses one bit at a time. Rommel was forces to move his tank reserves from one battle to another, taking losses from tanks, artillery, and aircraft. This mess lasted for five days. During this time, the front line was nearly stationary, but the combat capability of the Germans was rapidly declining.

Rommel received an ironic message from Rome only a few hours before Montgomery's finishing blow. It read "...Duce would like you to know that under your command, the battle that is currently fought will no doubt end with your victory."

On the night of November 1st to November 2nd the British began "Operation Overload". After a powerful artillery barrage, British tanks moved out and penetrated Rommel's weak front lines. The Germans had only 35 working tanks left. Rommel gave the order to retreat. His forces continued to fight and inflict losses on the Allies, but nobody had any illusions as to the ultimate outcome of the battle. Hitler ordered Rommel to hold out as long as possible. Rommel was shocked by that order, but obeyed it.

By the time that the Fuhrer figured out that resistance is futile, Rommel had nothing left to fight with. With his long awaited orders to retreat, Rommel took the Italians' water and most of their transport and moved to Tunis. This was a long fighting retreat which ended on May 13th, 1943, when the Afrika Corps surrendered. Rommel was not among them. He left Africa several days beforehand, on orders from above.

Original article available here.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Battle for Trostyanets

The German offensive at Kursk in the summer of 1943 was powerful, but assymetric. On the north half, the Red Army held under the enemy attacks and started a counteroffensive by June 12th, but the south was a more complicated place. Here, the Voronezh Front faced much more difficult defensive battles. Here, the Soviet forces were frayed and exhausted, and they needed a pause to re-establish their strength before starting their march on Belgorod and Kharkov.

At the same time, it was not possible to postpone the offensive. The Germans here were also tired, plus several tank divisions had to be transferred to reinforce the front line in other places. In early August, they would be back, so it was necessary to defeat the enemy before then.

Attack on Kharkov

The offensive of the Steppe and Voronezh Fronts, codenamed Polkovodets Rumyantsev, began on August 3rd, 1943. The main strike by the Soviet forces was aimed to encircle Kharkov from the west. Two combined arms and two tank armies formed the spearhead. In the first four days, the Red Army saw great success, defeating the German forces near the Borisovka settlement.

The German commanders did not sit idle, and attempted to stop the Red Army at their last line of defense. The defenses were strengthened with any forces that turned up, including remnants of defeated divisions. Additionally, reserves from other parts of the front were starting to arrive. The Germans had no time to wait for them to assemble and threw them into battle piecemeal.

Starting on August 8th, the right flank of the Voronezh Front began an important fight for supply lines. The main targets were Akhtyrka and Boromlya. Their capture and retention allowed the Red Army to cut off and control a highway that the Germans were using to transfer supplies and reinforcements. The Germans were not about to give up these cornerstones and were ready to defend them, eventually concentrating enough forces at Akhtyrka for a counterattack. That is exactly what happened on August 18th, 1943. The Akhtyrka counterattack went down in history as one of the greatest threats to the Kharkov offensive. Ten days before that, fighting of local importance defined the conditions for this important battle.

It happened at the city of Trostyanets, where forces of the Red Army unexpectedly encountered the frontline units of Grossdeutschland, moved to Akhtyrka from Karachev.

The German army's choked artery

On August 8th, the Soviet 10th Tank Corps, attacking with the 40th Army, penetrated the German defenses. Following the retreating enemy and travelling for 20 km in one day, the tankers entered Trostyanets, a large road hub between Boromlya and Akhtyrka. The Soviets captured a prize of three trains full of vehicles and equipment. Another train of Soviet POWs was discovered, who were freed. Meanwhile, a train full of German infantry arrived at the station. It was fired upon immediately, resulting in its soldiers having to jump off and scatter throughout the area.

As a result of the capture of Trostyanets, the planned transfer of Grossdeutschland to Akhtyrka failed. This was so shocking for the German garrison, the arrival of Soviet tanks was so sudden that they initially fled in panic and scattered around nearby forests.

The loss of Trostyanets was unacceptable for the Germans. Rapidly formed combat groups consisting of any available tank divisions were thrown towards the city. Soviet forces defending it were still very small: 25 tanks (19 T-34s and 6 T-70s) and 500 men. Another tank brigade was supposed to arrive.

The Germans first attacked at 3:30 am on August 9th. The Soviets defeated an attack of three tanks and infantry from the south-west. A stronger group consisting of 10 tanks and SPGs accompanied by 300 soldiers managed to enter Trostyanets and occupy its western outskirts. Reinforcements came to both sides and immediately entered the battle. The long awaited Soviet 168th Tank Brigade brought only 28 tanks. but infantry from the 100th Infantry Division came with 20 AT guns. The Germans sent more serious reinforcements to Trostyanets: 50 tanks of various types, infantry, artillery. The air was filled with the hum of German bombers.

A fierce battle erupted. The Germans attacked from all sides, fighting happened both on the outskirts and inside the city. Even if the enemy managed to encircle some Soviet forces, they kept fighting. In total, 11 German attacks were repulsed.

Loss of an elite division

Grossdeutschland entered the battle in the second half of August 9th. Since Trostyanets was under Soviet control, one Panther train did not manage to reach the city. They were loaded off the platforms and sent in to attack. On their way, they were joined by four Tigers.

The first Tiger was knocked out at the very start of the battle. With return fire, several Soviet tanks were knocked out. Changing direction, the enemy tried to circle around Trostyanets from the rear, but was surprised by hidden AT guns and stopped. Another several tanks were knocked out, but two Tigers and three Panthers kept moving. At that point, several T-34s flanked the Germans to help the artillerymen. The enemy tanks were in a crossfire.

The two Tigers lit up first, then two of the three Panthers. The surviving tank picked up a few tankers from the destroyed vehicles and managed to retreat successfully. The attack failed, and the Germans irretrievably lost four Tigers and three Panthers. Several other tanks were knocked out. All this was just to occupy the south and western outskirts of the city.

This was the last tank attack on August 9th. The battle for the city continued for several days. All this time, the vitally important railroad remained in Soviet hands. The Germans were forced to transfer reinforcements in roundabout ways. As a result, the Soviets managed to delay the arrival of one of the strongest German divisions and inflict losses on them before they even reached their destination.

Additionally, the battle for Trostyanets drew already dwindling tank reserves from other parts of the front. Neither the famed Tigers nor Panthers managed to retake the city and restore the German supply lines. The events at Akhtyrka echoed throughout the front. Only a few weeks remained until the liberation of Kharkov, end of the Battle of Kursk, and complete overtaking of strategic initiative by the Red Army.

Original article available here.