Imperial Japanese Army (1944) Medium Tank – 170 built
An improved Chi-Ha
The Type 1 (一式中戦車 チへ) Ichi-shiki chusensha Chi-he was an attempt by Mitsubishi to modernize the Type 97 Chi-Ha, the latter being later upgraded to the Shinhoto standard in 1942. The efforts of the engineers were aimed at increasing the protection level and improve the main gun range, speed and accuracy. The American M4 Sherman was especially in their minds. Unfortunately, production was delayed due to steel shortages, reserved for warship construction. When the production run ended in early 1944, after 170 copies*, the model was desperately outdated. *170 is the commonly accepted figure. Japanese Tanks 1939-45, Steven J. Zaloga, 2007, goes as far as 587, perhaps including part of the Shinhoto conversions.
The all-welded armor was increased to 50 mm (1.97 in), with a straight flat plate to simplify production. It was also slightly longer and taller, and weighed 1.5 tons more. Fortunately, this was compensated by the Mitsubishi Type 100 diesel, which gave 70 hp more than the previous Type 97, with a 240 hp total. Its main Type 1 47 mm (1.85 in) high-velocity (810 m/s or 2,700 ft/s) gun had a barrel length of 2.25 m, and was found able to defeat 72 mm (2.83 in) at 200 m or 52 mm (2.05 in) at 1,000 m, almost double of the previous Type 97. However, it needed an elevation gear, but this also lead to superior accuracy. Elevation/depression was +20 and -15 degrees. The three-man turret was a retrofit of the Chi-Ha “Shinhoto” one. The Type 1 was also the first Japanese medium tank equipped with a radio as a standard.
The Chi-He in action
Fortunately (or unfortunately) for the Japanese, the Chi-He never left the Home Islands. They were kept here to defend against the projected, expected Allied invasion (Operation Olympic), scheduled for October 1945. However, what-if prospects, if the invasion had took place, would have seen the Chi-He still inefficient against the upgraded, 1944 pattern Shermans, especially the new M4A3E8, later deployed in the Korean war. A single prototype was derived from it, the twin 37 mm (1.46 in) AA gun Type 1 Ta-Ha SPAAG.
n the early 1950s, the American military’s quest for a powerful new heavy tank was well underway. The T28, T29, T30, T32, and T34 projects had all ceased in favor of the 120mm Gun Tank T43, which eventually became America’s last heavy tank, the M103.
While still in development as the T43, however, there were parallel projects competing for the role of America’s next heavy tank. One of these projects was the 120mm Gun Tank T57. It used the same hull as the T43, but incorporated new technologies for the turret. The turret was of the oscillating kind, but it was also outfitted with an autoloading mechanism.
In the Army Development Guide of December 1950, both the T43 and T57 were expected to more than meet the requirements of the military and be a worthy adversary of Soviet armor such as the infamous IS-3. However, in the Tripartite Conference of Armor and Bridging of October in 1951, it was recommended that a 155mm gun armed tank be developed instead.
A list of recommended characteristics for this new heavy tank was outlined in a paper on the 18th of January 1952. Such recommendations included a gun that exclusively fired HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank) or HEP (High-Explosive, Plastic. Otherwise known as HESH – High-Explosive Squash Head) rounds. This paper also recommended the construction of two prototype turrets complete with autoloaders and 155mm guns for installation on T43E1 chassis. The resulting vehicle received the designation of 155mm Gun Tank T58.
On the 10th of April 1952, a contract was drawn up with United Shoe Machinery Corporation of Beverly, Massachusetts for the design, development and manufacture of the two pilot turrets.
The hull that was used for the project was the same as that of the 120mm Gun Tank T43, which would later be serialized as the M103, America’s last heavy tank. Armor on the hull was the same. The cast ‘beak’ was 3.9 – 5.1 in (100 to 130 mm) thick.
An 810hp Continental AV1790 12-cylinder air-cooled gasoline engine propelled this chassis to a speed of around 21 mph (34 km/h). The tank’s weight was supported on seven road wheels attached to torsion bar suspension. The drive sprocket was at the rear while the idler wheel was at the front. The idler wheel was of the compensating type, meaning it was attached to the closest roadwheel by an actuating arm. When the roadwheel reacts to terrain the idler is pushed out or pulled in, keeping constant track tension. The return of the track was supported by six rollers.
The T58’s turret was one of the largest oscillating turrets ever designed, at approximately ¾ the length of the hull. Changes had to be made to the T43/M103 hull to accommodate the new large turret. When initially tested on one of the hulls, the turret bustle would collide with the mufflers of the main engine and auxiliary generator located on the engine deck. To fix this issue, the mufflers were relocated 20-inches (51cm) to the rear. A new travel lock was added to the deck to accommodate the larger gun.
This turret had similarities to the T69 medium tank prototype, in that its roof had multiples ways of ingress and egress. The turret roof was constructed from two removable plates. The rear plate was bolted in place, while the front section, like the T69, was hinged and could be opened outward by use of a hydraulic piston. The large opening made it easier to exit the turret in an emergency. In the open position, this opened section also provided a shield for the crew while evacuating. These sections were designed to be easily removed to permit installation of the autoloader mechanism and other components.
A ventilator was placed at the rear-right of the turret atop the bustle to vent gases and smoke produced when the gun is fired.
Originally, it was planned to utilize the 155mm Gun T80. This proved unnecessary as the chosen ammunition for the gun was of the chemical type and did not require the high-velocity granted by the T80. Designers instead opted for a lighter weight version of the lower velocity 155mm Gun T7, the gun developed for the Heavy Tank T30. Firing HEAT through this gun, the maximum armor that could be penetrated (angled at 0 degrees) was 16 inches (406mm).
This modified version of the T7 was originally designated as the 155mm Gun Howitzer T7E2. It was later changed, however, to ‘155mm Gun Howitzer T180’. There was no actual change to the gun, just a change in nomenclature. The T180 differed greatly from the original T7 though. The breech block was changed from a horizontal to a vertically sliding type. A bore evacuator (fume extractor) was added towards the end of the gun, and a T-shaped blast deflector installed on the muzzle. The gun tube wall was thickened and the chamber lengthened about an inch (~25mm) to accommodate the plastic closing plugs used on the cartridge cases of the two-part ammunition.
Unlike the T57 that had a rigidly mounted gun, the T58 was outfitted with a four-cylinder hydro spring recoil system in a mount designated the T170. There were 2 springs to each side of the breach. To save space and remove the need of extending the length of the turret, the recoil of the gun was limited at 12 to 14 inches.
Secondary armament consisted of a coaxial .30 Cal (7.62mm) Browning machine gun, and a .50 cal (12.7mm) Browning heavy machine gun mounted atop the commander’s cupola. The oscillating turret provided an elevation of 15 degrees, with a depression of 8 degrees. The original specifications included a second coaxial machine gun, but this was not included.
The main gun was aimed via periscopic sights. There was one lens on each side of the turret, known as ‘frog’s eyes’. These types of sights were used on many American tanks from the early 1950s onwards, including such tanks as the T69, M48 and M60.
The armor on both the collar and upper part the turret was extremely thick, but exact measurements are unfortunately unknown.
The 155mm gun was fed by an autoloading mechanism located in the turret bustle. It was not too dissimilar to the one used on the T69 medium tank prototype, consisting of a 6-round cylinder magazine with an incorporated rammer. On the T69, it actuated up and down during the loading sequence. On the T58, due to the size and sheer weight of a fully loaded magazine, the cylinder was fixed in place.
The loading sequence was thus: The loader used an internal, electrically powered hoist attached to the turret roof to remove one of the 95 pound (45kg) shells from the ready rack and insert it into the loading tray of the cylinder. The round was then slid into an empty cylinder chamber. The loader then selected the requested ammo type by manually rotating the cylinder with a hand crank. The separately-loading ammunition (projectile then charge) was rammed into the breach as one unit. After firing, the empty propellant cartridge was ejected back into the cylinder, where it was removed by the loader before the sequence began anew.
The crew consisted of a Commander, Gunner and Loader located in the turret and Driver in the front of the hull. The Gunner was located at the front right of the turret, the Commander sat behind him under a vision-cupola. The Loader was positioned on the left of the turret under his own hatch.
Work on two pilot turrets continued into 1956 despite numerous design changes during production and delays in obtaining and producing various parts required for assembly. By this time, however, trends had shifted, and a tank such as the T58 was no longer thought a necessary to the military.
The T58 project, along with the T57 and many other projects, was canceled on the 17th of January 1957. Following this outcome, both pilot turrets were scrapped. All that survives today are a few photos and government reports.
37.14 x 12.34 x 9.45 ft (11.32(oa) x 3.76 x 2.88 m)
Total weight, battle ready
Around 62.5 tons (125 000 lbs)
4 (Commander, Driver, Loaders, Gunner)
Continental AV-1790-2 V12, AC Twin-turbo diesel 810 hp.
The most famous German self-propelled anti-aircraft guns (SPAAG) are the Panzer IV based Wirblewind, Ostwind, Mobelwagen and even Kugelblitz. However, despite being overshadowed by their tank-based counterparts, it was actually the half-track SPAAGs that made up the bulk of the German mobile anti-aircraft fleet. Thousands of such lightly armored vehicles were built, based on different chassis and with different gun combinations.
One of the earliest examples of such a vehicle is the Sd.Kfz.7/1, a version of the ubiquitous half-tracked tractor armed with a 2 cm Flakvierling 38 anti-aircraft gun system.
The Sd.Kfz.7, or Mittlerer Zugkraftwagen 8t (Medium Tractor 8 tonnes), was developed as part of the larger family of German half-tracks. The first specifications for this vehicle were laid down in 1932 by Wa.Prüf.6. The vehicle was developed by Krauss-Maffei, with the first vehicle entering production in 1933.
As the designation suggests, the Sd.Kfz.7 was meant to tow weights of up to 8 tonnes. It was the tow vehicle of choice for the famous Flak 88 anti-aircraft guns, the 15 cm sFH 18 howitzer, and the 10.5 cm K18 field gun. However, due to the chaos of war, these vehicles were sometimes seen towing larger loads. They also towed trucks and even light tanks through the harsh conditions on the Eastern Front. The Sd.Kfz.7 could also carry up to 18 men on its 3 benches. The rear of the vehicle was compartmentalized in order to carry various equipment, fuel and ammo.
The design constantly evolved during its 11 year production period. Several engines were used, with various changes made to the superstructure and suspension, including the addition of an extra pair of roadwheels with the last model, the Typ m 11, in order to reduce ground pressure.
In total, 12,000 Sd.Kfz.7 half-tracks were built by Kraus-Maffei, Daimler-Benz, and Hansa-Lloyd in Germany, Saurer in Austria, and Breda in Italy until 1944. They served on all front with the German Wehrmacht, as well as with Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, and even the Yugoslav Partisans. Some were even used after the war by the Allies and the British tried to copy the design with the Traclat.
The Sd.Kfz.7/1, also known as the ‘Selbstfahrlafette auf m.Zgkw.8t (Sd.Kfz.7/2) mit 2cm Flakvierling 38’, was born shortly after the 2cm Flakvierling 38 was presented to Adolf Hitler in October 1939. The Luftwaffe ordered 100 such weapons systems to be mounted on the Sd.Kfz.7 chassis. Production started in February 1940 and continued until December 1944, by which time between 750 and 800 were manufactured. This made the Sd.Kfz.7/1 one of the most numerous SPAAGs the Germans had at their disposal.
The rear two bench rows were removed, as was the luggage compartment. In their place, a flat platform was created, with the gun mount in the center. A bench row was placed at the front of the platform, facing rearwards. The platform had three drop-sides. These were vertical when the vehicle was on the move, creating a space for the gun crew to stay in. When in firing position, these were dropped into a horizontal position, thus enlarging the space the crew had to move in. The rear drop-side also had a small ladder that helped the crew climb or descend from the platform. There were two kinds of drop sides used. For most Sd.Kfz.7/1 vehicles, these consisted of wire mesh fixed on a metal frame. Some of these metal frames had diagonal braces. However, vehicles built late in the war had these made of wood on a metal frame. This was probably done in order to save materials.
The windshield could be dropped down in order to allow a larger arc of fire for the gun. A tarpaulin could be added to give some cover from the elements, but it only covered the driver’s section.
The winch placed under the vehicle seems to have been retained. It was used to pull vehicles or guns that had gotten stuck.
After August 1943, the vehicle was up-armored using 8 mm steel plating (although production of the unarmored version continued in parallel) and the official designation also changed to ‘Selbstfahrlafette mitgepanzertem Fahrerhaus (Self-propelled gun carriage with armored cab) auf m.Zgkw.8t (Sd.Kfz.7/1) mit 2cm Flakvierling 38’. However, only certain sections of the vehicle were protected. There were two plates at the front of the vehicle, covering the radiator and the engine from frontal fire. The sides were completely exposed. A new armored cab was also added, protecting the driver’s position and the rear crew’s bench. It was partly open to the rear. The top part was only 1.5 mm thick. There were four vision ports protected by armored shutters, two in the front windscreen and two in the side doors. The forward armored shutters had glass vision blocks built in. There were also two hatches in the roof of this armored compartment. There was an armored firewall between the driving compartment and the engine compartment. The armor weighed 2.2 tons. There were plans to prepare a lighter armored cab weighing only 800 kg.
Tools could be carried on the outside of the drop-sides, like a shovel or a pickaxe. However, these are absent in a large number of contemporary photos. Tools are also often depicted as being mounted on the engine hood on the up-armored vehicles, but, yet again, photographic evidence is lacking. One vehicle, restored by Krauss-Mauffei and stored at least for a time at Koblenz, features these hood-mounted tools.
The gun system was mounted in the middle of the rear platform. There were no less than 4 gun mountings used during production. The first one was a small tripod that was height adjustable. Then, the gun system was mounted on a pivot which was also height adjustable. The third mounting is unclearly described in the literature. However, on later vehicles, a new mounting system was added, which allowed the mounting of the gun system using its usual tripod. This had the advantage of easily allowing the Flakvierling to be dismounted and placed on the ground, but this option seems to have been rarely used. The tripod mount was bulkier and occupied more space than the pivot mount.
The Sd.Kfz.7/1 also towed a Sd.Ah.56 special trailer. This was a two-wheeler trailer specially designed for carrying the ammo boxes and accessories for the Flakvierling AA gun system.
120 boxes of ammunition carrying 20 rounds each for a total of 2400 rounds were carried. 30 magazines were carried in the vehicles itself, with the other 90 being kept in the trailer. However, in operations, ammo boxes were scattered all around the rear platform, in order to allow easy access to the loaders.
A large number of chassis were also produced without the gun, meant to act as munition carriers. However, they had all the fittings needed to receive a gun and also acted as reserve chassis. It is unclear if these vehicles are included in the total production number or not.
The Sd.Kfz.7/1 kept all the automotive parts from the Sd.Kfz.7 half-track. The SPAAGs were based on the KM m 11 or the HM m 11 versions, the last in the evolution of the Sd.Kfz.7.
The original engine was a Maybach HL 62 TUK, although this was changed in 1943 for the HL 64 TR. The difference between the two was the displacement (6.4 liters instead of 6.2 liters) and the change of the lubrication system. Both were 6-cylinder water cooled gasoline engines. The HL 62 could reach a maximum of 140 hp at 2600 rpm. It could power the Sd.Kfz.7/1 to a maximum speed of 50 km/h. The 203-liter fuel tank gave a range of 250 km on road.
The engine was connected to a 5-speed differential gearbox (4 forward, 1 reverse) that powered the drive sprockets mounted at the front of the track. This was an “Aphon” type non-synchromesh gearbox. The clutch was a Mocano K 230 K. Seven pairs of interleaved rubberized roadwheels provided contact with the ground and also held the track on the return run. Six of the roadwheel pairs were sprung using a leaf spring suspension. However, the last pair, which also acted as the idler, had a torsion bar suspension instead.
Steering was achieved using the front two wheels. These were air-filled rubber wheels that were steered using the steering wheel in the driver’s cabin. The tracks could also be powered separately in order to help turning, but this was used only if the steering wheels were insufficient. The front wheels had a leaf-spring suspension
The 2cm Flakvierling 38
The Flakvierling 38 anti-aircraft mount system was introduced into service in 1940. It was developed by the Mauser company for the Kriegsmarine at first but was then adopted by the Wehrmacht in order to provide an anti-aircraft system with a better rate of fire. It consisted of four 2cm Flak 38 AA guns mounted together, two on each side. This allowed the Flakvierling to put up four times more bullets in the same amount of time compared to the single Flak 38, thus increasing the chances of severely damaging enemy airplanes.
Inadvertently, this also made the gun quite potent against ground targets, as it was able to saturate enemy positions with fire.
There was no central loading system and each gun had its own 20 round magazine. The magazines were mounted on the sides of the system. When the system was at 0 degrees elevation, the magazines were horizontal.
The guns had a maximum range of 4.7 km and a maximum altitude range of 3.7 km. The combined maximum rate of fire of the 4 guns was 1800 rounds per minute, but this was usually closer to 800 rpm in operation, as the guns needed to be reloaded after they finished their magazines. It could take as little as 3 seconds to fire off all four magazines. Special compartments for the magazines were present on either side of the mount, rotating along with the whole system. The gun barrels could be removed for cleaning.
The guns were fired with the use of two-foot pedals. Each pedal fired two diagonally-opposed gun, so the upper-left at the same time as lower-right. This was done in order to balance out the firing recoil. If a pedal would have controlled the guns on one side, then the recoil from firing them would have rotated the mount to one side, thus making it impossible to aim. If the pedal would have controlled the guns on the upper part, the recoil would have pulled the system upwards, again throwing off the gunner. With the guns fired in diagonal pairs, the recoil compensated both horizontally and vertically, allowing the gunners to aim properly at their target. An official order was issued to Flakvierling 38 crews to only fire two barrels at a time, but this recommendation was mostly ignored in the field.
The aiming system consisted of either a Flakvisier 38 or a Flakvisier 40. They differed in minor details. These were electrical devices which used batteries to adjust the sights in order to help the gunners aim.
The Flakvierling could rotate 360 degrees, with elevation ranging from -8 to 85 degrees. Both rotation and elevation were done manually. The first Sd.Kfz.7/1 were not produced with a gun shield, but this was introduced quite early and retrofitted to older vehicles. The guns were protected by a 3-part shield, with the outer sides being dismountable. The shield weighed 325 kg. These offered the gunners and loaders a degree of protection from rifle-caliber bullets. For land use, the whole system sat on a static tripod which had a ring on which the system rotated. When used on ships, the system sat on a pivot. No fewer than 10 men were needed to crew the Sd.Kfz.7/1, with a driver, a commander and 8 gun servants.
By the end of the war, the Flakvierling became less efficient against the newer versions of the Allied and Soviet ground attack planes, thus falling out of favor and being replaced by 3.7 cm guns. This was probably one of the reasons why the Sd.Kfz.7/1 was discontinued in 1944.
Markings and Camouflage
* Most of this information comes from photographic records.
The early war vehicles seem to have been painted in the regular Dunkelgrau color used for most German army vehicles at the time. Three license plates were fitted to the vehicle, two on the front bumper and one at the rear. No other markings seem to be present on the vehicles.
During winter, the Sd.Kfz.7/1 were white-washed in order to make them harder to detect by enemy pilots and ground troops.
The vehicles soon acquired various camouflage schemes, although it is unclear if these were regulated or purely the crew’s choice. A set of full-color pictures taken in Czechoslovakia in May 1945 of the surrender of the I. Flak-Korps show a number of Sd.Kfz.7/1 SPAAGs in green-sand camouflage colors, although the patterns are quite random.
An interesting feature on a number of vehicles is that the gun shield was covered with cloth, probably in order to minimize reflections that might give the vehicle’s position away. Also, large amounts of vegetation were used to camouflage the vehicle and make it harder to see from the air.
Markings were quite rare. One vehicle was photographed with kill marks on the gun shield, indicating the number of plane and ground vehicle kills the crew claimed. One other late-style vehicle has the nickname ‘Dorle’ written on the radiator armor plating. Another vehicle, from a leichte Flak-Btl., had some markings denoting its unit on the front fenders. An up-armored Sd.Kfz.7/1 had unit markings on the right cab door. However, these occurrences were the exception and not the rule.
The Sd.Kfz.7/1 was used by the Flak Kompanies and Flak Batteries of the Luftwaffe. These were used to accompany the Wehrmacht’s divisions or to protect important locations and installations like airfields. Two or three Sd.Kfz.7/1 SPAAGs formed a platoon. After 1943, a three-vehicle platoon was also added to the HQ unit of each Panzer Abteilung. This gave the tank units their own AA support, without having to rely on the Luftwaffe’s.
These vehicles were very well suited to accompany the German Panzer formations, as they could keep up with the tanks. Also, they could deploy very quickly, immediately providing cover for the troops in case of an unexpected air attack. A towed AA gun would first have to be taken off its trailer and then be placed on its mounting, which would take precious time during an attack. Also, the Sd.Kfz.7/1 could withdraw quickly if the situation required it, with little preparation required. As a trade-off, the Flakvierling could be towed by far smaller vehicles, meaning that the creation of a SPAAG meant the loss of a powerful tractor which could be used to tow a heavier piece of ordnance. This was especially important given the fact that, throughout WWII, the Wehrmacht was reliant on horses to tow their heavy ordnance, as there were never enough heavy tractors.
Their very high rate of fire made them a significant threat to enemy ground attack aircraft. Besides their potential to destroy the attackers, their presence could make enemy pilots hesitate or rush their attack runs, thus lowering their chances of success.
The Sd.Kfz.7/1 had a very high silhouette. Besides obviously making it more visible, this also made it harder to dug-in compared to the towed Flakvierling, as the whole tractor had to be accommodated under cover. Also, for the up-armored vehicles, the guns could not fire directly in front of the vehicle, creating a blind spot.
However, their lack of armor meant that they had to avoid enemy ground forces, as the initial batches of vehicles were vulnerable to all small arms fire and to artillery shrapnel. Even the later vehicles, although up-armored, were only protected against small arms fire coming from the front.
Despite these flaws, the Sd.Kfz.7/1 found itself pressed into a role it was definitely not suited for: fighting against enemy ground forces. In the ground fire support role, the Flakvierling could be a serious threat to enemy infantry and unarmored vehicles due to its high rate of fire and high caliber. Also, when using AP rounds, the Flakvierling could penetrate light armored vehicles such as armored cars or the shields of AT guns. When used in this role, the vehicle was driven in reverse, with the gun having a free field of fire towards the enemy. This did offer the advantage of a quick getaway if needed. Also, the armor of the vehicle was definitely insufficient for the task, with the crew members, especially the loaders, being protected only by the gun shield.
The Sd.Kfz.7/1 soldiered for most of the war, serving especially on the Eastern Front, but also in Africa, Italy and the Western Front after 1944. It is, as of now, unclear if these vehicles served in the invasion of France or Norway.
One famous occasion in which an Sd.Kfz.7/1 was used was during operation Market Garden. Then, a vehicle from an SS unit used its guns to fire at airdropped paratroopers while they were still in the air, but also at the supply gliders.
At least three Sd.Kfz.7/1 exist today in museums. One late version with the armored cab is at the Koblenz Armor Museum in Germany. This is not an original vehicle, but a reproduction. The base vehicle was an Sd.Kfz.7 recovered from a scrapyard in France where it had been used as a heavy load tractor. It was refurbished with the help of a number of German military defense companies, including Krauss Maffei (who paid for the reconstruction), MTU (engine), ZF Friedrichshafen (transmission), and Clouth (roadwheels).
A second vehicle is at the Sinsheim Technical Museum in Germany, being an early unarmored version. The gun shield is probably a later addition and does not match the usual Flakvierling shield.
The third vehicle is at the Saumur Tank Museum in France. It is awaiting restoration and, while visually in a bad state, the chassis and automotive parts are claimed to be in good order. It is a late war version with the armored cab. The Flakvierling 38 on the back seems to be missing.
6.85 x 2.35 x 2.62 m (22.6 x 7.9 x 8.7 ft)
Total weight, battle ready
1 Driver + gun team
Maybach HL 62 TUK, six-cylinder petrol
Half-track torsion arms, interleaved wheels
50 km/h (31 mph)
2cm Flakvierling 38
Links, Resources & Further Reading
Panzer Tracts No.12: Flak Selbstfahrlafetten and Flakpanzer, Thomas Jentz, 1998
Panzer Tracts No.22-5: Gepanzerter 8t Zugkraftwagen & Sfl. Flak (Sd.Kfz.7), Thomas Jentz
Gepard: The History of German Anti-Aircraft Guns, Walter Spielberger, 1982
‘Sd.Kfz.7 turned 7/1’, Walter Spielberger, Wheels & Tracks 12, 1985
German Half-Tracked Vehicles of World War II, John Milsom, 1975
Panzer Regiments: Equipment and Organisation, W.J.K Davies, 1978
Information about the Flakvisier from Handbook on German Military Forces, US War Department, 1945
20 mm Flak 38 on WW2-Weapons, written by WW2-Weapons team, consulted 29 December 2017, https://ww2-weapons.com/20mm-flak-38/
Deutsche Artillerie-Geschuetze, Alexander Lüdeke
War Office Tech Intell Summary No. 151, November 8th 1944
ETO Ordnance Technical Intelligence Report No.220, 11 April 1945
Special thank to the Sd.Kfz.7 Project Part Search for information about the suspension, to Mr. Hilary Louis Doyle for naming information, to Christophe Mialon for information about the vehicle at Saumur
Special thanks to Hunter12396, CaptianNemo, Craig Moore and Marcus Hock for help in searching for information and sources
Armored Personnel Carrier – 265 Built
The AVGP (Armoured Vehicle General Purpose)
Three AFVs, based on the same chassis, were ordered by the Canadian army back in 1976. These were Cougar (fire-support), Husky (ARV) and the Grizzly, an APC. The latter was probably the closest to the six-wheeled version of the Swiss MOWAG Piranha I, on which the vehicles were based. The Grizzly entered service in 1978 but was gradually retired until 2005, being replaced by the LAV III.
Development & Design of the Grizzly
The Grizzly was to be used as an alternative to the M113 for the regular infantry battalions and reserve units. It had a three-man crew and could carry 5-6 infantrymen. It had a Cadillac-Gage 1 metre turret mounting a .50 (12.7 mm) BMG and a 7.62 mm (0.3 in) machine gun. The troops can exit through the rear doors or the roof hatches.
Otherwise, the basic configuration was basically the same as the two other related vehicles, with a 6×6 chassis and sloped welded steel hull. The driver was in front of the vehicle, with a hatch with three vision sights. The central one could be swapped for a night vision sight. The maximum armor thickness for the hull was 10 mm (0.39 in), which provided protection against small arms fire and artillery shell splinters. For mobility, the Grizzly was given a Detroit Diesel 6V53T diesel, which developed 275 hp for a maximum road speed of 100 km/h (60 mph). In water, it could reach a speed of 10 km/h (6 mph) thanks to the two propellers. The vehicle had a 600 km range. It was able to climb a 60% gradient, 30% side slope, 0.8 m vertical step, and a trench about 80 cm wide.
The driver sat in the front left part of the hull. When the infantry soldiers were inside the vehicle, the gunner was seated behind the driver, working on the radio. The commander sat in the turret, manning the turret. However, when the infantry troop dismounted, the commander would accompany them. The gunner would then occupy the turret and the vehicle could act as infantry support or withdraw.
The Cadillac-Gage 1 metre turret was designed for armored vehicles, denominated after its 1-meter turret ring. It was originally armed with a 7.62 mm (0.3 in) machine gun (0.3′) and 12.7 mm machine gun (0.5′ or cal. 50). The only variant of the Canadian AVGP to mount this turret was the Grizzly. It was the smallest possible to keep the vehicle’s interior large enough for the soldiers. When these vehicles were made available to African Union peace-keeping forces operating in Sudan, the latter had to seek permission from the US Government in order to ship them with theses turrets. The other vehicle using it (in US service) was the M1117 4×4 Armored Security Vehicle.
In service, the majority saw their water propulsion removed. The Wheeled LAV Life Extension project saw conversions of the Grizzly (and Husky) into support variants (Command Post, Mobile Repair Team Vehicle). These variants were to be the Command Post (80), Radio Relay (10), Unit Access Nodes (20), Very Short Air Defence (24), Artillery Gun Tractor (18) and Mobile Repair Team (70). But this project was canceled in 2005. In May 2007, the Edmonton Police Service received a single, unarmed Grizzly from the Army.
In June 2005, the Canadian government announced the loan of 105 AVGPs (100 Grizzlys and 5 Huskys) to African peacekeepers in the Darfur region of Sudan. This was a low-intensity conflict, for which the vehicle was of the right size and capability. Civilian contractors were called on to maintain the vehicles. Since US-manufactured or licensed parts were used (mostly the turret), permission was to be required to loan the vehicles. At first, they were to be shipped without their CG turrets, and they arrived in Senegal in late summer 2005, the turrets being shipped later, on November 18, 2005. The loan was originally planned for one year, but it was extended, and transferred from the African Union to the United Nations.
According to Amnesty International, soldiers who used the loaned vehicles had little time for training but gained experience. One of these vehicles was destroyed by an RPG. A second one was damaged when ramming a more heavily armed but unarmored technical. In 2009, Uruguay purchased 98 Grizzlys (and 5 Huskys) previously on loan with the AMIS/UNAMID mission in Darfur.
The British Comet was essentially an upgraded Cromwell tank. In 1943, it was realized that a new British tank was needed that had a high-velocity gun that could take on and knock out the new Panther and Tiger tanks, but was also fast and had a low profile. The Churchill tank had good armor but was slow and had a weak gun. The Sherman tank was tall. The Cromwell tank was fast and low but its turret could not take a larger gun.
The A43 Centurion tank was under development but it would not be ready until 1945. The British Army needed a stop-gap tank that could quickly be introduced into production. The answer was to fit a new up-armoured turret with a high-velocity 77 mm (3.03 in) gun onto late version modified Cromwell chassis. It was called the A34 Cruiser Tank Comet Mark I Type A.
Design work started in May 1943. The Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company was the design parent of the British Cromwell Tank and the A34 Cruiser Tank Comet. Other companies were involved in the construction of this AFV, the biggest being English Electric, Fowlers, Leyland and Metropolitan-Cammell.
Production was dispersed around Britain because of the threat of German bombing. Orders for 3,000 Comet tanks were issued and they were to use chassis numbers in the range T334901 to T337900. The end of the war resulted in the early cancellation of part of this order. Only 1,186 were produced. Only 26 were recorded as lost in action during WW2.
When you look at the hull of the Comet and compare it with the Cromwell tank it was replacing, there are more similarities than differences. This was because there was a conscious decision by the wartime tank designers to avoid complications in production when the new Comet tank was introduced. This design restraint meant that a fully sloped armored front was not introduced even though it would have improved protection from enemy AP shells.
A larger turret ring was fitted to cope with the bigger wider turret. It was now 64 inches (1629 mm) in diameter. The turret traverse was powered by the tank engine but there were hand wheels for the final fine adjustments.
The hull of the Comet was of a welded construction rather than a one piece cast. It was faster to produce and lighter weight. No rivets were used and this reduced the risk of metal fragments flying around the interior of the tank after a non-penetrating hit.
The tow cable was intended to be stowed in a figure of eight around two semi-circular plates welded to the top hull plate either side of the driving headlights. A third plate was welded to the front to stop the cable dropping down and fowling around the track.
There appears to be a handle fitted to the front bulkhead to the right of the hull machine gun. It is ideally placed as a hand hold for a crew member climbing up the front of the tank. That is not the reason it was fixed in that location. It is designed to allow the end of the tow cable to be secured using a webbing strap.
There is a raised armored panel just behind the turret on the engine deck. It covers the engine air intake. Behind that is the rear gun clamp lock for the 77 mm (3.03 in) gun barrel. When the tank is traveling long distances in non-hostile areas the crew turn the turret to the rear and lock the barrel into position over the rear gun deck. This effectively reduces the length of the tank by 1.37 m (4’6”). This is helpful when being loaded onto railway flat backed tank transportation wagons. The Comet was the first British tank to be fitted with a gun barrel lock. They had been fitted to American tanks for a number of years earlier.
The square box fitted to the rear of the Comet tank is the infantry-tank telephone and a first aid box. It enabled the infantry to talk directly to the tank commander. The two slightly smaller boxes either side of the phone box are the rear smoke dischargers. They would be used to cover a retreat. The driver would reverse into the cloud of smoke to prevent the enemy gunners locking onto their next target.
At the rear of the tank, there was a large tow hook designed to be capable of towing a 17 pdr (75 mm/3 in) anti-tank gun.
The British tank designers had used the Christie suspension system on most of their cruiser tanks used in action during World War Two. The Comet tank was the last to use this system. It gave a fast and smooth ride compared to other tank suspension systems but it took up much-needed space inside the tank. Space that could have been used for the storage of additional ammunition or larger fuel tanks. If it was damaged the long torsion bars were often difficult to remove and replace out in the field.
The rubber rimmed road wheels were 31.5 inches (800 mm) in diameter. There were five pairs fitted either side. After testing of the A34 Comet prototype with and without top track rollers, it was found that the track worked better with them fitted. Four pairs of rubber rimmed top rollers were added to control the top section of the track on production models to keep the track in line and help prevent track slap and slippage.
These were not fitted on the Cromwell. Different types of top rollers were used in the course of the production process at different factories. This is why some Comet rollers look different from others.
Tracks and Track Guards
The Comet tank had a lower ground pressure and better grip than the Cromwell tank it was designed to replace. Its tracks were 18 inches wide (45.7 cm). The Cromwell tank’s track was 15.5 inches wide (39.4 cm)
Track mudguards are fitted to the front and rear of the Comet tank. They were made of thin metal and were very easily damaged. What looks like two runs of steps at the back of the track guards are in fact two metal strips that are designed to strengthen them. The tank crews also used them to help get on top of the tank.
The Comet was vulnerable to Panzerfaust infantry side attacks. It is strange that side skirt panels were not issued and fitted to add extra protection.
The New Turret
The crew in the turret was protected by 4 inches (102 mm) or armor at the front, 2.5 inches (63.5 mm) on the sides and 2.25 inches (57.2 mm) on the rear. The roof armor was 20 mm (0.79 in) thick. The turret was not cast in one piece. It was made from rolled homogenous armor welded together. The gun mantlet was cast as one item.
During trials, it was found that dirt and small stones could get stuck in the gap between the mantlet and the main turret, preventing it from moving up and down. The solution to this problem was the fitting of a strong canvas cover. Sometimes the canvas cover would get stuck in the top gap between the mantlet and the gun when it was elevated. To solve this problem, long thin pockets were added to the top of the cover and metal strips inserted inside to add rigidity.
The commander could also use a spotlight attached to the left-hand side of the turret. The spotlight had grip handles on the back to move it towards the desired direction. There was a dial at the back that could be rotated to focus the beam.
The rear armor of the turret was angled but this was normally hidden by the large rectangle sheet metal storage bin fixed to the rear of the turret. There were internal compartments inside the bin. It was designed to store: a Bren gun; jack and jacking points; chemical protection equipment; water and rations; camo net and muzzle covers for the main gun and machine guns.
The Driver’s Position
British Comet tank drivers sat on the right side of the tank. The driver had a hinged circular forward opening armored visor. It was 3 inches thick (76.2 mm). When in the open position, it gave the driver a good field of vision. In combat situations, the hatch was closed and locked in position by a T-shaped plunger.
The driver and co-driver/hull machine gunner had periscopes fitted with rain covers. The driver had a No.6 periscope and the co-driver had a 1.9x No.57 periscope. They were not in a fixed position. The crew could turn them.
The tank had two shielded driving lights. The one on the right was hinged to allow the flap to be opened and increase the light output. Both were protected from damage by the addition of two armored bars either side of each headlight.
Just like the Cromwell tank, the driver and co-driver hatches were side opening to help the crew get out a quick as possible. When the side panel was opened the top hatch came away as well. The circular armored cover between the two hatches and periscopes was used to protect the electrical extractor fan. When the BESA 7.92 mm (0.31 in) machine gun No.1 Mk.1 was fired, it gave off toxic gasses from the expelled bullet cases. These fumes needed to be evacuated as fast as possible to stop the crew getting sick.
The driver had a box to his immediate right which had the controls for the rear mounted smoke discharger.
The Machine Guns
A BESA machine gun was fitted in a gimbal-mount on the left side of the front hull. It was produced by the Birmingham Small Arms company. It was produced under license. The design was based on a Czechoslovakian ZB53 (model 37) machine gun. Unusually, the British version of the gun kept the original 7.92 mm (0.31 in) caliber. It used the same sized ammunition as the German Army machine guns. Captured enemy ammunition could be used to resupply the tank. It was simple and mechanically reliable.
The co-driver aimed the weapon using his periscope that was fixed just to the left of the gun. To stop the gun jumping around when it was fired the barrel was mounted in a metal cradle to improve its accuracy. The only drawback was that it reduced the angle of fire. A metal triangular block was fitted under the cradle to stop the gunner depressing too low and blasting away at the back of the tank’s headlights.
There was enough machine gun ammunition storage in front of the co-driver for eight spare ammunition boxes. Each box contained 255 rounds fitted in a webbing belt.
A second 7.92 mm (0.31 in) BESA machine gun was mounted to the right of the 77 mm (3.03 in) main gun. It protruded through the gun mantlet and was supported by a metal cradle to improve accuracy. To deal with the toxic gasses produced when the main gun and coaxial BESA machine gun were fired in the turret an electrical extractor fan was fitted. A circular armored cover was fitted to the turret roof to protect the electrical extractor fan. Just like on the hull, it was mounted between the two forward-looking periscopes.
On the roof of the turret, on the right side, just behind the periscope, was a 2-inch bomb thrower No.1. The gun loader had the firing controls near him inside the turret.
The 77 mm Gun
To avoid confusion with the 76.2 mm (3 in) 17pdr gun and the American 76.2 mm (3 in) tank gun, the new 3 inch (76.2 mm) high-velocity tank gun that was fitted to the Comet was called the 77 mm HV gun. It was very accurate and as well as firing high explosive and smoke shells, it could fire a number of different armor piercing rounds, like the armor piercing capped ballistic cap (APCBC) shell. There was only room for 61 rounds for the main gun to be stored inside the tank.
The 77 mm HV gun was a modified version of the powerful British 17 pdr (76.2mm) gun, redesigned by Vickers-Armstrong to fit inside the Comet tank turret. It was shorter than the 17 pdr gun with a reduced breech and recoil. This meant that it lost around 10% of its stopping power compared to the 17 pdr gun. It was still a very powerful gun that could knock out German Tiger and Panther tanks in the right circumstances. Although the 77 mm HV gun had a slightly poorer armor piercing capability than the 17 pdr, it was found to be more accurate at longer distances.
Firing trials started in March 1944 at the Army firing range at Ludworth Cove in Dorset, Southern England. A few problems were found that needed rectifying before production could start. This took time and the factories were only given the green light in October 1944. Shipping to the war zone only started in November. In December 1944 only 31 Comet tanks had been delivered to North-Western Europe. They were not used in the Battle of the Bulge German offensive of 16th December 1944. British armored units had to use Cromwells, Shermans and Achilles.
Capped armor piercing shells (APC) were introduced near the end of the war. The cap transferred energy from the tip of the shell to the sides of the projectile, thereby helping to reduce shattering. The cap also appeared to improve penetration of German tank sloped armor by deforming, spreading and “sticking” to the armor on impact. This thereby reduced the tendency of the shell to deflect at an angle but the cap structure reduced the aerodynamic efficiency of the round with a resultant reduction in accuracy and range.
A second aerodynamic streamlined cap was added to the shell to correct the range and inaccuracy defects. These improved armor piercing shells were called APCBC, armor piercing capped ballistic cap.
It could fire the newly developed armor-piercing discarding sabot (APDS) round with an extremely fast muzzle velocity of 3400 fps (1036 m/s). This speed added around 50% more penetration power to the round. When supplies arrived in Europe they were added to the range of shells carried by Comet tank crews.
The Birdcage gun sight
In front of the commander’s cupola was a strange looking contraption that looked like a small birdcage but without the wire mesh fitted. It was given the nickname ‘the birdcage’ but was a distant target blade-vane gun sight. It was used by the commander to line up the turret on the target. With the hatches in the locked down position, the commander had 360-degree vision in his rotating cupola.
A British WS No.19 Mark.III and an infantry WS No.38B wireless (radio) were installed in the turret. The two aerials were mounted on the rear of the turret roof. The short range very high frequency (VHF) B set antenna was fitted in the middle of the turret roof at the rear. It was used to communicate with infantry units. The tank to tank high frequency (HF) A set antenna was on the right-hand side of the turret roof behind the loader’s hatch. The loader was also the radio operator but the tank commander could access the controls if necessary.
Two Versions, A and B
There were two versions of the Comet Mk.I tank: Type A and Type B. The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is that the later Type B had ‘fishtail’ exhausts at the rear. Smoke dischargers on the side of the turret were added to the Type B tank. The top track rollers and rubber-tired idlers were later replaced with a different steel design as they tended to get clogged and packed with mud too easily. There were a number of other less obvious modifications like a new engine breathing system. The type ‘B’ tanks were introduced after the war.
Tanks sent to north-west Europe during 1944-45 were given the ‘Normandy modification’. They were fitted with a Normandy cowling on top of the vertical exhaust box at the back of the tank. It was a long semi-circular cover that went on the top. It was designed to reduce the visibility of smoke and flames from the engine. Some exhaust covers came in two parts. These were slightly larger.
The split Normandy cowlings enabled the gun to be locked to the rear for long distance road travel or transportation by rail. The one piece Normandy cowling prevented the gun barrel being locked to the rear. It had to be removed for rail transportation.
An added advantage of these cowling covers was that around six troops could be carried on the flat back of the engine covers without them choking on exhaust fumes.
After the war, the exhaust system was modified. It ended in a pair ‘fishtails’ at the end of the exhaust box. It is this version of the Comet tank being called the type B and the wartime original Comet tank called the type A. It had always been the intention to use this ‘fishtail’ exhaust system but it was not ready by 1944-early 1945. Planking plates had been fitted to the earlier models.
The 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, 11th Armoured Division was issued with Comet tanks. The white Allied air recognition star and circle was painted at the rear of the turret between the commander’s cupola and the loaders hatch, covering the rear storage box. The tanks were painted British SCC No.15 olive drab green.
The squadron markings would be painted in yellow on the side of the turret: A squadron triangle, B squadron square, C squadron circle and the HQ unit diamond marking. Their arm of service serial number was a white 52 on a red rectangle.
The 23rd Hussars, 29th Armored Brigade squadron markings would be painted in red on the side of the turret. Their arm of service serial number was a white 51 on a red rectangle. The 29th Hussars was a war-raised cavalry unit.
The 3rd Royal Tank Regiment tank names were painted on the front hull lower glacis plate. Other regiments painted them above the hull machine gun or on the side of the turret. The 3rd Royal Tank Regiment was a regular unit of the RTR.
The Scottish Territorial Army Regiment 2nd Fife and Fofar Yeomanry were also issued with Comet tanks. Armored Brigade squadron markings would be painted in blue on the side of the turret. Their arm of service serial number was a white 53 on a red rectangle.
The C Squadron, 15th/19 Hussars Reconnaissance Regiment received a few Comet tanks.
Not all Comet tanks used the same components. They were built at different factories around Britain with separate supply chains. Some underwent battlefield modifications. There are two different type of idler wheels. The original wheel was found to have a tendency to get packed with mud so a plain metal spoked one was introduced.
There were five different road wheels and hubs. Two different types of top track rollers were used. Fittings on the engine deck differed. During the war, only one rear red light was mounted in a holder on the right side of the tank. After the war ended a second was fitted on the other side.
95 mm Comet tanks
A few photographs exist showing what looks like a close support (CS) Comet tank armed with a 95 mm gun. No records of this conversion have been found. In the book ‘A34 Comet Tank: A Technical History’ by P. M. Knight. On Page 55 he says, “A Close Support (CS) version with a 9 5mm was considered as Cromwell production would be turned over to Comet production. It was not proceeded with though.”
It is believed that Comet tanks fitted with what looks like a 95 mm gun is in fact a dummy gun used on a Command Tank. But why wasn’t a 77 mm dummy gun used? A short 95 mm dummy gun would be lighter than a 77 mm dummy gun and would not over hang the front of the tank as much. It would also be easier to control going over rough ground as it would not be able to elevate. The Bovington Tank Museum’s David Fletcher in an article “Classic Military Vehicles April 2016” states that – “More surprising still was the number of converted Comets that were listed, although we think these were all post-war conversions; 40 Command tanks, 131 Control tanks and 25 OP tanks. There was also one such tank converted for the HQ of 6th RTR in Italy. When its 77mm gun was damaged the tank was rebuilt with a dummy 95mm howitzer and fitted out to suit the regimental commanding officer, although this was also, strictly speaking, a post-war conversion.”
There would have been no gun inside the turret. This would have given more room for additional radios and maps. The Tank Museum archives has a photograph of the 12th Lancers 95 mm Comet. It is listed as a ‘Mk IB Control’. The staff at the archives also made the following observation, “The interesting thing about all the images I have seen of these 90 mm Comets is that the stowage bin on the rear of the turret is a slightly different shape at base compared to those fitted to the gun tanks turret. The gun tanks all have a squared off base, the Control (or Command, depending on who filled in the Card!) have the slightly angled bottom corner.”
The 1st Royal Tank Regiment (1 RTR) certainly had at least one in Germany possibly holding on to it when they went for a tour of service in Libya after WW2. The only known photograph shows it with two Centurion tanks rather than other Comets. The photo would have been taken in the late 1940s. These tanks are easy to identify. The barrel length is different and it has a muzzle counterweight with the distinctive cut on the lower half rather than a muzzle brake.
Post-war Comets in the British Army
After the war, a flamethrower prototype was produced but never entered production. Comet tanks were deployed to the Canal Zone in Egypt and amongst those which were keeping the peace in Palestine. By 1949 Comets were starting to be replaced by Centurion tanks. Comets remained in regular British Army Service in Berlin until 1957 and British Hong Kong until 1959.
Comets in British Hong Kong
A number of Comet tanks were sent to British Hong Kong where they remained in service until 1959. When the new Queen Elizabeth visited they took part in a drive-by parade and salute. Peter Lebus was a National Service 2nd Lt in Hong Kong commanding 3 Comets in a tank troop, 7th Royal Tank Regiment RTR. These are his recollections – “There were no tanks on Hong Kong Island – only infantry, artillery etc. We were based at Sek Kong in the New Territories. There were 2 Squadrons in Hong Kong, the third was in Korea. Each Squadron had 3 Troops and each Troop had 3 tanks. The word “Company” is the same as a Squadron but applies to infantry.
“Each Squadron would be commanded by a Major or a Captain. A Troop would be commanded by a Lt or 2nd Lt. The 3 tanks within a Troop would be commanded by the Troop commander (Lt or 2ndLt), the Troop Sgt and another Sgt or Cpl. We were supposed to defend Hong Kong from the Chinese hordes – I don’t think that we would have lasted more than 15 minutes. In practice we were not able to be very active as so much of the countryside was either paddy fields or roads which we had to avoid if possible during the middle of the day to stop the tarmac being ripped up by our tracks. The tropical heat would make the tarmac soft. If we had to move along a road it was done in the early morning or late at night when the temperature had cooled down.”
“Most of our “defending” was done in scout cars patrolling the border with the HK police. The Comets were kept at base for emergencies and training. My only claim to glory was when I was scouting for an off road route to the border ended ignominiously when my tank slipped sideways on a hill side. The lower track slipped and jammed underneath the tank body. It took us 3 days to dig out by hand a flat area in front of the tank prior to getting it supported from above and in front. We were then able to break the lower track, lay it out in front and tow the tank onto it again and then reconnect it. All in all a steep and rather embarrassing learning curve. A little later I returned to Catterick to teach the next intake all about Centurion tanks”
In May 1960, Finland was sent a British Comet tank (13ZR12) for trials. They liked the tank, kept it and ordered 40 more with a lot of spare parts. They were given the Finnish Army registration numbers PS-252-1 to PS-252-41. They were fitted with the German Fu 16 radios that had been fitted to their StuG III Ausf.G assault guns. The British antennas were removed and replaced with the German radio aerials. The British infantry telephone box at the rear of the tank was replaced with a Finnish Army model.
Union (later Republic) of South Africa Army
In 1954 the South African government ordered 26 Comet Tanks. Later on, some were converted into armored battlefield maintenance and repair vehicles.
Republic of Ireland Army
The Irish Army purchased eight Comet tanks in 1958 and they were delivered between 1959 – 1960. Due to limited budgetary resources, spares were bought in limited quantitates. This caused problems as time went on. Spares became difficult to locate.
They used armor piercing APCBC shells and not high explosive HE ones, as the British Army had discovered a flaw in the HE fuse. A test was carried with one of the tanks having its turret replaced by a Swedish Bofors 90 mm recoilles gun. The experiment was not pursued. Lack of ammunition led to a reduction in the amount of live firing exercises the tank crews were allowed to conduct. The final exercise at the shooting range took place in 1973. They were withdrawn soon afterward.
The Burmese army purchased 25 comet tanks. They remained in service until 1995.
In 1957, Cuba was sold 15 Comet tanks.
A34 Comet tanks only remained a front line tank for a short time. When they were replaced by the Centurion tank they were sent to tank training units or Territorial Army units where they nearly served for the next 20 years. They started to be sold off in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s to foreign armies.
Small countries, like Bulgaria, are usually not capable to single-handedly develop and build a Main Battle Tank. However, creating an Infantry Fighting Vehicle using existing platforms is far more at hand.
This is exactly what the Bulgarians intended, producing a vehicle tailored to the needs of the Bulgarian Army then under the Soviet sphere of Influence as part of the Warsaw Pact. The overall goal was to have an improved IFV compared to the BMP-1 already in service. Only a few of the resulting BMP-23s were cranked-up by KINTEX State Commercial Enterprise, some sources claiming 50 (Wikipedia), while others claiming 114 (Army-Guide). The vehicles entered service in the early 1980s.
The basis for the BMP-23 was the sturdy Soviet 2S1 “Gvozdika” self-propelled howitzer, built under licence in Bulgaria at the time. The Gvozdika itself was based on the multipurpose MT-LB chassis. However, given the goals of the military, it had to be given much sturdier armor than that of the BMP-1. The better engine and reinforced suspension helped in this way.
The hull was also comprehensively modified to integrate a roomy troop compartment at the rear, for six equipped infantrymen seated back-to-back. The rear was modified to accept two doors for dismounting, in addition to the two large roof hatches. Three pistol ports were also placed in the walls, with bulletproof vision devices. The welded steel hull was reinforced with a frontal arc protection of about 20-23 mm (0.8-0.9 in). It is assumed that it is able to withstand 23 mm (0.9 in) AP rounds.
Turret and Armament
The turret was, of course, the major addition to this vehicle. It has a rounded rear, with flat sides all around and a well-sloped front. Protruding from the turret is a 23 mm (0.9 in) 2A14 automatic cannon. It is the same gun used in the ZU-23-2 light AA gun which equipped the Soviet light AA units. It is fed by 600 rounds, has +80° of elevation, and can fire either HE-IT and AP-IT ammunitions with a muzzle velocity of 970 m/s. This gun, introduced in the 1960s, has a total length of 4.57 m (10 ft) and a barrel length of 2 m (79.1 in), or 87.3 calibers. It fires a 23x152B round, with two rate of fire settings, one low, at 200/300 rounds/min, and one high, at 500 rds/min. The practical range is 2.5 km (2 mi).
The armament is completed by a 7.62 mm (0.3 in) machine gun (PKT) coaxial light machine gun, and, in order to deal with tanks at longer ranges, a 9K11 Malyutka ATGM launcher, recently replaced with a 9K111 Fagot. The latter is an SACLOS missile, fitted with a 1.7 kg High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) warhead. The Malyutka can defeat up to 400 mm of RHA /200 mm 60° sloped armor up to 2,500 m. The Fagot is claimed to be effective up to 4,000 m and has tandem HEAT rounds. The mount is electrically operated from inside, with 90° of traverse and -5 to +15° elevation. In addition, the crew carried their personal AK-47s, RPG-7V, and RPG-22, plus a Strela-2M for AA cover.
For targeting, the gunner, who sat on the left, has a binocular day sight with a magnification of ×4.5 and a 40° field of view. He can use a forward-opening hatch cover and a white light searchlight. The commander, on the right, has a cupola with single-piece hatch cover opening to the front and mounting an infra-red searchlight. He also has his own 1PZ-3 monocular sight, TKN-3B day/night sight with a ×4.75/×4 day/night magnification. These sights were produced under license by the Vazov Engineering Plant in Sopot, Bulgaria.
Mobility-wise, the BMP-23 is given an improved engine, the turbocharged diesel YaMZ-238N, which develops 315 hp, giving the vehicle a 62 km/h (39 mph) top speed on road and 550 to 600 km (340-370 mi) operational range on average. The drivetrain is shared with the MT-LB and Gvozdika, with a full row of seven evenly spaced rubberized road wheels without return rollers. The drive sprocket is at the front and idler at the rear. Each road wheel is suspended on a torsion bar. In addition, the first and last suspensions units came with hydraulic shock-absorbers.
For concealment, the usual exhaust smoke ejector is used. However, two banks of three 81 mm electrically operated smoke dischargers were added on the modernized BMP-23D version. Importantly, the BMP-23 retains the amphibious characteristics for the MT-LB, with enough buoyancy to swim, propelled and guided by the tracks. Preparation for going into water includes raising the trim vane and removing the hull sides slotted mudguards. Fire detection and suppression systems are installed. It is also fitted with R-123M VHF radio and R-124 tank intercom and an NBC collective protection with GO-27 radiation and chemical detection system.
-BMP-23D: Upgraded model with the 9K111 Fagot ATGM plus 2×3 81mm smoke grenade launchers. -BRM-23: Reconnaissance vehicle, apparently entering service in limited numbers in 1991, equipped with a large folded antenna mounted on the rear of the vehicle. -BMP-30: A prototype was built using a turret very similar to the one seen on the BMP-2. Only 10 built in 1995 according to Army-Guide. It has a 2A42 30 mm (1.18 in) autocannon with 4000 m range, coaxial PKT and AT-5 Spandrel ATGM.
The BMP-23 in Service
The BMP-23 was first publicly revealed at a parade in 1984. It served its tour of duty in Iraq along with the M1117 Armoured Security Vehicle, without any noticeable events taking place. The BMP-23D is still in service today in the Bulgarian Army. There is an interesting “recycling” potential for nations willing to get rid of their old 2S1 Gvozdika SPGs and transform them into anIFV more potent than the BMP-1.
By the early 1920’s, the British Government’s enthusiasm for a state tank program had collapsed following the unsuccessful ‘Medium Mark D’. This project had eaten up the majority of the Government Tank Design Bureau’s budget and the widely overambitious model had been horribly unreliable. The exit of Winston Churchill from the Ministry of Munitions in 1921 was a key turning point in the downfall of publicly owned tank design in the United Kingdom. Military spending was falling as the troubled post First World War UK economy improved little in the 20’s and colonial duties bit away at what money there was, while the defense sector was slipping back into a conservative and skeptical stance. Within two years, the funding stopped coming and the nation that had invented the tank now left tank development to the private corporations.
Fortunately, the Vickers Company (that would become Vickers Armstrong in 1927) had begun competing with the Government over a contract for a replacement tank for the infantry in 1920. At the time the Mark D fell through in 1923, several prototypes of what would become the Mark I Medium had already been produced. The Mark I and Mark II vehicles produced throughout the 1920’s were indeed substantial improvements over the World War 1 era vehicles still in service. They replaced the last MK. V Heavies and Whippets as the 1920’s closed, being the only tanks mass produced in this period anywhere in the world, with a total run of just under 300 vehicles.
These tanks incorporated a rotating turret and were more mobile that preceding tanks. While now it may seem trivial, this represented a leap in design with the three-man turret. This took the workload off the commander and main gunner (who in most vehicles of other tank building nations during the Interwar period were the same person) and would likely have had a serious positive influence in combat.
Despite these relative innovations, the vehicles had serious flaws. Some were quickly recognized others were not. Already in 1926, requests for an improved vehicle came from the War Office. The Mk.I’s and II’s had proved difficult to drive, and their top speed of only 15 mph (24kph), while meeting the requirement for a tank that was designed to primarily operate alongside infantry, still left something to be desired. While they were not mechanically as gremlin ridden as First World War vehicles, a number of improvements were suggested to make a more reliable vehicle. What may also have been more apparent to some military staff was that the mere 6mm of armor protecting these vehicles, which was less even than the Mk.
I Heavies of 1916, would struggle to deflect even small arms fire at close range. More than twice this thickness was needed for a vehicle to reliably protect against even standard issue infantry weapons at close range. By September 1926, Vickers, requirements in hand, went to work.
Initial Design, the A6
A weight limit of 15.5 tons was set for the new vehicles, so that they could be supported by the standard British Army pontoon bridge of the day. Easy rail transport, space for a wireless radio set, and (relatively) quiet running mostly for the benefit of crew wellbeing were also essentials. Later, easier steering ability and better protection were also requested. The initial design submitted by Vickers Armstrong was named the A6, and based loosely on the A1E1 Independent, which was still in testing at the time. One fad that this monstrosity briefly inspired was that of the multi-turreted tank. The A6 design featured the same QF 3-pounder gun as the Mark I and II, but it was housed in a two-man turret, accompanied by three secondary machine-gun turrets. One was at the rear with an anti-aircraft machine gun mount and two at the front of the vehicle with two machine guns in each, although later this was reduced to one in each. The A6 had 13mm of armor at the front and 7mm elsewhere. This kept the weight down to around 14 tons and it was estimated a 180hp Armstrong engine would propel the vehicle at 20 mph (32kph) on road.
In 1927, after the wooden mock-up was approved, the prototype was ordered, fitted with a new hydraulic ’Wilson Epicyclic’ steering gearbox. The three prototypes that were produced were fitted with the Armstrong V8 engines which exceeded expectations, and gave the vehicle a top speed of 26 mph, positively rapid for an interwar vehicle. Unsurprisingly, the machine gun arrangement was not well received on trials in 1928, and the vehicle was not judged to be far enough superior to the Mark II to warrant a serious production order.
The Revised Mark III
Determined to salvage the project, Vickers Armstrong ordered an improved vehicle in 1928, with two being built at the Woolwich Royal Ordnance Factory and another at Vickers. These featured slightly better armor, 14mm at the front and 9mm around, as well as a new turret capable of housing a radio set. The rear machine gun turret was abandoned, while the other two were shifted forwards to improve weight distribution. Better brakes were also fitted. From 1930 to 1933, further trials were far more positive. The vehicle was deemed more reliable, offered greater crew comfort and provided a more stable platform for the 3 pounder gun that the Mark I and II. Additionally, the top speed had further improved to a highly respectable 30 mph (48kph).
For all their work, the suspension proved somewhat overladen and the track components fast wearing out when used off-road. Finally, the 3 finished vehicles were purchased for use by the Royal Tank Corps and in 1933, entered service as HQ tanks. However, the high cost of the eight-year project more than outweighed its technical improvements, and no further orders were made. By the mid-30’s, British tank doctrine was moving on, and the Medium tank had no place in it. A Soviet purchasing commission came to look at British vehicles for export in 1930 and purchased a number of British tankettes and light tanks. At the same time, it appeared that, through the use of some skulduggery, they obtained fairly detailed information on the A1E1 prototype and Vickers Mark III. After an investigation, a British Officer was court-martialed in 1933 for selling the plans on. It is sometimes claimed that the Mark III provided some design inspiration for the T-28 Medium Tank, of which more than 500 were produced and fought in the Winter War and opening stages of Barbarossa.
The last vehicle of the batch, ‘Medium III E3’, was used as a command vehicle for one of the largest combined arms training exercises of the era. On Salisbury Plain in 1934, this vehicle was used alongside other experimental armored and mechanized forces in the British Army, to test their potential and help find their role within the army in future conflicts.
Ironically, the exercise this vehicle was used in would hurt British tank progress in the short term. The results were skewed by conservative officers who played down the role of the tanks in the exercise, an example of the disruption British tank design in the 1930’s faced. Some historians in the postwar era such as that of author and expert David Fletcher have gone so far as to suggest that these traditionalists, who were resistant to new practices in the army, used their positions to prevent the implementation of new tactics and equipment. They are accused of a ‘Great Tank Scandal’ which put Britain on the back foot of tank design as it entered World War Two.
The one silver lining for the participating Mark III, however, was that it was crewed by Brigadier General Percy Hobart, later ‘Sir’ Percy Hobart. He was an armor development expert who takes credit for designing some of the specialised tanks used for the D-Day landings that began the liberation of France in 1944. Perhaps some of his inspiration came from the ponderous tank he commanded around the training field on its only active duty in 1934. Shortly after the exercise, the participating vehicle was written off, another was destroyed in a fire, and the sole survivor remained in service around the training ground until 1938, and was likely scrapped some time within the next two years. Hence, sadly, none of the vehicles have survived to this day.
HMSO Publishing, The Great Tank Scandal: Part 1: British Armour in the Second World War, David Fletcher
Southwater Publishing, World War I and II Tanks, George Forty
Tank Archives Blogspot
The Imperial War Museum
Believing they had identified a niche in the market, the Thyssen-Henschel and Bofors companies began a private venture (without funding or official support from the West-German military) to develop an ‘Infantry Escort Vehicle’.
The resulting vehicle, debuted in November 1977, was based on a modified hull of the recently introduced Marder IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle). It was designated the Begleitpanzer (Accompanying Tank) 57 and was classified as an Armored Infantry Fire Support Vehicle, or ‘AIFSV’.
The Marder (German word for the weasel-like creature, the Marten) IFV entered service with the West German army or ‘Bundeswehr’ in 1971. It was developed as part of the rebuilding effort of Germany’s armored vehicle manufacturing industry. Though it was not a remarkable vehicle according to its features, the design has succeeded in being a versatile and well rounded IFV. It was a simple vehicle that had armor up to 20mm thick over the frontal arc, with the frontal upper plate steeply angled. This frontal plate was designed to withstand 20mm Armor-Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) rounds. It had rear access doors for carried infantry to disembark from and rifle ports in the hull side which allowed the infantry to fire through, while safely inside.
It had a small two-man turret which carried the IFV’s main armament, a 20mm Rheinmetall MK 20 Rh202 autocannon and a coaxial 7.62 mm MG3 machine gun. The 20mm can fire either Armor-Piercing (AP) or High-Explosive (HE) round.
The IFV was powered by an MTU MB 833 Ea-500 diesel engine, which developed 591 hp. This propelled the vehicle to a top speed of 47 mph (75 km/h) on road. It runs on six road-wheels connected to a torsion bar suspension. The idler wheel is located at the rear, with the drive sprocket at the front.
Design of the Begleitpanzer
The overall design of the vehicle was largely unchanged from the original Marder IFV. As such, the engine, transmission, suspension, tracks, and armor remained the same. The biggest modification to the Marder chassis was the replacement of the standard turret with a larger one mounting the vehicle’s main armament which consisted of an automatically cycling Bofors 57mm (2.24in) L70 Mk.1 gun, traditionally used in the anti-aircraft role on ships. This necessitated internal modifications. The entirety of the gun was open to the elements. When the gun was depressed the breach would rise out of the turret when elevated it would sink inside the hull. Depression/elevation range was – 8 to + 45 degrees. There was also a coaxial MG3 machine gun mounted on the right side of the main gun. The gun was fed from an ammunition can mounted on the gun cradle, meaning it would have to be reloaded from outside the tank. This gun was intended to engage with lightly armored enemy vehicles and troops.
The weapon was mounted centrally in the uneven turret. The left of the turret was raised to accommodate the commander’s position. Above this position was a periscope ring for all-round observation. The right half of the turret was much lower to accommodate the vehicle’s secondary armament, a Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) launcher, which could fire the BGM-71B missile. This was installed to give the vehicle some anti-armor capability. After firing, the launcher tube rotated backward until it was vertical, and the exhaust end was in line with the turret roof. A small circular hatch would then open. Through this, a fresh ATGM would be loaded in. The tube would then rotate back to firing position. The gunner was located underneath the ATGM launcher tube. He operated both the main gun and the ATGM with controls in his position.
Two loaders were positioned in the rear of the tank. The loader on the left would be responsible for loading clips into the 57mm main gun. The loader on the right would be responsible for handling the ATGMs. The ammunition load-out consisted of 48 rounds for the 57mm gun and 6 TOW-ATGMs. The driver was located at the front left of the vehicle.
A mock-up of the Begleitpanzer was displayed in November 1977. A prototype was tested in 1978. Due to a lack of interest from the German Military, the project was not accepted for construction.
The project did start a string of other attempts to increase the lethality of the Marder. A similar project by Thyssen-Henschel saw the addition of a 105mm L7 gun, as found on Leopard 1
, to the top of the Marder chassis. This was designated the VTS1, but like the Begleitpanzer, it did not progress past prototype stages.
6.79 m x 3.24 m x 2.98 m
(22′ 3″ x 10′ 8″ x 9′ 9″)
Total weight, battle ready
Aprx. 33.5 tons
5 (driver, commander, gunner, x2 loaders)
MTU MB 833 Ea-500 diesel, 561 hp.
Independent torsion bars
47 mph (75 km/h)
Bofors 57mm (2.24 in) L70 Mk.1
20mm (0.78 in)
Links, Resources & Further Reading
Arms and Armour Press, Tanks of the World 1983, Ferdinand Von Senger. On topwar.ru
USA/Great Britain (1943)
Flamethrower Tank – 4 built
Although they had proved extremely useful in America’s fight against the Japanese in the Pacific, Auxiliary Flamethrowers (a flamethrower that is secondary to the main gun, rather than replacing the gun) were quite unpopular with the US Army fighting in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO).
Despite this, the British Churchill Crocodile, with its iconic trailer and bow mounted flamethrower, was well admired. American troops, who had received invaluable support from them, placed great faith in these British dragons. While the Churchill Crocodile was still being tested, American interest grew in the project, resulting in the development of their own version.
The American version would be based on their venerable workhorse, the Medium Tank M4 Sherman. It would become known as the Sherman Crocodile, in line with its Churchill brother.
In March 1943, US officers were shown the prototype of the Churchill Crocodile and queried the possibility of creating a similar vehicle based on their own Medium Tank M4, known to the British as the Sherman. In a meeting between UK, US, and Canadian military heads held on the 29th of June, 1943, at Dumbarton Oaks, Maryland, USA, it was surmised that the British led the Americans in flamethrower technology. This ‘flamethrower conference’ was held to evaluate possible requirements for future operations in Europe, namely Operation: Overlord, the amphibious landings of Normandy, which were planned for the following year.
The US Army informed the British War Office (WO) on the 11th of August, 1943, that they were estimating a need for around 100 of these ‘Sherman Crocodiles’, as they would come to be called. Construction of a wooden mock-up of the vehicle was completed by the British Petroleum Warfare Department (PWD). This mock-up was then inspected on the 1st of October, 1943. This was followed by a working prototype which was completed in January 1944. Trials took place at the end of that month, with a demonstration held for US officers on the 3rd of February. Overall, these officers would extremely pleased with the tank.
The First US Army put in an order for 65 tanks that month. This number grew to 115 units when it was predicted that General Patton’s Third US Army would also require armored flamethrowers in their future exploits. The initial order for Overlord, submitted to the British War Office on the 16th of February, was for 100 Sherman Crocodiles including 125 of the accompanying armored trailers. The first production vehicle was finally completed in March.
Initially, the Sherman Crocodile was going to a truly large collaboration between British and American industry. The plan was for the American side to provide any parts necessary or unique to the M4 Sherman. The British, who would also construct the Crocodile, would provide the trailer and component parts of the flamethrower. In reality, British factories became overwhelmed with the production of their own Army’s orders for the Churchill Crocodile and were barely scraping together other orders. As a result, no Sherman Crocodiles were ready for the US Army on D-Day.
Foundation, The M4
The M4 started life in 1941 as the T6 and was later serialized as the M4. The tank entered service in 1942. All Sherman Crocodiles were based on the M4A4, with one exception. The single Crocodile prototype was based on the M4A2.
The M4A2, known to the British as the Sherman III, was a diesel-powered model. The radial petrol engine of previous models was replaced with the General Motors 6046 engine (a combination of two GM 6-71 General Motors Diesel engines). The hull was of a welded construction.
The M4A4, known to the British as the Sherman V, was almost exclusively used by the British military and, like the A2, had a welded hull. Many A4s were famously converted into the 17-pounder armed Firefly. The unique feature of the A4 was its Chrysler Multibank engine. This large power plant was unpopular with the American military but liked by the British. This larger engine also resulted in the lengthening of the hull. This is most noticeable when looking at the suspension bogies as the gap between the units is much bigger than other M4 models.
The average speed of the M4 series was 22–30 mph (35–48 km/h). The tank’s weight was supported on a Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS), with three bogies on each side of the vehicle and two wheels per bogie. The idler wheel was at the rear.
Standard armament for both models consisted of the 75mm Tank Gun M3. This gun had a muzzle velocity of up to 619 m/s (2,031 ft/s) and could punch through 102 mm of armor, depending on the AP (Armor Piercing) shell used. It was a good anti-armor weapon, but it was also used to great effect firing HE (High-Explosive) for infantry support. For secondary armament, the M4s had a coaxial and a bow mounted .30 Cal (7.62 mm) Browning M1919 machine gun, as well as a .50 Cal (12.7 mm) Browning M2 heavy machine gun on a roof-mounted pintle.
The M4 base vehicle remained mostly unchanged. It retained full operation of its turret and 75mm gun and bow-mounted .30 Cal (7.62mm) machine gun, as was intended for an auxiliary flamethrower. Depression of the 75mm was slightly hampered over the right of the upper glacis, however, due to the placement of the flame gun.
The basic layout of the Sherman Crocodile was the same as the Churchill. All of the flamethrowing equipment would be external. This included the Crocodile’s iconic wheeled trailer which was attached to the rear of the tank. This coupling at the rear of the vehicle was officially known as “The Link”. The trailer weighed 6.5 tons and was protected by 12mm (0.47 in) thick armor. “The Link” was made up of 3 articulated joints which allowed it to move up, down, left or right and swivel on the horizontal axis to allow it to navigate rough terrain. The trailer carried 400 UK gallons (1818 liters) of flamethrower liquid and 5 compressed bottles of Nitrogen (N₂) gas. The tank could be jettisoned from inside the tank in case of emergency.
The Nitrogen gas propelled the fuel along a pipe which ran from the rear plate of the tank, along the right flank, to a flame projector mounted on the upper glacis to the right of the co-driver/bow machine gunner’s position. The entirety of the pipe was covered in thin metal plating to protect it from shrapnel or small arms fire. This flame projector was mounted on a pedestal protecting by sheet metal plating. It had a full range of motion, able to actuate up and down, as well as traverse left and right. The weapon was operated by the bow-gunner/assistant driver with controls at his station.
Including the Crocodile prototype built on the M4A2, only four Sherman Crocodiles would be completed out of an initial introductory order of six. The three production models were built on the hulls of the newer M4A4.
The Crocodiles were effectively kept in a state of limbo in the UK until a request came in for Crocodiles in November 1944. This request came from General Omar Bradley’s 12th Army Group and General William Simpson’s 9th US Army. These armies showed the most enthusiasm to armored flamethrowers, having been some of the first to benefit from the support of British Churchill Crocodiles during the fighting in and around the port city of Brest. More Sherman Crocodiles were requested, but production never resumed.
The four Shermans were sent to the 739th Tank Battalion (Special Mine Exploder Unit), a unit that had previously been equipped with Canal Defence Lights (CDLs).
Sherman Crocodiles would have to wait until February 1945 for their first and only use in combat. They took part in Operation: Grenade, the assault on the ancient 13th-century citadel in Julich, Germany. On the 24th of February, the Crocodiles supported the 175th Infantry, 29th Division in their efforts to secure the town. The town was secured by afternoon, but the garrison of the old citadel was putting up a stiff resistance.
The embattled fortress was surrounded by a moat that was 85-foot (26 meters) wide and 20-foot (7 meters) deep. Division commanders were not keen on throwing wave after wave of infantry against the walls of the citadel, so the
Crocodiles were brought in. The Crocodile unit arrived at half-strength, due to the fact that two of the tanks broke down before reaching the battle. When the remaining tanks arrived, they advanced to the edge of the moat and began to pump flaming liquid through every possible void. A large number of defenders quickly abandoned their positions and retreated underground.
With the garrison seeking refuge, the Crocodiles turned their attention to the gates of the citadel. The tanks pounded the gates with approximately 20 rounds of High-Explosive from the 75mm main guns. When they had succeeded in blowing the gates off their hinges, the Crocodiles resumed flaming, covering every inch of the inner courtyard in flames.
With the last survivors from the fort running to nearby hills, the 175th Infantry waded across the moat, securing the complex by 15.00 hours (3:00 pm) that day. The Citadel would continue to burn for two days. In March, the Crocodiles would support elements of the 2nd Armored Division after crossing the Rhine, but after this, there was very little need for the Crocodiles once the Siegfried line had been breached and passed.
Other flamethrowers were used with standard gun Shermans in Europe. These were either the E4-5 or ESR1 Auxiliary Flamethrower that replaced the bow machine gun. They were also in use in the Pacific fighting the Japanese. Though their effect was described as “positively pathetic” by commanders in the ETO, a large number of the weapons were used.
An interesting point to note about the three Crocodiles based on the M4A4 is that these are among some of the only M4s of that iteration to serve with the American Army in the European Theatre. The only other time the A4 was used by American forces in the ETO was after the Battle of the Bulge when US armored forces had a brief shortage of tanks. Gaps were filled with some A4s from British stocks.
The Crocodiles survived the war, but what happened to them is unknown. None of them are known to survive today.
Other American M4 Flamethrowers
In the Pacific Ocean Theatre (PTO), the Americans had successfully designed and built a main armament flamethrower on the M4. A main armament flamethrower replaces the main gun, unlike the auxiliary of the Crocodile. This vehicle was known as the M4 POA-CWS H1 (POA-CWS: Pacific Ocean Area-Chemical Warfare Service) and was mostly used on the M4A3 model of Sherman. They served in a number of famous actions, including the assault on the treacherous volcanic island of Iwo Jima.
There was also use of smaller “periscope” flamethrowers that were attached to the co-driver/bow machine gunner’s hatch. This was also designed by POA-CWS, and was designated the H1 Periscope Mount Flame Thrower.
American development of Mechanized Flamethrowers based on the M4 continued after the war, resulting in such projects as the T33, as well as the M42B1 and B3 which served in great effect in the Korean War.
Further British Experiments
Alongside the Crocodile, British designers continued to work on other possible flamethrowing Shermans. Most notably, this took the form of more reptilian Sherman flamethrowers. These were the Salamander series and the Sherman Adder. Both of these were based on the M4A4.
The Salamander series went through 8 variations, Type I to Type VIII. They all focused on finding the best location for the flamethrower and accompanying equipment. The flamethrower of choice for this tank was the Wasp IIA which had a range of 90 – 100 yards (82 – 91 meters). Designed by the Petroleum Warfare Department, the initial Type I mounted the Wasp in an armored sheath under the 75mm main gun and was fed from fuel tanks in the sponsons. Type II and III were designed by the Lagonda luxury car company and they were the only variants to have a smaller crew at four men, instead of the regular five which the other models retained and mounted their flamethrowers in the 75mm gun tube. Type II also tested a flame gun mounted above the co-driver/bow machine gunner’s position. Type IV to VIII were all designed by the PWD. They all varied in pressurization methods and fuel tank arrangements. On Type VI and VIII, the flame gun was mounted in a blister on the side of the turret. On Type VII it was mounted in the antenna socket on the right front of the hull.
Salamander fell by the wayside. Though tested for a short period in 1944, nothing came of the projects. The next project was called the Adder. The configuration of the Adder was thus: an 80 UK gallon (364-liter) fuel tank was mounted on the rear plate of the M4. An armored pipe running across the top of the right sponson fed the fuel from this tank to a flame gun mounted above the co-driver/bow-machine gunner’s position. The gun had a range of 80 – 90 yards (73 – 91 meters). A simple armored skirt was added to the flanks to protect the suspension. Like the Salamander, however, the project did not make it past prototype stages.
Specifications (M4A4 based)
Dimensions (L-W-H, without trailer)
19’4” x 8’8” x 9′ (5.89 x 2.64 x 2.7 m, measurments without trailer)
The M26 Pershing descended from a long series of medium and heavy tank prototypes, dating back from 1936. During the war, heavy tank development had been long delayed or given low priority since the US Army, USMC and Allied forces required a mass-built, good-all-around medium tank, which took the shape of the Medium M4 Sherman.
By 1944, the High Command was aware of the limitation of the M4 when facing German tanks. By mid-1944, both the British and US had undertaken upgrades in armor and guns on the Sherman, and developed tank-hunters instead of mass-producing a brand new model. However, by the fall of 1944, these stopgap measures proved insufficient, and the innovative M26 was eventually pushed forward for production. But it was a bit too late. The Pershing saw little combat and mostly soldiered during the Cold War, starting with Korea. At last, the crews had the ideal tank to deal with German armor, but historians and authors still debate about the causes of such delays. Could the Pershing have been a game changer if introduced earlier?
T20 Prototype (1942)
Development of the T20 Medium Tank started as an upgrade over the M4 in 1942. This new tank had common features with earlier models, notably the characteristic suspension (HVSS) bogies, roadwheels, return rollers, drive sprockets and idlers. By May 1942, a mock-up of the T20 had been already produced. U.S. Army Ordnance also ordered the development of the M6 heavy tank, which would prove a dead end. The main feature of the T20 was the lower silhouette and more compact hull, allowed by the availability of the new Ford GAN V-8 combined with a rear transmission and rear sprocket drive layout.
This engine was an early attempt to produce a V12 with similar layout and performances to the Rolls Royce Merlin, but development was stopped and the engine was turned into a smaller V8. Other improvements included a sturdier horizontal volute spring suspension (HVSS), a longer barrel version of the 75 mm (2.95 in) (M1A1), and 76.2 mm (3 in) front armor. The weight and width were very similar to the M4, allowing transportation in similar conditions. However, the T20 also pioneered the Torqmatic transmission, which proved highly problematic during trials.
T22 and T23 Prototypes
Problems with the Torqmatic dictated a return to the M4 transmission, leading to the T22. Variants of this medium tank also tested an autoloader, thus reducing the turret crew to just two.
In 1943, the need to replace the M4 was not apparent, and the U.S. Army Ordnance decided to test several electrical systems on the next T23 Medium Tank, mainly the transmission. These entered service but, because of maintenance and supply problems, only operated on U.S. soil for the duration of the war, mainly for training purposes.
The T25 and T26
The T25 was a new design, up-armored and up-gunned. This was done as it was clear, after the first encounters with German upgraded Panzer IVs, Panthers and Tigers, that the M4 was less up to the task than previously thought. The debate was heated, but finally, a breach opened and clear-cut decisions were taken after the reports came from Normandy. Meanwhile, a series of T25s was built, inaugurating a new, far larger cast turret derived from the one on the T23, in order to accommodate a 90 mm (3.54 in) gun.
The T26 added upgraded armor to the mix, with a new 102 mm (4 in) thick glacis and reinforced hull. Their overall weight rose to 36 tonnes (40 short tons), up into the category of “heavy tanks”.
Performance decreased, and triggered reliability and maintenance issues, as their engine and transmission were not designed to cope with the additional stress. The T25 displayed VVSS suspensions while the T26 used the final torsion bar system retained on the M26. The T26E1 was the prototype upon which the upgraded production version T26E3 was based on. After a small pre-series, this was standardized as the M26.
Compared to the Sherman and previous models, the Pershing was revolutionary. The new Wright engine and short transmission gave it a low profile, as opposed to the Sherman. The glacis plate was one of the thickest ever fitted on an American tank to that point. The torsion bar system conferred a noticeably better ride and was leagues ahead of the tractor-based VVSS, as well as simpler than the HVSS. The large tracks fitted with soft steel shoes contributed to lowering the ground pressure and giving better grip on soft terrain. Above them, two wide mudguards mounted large storage bins for tooling, spares and equipment.
The drivetrain, modeled and tested on the T26, counted six pairs of rubberized roadwheels, each fitted on its own wheelarm. They were connected to the torsion bars by the way of an eclectic spindle, and each was also connected to a bumpstop, which limited the motion of the arm. Three out of the six received extra shock absorbers. There was also one idler (identical to the roadwheels) at the front and one sprocket at the rear, on each side.
The idlers could be precisely adjusted to the track thanks to a large notch. This meant that the idler could be displaced forward or backward and thus change the track tension. There were also five return rollers. The tracks were a new model, but rather classic in appearance, each link being articulated with wedge bolts and having a two-piece center guide. These were also rubberized.
Construction called for large cast sections, front and rear, attached to the hull sides and welded together. Another cast section went across the engine deck for better strength. There was an infantry telephone fitted on the back panel of the engine compartment, inside an armored box. Infantrymen could then communicate with the tank, for close support, even in the midst of battle.
The engine compartment was covered by eight armored grids, four openings total, only accessible when the turret was turned to the side. The two rearward ones granted access to the engine, while the two forward ones allowed access to the left and right fuel tanks, the right being shorter to make room for the auxiliary engine and electric generator. There was also a semi-automatic fire extinguishing system. Also on the engine deck was located the radiator filler cap and gun travel lock. The transmission had three speeds forward and one reverse. The differential operated three drumbrakes on each side.
The M36 commander’s cupola had a one piece hatch and six direct vision prisms made of thick bulletproof glass, inserted inside the cupola bulge. In practice, the hatch had the tendency to jump loose and a field experiment later passed into general practice consisted of drilling holes into it. The top of the hatch mounted a periscope and the entire structure moved freely around a fixed azimuth scale. When inside, the commander had a lever for traversing the turret left or right. Just behind him was mounted the SCR 5-28 radio set. Due to its lengthwise position, a mirror allowed the commander to use the commands at hand. The gunner had an M10 periscope, with x6 magnification, and to its left was an M71 auxiliary telescope with x4 magnification.
The M3 90 mm (3.54 in) gun was power traversed, with a joystick controlling elevation and a pump for manual traverse. The gun also had an elevation handle and, just behind it, a manual trigger, in case of failure of the electrical fire system. There was also a gear change lever, for choosing between the manual or hydraulic options for traverse. At a lower position was found the manual traverse lock, which was used when the turret was reversed and gun lowered and attached for transportation. The gun had a classic percussion fire system and manual breech. The loader also fired the cal.30 (7.62 mm) coaxial machine gun, and had his own vision system. Just left of him were the ready racks, storing ten rounds of various types for immediate use. Additional stowage inside six floor compartments was used. He also had a pistol port.
The driver and assistant driver both had sprung suspended seats and single-piece hatches. The driver had a rotatable periscope, immediate access to the semi-automatic fire extinguisher to his left and a brake release. The instrument panel counted (in order) five circuit breakers, a fuel gauge, a lever for fuel tank selector, electrical starter, electrical gauge, tachometer, personal heater, differential settings, fuel cut-off emergency button, panel light trigger, main lights, speedometer, oil pressure & engine temperature gauges, as well as several lamp indicators.
The two brake levers had no neutral positions. The turning radius was about 20 feet (6 m). The assistant driver was in charge of the bow machine-gun, a ball-mount cal.30 (7.62 mm), and had a complete set of driving levers if needed to replace the driver, and had a simple hatch periscope which allowed him to see his machine-gun tracers. The turret roof also housed, near to the commander cupola, a multi-purpose cal.50 (12.7 mm) heavy machine gun. Ammunition racks for it and the coaxial cal.30 were found inside the turret rear cast “basket”.
Production and Controversy
It is a known fact that the actual production of the T26E3 preseries, which was standardized in March as the M26, only began in November 1944 at the Fischer Tank Arsenal. Only ten were built this first month. Then it raised to 32 in December and gained momentum in January 1945, with 70 vehicles and 132 in February. Added to this, the Detroit Tank Arsenal also joined this effort, releasing some additional tanks in March 1945. From then, around 200 left both factories each month. In total about 2212 vehicles were built, some after WW2. Although months were needed to train crews and maintenance teams, the first real operations began in western Germany in February-March 1945.
The controversy came with the legitimate question about the well-documented inefficiency of the M4 Sherman against German armor after 1944, correlated with the fact that the US Army failed to field a new tank model in time, since the T26 was delayed for so long. Several historians, like Richard P. Hunnicut, Georges Forty and Steven S. Zaloga specifically pointed to the responsibility of the ground forces head, General Lesley McNair, in this matter of fact. Depending on the these opinions, several factors contributed to these delays:
-The development of tank destroyers alongside regular M4s and based on the same chassis (McNair himself developed and strongly supported this doctrine) or the introduction of improved M4s (the 1944 “76” versions).
-The need to have a streamlined and simplified line of supply. Most US tanks at that time were M4s or based on the M4 chassis, sharing the same components. Adding to this a brand new set of parts and a heavier, untested tank, would have imposed many changes and perhaps jeopardized such 3000 miles long (4800 km) supply lines, which became essential from D-Day on.
A state of complacency after the introduction of the M4, as it was seen as superior to German tanks in 1942 and still a match in 1943. Many officers, including Patton himself, were quite happy with the high mobility and reliability of this model, and opposed the introduction of a new heavy type, which was seen as unnecessary. Even when the Tiger and Panther were encountered in limited numbers, the order to study a new model was not given, and instead time was “wasted” on studying a new electric transmission. Only after Normandy were some efforts made to develop a new tank from the T25.
-From Zaloga’s point of view, there was a clear opposition to the development of the T26, only lifted when General Marshall, supported by Eisenhower, overruled McNair in December 1943 and renewed the project, although it proceeded quite slowly. Hunnicut underlines the ordnance requested 500 vehicles of each model in development then, the T23, T25E1 and T26E1, because of contradictory wishes. The Army Ground Forces systematically objected to the 90 mm (3.54 in) armed new heavy tank, while the Armored Forces branch wanted the 90 mm (3.54 in) to be mounted on the Sherman.
The Super Pershing & T26E4
The first combat experience showed that the M26 still fell short on firepower and protection when facing the formidable German Tiger II. Because of this, experiments were carried out with the longer and more powerful T15 gun. The first vehicle, based on the first T26E1-1 vehicle, was shipped to Europe, where it was uparmored and saw limited combat, being now commonly known as the “Super Pershing”. Another T26E4 prototype and 25 “serial” vehicles followed, with slight differences.
This modified version came into production after the war and most Pershings in service were upgraded to this standard. It replaced the M3 with the new M3A1 gun, characterized by a more efficient bore evacuator and single-baffle muzzle brake. The M26A1s were produced and modified at Grand Blanc Tank Arsenal (1190 M26A1s in all). They cost $81,324 apiece. M26A1s saw action in Korea.
The Army Ground Forces wanted to delay full production until the new T26E3 was battle-proven. So the Zebra Mission was mounted by the Armored Forces Research and Development unit, led by General Gladeon Barnes in January 1945. Twenty vehicles of the first batch were sent in Western Europe, landing at the Belgian port of Antwerp. They would be the only Pershings to see combat in World War Two, spread between the 3rd and 9th Armored Divisions, part of the First Army, although some 310 would be shipped to Europe until V-day. They drew their first blood in late February 1945 in the Roer river sector. A famous duel took place in March at Köln (Cologne). Four T26E3s were also seen in action during the “mad dash” to the bridge at Remagen, providing support, but not crossing the fragile bridge for days. Instead, these heavyweights crossed the Rhine on barges.
After the war, M26s were grouped into the 1st Infantry Division, stationed in Europe as a reserve, following the events of the summer of 1947. The “Big Red One” counted 123 M26s in three regimental and one divisional tank battalions. In the summer of 1951, with the NATO reinforcement program, three more infantry divisions were stationed in West Germany, and accepted mostly battle-proven M26s retired from Korea. However, by 1952-53, these were phased out gradually in favor of the M47 Patton.
The Belgian Army inherited the bulk of these, including many reconditioned M26A1s from USA, for a total of 423 Pershings, leased for free as part of the Mutual Defence Assistance Program. These served in three Régiments de Guides, three Régiments de Lanciers and three Batallions de Chars Lourds. These were also phased out and replaced by the M47 Patton, only two units retaining them by 1961. They were retired from service in 1969. By 1952-53, France and Italy also benefited from the same program and were given M26s. France swapped them soon after for M47s, while Italy retained them operationally until 1963.
While the heavy fighting at Okinawa raised concerns about the losses taken by M4s, it was eventually decided to send a shipment of 12 M26s, departing on May, 31. They landed at Naha beach on the 4th of August. However, they arrived too late as the island was nearly secured.
The bulk of the M26 (and M26A1) force saw action during the Korean war, from 1950 to 1953. The first units to be called were the four infantry division stationed in Japan, only counting a few M24 Chaffees and howitzer support models. The M24s were quickly found no match for the numerous T-34/85s fielded then by the North Koreans. However, three M26s were found in storage at the Tokyo US Army ordnance depot, and were quickly brought back in service with fortune-made fanbelts. They were formed into a provisional tank platoon by Lieutnant Samuel Fowler. They were deployed in mid-July, first seeing action when defending Chinju. However, their engines overheated and died out in the process. By the end of July 1950, more divisions were sent, but still counting mostly medium tanks, M4s of the latest types. Many M26s were hastily reconditioned and shipped. By the end of the year, some 305 Pershings managed to arrive in Korea.
After November 1950, however, most of the tank to tank battles were already spent, and North Korean T-34s became rarer. A 1954 survey showed that the M4A3s scored the highest kills (50% because of their large availability), followed by the Pershing (32%) and the M46 (only 10%). However, the kill/loss ratio was clearly favorable to the second and especially for the third, as the M26 found no difficulty getting through the T-34s armor at any ranges, well helped by the largely available HVAP ammunition, while its armor stood well against the T-34’s 85 mm (3.35 in) gun. In February 1951, Chinese forces deployed considerable numbers of T-34/85s, but these were widely spread between infantry divisions for close support. The same year the M46 Patton, the upgraded version of the M26, gradually replaced the Pershing, as it was found unable to display sufficient mobility on the mountainous terrain of Korea.
Starting a Dynasty: The Patton Series (1947-1960)
Too late for World War Two, but also not mobile enough for Korea, produced in small quantities related to other models from the same time frame, the Pershing seemed to have been a stopgap model, bound for history’s dark corners. However, it technically started a brand new generation of US Cold War tanks, sharing the same revolutionary suspension system, roomy turret and low-profile hull, better known collectively as the “Pattons”. A dynasty which lasted well into the 90s, when the last modernized M60s in service came to retirement. Many are still found in frontline units all around the world.