Nashorn 8.8cm SPG

Nazi Germany (1943-45)
Tank Hunter – 394 built

A Tank Hunter Fielding the Feared 88mm

After the first encounters with tanks like the T-34 and the KV-1 in the summer of 1941, the OKH was well aware that it had to quickly devise a response, in order to have the necessary firepower when needed. The long-period development projects, like the Panther and Tiger, were already on the agenda, but faster ways of fielding this kind of firepower were already available in the shape of self propelled guns, already tested and built since 1940.

This photograph of a Nashorn 88mm self-propelled gun was taken in January 1944.

These were proven solutions, fast-built at low cost. Older tank hunters equipped with the Pak 40 75 mm (2.95 in) gun, like the Marder, were barely sufficient against the KV-1, so the adoption of the most efficient piece in the German ordnance came as a necessity. Following the specifications of 1942, a tank hunter was planned to carry the ubiquitous 88 mm (3.46 in) gun. It was to be built by Alkett (Altmärkische Kettenwerke GmbH) in Berlin.

Design

Alkett choose the Geschützwagen III/IV chassis to mount the heavy 8,8 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 43/1 L/71 (Pak 43/1), a lightweight version of the standard German AA gun, also mounted on the Tiger II tank.

The German Nashorn self propelled 88mm gun had a five man crew.

The chassis was based on the Panzer IV, with the same suspension configuration with four bogies, each with two pairs of rubberized roadwheels, idlers at the rear and drive sprockets at the front, but lengthened and strengthened.

The hull armor was 30 mm (1.18 in) at the front, 20 mm (0.79 in) on the sides and 15 mm (0.59 in) for the rear plate. The engine was a Maybach HL 120 TRM Ausf.A V12 producing 300 hp@3000 rpm, with 11,867 L of displacement.

It was coupled with a ZF (Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen AG) SSG 77 Aphon transmission of the synchromesh manual type, with 6/1 gears. The driver had a Daimler-Benz/Wilson clutch/brake with a Fichtel & Sachs La 120 HDA dry clutch, triple disc.

The gun and its bearings were placed at the rear of the chassis, surrounded by an open-topped superstructure, which had a 15 mm (0.59 in) front and 10 mm (0.39 in) sides to protect the crew (only against shrapnel and small arms fire).

There was a 15 mm thick (0.59 in) gun shield inside the casemate, acting like an internal mantlet and allowing some traverse, 15° to either side and between -5° in depression and +15° in elevation. To balance the weight, the engine was shifted from its rear position to the center.

The gun was semiautomatic, with an horizontal sliding block, manual traverse and elevation. The casemate and hull could carry from 24 to 40 rounds, crammed into any space available, of the Pzgr.39 (Armor Piercing Composite Ballistic Cap) tungsten-core type, which could penetrate 132 mm (5.2 in) at 2000 m.

There was no secondary armament except one 7.92 mm (0.31 in) MG 34 or MG 42 machine-gun carried inside the vehicle, with 600 rounds in store. The gun was aimed by a gunner’s sight with a 5x magnification, 8° field of view, and had an indirect fire sight Aushilfsrichtmittel 38 with a 3x magnification, 10° field of view. There was also a FuG Spr.f radio.

Production & Variants

The model, called “Hornisse” (Hornet) initially, was presented to Hitler in October 1942, approved, and production began in January 1943 as the 8,8 cm Pak 43 (L/71) auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen III/IV (Sf) or 8,8cm Pak 43 (L/71) auf Geschützwagen III/IV (Sd.Kfz.164).

In May 1943, a new model was introduced, featuring a new driver’s front armor plate, 15 mm (0.59 in) uniform gun shield and some other minor differences.

This new version represented the bulk of Alkett’s production until early 1944, when it was slowed but not stopped. Some models received the wider “Ostketten” tracks, adapted to the Russian winter and autumn, making the overall width rise to 3.17 m (10ft4), instead of 2.95 m (9ft8).

Hitler renamed it “Nashorn” (Rhinoceros) in 1944, and this name stuck to the series ever since. Some authors, however, make the distinction between the early and late series using the two names. By 1944, new tank hunters, with a lower silhouette and much better protection, like the Jagdpanther, were favored by the OKH.

The bulk of the 494 vehicles produced were delivered in 1943 (345), however the remainder were delivered discontinuously, 133 from February to November 1944, and only 16 from January to March 1945.

The Sd.Kfz.164 Nashorn in Action

Nashorn 88mm self-propelled gun in winter whitewash livery on the Eastern Front. The crew are loading ammunition.

When entering service, the Hornisse was issued to six of the newly-formed heavy antitank battalions, the schwere Panzerjäger Abteilungen 560, 655, 525, 93, 519 and 88, each with 45 vehicles. The main gun was derived from the regular 88 mm (3.46 in) Pak 43, one of the most effective anti-tank guns of the war, and later used, with few modifications, on the Ferdinand/Elefant, Tiger II and Jagdpanther.

In addition, the Panzergranate 40/43 tungsten carbide–cored round could defeat 190 mm (7.48 in) of RHA at a 30° angle at 1,000 m. This allowed the Hornisse to engage enemy units while staying out of range themselves. So there was no need for armor protection. It was reported several times that T-34s were destroyed at distances of around 4000 meters, in almost direct fire. Usually, the prey were the “hard-skinned” KV, IS-2, SU-152, ISU-122 and ISU-152.

This made the Nashorn the first of the German alpha predator bred for the Eastern Front. The Sd.Kfz.164 was first blooded at the Battle of Kursk, and performed quite well, engaging heavies like the KV-1. Its long-range ability was found particularly adapted to the open and flat landscapes of Russia. Added to this, the open fighting compartment gave excellent peripheral vision compared to an enclosed turret.

After Kursk, three of these Abteilungen, the 560 sPzJagAbt, 655th sPzJagAbt and 525 sPzJagAbt, were sent to Italy. They again proved to be successful tank destroyers. Six more schwere Panzerjager Abteilungens (560, 655, 525, 93, 519 and 88), each equipped counting 30 Nashorns, saw service on the Eastern Front, Normandy and Italy. Each Abteilung was composed of a command company and 2-3 companies (14-17 tank hunters each) with 4 platoons each.

There was a Nashorn ace, platoon commander of 1st company, sPzJagAbt 519, Junior Lieutenant “Tiger of Vitebsk” Albert Ernst. On December, 23, 1943, he destroyed 14 Soviet tanks in a single day with 21 rounds near Vitebsk. In December 1943, he destroyed 19 more enemy tanks and was awarded the Knight’s Cross.

Lieutenant Beckmann from sPzJagAbt 88, destroyed a Soviet IS-2 at the amazing distance of 4600 meters near Marzdorf in March 1945. A Nashorn from the 2nd Company, Abteilung 93 destroyed the only M26 Pershing in Europe, at 250 meters, with the first shot, in Niehl, north of Cologne, March 6, 1945.

Czechoslovakian Army Nashorns

Surviving Nashorns self-propelled guns were used by the Czechoslovakian Army after WW2. Twelve vehicles underwent renovation and entered service in 1950. They were officially called “Samohybné děla Nashorn (88 mm ShPTK vz. 43/41N, SD-88). They were later withdrawn from Army service and presumably scrapped.
Czechoslovakian Army records recorded the original German production chassis number (Fgst.Nr) of the Nashorns that entered their service.

German Fahrgestellnummer 310004, date in service 2nd June 1950,
Tactical unit number 121, army registration number 79.671

German Fahrgestellnummer 310077, date in service 2nd June 1950,
Tactical unit number 24, army registration number 79.672

German Fahrgestellnummer 310032, date in service 2nd June 1950,
Tactical unit number 184, army registration number 79.973

German Fahrgestellnummer 84494, date in service 2nd June 1950,
Tactical unit number 182, army registration number 79.974

German Fahrgestellnummer 84431, date in service 2nd June 1950,
Tactical unit number 169, army registration number 79.975

German Fahrgestellnummer 310294, date in service 2nd June 1950,
Tactical unit number 175, army registration number 79.976

German Fahrgestellnummer 84431, date in service 2nd June 1950,
Tactical unit number 98, army registration number 79.977

German Fahrgestellnummer 310093, date in service 2nd June 1950,
Tactical unit number 190, army registration number 79.978

German Fahrgestellnummer 84433, date in service 2nd June 1950,
Tactical unit number 47, army registration number 79.979

German Fahrgestellnummer 310437, date in service 2nd June 1950,
Tactical unit number 97, army registration number 79.980

German Fahrgestellnummer 310398, date in service 2nd June 1950,
Tactical unit number 69, army registration number 79.981

German Fahrgestellnummer 84432, date in service 2nd June 1950,
Tactical unit number 110, army registration number 79.982

Sd.Kfz.164 Nashorn Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 8.44m (7.26m without gun) x 2.95m x 2.65m
27’8″ (23’10” without gun) x 9’8″ x 8’8″ ft.inch
Total weight, battle ready 24 tons (52,910 lbs)
Armament 88 mm (3.46 in) L/60 Pak 43/1
Armor Hull 20-30 mm (0.78-1.18 in)
Sides 10-15 mm (0.39 – 0.59 in)
Crew 4/5 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Maybach 11.9 liter V-12 gasoline 300 PS (296 hp, 221 kW), 12 hp/t
Speed 42 km/h (26 mph)
Suspension Leaf spring
Range and consumption 235 km (146 mi), 470 l/100 km
Total production 394

Links and Resources about the Sd.Kfz.164 Nashorn

The Nashorn on Wikipedia
Tank-Hunter.com
The Nashorn on Achtung Panzer
Czechoslovakian Army records

Char B1/B1 Bis

 France  (1935-40)
Heavy Tank – 369 built

A Long-lasting Project

The Char de bataille was Col. Estienne’s concept. The French “father of tanks” wrote a memorandum (Mémoire sur les missions des chars blindés en campagne) in 1919, full of war experience, tactical reports and theoretical concepts of mechanized warfare, notably the proper use of different types in the offensive. The “char de bataille” (“battle tank”) was a heavy tank, near to the “char de rupture” or “breakthrough tank”, but the former was more a dual-purpose (infantry support and antitank) machine than the “char de rupture”. The latter concept gave birth to huge the FMC F1, with the sole purpose of terminating fortifications.

Abandoned Char B1 bis after the German invasion of France in May, 1940.

This duality was at the very core of the idea, shaping the many prototypes which followed in response. In 1921, the project was studied by a commission led by General Edmond Buat. First specification was for a low-cost self-propelled artillery, 25 mm (0.98 in) of armor and some machine-guns in turrets. Maximum metric weight was 30 tons.

The project evolved and the machine-gun turret was equipped with an antitank 47 mm (1.85 in) gun. The main gun was a 75 mm (2.95 in) howitzer, in a low hull sponson. Industrial rivalry in the past had delayed several projects, including the FCM 2C, so Estienne was poised to create a formal agreement, submitted to the industrialists involved, free to share their plans, with the promise of no less 1000 orders.

The Army was then to choose between the projects and various patents to compose their model, built by all. The four companies involved in the project were Renault and Schneider (SRA and SRB), FAMH (Saint Chamond) and FCM (Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée) with the FCM 21.

The four projects, one for each company, were submitted to the commission on 13 May 1924 at Atelier de Rueil. The twenty kilometer test course proved too much for them, showing the haste of their conception. The commission, over the supervision of Estienne, choose the SRB as a base.

The SRB (Schneider and Renault project) weighed 18.5 tons, was 6 meters long (19.7 ft), with modified FT tracks, an antitank 47 mm (1.85 in) gun, Renault six-cylinder 180 hp engine, with hydraulic Naëder transmission from the Chaize company combined with a Fieux clutch and Schneider gear box, a speed of 18.5 km/h (11.5 mph) and a 370 l fuel tank giving a 370 km (230 mi) autonomy.

This prototype then received many modifications, including the 75 mm (2.95 in) howitzer, new Holt-type tracks, the FAMH suspension, track tension wheel and a small gangway to access to the engine, with 40 mm (1.57 in) armor.

Captured Char B1 bis heavy tank

Design of the B1

The design process of this modified SRB led to the 1926 “tracteur 30”. The plans were made by Schneider’s chief engineer, revised by the STCC (Section Technique des Chars de Combat). A mockup was built by Renault and three prototypes were to be built by the companies involved, with some modifications by the new 1926 “direction de l’infanterie”, changing it to a primarily infantry support tank. Modifications of the design included no AT weapon, lower speed, 22 tons max and radio for coordination.

SRA prototype

The three prototypes of the “B” serie (n°101, 102 and 103) were ready by 1929-30. They differed by their engine, clutch, transmission and served both for technological and tactical experiments, at the champ de Châlons, forming the “Détachement d’Experimentation” unit in 1931. They were extensively used in maneuvers until 1934, each time with some modifications by the Atelier de Reuil near Paris, to meet new requirements and army specifications. In the end, the B1 received its final turret, with the low velocity 47 mm (1.85 in), and coaxial Reibel machine-gun.

Like the 1924 prototypes, it had a very large track, inspired by earlier famous British models. Armor also protected the suspension and the hull was riveted. The Renault inline 6 cylinder 16.5 litre petrol engine was chosen, which provided 9.7 bhp/ton, the power was transmitted by a double differential steering system, 5 forward, 1 reverse gear. Suspension was in the form of bogies with a mixture of vertical coil and leaf springs. Both early and final turret designs (APX1) were one-man only.

Char B prototype

Production: The B1

Production started in 1935, with Renault building 182 Chars B, AMX -a Schneider subsidiary- 47, FCM 72 and FAMH 70. At 1.5 million francs apiece, it was by far the costliest tank ever built en masse. Consequently, the original order of 1000 was reduced to 400. This further increased the tension between the two doctrinal schools which had influence then, one professing the use of a few, heavily armored battle tanks, while the other advocated the use of swarms of light tanks. Almost ten light Renault tanks could be built for the price of a single B1. Despite all problems, monthly production reached 41 by May 1940, and when it ceased in June, 25, 369 has left the factory floor.

As the few, even more expensive and now largely obsolete FCM 2C was kept out of real operations, the B1 became the main French “char de rupture”, a specialized breakthrough tank in specialized units. Operational capabilities were limited by their high consumption, which in turn limited their range and condemned them to be used in strategic reserves. In fact they formed the “Divisions Cuirassées de Réserve” (DCR) with limited strategic flexibility, intended for the second phase of the assault.

The B1 had some shortcomings which had to be dealt with. An obvious lack of antitank firepower, with its low velocity L27/6 SA34 47 mm (1.85 in), which was only given APHE rounds (high explosive), capable of defeating 25 mm (0.98 in) of armor. The 75 mm (2.95 in) SA35 ABS L17.1 howitzer could fire HE and APHE rounds, only suitable against fortifications, with a poor traverse of only one degree. The aiming was given to the driver’s abilities with the Naëder hydraulic precision transmission.

It was served by the radioman and the commander, who was also given the task of aiming and firing the turret 47 mm (1.85 in) gun. Communication was assumed by an ER53 radio telegraphy set, which worked with Morse code only. There was a small corridor, right on the rear, giving access to the ammunition reserve, next to the engine. The main access door was on the right side. The suspension system was rather complicated, made of three main bogies, sprung by vertical coil springs, each supporting two others, with a pair of road wheels. Production of the B1 was very slow. Only 34 machines were delivered until July 1937. By then, there was serious consideration given to an upgrade, which led to the B1 bis.

The upgraded B1 bis and B1 ter

The B1 bis was a modernization of the type, with an emphasis on anti-tank capability and protection. The armor was uprated to 60 mm (2.36 in), and a new APX4 turret with a longer barrel (L/32) SA 35 47 mm (1.85 in) gun was mounted. To cope with the added weight (now 31 tons), a new engine was fitted, a V12 Renault capable of 307 bhp (229 kW). 35 of the first series were retrofitted with the new engine. Autonomy was limited to only 180 km (110 mi).

There had been some attempts of towing an extra 800 l fuel tank, but it never realized. At cruise speed, reserves were exhausted in just 6 hours. A larger left air intake was fitted. Ammunition storage was improved between the beginning and the end of the production, from 62 to 72 47 mm (1.85 in) rounds, but still, no AP shells. Production started in April 1937 and stopped in June 1940. By then, 377 had been delivered out of an order of 1144, but only 129 were ready in September 1939.

In exercises, the complex and advanced hydrostatic steering Naëder system proved difficult to use and costly, betrayed by other technical elements like a porous bronze housing and feeble seals causing significant losses of castor oil. The TSF was not practical, as the tanks needed to be at rest to communicate. No tactical coordination was possible on the move. The costly turret was slower to produce than the hulls and three B1 bis were ultimately put in service without turret, as gun carriages.

The B1 ter was a late attempt to radically improve the design. The main features were new 75 mm (2.95 in) armor welded with slopes to the hull, a new 350 bhp engine to deal with this added weight (36.6 tons) and some simplification in the design for mass-production in 1940, like the omittance of the Naëder transmission. Rearranged interior allowed a fifth crew member to be carried, as a mechanic. The main howitzer received better traverse, 5 degrees higher. Only two prototypes were ready by June 1940. Production never started.

The B1 had some additional flaws as well, which never helped its performances. High consumption issue, which was aggravated by any aiming of the main howitzer, was never solved. The absence of an efficient compass orientation and no internal communication system were also resented in operations. The one-man APX-1 turret was also cramped, ergonomics were poor, and the feebly armored cupola had inadequate means of vision. Plus, the barrel pointing device was quickly deregulated.

Many other issues were never solved because of the delays. The most serious was of course disastrous tactical management. B1s were “wasted” at individual defensive spots, many were simply outmaneuvered. But despite all this, the B1s were still, tank to tank, formidable machines, which proved very effective in single actions.

The B1 bis in action

Despite its obsolete features, low autonomy and speed, the B1 was hard to stop. Its most formidable assets were its huge armor and good firepower, then unmatched in the west. The 60 mm (2.36 in) frontal armor was sloped, which mean it was near 80 mm (3.15 in) effectively. There were no real weak spots, and this invulnerability helped the B1 to close on targets, then destroy them with the turret 47 mm (1.85 in) or the brute force of the howitzer HE shells.

Scuttled B1 bis at Beaumont, June 1940

For this reasons, the B1 was the Wehrmacht’s most feared enemy tank, a mechanized nightmare which caused heavy casualties by itself during the few fights in which it was engaged. The Germans never experienced such losses in tank to tank combat until the fall of 1941, when encountering the Soviet KV-1 and T-34. The Panzer I and II were absolutely harmless to the B1, and the Panzer III, with its thin armor and 37 mm (1.46 in) gun, presented no serious threat to the French heavy tank. As for the Panzer IV, it had only 20 mm (0.79 in) protection (Ausf. A).

It’s standard gun was the low velocity, short barrel 75 mm (2.95 in) KwK 37, which was only effective at short range. For this reasons, the Panzer IV barely presented a real threat except in close, real time coordination with other vehicles. The same could be said about most German antitank guns of the time. The famous standard-issue “door-knocker” Pak 37 and even the Pak 40 were harmless. Contrary to common opinion of the time, the large ventilation exhaust panel was indirectly 55 mm (2.17 in) strong and never presented a weak point.

When the war broke out in September 1939, there were perhaps 180 operational B1 and B1 bis in all. They were used for the Sarre offensive, a short-lived burst without serious opposition, with a massive force of 41 divisions and 2400 tanks. The aim was to distract and divert German forces from Poland, France’s ally. After slowly penetrating 8 km (5 mi) into enemy territory, the entire force withdrew by order of general Gamelin into the security of the Maginot line. Several officers, including Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle, wildly protested. In effect, the Germans would have been in great danger and the Rhine was in reach. But Gamelin then was so confident about the famous fortified line, that he saw any large-scale offensive to be a useless waste of material and men.

During the “Phoney War”, all B1s were gathered in massive infantry support divisions, the “division cuirassés de réserve” or DCR, which were tactically committed in the second phase of any assault, the first being led by cavalry tanks like the SOMUA S35. No tanks were sent in Norway, but the real deal began in May 1940.

Three DCR, comprising 69 tanks each, were mobilized. Part of the 37th Bataillon de Chars de Combat, which comprised only B1s, were all rearmed with long-barrel SA 35 guns in May 1940 (turret designation APX1A). After the German invasion began, four new DCR of 52 B1s were constituted, as well as five Compagnie Autonome de Chars (autonomous tanks companies), with 56 B1s in all, plus 34 more in the 28 BCC (Bataillon de chars de combat). All B1s were reequipped with phonic versions of the ER53 radios, and command tanks received ER55 long-range radios.

B1 tanks were used (and lost) during the first phase of the operations, especially the first week. Most counter-offensives against Guderian’s “run to the sea” counted at least several B1s. Without air support, these moves were doomed to fail against the quick and lethal Stuka attacks. Bad tactics of course brought these precious tanks to inept, hasty defensive “plugs” in the defensive lines, most of the time, ending in pure waste.

In some case, the B1’s extraordinary sturdiness allowed some success, notably the counter-attacks at Laon and Moncornet led by col. De Gaulle, and stiff resistance like at Hannut and particularly Stonne. During these events, some individual B1s blocked the German advance by themselves, inflicting horrendous casualties. In a particular case, a single B1, Eure, commanded by Captain Pierre Billotte, attacked frontally and single-handedly destroyed thirteen Panzer IIIs and IVs, and then withdrew, while being hit 140 times.

During two days, B1 tanks from the 3rd Division Cuirassée de Réserve literally ruled the battlefield at Stonne, destruction coming only due to German overwhelming attacks against single tanks and excellent communication, air strikes and indirect fire (by German howitzers). Some B1s also broke down or ran out of ammunition and petrol. The last surviving B1s were mixed with other tanks in support of the so-called “hedgehogs”, which fell one after the other in June 1940. By the 26th of June, the campaign was over.

B1/B1 bis fate: German and French service

The Germans captured hundreds of tanks, including no less than 161 B1 bis tanks, later pressed into service as Panzerkampfwagen B-2 740(f). Sixty were converted into flamethrower versions (Flammwagen auf Panzerkampfwagen B-2 (f)), and sixteen to carry the 105 mm (4.13 in) howitzer. A single unit was equipped only with B1s, the Panzer-Abteilung 213, stationed in the British Channel Islands. One of these ended at the Bovington museum, repainted in French colors. 17 units in all received modified B1s, as they saw service in the Balkans (March-April 1941) and the Eastern Front, where their armor and armament proved well-adapted against Russian heavy tanks.

This surviving Char B1 bis can be seen in the French village of Stonne (Photo: Wolfgang Vinter)

By 1944, they were all gone. Those stationed in France took part in the defense of Normandy, and others were stationed in support of the German units defending Paris. In August 1944 some were captured by insurgents and used for punctual actions by local FFI units. In 1945, German pockets of resistance in France, especially those on the western coast, were left to the FFI and the regular French 1st army. Edmond Voillaume’s 2nd Company was equipped with 19 B1s, which decisively took part in the reduction of the Royan pocket, and La Rochelle. B1s were also part of the 13th Dragoon Regiment, which took part in operations in Alsace and Southern Germany. They were stationed after V-day in the French occupied zone, until the unit was disbanded in 1946.

Links

Char B1 bis – Main article on Wikipedia
Char B1 bis on Military Factory
Char B1 bis on Tank-Hunter.com

Char B1 bis Specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 6.37 x 2.46 x 2.79 m (20.8 x 8.07 x 9.15 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 28 tons (56,000 lbs)
Crew 4 (driver, main gunner, sec. gunner, commander)
Propulsion Renault 6-cyl inline, 16.5 l, 272 bhp
Speed (road/off road) 28/21 km/h (17/13 mph)
Range (road/off road)-fuel 200 km (120 mi)-400 l
Armament 75 mm (2.95 in) ABS SA35 Howitzer (hull)
47 mm (1.85 in) SA 35 AT gun (turret)
Reibel 7.5 mm (0.295 in) machine-gun
Maximum armor 60 mm (2.36 in)
Total production 369

Sherman VC Firefly

UK/USA (1944)
Tank Hunter – approx. 2000 built

Turning the Sherman Into a Killer

From the hedgerow of Normandy, France, to the hills of Italy and the plains of Netherlands, the Firefly was one of the few Allied tanks the Germans learned to fear… Among the most potent Allied conversion of the war, and certainly one of the deadliest version of the Sherman, it was a clever -although risky and improvised- move to try to keep up with the latest German tank developments. At that time, the “basic” M4 Sherman equipped the Allies almost exclusively, from the US to the British, Canadian, ANZACS, Free Polish and Free French forces, and its limitations were well known before 1944.

Its basic 75 mm (2.95 in) gun was excellent to deal with other tanks at reasonable ranges and against armor up to 75 mm (2.95 in), or against fortifications and infantry. But facing the latest versions of the Panzer IV, the Panther and Tiger, it was woefully inadequate. However, the British Army had just received the superlative 17 pounder, which proved itself able to nail any known Panzer. Mated with the Sherman, this stopgap combination (before the new generation of Allied tanks could enter service) became lethal, and added its own weight to the Allied effort to secure victory.

Preserved Firefly, showing its camouflaged barrel, as seen in 2008.

Adoption

The idea of putting the 17 Pounder (76.2 mm/3 in) on a Sherman was long opposed by the Ministry of Supply. It finally happened largely due to the efforts and perseverance of two officers, British Major George Brighty, with the help of Lieutenant Colonel Witheridge, an experienced veteran of the North African campaign and wounded at Gazala. Despite reports and refusals, they managed to pursue the project by themselves and eventually get the concept accepted. Massive delays also began to appear in the development of the official projects which were meant to mount the new gun. Brighty had already made attempts of the conversion at the Lulworth Armoured Fighting School in early 1943. This first version had the whole recoil system removed, locking in effect the gun in place, while the tank bluntly absorbed the recoil. Witheridge joined Brighty due to the doubts of the Challenger being ready in time and lobbied actively for the same idea, providing his assistance and solving the recoil problem.

They received a note from the Department of Tank Design to cease their efforts. However, thanks to Witheridge’s connections, they eventually convinced the head of the Royal Armoured Corps. They then won over the Director General of Weapon and Instrument Production, and the Ministry of Supply, who ultimately gave them full support, funding, and an official approval. In October-November 1943 already, enthusiasm and knowledge about the project grew. In early 1944, before the new delays of the Challenger and inability of the Cromwell turret ring to receive the 17 pdr became known, the programme was eventually given the ‘highest priority’ by Winston Churchill himself in preparation for D-Day.

Ex-Dutch Firefly preserved at the Amersfoort Cavalry Museum

About the 17 pounder

This legendary piece of ordnance was the first of the many ROF (Royal Ordnance Factory) cannons which came to fame postwar. These included the rifled L7 105 mm (4.13 in) and later the L11 120 mm (4.72 in) gun that was given to the Chieftain and Challenger. The 17 pounder was a 76.2 mm (3 in) gun with a length of 55 calibres. It had a 2,900 ft/s (880 m/s) muzzle velocity with HE and HEAT rounds and 3,950 ft/s (1,200 m/s) with APDS or Armor Piercing Capped, and Ballistic Capped. These figures allowed it to defeat armor in the range of 120-208 mm (4.72-8.18 in) in thickness at 1,000 m and up to 1,500 m with the APDS.

The design of the gun was ready in 1941 and production started in 1942. It proved itself time and again in Tunisia, Sicily and Italy, with the first action in February 1943. So the idea to have it inside a tank turret was a priority, since the QF 6-pdr was found inadequate by 1943. However, the 17 pounder was long and heavy. It therefore needed much reworking and compromises to have it installed in a turret, and intermediary solutions had to be found. By 1944, the Archer used it, as well as the Achilles (M10 Wolverine), the Challenger, and later the Comet.

17 Pounder ammo rounds being loaded by the crew of a Sherman Firefly. Notice the camouflage nets around the turret, mantlet and gun barrel.

Conversion Design

The work of genius was that of succeeding cramming the heavy gun into a turret it was never designed for. By doing it, W.G.K. Kilbourn, a Vickers engineer, allowed the quick conversion of the most prolific Allied tank. This ensured that no changes in maintenance, supply and transport chains were needed. These were quite critical factors after D-Day.

There were a few changes made to the chassis, most of which were Mk.I hybrids (cast glacis) and Mark Vs, except for the modified ammo cradles and the hull gunner position being eliminated to make room for more ammo. The turret interior was also completely modified. The rear was emptied to allow the gun to recoil and a counterweight was added to the rear to balance the long barrel. This “bustle” now housed the radio, formerly at the back of the turret, and could be accessed by a large hole in the casting. The mantlet was also modified, 13 mm (0.51 in) thicker than the original. The loader also had his position changed. A new hatch had to be cut into the top of the turret over the gunner’s position since the size of the new gun prevented the gunner from using the normal hatch.

But the 17-pdr itself still had a one-meter long recoil course, and the whole recoil system was completely modified. The main recoil cylinders were shortened while additional new cylinders were added to take advantage of the turret width. The gun breech was rotated 90 degrees to allow the loader to sit on the left. The gun cradle also had to be shortened, which caused stability concerns. These were solved by the adoption of a longer untapered section at the base of the barrel. Therefore, the Firefly had it’s custom tailored version of the 17 pdr.

British Sherman Firefly at Namur, in Belgium, in 1944

Main Gun Penetration Figures

Official British War Department test figures show that the 17pdr anti-tank gun firing armor piercing AP rounds would penetrate the following thickness of homogeneous armour plate and these distances: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 119.2 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 107.3 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 96.7mm. When firing armor-piercing capped (APC) rounds at face-hardened armor plate these are the test results: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 132.9 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 116.5 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 101.7 mm. When fired at slopped armour it was estimated there would have been 80% success at 30 degrees’ angle of attack.

The Firefly in Action

The Firefly was ready in numbers and filled the 21st Army Group’s Armored Brigades in 1944, just in time for D-Day. This was fortunate because Allied intelligence did not anticipate the presence of enemy tanks, of which the numerous Panthers were formidable adversaries for the Sherman.

Ken Tout summed up his impressions about the Firefly, then at the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry:
“The Firefly tank is an ordinary Sherman but, in order to accommodate the immense breach of the 17-pounder and to store its massive shells, the co-driver has been eliminated and his little den has been used as storage space. … The flash is so brilliant that both gunner and commander need to blink at the moment of firing. Otherwise they will be blinded for so long that they will not see the shot hit the target. The muzzle flash spurts out so much flame that, after a shot or two, the hedge or undergrowth in front of the tank is likely to start burning. When moving, the gun’s overlap in front or, if traversed, to the side is so long that driver, gunner and commander have to be constantly alert to avoid wrapping the barrel around some apparently distant tree, defenceless lamp-post or inoffensive house”

British Firefly crossing a bridge, Operation Goodwood

Fortunately, the Firefly was also present. The British and Commonwealth units had to face over 70% of all German armor deployed during the Battle of Normandy, including the much-feared SS Panzer units, in particular around Caen. In turn, the Germans learnt to recognise and respect the Firefly, which often became their #1 priority target in most engagements. Such was the damage they inflicted. In response, the crews usually painted the protruding half of the barrel with an effective countershading pattern to try to disguise it as a regular Sherman. A common tactic was to place the Fireflies in good hull-down positions in support of other Shermans, covering them in the advance each time an enemy tank would reveal itself, at least in theory.

Their effectiveness rapidly became legendary, as testified by the most enviable hunting scores of all Allied tanks. On 9 June 1944, Lt. G. K. Henry’s Firefly knocked-out five Panthers from the 12th SS Panzer Division in rapid succession during the defense of Norrey-en-Bessin. Other Shermans were credited with two more, out of a total of 12, successfully repelling the attack. On June 14, Sgt. Harris of the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards destroyed five Panthers around the hamlet of Lingèvres, near Tilly-sur-Seulles, changing position in between. Even the most feared German top ace tank commander, Michael Wittman, was presumably killed by a Canadian Firefly. This famous action was credited to Ekins, the gunner of Sergeant Gordon’s Sherman Firefly from the Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment, A-Sqn. He destroyed three Tigers in a row, one of which was presumably that of Michael Wittman, near Cintheaux, in August 1944.

Fireflies of the Irish Guards group, operation Market Garden

In total, the 1900+ Fireflies were used by the 4th, 8th, 27th, 33rd Armored Brigades, the Guards Armoured Division and the 7th and 11th Armoured Division in Normandy and north-western Europe, including the Netherlands and Northwestern Germany. In Italy, it was deployed with the British 1st and 6th Armoured Divisions. The Canadians had Fireflies with the 1st (Italy) and 2nd Brigades and in the 4th and 5th Canadian Armoured Divisions, mostly in north-west Europe in 1945. The 1st Czechoslovak Armoured Brigade operated 36 Firefly 1Cs during the siege of Dunkirk in 1944. The 4th New Zealand Armoured Brigade had some during the Italian campaign, as did the Polish 1st Armoured Division (NW Europe) and 2nd Armoured Brigade (Italy), and the 6th South African Armoured Division in Italy. After the war, Fireflies were still used by Italy, Lebanon (until the 1980s), Argentina, Belgium and the Netherlands (until the late 1950s).

Sherman Firefly Specifications

Dimensions (L/w/h) 19’4” (25’6” oa) x 8’8” x 9′ (5.89/7.77 oa x 2.64 x 2.7 m)
Total weight, battle ready 37,75 long tons (35.3 tons, 83,224 lbs)
Crew 4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Multibank/radial petrol engine, 425 hp, 11 hp/ton
Suspension HVSS
Top speed 40 km/h (25 mph)
Range (road) 193 km (120 mi)
Armament ROF OQF 17 Pdr (3 in/76.2 mm), 77 rounds
Roof cal.50 (12.7 mm) Browning M2
Coaxial cal.30 (7.62 mm) Browning M1919, 5000 rounds
Armor 90 mm (3.54 in) max, turret front
Total production 2000+ in 1944-45
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Links, Resources & Further Reading

The Firefly on Wikipedia
Firefly Gun barrel camouflage
Firefly reconstruction in the Netherlands

 

Tetrarch, Light Tank Mk. VII

 United Kingdom (1938)
Airborne Light Tank – 100 built

At the start of the 20th century, nations at war experienced rapid technological advancement, and with this development came a time of adaptation and experimentation. The end of the Great War saw many countries taking stock of what had been introduced and experienced, and the interwar period proved to be a time of rapid development, testing, and theorizing, of which armored vehicles were no exception. The British Army saw fit to change the makeup of their forces to accommodate new tanks and therefore broke the vehicle design into three groups; light tanks, cruiser tanks, and infantry tanks.

Infantry tanks were designed to provide armored support for infantry units, so speed was not a focus. The Royal Tank Corps, and the Cavalry Corps however, both requested faster Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFV) to fill the roles of rapid breakthrough exploitation and reconnaissance. These ‘cruiser tanks’ were used as mechanized cavalry, utilizing lighter arms, and lighter armor than infantry tanks. The final category, light tanks, were designed to scout enemy positions, and act as policing vehicles for occupational forces, and as such, they consisted of minimal armor, and usually were only armed with machine guns. The Vickers-Armstrongs’ series of light tanks proved popular for the British Army. As a result, British and Commonwealth nations used the Vickers-Armstrongs Light Tank Mk VI extensively from the mid to late 1930’s. Due to its popularity, the Mk.VI was still in operational use at the start of World War II, however, chief tank designer Leslie Little was working on a private project to replace the Mk.VI, which would form the basis for the new Mark. VII Tetrarch. The name ‘Tetrarch’ is the Roman title given to the governor of one of four provinces of territory, or the Greek word for ‘ruler’).

Tetrarch light tank at the Armoured Fighting Vehicle School, Gunnery Wing at Lulworth in Dorset, 25th of March 1943. Source: Imperial War Museum Collection

Development

When the British Expeditionary Force was deployed in Europe from 1939 to 1940, a majority of the armor available consisted of the Mk.VI. However, the Vickers-Armstrong company was developing the Light Tank Mk.VII. Starting the design in 1937, and proposed to the War Office in 1938, the “Purdah” (meaning a state of seclusion or secrecy) tank as it was nicknamed, was sent to trials by 1938. Originally, the Mk. VII was put through trials designed to test its viability as a ‘light cruiser’ tank, since the British Army was still satisfied with the Mk.VI at the time, and felt that it did not need to be replaced. Eventually, though the Mk.VII was rejected for the light cruiser role, in favor of the Cruiser Tank Mk. I, A9.

Prototype Tetrarch from the factory. Note the odd muzzle break on the main weapon, and the Vickers machine gun cowling.

Trials for the Mk.VII lasted from May until June 1938, and at their completion, the War Office assigned the Mk VII a new ordnance designation; ‘A.17.’ An order was put in for a limited run of 70 Mk. VII to be built in July but the number was raised to 120 in November with two required design changes. First, the armament would be changed from a 15mm Besa main gun, and a 7.92mm Besa machine gun to an Ordnance Quick-Firing 2-pounder (40mm) gun with a coaxial 7.92mm Besa. A second requirement specified the for mounting of an external fuel tank on the rear of the vehicle to increase the operational range. In July of 1940, production started on the Mk. VII, but the War Office soon reduced the requested number of Mk. VII’s to the July 1938 number of 70, before raising it again to 100 and finally to 220.

Production

After the Mk.VII was approved for production by the War Office, the use of light tanks encountered several obstacles. In 1940, the Battle of France was ongoing, and the Vickers Mk.VI, which was better suited for light security duties, fared poorly in combat against German armor and many of the Mk.VIs were abandoned after the Battle of Dunkirk. British tank production began to focus on infantry and cruiser tanks, phasing out light tanks. Vickers production slowed due to a transfer of the Mk.VII from the plant at Elswick, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, to the Metro-Cammell factory in Birmingham mid-1940. This was further exacerbated by Luftwaffe raids, which resulted in damaged supply lines, and also by the vehicle’s design flaws, such as a faulty cooling system. These factors pushed back the first production example to November 1940, with around 100 Mk.VIIs being produced through 1942, according to War Office documentation. These 100 tanks were given registration numbers, T.9266 to T.9365. Other sources place the number as high as 177, but this number has not been proven in official documents. In September 1941, the Mk.VII was then given the name “Tetrarch”.


General Sir Alan Brooke inspects a Tetrarch at the Army Staff College at Camberley, 6th of January 1941. Source: Imperial War Museum Collection

Design

When the Mk.VII Tetrarch was initially designed, it was meant as an upgrade to the existing Vickers Mk.VI. The armor thickness was increased to a maximum of 16mm using riveted plating, and the Henry Meadows Ltd. Type 30 twelve-cylinder engine produced up to 165 hp. The Mk.VII rode on the Christie suspension system, which used long coil springs, and the tracks utilized four road wheels, which due to their size, also acted as supports for the track return. In addition, the Mk.VII also adopted the steering mechanism used by the Universal Carriers. Turning the tank was accomplished by warping or bending the tracks from side to side, in the direction desired, providing a turning radius of around 90 feet (27.4 meters), so for tighter turns track braking was still necessary. At 7.6 tons, the Mk.VII was capable of reaching travel speeds around 64km/h (40mph).

As with most scout tanks, the crew of three worked in tight quarters, with the commander and the gunner in the turret, flanking the driver. Due to the small number crew members, it fell to the commander to fill the role of loader. By 1944 the tanks were also upgraded with a 40mm Quick Firing 2 pounder, and some received Littlejohn adaptors, increasing the velocity and trajectory of the armor piercing composite non-rigid (APCNR) rounds fired. By using the APCNR, which had a softer metal on the outside, the slightly smaller Littlejohn adaptor would compress the round, provide some resistance, and increase the pressure behind the shot. The resulting velocity would increase from 853 m/s to 1,143 m/s, giving the 2pdr the ability to penetrate about 80mm of armor from about 150m.

Pictured here is the Tetrarch with a Littlejohn adapter fitted to the end of its barrel. The vehicle also has some small rubber flaps hanging from the front. Source: Imperial War Museum Collection

Variants

Despite the troubled production sequence of the Mk.VII, and the initial lack of support from the British Army in regards to its use, two variants of the Mk.VII were produced. The first was designated the Tetrarch I CS. With this variant, the 2-pounder was replaced with a 3-inch howitzer but otherwise was mostly unchanged. The second variant was the Tetrarch DD. This version mounted a Duplex Drive and canvas screens to enable flotation and water crossings. Trials were carried out in June of 1941 with the Tetrarch in the Brent Reservoir, as it was the lightest tank available to the British Army. Due to its success, the Duplex Drive was modified for mounting on Valentine tanks, and eventually M4 Medium tanks used during Normandy.

Fitted with the experimental flotation screen, Tetrarchs were the first British tanks tested for amphibious landings. Source: British National Archives

Operational History

The first groups to receive Tetrarch Mk.VIIs were the 1st Armoured Division and the 6th Armoured Division, but when these divisions were sent to the North African Campaign, the Tetrarchs were deemed unfit for service, due to faulty cooling systems, and never shipped with the divisions. The next British use came in 1941, in which twelve Tetrarchs were withdrawn from the 1st Armoured Division, and assigned to ‘C’ Squadron of the Special Service Squadrons. Six of these Tetrarchs were deployed to Freetown, West Africa. On the 5th of May 1942, with the start of Operation Ironclad in Madagascar, six ‘B’ Squadron Valentine tanks and six ‘C’ Squadron Tetrarchs were deployed as part of the amphibious assault at the port of Antsirane. Due to 75mm artillery emplacements and entrenched Vichy forces, the attacking British forces suffered the loss of four Valentines and three Tetrarchs, but eventually the objective was taken. By the end of the operation, only three of the twelve Tetrarchs were in running condition, and they remained stationed in Madagascar until 1943.

Tetrarch exiting a Hamilcar glider. Source: British National Archives

In 1940, the War Office and the British Army expressed a desire for airborne units to have access to heavier weaponry through the use of gliders. In January of 1941, the Tetrarch tank was paired with the General Aircraft Hamilcar, and three years later, training exercises began. Due to its success, the Tetrarch was re-designated as an airborne tank. On the 5th of June 1944, advance elements of the 5th Parachute Brigade landed and cleared the landing zone of anti-glider obstacles, so that the squadrons of the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment (AARR) could land on D-Day. Of the twenty tanks that took off for Normandy, one slipped free of its restraints and caused the glider to crash, two tanks collided upon landing, and another was hit by a landing Hamilcar glider. Eleven of the Tetrarchs also became entangled in the discarded parachutes, which took considerable time for them to be freed.

These delays in freeing the equipment, and the reorganization of airborne forces saved the Tetrarchs from having to engage the counter-attacking Kampfgruppe, ‘Von Luck,’ which contained Panzer IV’s. The next day, the Tetrarchs were ordered to move to Bois de Bavent, and reconnoiter Troarn-Caen. After linking up with the 8th Parachute Battalion in Bois de Bavent, they proceeded to assist with the British advance on Normandy, providing reconnaissance for the troops. The first area they scouted was Escoville, where they engaged enemy infantry and gun emplacements, but they were forced to rely on infantry support to engage German armor. For the remainder of the operation, the AARR was used to assist in infantry reconnaissance or to relieve troops under fire so that they could be effectively replaced by fresh soldiers. On the 31st of July, the 6th AARR was placed under the control of the 5th Parachute Brigade, and used as a rapid reaction force, and were instructed to assist with minor pushes before the breakout in August. Eventually, the Tetrarchs were relegated to HQ roles, while ‘A’ Squadron of the 6th AARR began using Cromwells. The 6th AARR was withdrawn from mainland Europe in early September, with casualties totaling 10 KIA, 32 wounded, and 10 MIA, out of the 118 deployed. This would be the final time the Tetrarchs saw combat, and the final time light tanks would be used in an airborne role in WWII.

Soviet Service

In June 1941, due to the start of Operation Barbarossa, the USSR was added to Britain’s Lend-Lease program. While the Lend-Lease was originally started as a method for the United States to provide aid, the British government also participated in giving aid and planned to send a fraction of the produced Tetrarchs to the USSR. Twenty tanks were delivered on the 27th of December 1941 in Zanjan, Iran, but no further deliveries were made. After crews were trained in their use, the tanks were transferred to the 151st Tank Brigade, and were used alongside the Soviet T-26. They fit into Soviet tank doctrine, who still used light tanks for scouting and combat roles, and eventually, they saw combat when the 151st Tank Brigade was under the command of the 47th Army on the Transcaucasian Front. During fighting near the Abin River on the 27th of January 1943, the 151st experienced fifteen bailouts (the crew abandoning the tank after it was hit) in their attempt to take a hill. By the 31st of January, only fourteen tanks were still operational, and on the next day of fighting, another six were lost. Even after recovery efforts, on the 1st of February 1943, the 47th Army had only nine working Tetrarchs, and by May, only seven remained running. Due to a lack of spare materials for repairs, the number continued to dwindle as the remaining tanks were transferred to the 132nd Tank Regiment and the 5th Guards Tank Brigade. By September, only two Tetrarchs remained, and they were retired in the autumn of 1943.

Tetrarchs in use by the 21st Training Tank Regiment in Shahumyan, Armenia. March 1942. Source: warspot.ru
Tetrarchs donated to the USSR pose for the camera alongside T-34 tanks in the Caucus mountains, 1942. Notice the infantrymen riding on the Tetrarchs. Source: As taken from WorldWarPhotos.info

Legacy

The invasion of Normandy was the last time the Tetrarchs were used in combat, however, they were not disbanded until around 1950. Declared obsolete in January 1946, their role as an airborne tank was gradually replaced by the M22 Locust, which was adopted by the British armed forces in 1943, relegating the Tetrarch to training roles for their remaining four years with the 3rd Hussars. Despite the short service life of the Tetrarch and the problems which occurred during development, it still secured a unique place in history for itself. The use of light tanks in airborne operations proved the versatility of armored vehicles and paved the path for future air transportable tanks. To this day, tanks are still airlifted and dropped off in hard to access locations on the battlefield and enable rapid deployment of armor to many different environments, an idea pioneered by the Light Tank Mk.VII.

Tetrarch Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 13′ 6” x 7′ 7” x 6′ 11” (4.11 m x 2.31 m x2.12 m)
Total weight 16,800 pounds (7,600 kg)
Crew 3 (Commander, gunner, driver)
Propulsion Henry Meadows Ltd. Type 30 twelve cylinder engine, producing 165 hp
Speed (road) 19 km/h (11.8 mph)
Armament Ordnance QF 2-pounder (40mm) gun (or 3 in (76.2 mm) howitzer)
1 x 7.92mm BESA machine gun
Armor 4 to 16 mm
Total production 6 Prototypes
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Chamberlain, Peter; Ellis, Chris (2001). British and American Tanks of World War Two: The Complete Illustrated History of British, American, and Commonwealth Tanks 1933–1945. Cassell & Company. ISBN 0-7110-2898-2.
Fletcher, David (1989). Universal Tank: British Armour in the Second World War – Part 2. HMSO. ISBN 0-11-290534-X.
Flint, Keith (2006). Airborne Armour: Tetrarch, Locust, Hamilcar and the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment 1938–1950. Helion & Company. ISBN 1-874622-37-X.
Pasholok, Yuri. The Hard Fate of a Light Tank. READ HERE
Ware, Pat. (2011).British Tanks: The Second World War: Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military, ISBN 2:00281436.
Williams, Anthony G. (1999). The Vickers 40mm Class S Gun with Littlejohn Adaptor. The Cartridge Researcher: European Cartridge Research Association, http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/sgun.htm

BT-7

Soviet Union (1935)
Fast Tank- 4965 built

Based on the BT-5

The BT-7 (Bystrochodnij Tankov or “Fast Tank” type 7) was derived from the 1930 American-built Christie tank, which had been perfected and modified into the BT-2 and BT-5 series. These were pure cavalry tanks, designed for speed, with good armament but weak armor. First designed in 1935, the BT-7 prototypes had a characteristic canted-ellipse shaped turret, were of all-electric welded construction, with new Saslavsky brakes, new main clutch and slightly thicker armor.

The tracks had a smaller pitch and fuel capacity was increased. Specifications asked that heavier guns should be mounted instead of the standard 20K model 1932/38 45 mm (1.77 in), namely the 75 mm (2.95 in) short barrel KT-26 and PS-3 howitzers for infantry support. The mantlet had a coaxial DT machine-gun and a rotating drum-type magazine for 18 rounds was stored in the rear basket. This complicated turret design was later dropped and the model BT-7 1935 was built using the BT-5 standard turret instead.

BT-7-1 in operations, carrying soldiers – Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The BT-7 Model 1935 (BT-7-1)

This first series was equipped with an adapted version of the T-26 turret, shared with the BT-5. This had a 45 mm (1.77 in) 20K gun with a coaxial DT-model machine-gun. Commander tank variants had a 71-TC radio and a horseshoe shaped frame antenna. The crew of three was unchanged and virtually all other components were similar to the BT-5, most importantly the suspension, rubberized roadwheels, drive sprockets, idlers and tracks. The engine was also the same petrol radial Mikulin M-17T (V-12) derived from a licence-built BMW. Steering was performed with a control stick and the engine had three forward and one reverse gears. Command versions were the BT-7-1(U) and BT-7-1(V) with wrap-around “horseshoe” type frame antenna.

BT-7-2 on parade – Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The BT-7M

This final evolution, sometimes called BT-7 model 1940, was born from the four experimental BT-8s. These were equipped with a new V12 diesel engine produced at the Voroshilovets factory and derived from the Hispano-Suiza 12Y aircraft engine. The BT-7M eventually showed a much higher endurance and overall range, and replaced the BT-7-2 on the production lines. They would become the ancestor of the T-34 family and were produced from 1939 to mid-1941, when the factory plants were dismantled to be relocated further east. Around 790 BT-7Ms were produced.

BT-7M without tracks, in wheeled mode, with the tracks stored on the hull – Credits: Wikimedia CoArtillery

Variants & Prototypes

BT-7 Artillery (1936)

154 of these artillery support versions were produced, characterized by a bigger drum-shaped turret (adapted from the T-28), a capacity of 50 rounds of ammunition (without radio) and most importantly a KT short-barrel howitzer. These were produced from 1936 to 1938 and upgraded to the 1939 standard. Quite heavy, they were not able to run in wheeled mode.

Artilley support version – Credits: Wikimedia Commons

BT-8 (1938)

Diesel equipped BT-7, later incorporated into the similarly modified BT-7Ms. A howitzer version was tried, but never produced, the BT-8A.

Prototypes

The KBT-7
A specially-made commander version with a fixed turret.
The OT-7
The flame-thrower variant, weighing 11.5 tons, was equipped with a side-mounted flame-projector.
The KhBT-7
A counter-chemical warfare variant, used to disperse a gas in order to protect the infantry and lay masking smokescreens.
The Genie tanks
SBT, a bridgelayer (no photos known), and the remote-operated tanks (for demolition) TTBT-7 and Thumbten-7, radio-controlled.

A BT-7 advancing at Khalkhin Gol, in 1939 – Source: Wikimedia

The BT-7 in Action

At an early point in their development, Giffard Le Quesne Martel (who pioneered the tankette concept) and General Wavell came to see the BT-7 prototypes on trials in 1935. Although not impressed by the quality of their hull construction, they were stunned by their displays of performance and eventually asked the War Office for a possible purchase. At their return in Great Britain, they pushed hard for the new Christie suspension to be adopted on the cruiser tanks. The BT-7 gradually replaced the older BT-2s, and their first wartime operations came with the borders incidents on the Mongolian/Chinese border.

A BT-7 allegedly overturned by a SC 250 bomb from a Stuka ground attack plane in July ,1941.

BT-7s equipped the 2nd Mechanized Brigade that confronted the Imperial Japanese Army at Lake Hasan in 1938. They saw heavy action (around 400 BT-7s) later at Kalkhin Gol from May to August 1939, with the 6th and 11th Tank Brigades. Their second assignment was the invasion of Poland in September, and the Winter War with Finland from December to mid-1940. In 1939, each Soviet light tank brigade counted three tank companies, for a total of 17 BT-7s or T-26s and a reserve one (7 BT-7s).

By the summer of 1941, the BT-7 found itself more capable to fight the German onslaught than the more numerous, but slower T-26. It was in effect the main battle tank of the Soviet Army. Losses were quite high, with an estimated 2000 lost due to enemy action or breakdowns in the first 12 months of Operation Barbarossa. In effect the attrition rate was enormous due to the excessive wear of the tanks, moved intensively from one place to another without appropriate maintenance or spare parts. All those abandoned and not sabotaged were later captured and integrated as Beutepanzers for auxiliary missions. Surviving Soviet BT-7s, although replaced by the T-34, were engaged on every front until the end of the war.

BT-7 Links and References

The BT-7 on Wikipedia
The BT-7 on WWIIvehicles.com
The BT-7 on Battlefield.ru

BT-7 Specifications

Dimensions (L-w-h) 5.66 x 2.41 x 2.29 m (18.6×7.11×7 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 13.8 tons (30,450 lbs)
Crew 3 (commander/loader, gunner, driver)
Propulsion Mikulin V12 M15T/M17T petrol egnine, 405 hp @1,750 rpm (298 kW)
32.6 hp/ton ratio, 790 l of fuel (167 US gal.)
Suspension Christie type
Speed road/off-road 72-86 km/h (45 to 53 mph)/ 50 km/h (31 mph) cross-country
Range (road/off road) 200 km (120 mi)
Armament (variable) 45 mm (1.77 in) model 33 or model 37 gun
1-3 x DT 7.62 mm (0.3 in) coaxial, rear (1937) and AA machine-guns
Armor 6 to 22 mm (0.24-0.87 in)
Production (BT-7) 4965

Type 95 Ha-Go

Japan (1936-43)
Light tank – about 2300 built

Designed for Motorized Warfare

The Type 95 can trace its roots as far back as 1933. Then, the Type 89 I-Go, only able to achieve infantry pace, was duly put on a replacement schedule. The Type 89 was heavy, well armored, with a moderately efficient low-velocity 57 mm (2.24 in) gun, but utterly slow. The general Army Staff put forth a demand for a lightweight fast tank, which would not only be used for infantry support, but also to spearhead motorized attacks, at truck speed. The Army Technical Bureau studied models from abroad, as a Japanese delegation attended trials of Christie tanks and Carden-Loyd tankettes, as well as French cavalry models.

A Type 95 Ha-Go, seen from the right side, preserved at the US Army ordnance museum – Credits: Wikipedia

However, the model designed in 1934 used a custom, simple suspension, with distinctive large bell cranks, which represented a large part of the hull length. The cavalry demanded a fast machine, the infantry a better protected one, but the former won in the end. The plans were ready in 1935, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was quickly ordered to produce a first batch of machines, but only 100 were built by 1939. After that, orders were also placed to Sagami Arsenal, Hitachi Industries, Niigata Tekkosho, Kobe Seikosho, and Kokura Arsenal. Together, they produced 1250 more machines until 1942. Mitsubishi also went on to produce 850 more vehicles.

Description

The Type 95 kyugo-shiki kei-sensha Ha-Go, also known as Ke-Go and Kyu-Go, was a rather small machine of seven tons. The crew consisted of three men, the commander, which served also the main 37 mm (1.46 in) gun, a machine-gunner, and the driver. The commander, who had multiple tasks, was overloaded, a fate similar to that of his peers in many other early tanks. The main gun was a medium-velocity Type 98 37 mm (1.46 in), 46 caliber long, Hotchkiss-inspired gun. It was reliable, had a muzzle velocity of 675 to 700 m/s, and was capable of penetrating 25 mm (0.98 in) of armor at 500 m, with its armor-piercing rounds.

But most of its shells were standard explosive rounds, as these tanks were mostly used in an anti-infantry role. Armament was completed by two Type 97 light machine guns, one in the turret rear, in a five o’clock position, and the other in the front hull. The very simple suspension system proved easy to maintain, although a single well-placed hit could disable the vehicle. Early trials also demonstrated that this system had a tendency to pitch badly, and the off-road capabilities were, at least at the beginning, severely limited even on moderately rough terrains. Later on, after several fixes, the system still gave the crew a rough ride, rendering aiming impossible on the move. The two boogies supported two wheels each, and tracks were driven through the front sprockets.

An interesting feature of the Ha-Go was located at the back of the vehicle. There was a fake bolt head. This bolt was actually a button, like a door bell. This is a relatively recent discovery. It is believed that this was used by troops behind the tank to warn the crew of their presence so they are not reversed over. If this is true, the Ha-Go is one of the first tanks to have such a feature.

Wartime Production

Despite all the manufacturers involved, only 2300 such vehicles were built. It was, by far, the most widely available and used tank in the Japanese military from 1939 to the end of the war. However, it was rendered obsolete after 1943 by the M3A3, M5 Stuart and the medium tank M4 Sherman.

Early versions differed from wartime production vehicles by their 36 caliber Type 94 main gun, with less muzzle velocity, and thus less penetration power. Also, secondary armament comprised two 6.5 mm (0.25 in) Type 91 machine guns. The engine was the old Mitsubishi 110 bhp model, already produced for the former Type 89 I-Go. 100 of these tanks were produced, all sent to China and, later, a few were given to the Manchukuo puppet state. All other production tanks, from 1937 to 1942, were as described above.

IJA identification photo

Variants

The only true main derivative was the Ke-Nu. It was an upgunned version, with main armament of the Chi-Ha (one 57 mm/2.24 in gun), produced in 1944. Other variants included a dozen crane version tanks, the Ri-Ki salvage version, the Ke-Ri, Ho-To and Ho-Ru SPG prototypes. The latter was a tank-hunter adaptation. However, the Ha-Go was scheduled in 1942 for replacement with the Type 3 Ke-Ri.

Type 2 Ka-Mi

In 1943, a chassis was used for trials of an amphibious model, intended for the Special Navy Landing Forces. This led to the Ka-Mi conversion, equipped with two floatable and detachable pontoons. Produced from 1943 to 1944, they fought in the Marianas, Marshall and Guam islands in 1944. Only 182 were ever completed.

Type 4 Ke-Nu

The Type 4 Ke-Nu was an unfortunate sub-product of the development of the Type 97 Chi-Ha. When it was apparent that the latter’s main low velocity 57 mm (2.24 in) gun was only appropriate against infantry, a new high velocity 47 mm (1.85 in) was developed and adopted by an upgraded version of the model, which became the Type 97-kai Shinhoto. Thereafter, many unused regular Chi-Ha turrets were put on Ha-Go hulls, giving birth to the Type 4 Ke-Nu. This added to its firepower, but condemned the model to close-range defense or infantry support. Plus, the Ke-Nu was somewhat heavier and slower. Only 100 were built in 1944. Most were stationed at Okinawa and Kyushu, and a few fought in Manchukuo and Korea in 1945.

Type 2 Ri-Ki

A boomed crane conversion, for salvage and towing operations, developed in 1943. Only 12, (according to most sources) were ever built and spread among many companies around the Pacific and China. It was unarmed and was found capable of towing most IJN tanks.

Ri-Ki, boom crane conversion

Prototypes

Type 3 Ke-Ri
This model was scheduled to replace the Ha-Go in 1942, when work on the design started. It was decided, due to cost and ease of production reasons, to keep the entire chassis of the Ha-Go, while mounting a brand new turret with a high velocity 47 mm (1.85 in) gun.
Type 4 Ho-To
The Ho-To was a SPG and tank destroyer mounting the Type 38 120 mm (4.72 in) howitzer. Despite its low velocity, the gun could fire armor-piercing HEAT shells. It was developed in 1945, along with the Ho-Ru, but none were ever built.
Type 5 Ho-Ru
The Ho-Ru was a light tank destroyer, which neared production in February 1945, although only one prototype was ever assembled. It had an arrangement vaguely similar to the German Jagdpanzer 38(t), with a sloped casemate and 45 mm (1.77 in) high velocity gun, which would have been able to defeat US light tanks. The suspension was also revised, with a new track with 350 mm wide links. The wheel guide pins and the drive sprocket were both rearranged.

Ke-Go, date unknown

Wartime Actions

The Type 95 was first introduced in China in 1937. Despite the few built by that time, it proved more than capable to deal with the under-equipped Chinese army, along with the Type 89. Some of them were sent to the puppet Manchukuo state army. 50 were sent to the Thai army in 1940, fighting in Burma in the campaign in the Shan States. The first serious test came in June 1939, during the Nomonhan “border incident”, were a massive force comprising Type 89, Type 95 and some Type 94 tankettes fought against Russian BT-5 and BT-7 fast tanks. The Russian tanks, despite their thin protection, were almost twice as heavy and equipped with a high velocity 45 mm (1.77 in) gun. They were able to cripple the IJN tanks at 1000 meter ranges and more, while the Japanese were only capable of answering under 600 meters.

The first Japanese-US tank battles occurred during the desperate defense of Bataan (Philippines) in December 1941, against M3 Stuarts. The later proved to have superior armor, but their crews had less experience and training, and suffered losses. In Malaya and Burma, also in December 1941, the Ha-Go was well-employed in jungle warfare, surging were they were not expected. Being light and rugged enough, they performed well in many tropical environments during the war. The Ha-Gos were also engaged almost everywhere in the Pacific, from Guadalcanal to Okinawa. In 1944, they were clearly outgunned and under-protected against bazookas, antitank rifles and even cal.50 (12.7 mm) rounds.

In August 1945, during the Manchurian Offensive, the Russians were equipped with the T-34/85s, IS-1s and many self-propelled guns, which far outgunned and outranged the Ha-Go, still the mainstay of the IJN forces there.

The Ha-Go was one of the few Japanese tanks of World War Two to be exported to other countries. The Royal Thai Army bought around 50 of the vehicles in 1940, renaming them Type 83 after the Buddhist year 2483. The tanks arrived just in time for Imperial Japan to press-gang Thailand into the service of the Axis. The Tanks were deployed in the Thai action in the Shan state of British Burma. The Tanks remained in service until 1954, and 1 of the tanks remains on the Royal Thai Army’s inventory.

French-Indochina

The Tanks were also used post war in French-Indochina, modern day Vietnam, by the occupying French military. They made a series of small upgrades to the vehicle which consisted of applique armor welded to the turret cheeks and lower glacis.

Gallery

In operation – Credits: Aviapress
China, 1940
IJA identification photo
IJA identification photo

 

Type 95 Ha-Go Specifications

Dimensions 4.38 x 2.06 x 2.18 m (14.4 x 6.8 x 7.2 ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready 7.4 tons (8.2 short tons)
Crew 3 (driver, commander/gunner, machine-gunner)
Propulsion Mitsubishi A6120VD 14.4 l, air-cooled diesel, 120 hp (90 kW)@1800 rpm
Suspension Bell crank
Armement Main: 37 mm (1.46 in) Type 98 AT gun
Secondary: 2 x Type 97 7.7 mm (0.3 in) machine guns
Armor 6 to 16 mm (0.24-0.63 in)
Top speed 45 km/h (28 mph)
Range (road/off road) 250 km (400 mi)
Total production 2300

Links, Resources and Further Reading

The Ha-Go on Wikipedia
A more exhaustive depiction on History of War
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #137: Japanese Tanks 1939-1945
Osprey Publishing, Elite #169: World War II Japanese Tank Tactics

 

Renault D2

France (1936-1940)
Medium tank – 100 built

Development History

Even while the Renault D1 was still in development, a heavier version was requested by a directive of the direction de l’infanterie from 23 January 1930. This called for a medium tank (the D1 was a light model), with 40 mm (1.57 in) of armor, that was faster (13.67 mph/22 km/h) than the D1, which in turn required a far more powerful engine. Negotiations ended in April-May, Renault also agreeing to build an adapted version for the colonies, the D3.

The most recognizable photo of the D2.

It was also hoped that it could replace the heavy B1 bis if the later would have been banned by an armament reduction treaty in negotiation at that time. However, this never happened, and the D2 soon became a low-priority project and the army greatly reduced the initial order of 750.

Two batches of 50 would eventually be delivered by the company, the first in 1936-37 (called model 1935) and the second, much improved, in 1940 (model 1938).

The Renault D2 Design

Three prototypes were built. The first was the Renault UZ, with a riveted hull and Renault FT turret (April 1932). It was tested at Rueil with the 503e RCC and accepted in service in December 1933. One year earlier, two welded hull prototypes had been ordered and build, to be delivered in November 1933. Nevertheless, the first batch was approved without testing the real production model. This was done in order to partially finance the cost of applying new welding techniques.

D2 prototype, 1934 – Credits: Wikimedia Commons

This building technique proposed by Renault saved weight and time. But it was a costly and complex process that Renault had a hard time to master at first, and, since production was rushed, problems immediately appeared. This was a compromise based on large flat screws, serving as bolts and rivets as well, the 40 mm (1.57 in) plates being partially welded and connected together.

In most respects, the D2 was a slightly enlarged D1, retaining many features of the previous vehicle, like the vertical coil suspension design inherited from the Renault NC 27, and NC-1/NC-2 family. The D2 was still narrow, with the turret placed forward, immediately behind the driver’s compartment, and a long, sloped back engine hood. Massive side skirts with mud chutes, similar to the former vehicles, were also retained, composed of six panels. Previous experience dictated the return rollers to be placed higher to prevent track resonance. The tracks were 35 cm (13.78 in) wide. The suspension counted three bogies, each with four road wheels, one coil spring and two shock absorbers, per side. The crew was three, the radio operator being seated next to the driver, operating the hull Reibel machine-gun (low, right side). The commander was seated in the turret. As usual in this configuration, he had to operate the gun (loading, aiming and firing), serve the coaxial machine-gun and command the tank at the same time. There was a four-speed gearbox, and four fuel tanks, giving a 100 km (62 mi) range. The D2 could cross a 2.1 m (6.89 ft) wide trench, climb a 80 cm (2.62 ft) obstacle, climb slopes of 45° and ford 120 cm (3.94 ft) deep rivers.

The prototype on trials – Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Production: Model 1935

The first batch was approved on 29 December 1934 by the Commission de Vincennes, based on the new tests performed with the three prototypes, fitted with gasoline and diesel engines. The gasoline engine was retained. The turret was bought separately from another manufacturer, the Puteaux factory near Paris, and the APX-1 was chosen, a modern, cast turret fitted with a SA-34 short barrel 47 mm gun (1.85 in) (from the same manufacturer) and a coaxial Reibeil 7.5 mm (0.29 in) machine-gun, and a hemispheric observation cupola. As usual, the commander could sit partly outside on a rear turret hatch. The turret cost was 200,000 frs, which added to the hull (410,000 frs apiece) rose the whole D2 unit cost to 610,000 frs. The first units from the batch were delivered in May 1935, the last in February 1937. The SA-34 had limited antitank capabilities. It was supplied with HE shells (obus D, muzzle velocity of 490 m/s / 1607 ft/s), and AP shells (model 1932, muzzle velocity of 480 m/s / 1574 ft/s, piercing only 25 mm/0.98 in at 100 m/328 ft). Two command vehicles were built (chassis 2016 – 2049), equipped with a second ER51 long range set.

Model 1935

D-2 Model 1938

The second batch was ordered later, in June 1938, (despite alarming tests reports reporting balance unreliability) following Renault’s assurance it could produce two hundred units a year. However, this was soon proved overoptimistic, in the political context of 1937-1938, plagued by general strikes and financial problems. The production was postponed, and there was uncertainty about possible exports to Poland or Belgium, eventually opposed by Supreme commander Maurice Gamelin, out of fear of technology transfers. The state of the first batch was so poor that their conversion into flame-thrower tanks was envisioned, while the unit tanks would be replaced by newer tanks. When the war broke out, Edouard Daladier confirmed mass production of the type, however deliveries were kept low, three-five vehicles per month, so that the entire second batch was not completed by June. The last fifteen were probably not taken in action in time.

The second batch was basically identical, mostly differing by the use of a more modern APX-4 turret, bearing a 47 mm (1.85 in) SA-35 long barrel gun, quite effective against tanks. PPLR X 160 episcopes replaced the older Chrétien type, and there was a S 190 G attachment point on the roof for an extra 7.5 mm (0.29 in) AA machine gun. Improved greasing system, modified idler wheels and sprockets, ball bearings, shorter mudguards, a new Vertex distributor and Vlex starter completed this overhaul. At the same time, older vehicles from the first batch received upgraded APX 1A turrets, and taken over at the Atelier de Rueil for rebuilding -namely to fix all the issues previously known. This process started in March 1940 and continued until May. At the same time, the flame-thrower project was maintained but never carried out despite a prototype being built in 1939.

The Renault D2 in Action

The bulk of the rebuilt D2 model 1935s were taken into the 19th BCC (Bataillon de Chars de Combat). Previously, the elite 507e RCC, then commanded by de Gaulle, received the first D2s in early 1937. By October, the unit’s organic strength was 45 tanks, the remainder being kept in reserve or for training (4 sections of three plus two command vehicles). De Gaulle, promoted to Colonel, heavily trained his crews to his cutting-edge tactics, but soon discovered that the model was plagued by mechanical unreliability and quickly worn-out, a problem further aggravated by the lack of spare parts. By September 1939, a waltz of unit names and affectations took place. Eventually De Gaulle was sent to command the reserve corp (GBC 517) of the 5th Army, and took part in the Saar offensive. These were then retired in reserve. Replacement by the second batch gradually took place, and 15 D2s of the new series were due to be sent in Norway.

Captured D2 – Credits: Bundesarchiv.

But this failed to materialize as soon as the model was proven ill-adapted to snow conditions. By the time of the Western campaign, the 19th BCC was a shadow of its former glory, reduced to a collection of worn-out vehicles, or partially rebuilt ones. However, this unit was committed together with the 345e CACC (4th DCR) under de Gaulle, into the hastily organized counter-attack at Montcornet on the 15th of May. After some readjustments, some tanks being cannibalized to keep others functional, the 345e CACC/19th BCC fought at Amiens on the 24th of May. However, only 17 tanks were serviceable and without infantry support, the attack failed. The remainder were lost due to the complete lack of maintenance and incessant use. Of 84 effectively enlisted D2s, only 21 were lost due to enemy action during the campaign, 38 being abandoned after breakdowns, others were in depots, and only 7 were still operational when the armistice was signed. The Germans managed to captured 21 D2s, but none was placed back in service. The turrets were dismounted and reused in armored trains and fortifications. No D2 has survived to this day.

Char Renault D2 Specifications

Dimensions 5.46 x 2.22 x 2.66 m (17.9 x 7.2 x 8.7 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 19.75 tons (395,000 lbs)
Crew 3 (driver, commander, gunner)
Propulsion Renault V-6, 9.5 litres, petrol engine, 150 bhp (111.9 kW)
Suspension Vertical coils springs
Maximum speed 23 km/h ( 14.3 mph )
Range/fuel 100 km (32 mi)/200l (52.83 gal)
Armament 47 mm (1.85 in) SA34 with 160 rounds (model 1935)
2xReibel 7.5 mm (0.29 in) machine guns, 2200 rounds
Armor 10-40 mm ( 0.3-1.57 in )
Total production 100

Links

Editions du barbotin, trackstory N°9 – Renault D2, a complete monography (fr/en)
GBM, Histoire & Collection, about WW2 French tanks
The D2 on Wikipedia

Škoda-CKD TNH series

Czech Republic (1938)
Light tank – 130 built

Designed for the Czech army

In 1935, ČKD began the study for a new tank to replace the LT vz. 35. This would be produced while taking profit of the wide industrial resources of Škoda Works. It was intended to be the main Czech tank, as well as its main export. The main concern was to avoid any issues of the previous model, starting with the suspension. The new model featured four large road wheels, resembling the Christie suspension, but in fact it was a conventional leaf-spring one. This gave some mobility even if the tracks were ruptured and an overall simplified, reliable and easy to maintain system. Other solutions were all well-proven, prewar features, which helped to keep cost reasonable enough both for the needs of the Czech army and the export market. And it was, like previous models, highly successful in this matter. 

The export versions – the TNH series (1935-40)

Even before the final vz. 38 was born (army designation), CKD had turned dozens of the TNH series for the export market. The TNH was the blueprint of the the latter model and was generally similar, with many differences dictated by contract modifications.

The Iranian TNHP

The first customer of the series was Iran, which received 60 TNHP from 1935 to 1937. These were equipped with one Skoda A4 37 mm (1.46 in) gun with 60 rounds and two vz.35 machine-guns with 3000 rounds, one coaxial and one in the hull. The turret was rounded and “short” compared to the latter 1938 series for the army, equipped with a small turret commander cupola. They were propelled by a Praga TN 100, having 7940 cc and giving 100 hp (73.9 kW). A single derivative (named TNH-S) was reequipped with a more powerful Scania-Vabis engine. This model was sold to the Latvian and Peruvian armies.

The Peruvian LTP

This was a derivative of the 1936 THN-S (25 built), equipped with a Scania-Vabis 1664 engine with 6 cylinders, water cooled, 7750 cc, 125 hp. The LTP weighted only 7.3 tons, with a maximum 25 mm (0.98 in) of armor. Armament comprised a Skoda vz.34 37 mm (1.45 in) main gun plus two vz.35 and one vz.30 machine-guns. They were fast (25 mph/40 km/h) and reliable, to such an extent that the Peruvian army kept most of them in service until 1988.

Peruvian LTP Real Felipe Callao Museum

The Swiss LTH (Panzerwagen 39)

24 were delivered just before the German annexation began. They were slightly bigger than the THN (7.7 tons), 4.46 m (14.63 ft) long, with 8 to 32 mm (0.31-1.26 in) of armor. The engine was the Saurer Type CT1D diesel or the Scania-Vabis 1664, which gave an average speed of 45 km/h (28 mph) on road with a range of 300 km, 200 off-road (186/124 mi). Main armament comprised a 24 mm (0.94 in) autocannon, a 7.5 mm (0.29 in) and a 6.5 mm (0.36) machine-gun. The Swiss army spread them into the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Light Motorized Brigades.

Swiss Panzerwagen 39

The Lithuanian LTL

When Lithuania approached foreign companies for the needs of their army (still equipped with obsolescent FT 17s), both CKD and Swedish AB Landsverk competed, but only the CKD design was retained, modified as the LTL. Plans included a new armament, comprising the latest Skoda 20 mm (0.79 in) QF autocannon, plus two vz.38 machine-guns. However, none ever reached Lithuania, since it was invaded by the USSR in 1940. The 21 originally ordered and later delivered were then redesignated Lt vz.40 and saw service with the Slovakian army on the Eastern Front.

Design of the Škoda LT vz.38

The CKD-Škoda LT vz.38 (or “model 1938”) was a rather conventional, prewar design, with a riveted hull and turret, a set of two bogies sprung by leaf springs, each with its own large road wheel, rear idler, front drive sprocket, engine at the rear with the transmission tunnel in between. Despite the size of the road wheels, there were two return rollers for each side. It was a mid-size light tank, bigger and roomier than the export AH-IV tankette, which looked like a scaled-down model. It was armed with the new Skoda A7 37 mm (1.46 in) gun which was envisioned as an antitank weapon, but with provision of HE and AP shells (90 rounds). This was completed by a coaxial, but independent, ball-mounted machine gun, and a second was mounted into the hull bow. Both were vz.37 models, compact and sturdy, also produced in Great Britain under license by Besa.

The Panzer 38(t) : Wehrmacht service

The first units were delivered just when the German invasion started on 16 March 1939. Without the time required for training on the new tanks, none was operational when the Nazis proclaimed, from Prague Castle, the creation of the protectorate of Bohemia-Morava, ending, in effect, the Czech sovereignty. CKD-Praga and Škoda were taken over by the Waffenamt and production of the LT vz.38 was resumed, after modifications for German service, under the name of Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) which stands for “Tschechich”-Czech. Modifications included some finishing details, new commander cupola, but the armament remained virtually unchanged, if not for the replacement of the original Skoda machine-guns with faster MG 42s during the course of the war.

Panzer 38(t), Soviet Union, June 1941

Since Slovakian forces were now part of the Axis, surplus Panzer 38(t)s were given to the Slovakian infantry divisions which took part in Operation Barbarossa on the southern sector in the summer of 1941. Until the winter of 1942/43 at Stalingrad, they roamed into Ukraine and were badly beaten back by the massive Soviet counter-offensive. Some of these also took part in support of the Slovakian uprising between August and September 1944. Total production of the Panzer 38(t) was 1414, and as these were retired from the frontline in 1943, they were replaced by many successful derivatives like the Marder III tank hunter, the Grille SPG, the Flakpanzer 38(t), the scout Sd.Kfz.140/1 Aufklarungspanzer 38(t) and, of course, the Jagdpanzer 38(t), better known as the Hetzer (2827 built from 1944 to 1945).

Links and resources about the LT vz. 38

The LT vz. 38 as the Pzkpfw.38(t) on Wikipedia
The LT vz.38 on fronta.cz (in Czech)

Praga Skoda LT vz. 38 Specifications

Dimensions 4.60 x 2.37 x 2.25 m (15.09x 7.78 x 7.38 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 9.4 tons
Crew 3 (commander/gunner, driver, loader/radio operator)
Propulsion Praga Typ TNHPS/II, 6-cylinder, gasoline, 125 bhp (92 kW)
Speed (on/off road) 42/15 km/h (26/9 mph)
Suspension Leaf spring type
Armament Skoda 37 mm (1.46 in) A7 L/47.8
2 x 7.92 mm (0.31 in) Skoda Zb vz.37 machien guns
Armor 8 to 30 mm (0.31-1.18 in)
Range on/off road 250/100 km (160/62 mi)
Total production 130

Marder II Sd.Kfz.132

 Nazi Germany (1942-43)
Tank hunter – 201 built

Development of the Marder

When the Germans first encountered the T-34 and KV-1, at the end of the summer and autumn of 1941, it was clear that more potent weapons were needed to cope with this new threat, and they were needed fast.

At that moment, the only gun up to this task was the latest German anti-tank gun, the Pak 40. The only tank-hunter available then was the small Panzerjäger I, armed with a Czech 47 mm (1.85 in) gun, which was found unable to penetrate the frontal glacias of either the T-34 or the KV-1.

Besides creating brand new tanks and enhancing the Panzer IV, it was quickly decided to create a new breed of tank-hunters, later collectively called “Marder” (weasel). The first vehicles chosen as a basis were spare French Lorraine tractors (Marder I) and FCM tanks rearmed with captured Soviet 76.2 mm (3 in) guns, captured in great numbers during the Russian campaign.

This gun had similar characteristics to the Pak 40 and was rebored to match the standard German 75 mm (2.95 in) round. At the same time, it became clear that the French vehicles were too slow, and the general staff suggested converting the aging Panzer II to the tank destroyer role.

Design by Alkett

On 20 December 1941, Alkett was ordered to mount the Soviet 76.2 mm (the Pak 36(r) L/51.5, F22, or M1936 in Russian service) onto a LaS 138 chassis – the one used for the Panzer II Ausf.D/E. These were early Panzer IIs fitted with Christie suspension.

In Poland, they were found disappointing and were later converted as the Flammpanzer II. Basically, for the Marder II, the engine, transmission, chassis, drivetrain, and suspension were left unchanged. However, everything above the base superstructure was erased, the turret being recycled into fortifications. A new open casemate, 14.5 mm (0.57 in) thick, with almost no slope, and as wide as the mudguards was erected instead. 

Inside it, the gun pivot was mounted near the center of gravity, and covered by a 10 mm (0.39 in) thick armored shield. The gun elevation was -5° to +16° and had a traverse of 50°, 65° by hand wheel. 30 rounds were carried, of the standard Pak 40 75 mm (2.95 in) AP type.

The Pak 36(r) had a muzzle velocity of 450 to 990 m/s (1476 to 3248 ft/s), depending on the ammo used, and was found capable of punching through 80 to 97 mm (3.14 to 3.81 in) of sloped hard steel at 1370 m (4494 ft). After being being re-chambered to accept German rounds, it accepted German HEAT, HE, APCR and HE frag rounds and could fire about 10-12 rpm. This overall configuration allowed these conversions to be rushed in a record time.

A German Waffen-SS Marder II and its crew are seen here somewhere in Southern Russia during the Wehrmacht’s raid into the Caucasus. The vehicle depicted is the Sd.Kfz. 132 variant, also known as a ‘Las76’, based on the early Panzer II Ausf. D/E chassis, mounting a captured Soviet 76 mm gun. August, 1942

Production by Alkett and Wegmann

201 (185 according to another source, although 201 is the figure commonly accepted) Ausf.Ds and Es were converted by the two companies between April 1942 and June 1943. It was accepted into service as the Sd.Kfz.132, arriving to various Abteilungen (special antitank units) attached to various Panzerdivisions and Panzergrenadier divisions in Russia and Libya (just in time for the second battle of El Alamein) by mid-1942. They were also fitted with a FuG Spr d2 short range radio.

The Marder II in action

On the Eastern Front, Early 1943

With its new gun, the Marder II was found up to the task in Russia, but the gun crew operating behind the shield (just 10 mm/0.39 in thick), at great height, was woefully under-protected. The overall height of the first Marder II was also a concern. It made an easy target, and the 15 mm (0.59 in) side protection did not help either.

It was replaced by mid-1943 by the Sd.Kfz.131, lower, better protected and armed with the standard Pak 40. By 1944, the survivors had their crew reduced to only to two men, and the vehicle had to stop and the driver helped the gunner. Some managed to fight in Tunisia in 1943, but they were mainly used in Russia until the end of 1944, being gradually phased out or destroyed.

Sd.Kfz.132 Specifications

Dimensions 4.81 m x 2.28 m x 2.30 m (15ft 8in x 7ft 5in x 7ft 5in)
Total weight, battle ready 11 tons
Crew 4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Maybach Maybach HL 62 TRM 6 cyl, 140 hp (104 kW)
Top Speed 55 km/h (30 mph)
Max Operational Range 220 km (136.7 mi)
Armament 76.2 mm Pak 36(r) L/51.5 (3 in) – 30 rounds
7.92 mm (0.31 in) MG 34 – 900 rounds
Armor Front 30 mm (1.18 in)
Sides 14.5 mm (0.57 in)
Rear 14.5 mm (0.57 in)
Production Total 201

Links about the Sd.Kfz. 132

Wikipedia Marder II article (generic)

Cargo Carrier M29 Weasel

U.S.A. (1942)
Cargo Carrier – 15,892 Built

In 1942, the American Studebaker company based in South Bend, Indiana, famed for their luxury automobiles, answered a call for an armored vehicle capable of traversing deep Norwegian snow drifts for special forces operations. The vehicle became the M29 Weasel and went on to be a popular universal vehicle outside of its original intended use, akin to the British Universal Carrier. The M29 could traverse the hardest of terrains where wheeled vehicles could not go and saw service through the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and saw use in the civilian sector.

An M29 named ‘Snookie’, date and location unknown. Photo: www.studebaker-weasel.com

Background

The idea for the Weasel came from the British Inventor Geoffrey Pyke, a man famed for his unorthodox methods. His most famous invention was Pykrete, a material that would’ve been used for the Habbakuk iceberg aircraft carrier. Pyke had long planned for Commando assaults on German power plants and industrial areas in Norway and also planned actions to interrupt the Nazi atomic weapons program in Operation Plough. Operation Plough is very much the origin of the Weasel. Pike called for a small, lightweight and fast vehicle, able to transport small teams of men across deep snow to take them deep into enemy territory.


The T15 Prototype in testing. Photo: www.studebaker-weasel.com

Design

The proposed design was designated T15, with the finalized design receiving T24. It was soon accepted and became the M29, a simple vehicle consisting of little more than a box on tracks. The Studebaker company would go on to build almost 16,000 M29s. Key elements of its design required that it be air-transportable, able to withstand the impact of a parachute drop, and able to carry enough supplies for a small commando team. It was powered by a 70 hp Studebaker Model 6-170 Champion 6-cylinder engine which propelled the vehicle to 36 mph (58 km/h), a speed it could sustain over most terrain types.

Suspension for the M29 consisted of rear mounted drive wheels (and transmission) with idlers in the front that were lower, giving the running gear the appearance of leaning forward. It featured four, two-wheeled bogies on each side, with two track return rollers. It had wide tracks from 15″ (380 mm) to 20″ (510 mm). This gave the Weasel a very low ground pressure of just 1.9 psi (Pounds Per Square Inch)a benefit in crossing soft ground. The tracks consisted of long metal plates connected by inner rubber bands, with a total of four bands per track, two on the outer edge and two in the center with a center guide horn. The bogie wheels ran on the center bands and. the outer face of the tracks featured two rubber blocks per link for grip on road surfaces.

A Weasel freeing a Willys Jeep from thick mud.

The M29 was operated by one driver and could carry three passengers. The driver was positioned in the front left with the engine compartment to his right and a row of three seats in the rear for the passengers. Though officially an unarmed vehicle, Browning M1919 .30 cal or .50 cal M2HB Machine Guns were often mounted for some form of offensive/defensive capability.

Variants

M29C Water Weasel

The M29C was the main variant of the Weasel. The M29 was already partly amphibious, able to traverse shallow and calm waters such as rivers and streams, but could not operate in rough, sea like waters. The M29C amended this issue, with the addition of buoyancy aids in the rear of the hull as well as two rudders. Removable pontoons were also added to the front and rear and.changes were made to the treads of the track links to allow it to propel itself in water, although it was very slow. This still didn’t make the M29 capable of seaborne amphibious landings, but allowed to be more stable in deeper or slightly rougher inland waters.

The M29C Water Weasel during testing.

M29/M29C Type A, B and C

These variants were all virtually unchanged from the standard M29/M29C, the only difference being that these were armed versions. The Type A featured a center-mounted 75mm M20 recoilless rifle. The Type B featured a rear-mounted 75mm Recoilless Rifle. The Type C featured a center-mounted 37mm Gun M3, the same gun used in the M3/M5 Stuart Light Tanks.

A Water Weasel armed with a 75mm Recoiless Rifle. Photo: TankPorn of Reddit

WW2 Service

The Norwegian mission that the M29 was designed for never took place. This did not mean that time had been wasted on the vehicle, as it soon found use in multiple roles, in multiple theaters, and by multiple countries.

An American Weasel in Normandy, 1944. Photo:WW2 in Color

The United States used the vehicle extensively during World War Two. It was used in Italy, the Western Front, and even in the Pacific. It saw action during the Normandy landings, St. Lo, and the Battle of the Bulge. It proved its usefulness at the engagements on the Ruhr and Rhine, where it was able to cross the thick, sticky river mud. In the Pacific, it was used by the United States Marine Corps (USMC) at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, where it proved capable of crossing loose sand, and the harsh tropical island terrain where the Marine Corps’ jeeps wouldn’t dare venture.

The use of the M29 Weasel as a universal vehicle soon became clear to the Americans. They used it regularly as a light troop carrier and cargo hauler, and also as a mobile command center, ambulance, and to lay telegraph wires. One of its major attributes was its ability to cross minefields, as its low-ground pressure was often not enough to trigger the anti-tank mines. The ground pressure was still more than enough to trigger anti personnel mines which could easily split a rubber track.

An M29C in an ambulance role on the Rhine.

Service in the Commonwealth

The British and Canadian armies also used the Weasel in World War Two. Supplementing a number of LVT Buffalos, M29C Water Weasels of the 79th Armored Division were used by Commando troops in the Walcheren Operation. The 79th also used a number of the standard M29s to clear mines and other defensive devices.The Canadians made use of the Weasel’s semi-amphibious nature in their engagements in the flooded estuaries of Antwerp in 1944, and would go on to serve them through the Netherlands and into Germany.

After WW2

The Weasel remained in service after the Second World War. In 1946, there was a plan for the US Army to use the Weasel to rescue the victims of the C-53 Skytrooper crash on the Gauli Glacier but the Swiss Air Force managed to rescue the victims first. With the US Army, they would go on to serve in the Korean War.

French M29C in Vietnam.

In 1947, the French Army used the M29 in the First Vietnam war, where the 1er Régiment Étrangers de Cavalerie were equipped with the M29C variant. They armed them with multiple types of weapons, from the Chatellerault M1924/29 and Browning M1919 machine guns to 57mm recoilless rifles. The M29 would remain in service with French mountain troops and Gendarmerie as late as 1970.

Civilian Use

With a large surplus supply, the United States sold off large quantities of the M29 to various countries, including Sweden, France and Norway. Many Weasels served in scientific arctic expeditions, but their most famous use in civilian hands was at the 1960 Olympic Winter Games at Squaw Valley, California, USA.

The Automotive Company, Consolidated, sought to update the Weasel in 1960. They designed the ‘Sno T’rrain,” which was two Weasel chassis coupled together with fully enclosed canopies.

Today, there is a large community of Weasel collectors and restorers. As such, there are many running examples in private collections world wide.

Cargo Carrier M29 Weasel

Dimensions (L-W-H) 10′ 6” in x 5′ x 4′ 3”
(3.20 x 1.5 x 1.80 m)
Total weight 1.8 tons
Crew 1 driver, 3 passengers
Propulsion Studebaker Model 6-170 Champion 6-cylinder, 70hp
Speed (road) 36 mph (58 km/h)
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Links, Resources & Further Reading

The M29 on Military Factory
www.m29cweasel.com
www.studebaker-weasel.com