Sherman Crocodile

USA/Great Britain (1943)
Flamethrower Tank – 4 built

 

Although they had proved extremely useful in America’s fight against the Japanese in the Pacific, Auxiliary Flamethrowers (a flamethrower that is secondary to the main gun, rather than replacing the gun) were quite unpopular with the US Army fighting in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO).

Despite this, the British Churchill Crocodile, with its iconic trailer and bow mounted flamethrower, was well admired. American troops, who had received invaluable support from them, placed great faith in these British dragons. While the Churchill Crocodile was still being tested, American interest grew in the project, resulting in the development of their own version.

The American version would be based on their venerable workhorse, the Medium Tank M4 Sherman. It would become known as the Sherman Crocodile, in line with its Churchill brother.

The single M4A2 based Sherman Crocodile. Photo: Panzerserra Bunker

Development

In March 1943, US officers were shown the prototype of the Churchill Crocodile and queried the possibility of creating a similar vehicle based on their own Medium Tank M4, known to the British as the Sherman. In a meeting between UK, US, and Canadian military heads held on the 29th of June, 1943, at Dumbarton Oaks, Maryland, USA, it was surmised that the British led the Americans in flamethrower technology. This ‘flamethrower conference’ was held to evaluate possible requirements for future operations in Europe, namely Operation: Overlord, the amphibious landings of Normandy, which were planned for the following year.

The US Army informed the British War Office (WO) on the 11th of August, 1943, that they were estimating a need for around 100 of these ‘Sherman Crocodiles’, as they would come to be called. Construction of a wooden mock-up of the vehicle was completed by the British Petroleum Warfare Department (PWD). This mock-up was then inspected on the 1st of October, 1943. This was followed by a working prototype which was completed in January 1944. Trials took place at the end of that month, with a demonstration held for US officers on the 3rd of February. Overall, these officers would extremely pleased with the tank.


An M4A4 fitted with wooden mockups of the flame equipment. Photo: Panzerserra Bunker

The First US Army put in an order for 65 tanks that month. This number grew to 115 units when it was predicted that General Patton’s Third US Army would also require armored flamethrowers in their future exploits. The initial order for Overlord, submitted to the British War Office on the 16th of February, was for 100 Sherman Crocodiles including 125 of the accompanying armored trailers. The first production vehicle was finally completed in March.

Initially, the Sherman Crocodile was going to a truly large collaboration between British and American industry. The plan was for the American side to provide any parts necessary or unique to the M4 Sherman. The British, who would also construct the Crocodile, would provide the trailer and component parts of the flamethrower. In reality, British factories became overwhelmed with the production of their own Army’s orders for the Churchill Crocodile and were barely scraping together other orders. As a result, no Sherman Crocodiles were ready for the US Army on D-Day.

Design

Foundation, The M4

The M4 started life in 1941 as the T6 and was later serialized as the M4. The tank entered service in 1942. All Sherman Crocodiles were based on the M4A4, with one exception. The single Crocodile prototype was based on the M4A2.

The M4A2, known to the British as the Sherman III, was a diesel-powered model. The radial petrol engine of previous models was replaced with the General Motors 6046 engine (a combination of two GM 6-71 General Motors Diesel engines). The hull was of a welded construction.

The M4A4, known to the British as the Sherman V, was almost exclusively used by the British military and, like the A2, had a welded hull. Many A4s were famously converted into the 17-pounder armed Firefly. The unique feature of the A4 was its Chrysler Multibank engine. This large power plant was unpopular with the American military but liked by the British. This larger engine also resulted in the lengthening of the hull. This is most noticeable when looking at the suspension bogies as the gap between the units is much bigger than other M4 models.

The average speed of the M4 series was 22–30 mph (35–48 km/h). The tank’s weight was supported on a Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS), with three bogies on each side of the vehicle and two wheels per bogie. The idler wheel was at the rear.

Standard armament for both models consisted of the 75mm Tank Gun M3. This gun had a muzzle velocity of up to 619 m/s (2,031 ft/s) and could punch through 102 mm of armor, depending on the AP (Armor Piercing) shell used. It was a good anti-armor weapon, but it was also used to great effect firing HE (High-Explosive) for infantry support. For secondary armament, the M4s had a coaxial and a bow mounted .30 Cal (7.62 mm) Browning M1919 machine gun, as well as a .50 Cal (12.7 mm) Browning M2 heavy machine gun on a roof-mounted pintle.

Flame Equipment

The M4 base vehicle remained mostly unchanged. It retained full operation of its turret and 75mm gun and bow-mounted .30 Cal (7.62mm) machine gun, as was intended for an auxiliary flamethrower. Depression of the 75mm was slightly hampered over the right of the upper glacis, however, due to the placement of the flame gun.

The basic layout of the Sherman Crocodile was the same as the Churchill. All of the flamethrowing equipment would be external. This included the Crocodile’s iconic wheeled trailer which was attached to the rear of the tank. This coupling at the rear of the vehicle was officially known as “The Link”. The trailer weighed 6.5 tons and was protected by 12mm (0.47 in) thick armor. “The Link” was made up of 3 articulated joints which allowed it to move up, down, left or right and swivel on the horizontal axis to allow it to navigate rough terrain. The trailer carried 400 UK gallons (1818 liters) of flamethrower liquid and 5 compressed bottles of Nitrogen (N₂) gas. The tank could be jettisoned from inside the tank in case of emergency.

Loading of the fuel trailer. The fuel is poured in by hand on the left. The nitrogen gas bottles are loaded into the rear on the right Photo: Osprey Publishing

The Nitrogen gas propelled the fuel along a pipe which ran from the rear plate of the tank, along the right flank, to a flame projector mounted on the upper glacis to the right of the co-driver/bow machine gunner’s position. The entirety of the pipe was covered in thin metal plating to protect it from shrapnel or small arms fire. This flame projector was mounted on a pedestal protecting by sheet metal plating. It had a full range of motion, able to actuate up and down, as well as traverse left and right. The weapon was operated by the bow-gunner/assistant driver with controls at his station.

The flame gun on the front of the Sherman. Photo: Panzerserra Bunker
Sherman Crocodile (M4A4 based) of the 739th Tank Battalion in Julich, Germany, February 1945. This photo shows in excellent detail the flame gun and its armored pedestal. Also note the small frame welded onto the upper glacis to the left of the gun. This is likely a crew improvisation to stop the cannon colliding with the flame gun. Photo: Osprey Publishing

Service

Including the Crocodile prototype built on the M4A2, only four Sherman Crocodiles would be completed out of an initial introductory order of six. The three production models were built on the hulls of the newer M4A4.

The Crocodiles were effectively kept in a state of limbo in the UK until a request came in for Crocodiles in November 1944. This request came from General Omar Bradley’s 12th Army Group and General William Simpson’s 9th US Army. These armies showed the most enthusiasm to armored flamethrowers, having been some of the first to benefit from the support of British Churchill Crocodiles during the fighting in and around the port city of Brest. More Sherman Crocodiles were requested, but production never resumed.

The four Shermans were sent to the 739th Tank Battalion (Special Mine Exploder Unit), a unit that had previously been equipped with Canal Defence Lights (CDLs).

Sherman Crocodiles would have to wait until February 1945 for their first and only use in combat. They took part in Operation: Grenade, the assault on the ancient 13th-century citadel in Julich, Germany. On the 24th of February, the Crocodiles supported the 175th Infantry, 29th Division in their efforts to secure the town. The town was secured by afternoon, but the garrison of the old citadel was putting up a stiff resistance.

Sherman Crocodiles of the 739th in Julich, Germany, 1945. Photo: Osprey Publishing

The embattled fortress was surrounded by a moat that was 85-foot (26 meters) wide and 20-foot (7 meters) deep. Division commanders were not keen on throwing wave after wave of infantry against the walls of the citadel, so the

Crocodiles were brought in. The Crocodile unit arrived at half-strength, due to the fact that two of the tanks broke down before reaching the battle. When the remaining tanks arrived, they advanced to the edge of the moat and began to pump flaming liquid through every possible void. A large number of defenders quickly abandoned their positions and retreated underground.

With the garrison seeking refuge, the Crocodiles turned their attention to the gates of the citadel. The tanks pounded the gates with approximately 20 rounds of High-Explosive from the 75mm main guns. When they had succeeded in blowing the gates off their hinges, the Crocodiles resumed flaming, covering every inch of the inner courtyard in flames.

With the last survivors from the fort running to nearby hills, the 175th Infantry waded across the moat, securing the complex by 15.00 hours (3:00 pm) that day. The Citadel would continue to burn for two days. In March, the Crocodiles would support elements of the 2nd Armored Division after crossing the Rhine, but after this, there was very little need for the Crocodiles once the Siegfried line had been breached and passed.

Sherman Crocodile (M4A4) pulls its trailer through soggy terrain. Also, note the rather unique and rarely seen shroud around the flame gun. Photo: Panzerserra Bunker

Other flamethrowers were used with standard gun Shermans in Europe. These were either the E4-5 or ESR1 Auxiliary Flamethrower that replaced the bow machine gun. They were also in use in the Pacific fighting the Japanese. Though their effect was described as “positively pathetic” by commanders in the ETO, a large number of the weapons were used.

An interesting point to note about the three Crocodiles based on the M4A4 is that these are among some of the only M4s of that iteration to serve with the American Army in the European Theatre. The only other time the A4 was used by American forces in the ETO was after the Battle of the Bulge when US armored forces had a brief shortage of tanks. Gaps were filled with some A4s from British stocks.

The Crocodiles survived the war, but what happened to them is unknown. None of them are known to survive today.

Sherman Crocodile (M4A4) in action. Photo: Presidio Press

Other American M4 Flamethrowers

In the Pacific Ocean Theatre (PTO), the Americans had successfully designed and built a main armament flamethrower on the M4. A main armament flamethrower replaces the main gun, unlike the auxiliary of the Crocodile. This vehicle was known as the M4 POA-CWS H1 (POA-CWS: Pacific Ocean Area-Chemical Warfare Service) and was mostly used on the M4A3 model of Sherman. They served in a number of famous actions, including the assault on the treacherous volcanic island of Iwo Jima.

There was also use of smaller “periscope” flamethrowers that were attached to the co-driver/bow machine gunner’s hatch. This was also designed by POA-CWS, and was designated the H1 Periscope Mount Flame Thrower.

American development of Mechanized Flamethrowers based on the M4 continued after the war, resulting in such projects as the T33, as well as the M42B1 and B3 which served in great effect in the Korean War.

Further British Experiments

Alongside the Crocodile, British designers continued to work on other possible flamethrowing Shermans. Most notably, this took the form of more reptilian Sherman flamethrowers. These were the Salamander series and the Sherman Adder. Both of these were based on the M4A4.

The Salamander series went through 8 variations, Type I to Type VIII. They all focused on finding the best location for the flamethrower and accompanying equipment. The flamethrower of choice for this tank was the Wasp IIA which had a range of 90 – 100 yards (82 – 91 meters). Designed by the Petroleum Warfare Department, the initial Type I mounted the Wasp in an armored sheath under the 75mm main gun and was fed from fuel tanks in the sponsons. Type II and III were designed by the Lagonda luxury car company and they were the only variants to have a smaller crew at four men, instead of the regular five which the other models retained and mounted their flamethrowers in the 75mm gun tube. Type II also tested a flame gun mounted above the co-driver/bow machine gunner’s position. Type IV to VIII were all designed by the PWD. They all varied in pressurization methods and fuel tank arrangements. On Type VI and VIII, the flame gun was mounted in a blister on the side of the turret. On Type VII it was mounted in the antenna socket on the right front of the hull.

Salamander fell by the wayside. Though tested for a short period in 1944, nothing came of the projects. The next project was called the Adder. The configuration of the Adder was thus: an 80 UK gallon (364-liter) fuel tank was mounted on the rear plate of the M4. An armored pipe running across the top of the right sponson fed the fuel from this tank to a flame gun mounted above the co-driver/bow-machine gunner’s position. The gun had a range of 80 – 90 yards (73 – 91 meters). A simple armored skirt was added to the flanks to protect the suspension. Like the Salamander, however, the project did not make it past prototype stages.

Specifications (M4A4 based)

Dimensions (L-W-H, without trailer) 19’4” x 8’8” x 9′ (5.89 x 2.64 x 2.7 m, measurments without trailer)
Total weight, battle ready 37,75 long tons (35.3 tons, 83,224 lbs)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, gunner, loader, flamethrower operator)
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 75mm Tank Gun M3
Flamethorower on upper glacis
Roof cal.50 (12.7 mm) Browning M2
Coaxial cal.30 (7.62 mm) Browning M1919
Armor 90 mm (3.54 in) max, turret front
Total production 4
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

 

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Presidio Press, Sherman: A History of the American Medium Tank, R. P. Hunnicutt.
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #206: US Flamethrower Tanks of World War II
olive-drab.com
panzerserra.blogspot.co.uk

Medium/Heavy Tank M26 Pershing

U.S.A. (1944)
Medium/Heavy Tank – 2,212 Built

A Bit Late for WWII

The M26 Pershing descended from a long series of medium and heavy tank prototypes, dating back from 1936. During the war, heavy tank development had been long delayed or given low priority since the US Army, USMC and Allied forces required a mass-built, good-all-around medium tank, which took the shape of the Medium M4 Sherman.

By 1944, the High Command was aware of the limitation of the M4 when facing German tanks. By mid-1944, both the British and US had undertaken upgrades in armor and guns on the Sherman, and developed tank-hunters instead of mass-producing a brand new model. However, by the fall of 1944, these stopgap measures proved insufficient, and the innovative M26 was eventually pushed forward for production. But it was a bit too late. The Pershing saw little combat and mostly soldiered during the Cold War, starting with Korea. At last, the crews had the ideal tank to deal with German armor, but historians and authors still debate about the causes of such delays. Could the Pershing have been a game changer if introduced earlier?

T20 Prototype (1942)

Development of the T20 Medium Tank started as an upgrade over the M4 in 1942. This new tank had common features with earlier models, notably the characteristic suspension (HVSS) bogies, roadwheels, return rollers, drive sprockets and idlers. By May 1942, a mock-up of the T20 had been already produced. U.S. Army Ordnance also ordered the development of the M6 heavy tank, which would prove a dead end. The main feature of the T20 was the lower silhouette and more compact hull, allowed by the availability of the new Ford GAN V-8 combined with a rear transmission and rear sprocket drive layout.

This engine was an early attempt to produce a V12 with similar layout and performances to the Rolls Royce Merlin, but development was stopped and the engine was turned into a smaller V8. Other improvements included a sturdier horizontal volute spring suspension (HVSS), a longer barrel version of the 75 mm (2.95 in) (M1A1), and 76.2 mm (3 in) front armor. The weight and width were very similar to the M4, allowing transportation in similar conditions. However, the T20 also pioneered the Torqmatic transmission, which proved highly problematic during trials.

T22 and T23 Prototypes

Problems with the Torqmatic dictated a return to the M4 transmission, leading to the T22. Variants of this medium tank also tested an autoloader, thus reducing the turret crew to just two.

T-23 at Aberdeen

In 1943, the need to replace the M4 was not apparent, and the U.S. Army Ordnance decided to test several electrical systems on the next T23 Medium Tank, mainly the transmission. These entered service but, because of maintenance and supply problems, only operated on U.S. soil for the duration of the war, mainly for training purposes.

T23 prototype with electrical transmission

The T25 and T26

The T25 was a new design, up-armored and up-gunned. This was done as it was clear, after the first encounters with German upgraded Panzer IVs, Panthers and Tigers, that the M4 was less up to the task than previously thought. The debate was heated, but finally, a breach opened and clear-cut decisions were taken after the reports came from Normandy. Meanwhile, a series of T25s was built, inaugurating a new, far larger cast turret derived from the one on the T23, in order to accommodate a 90 mm (3.54 in) gun.

T25 prototype

The T26 added upgraded armor to the mix, with a new 102 mm (4 in) thick glacis and reinforced hull. Their overall weight rose to 36 tonnes (40 short tons), up into the category of “heavy tanks”.

Performance decreased, and triggered reliability and maintenance issues, as their engine and transmission were not designed to cope with the additional stress. The T25 displayed VVSS suspensions while the T26 used the final torsion bar system retained on the M26. The T26E1 was the prototype upon which the upgraded production version T26E3 was based on. After a small pre-series, this was standardized as the M26.

M26 Design

M26 Pershing 4-view drawing

Compared to the Sherman and previous models, the Pershing was revolutionary. The new Wright engine and short transmission gave it a low profile, as opposed to the Sherman. The glacis plate was one of the thickest ever fitted on an American tank to that point. The torsion bar system conferred a noticeably better ride and was leagues ahead of the tractor-based VVSS, as well as simpler than the HVSS. The large tracks fitted with soft steel shoes contributed to lowering the ground pressure and giving better grip on soft terrain. Above them, two wide mudguards mounted large storage bins for tooling, spares and equipment.

The drivetrain, modeled and tested on the T26, counted six pairs of rubberized roadwheels, each fitted on its own wheelarm. They were connected to the torsion bars by the way of an eclectic spindle, and each was also connected to a bumpstop, which limited the motion of the arm. Three out of the six received extra shock absorbers. There was also one idler (identical to the roadwheels) at the front and one sprocket at the rear, on each side.

The idlers could be precisely adjusted to the track thanks to a large notch. This meant that the idler could be displaced forward or backward and thus change the track tension. There were also five return rollers. The tracks were a new model, but rather classic in appearance, each link being articulated with wedge bolts and having a two-piece center guide. These were also rubberized.

Construction called for large cast sections, front and rear, attached to the hull sides and welded together. Another cast section went across the engine deck for better strength. There was an infantry telephone fitted on the back panel of the engine compartment, inside an armored box. Infantrymen could then communicate with the tank, for close support, even in the midst of battle.

The engine compartment was covered by eight armored grids, four openings total, only accessible when the turret was turned to the side. The two rearward ones granted access to the engine, while the two forward ones allowed access to the left and right fuel tanks, the right being shorter to make room for the auxiliary engine and electric generator. There was also a semi-automatic fire extinguishing system. Also on the engine deck was located the radiator filler cap and gun travel lock. The transmission had three speeds forward and one reverse. The differential operated three drumbrakes on each side.

The M36 commander’s cupola had a one piece hatch and six direct vision prisms made of thick bulletproof glass, inserted inside the cupola bulge. In practice, the hatch had the tendency to jump loose and a field experiment later passed into general practice consisted of drilling holes into it. The top of the hatch mounted a periscope and the entire structure moved freely around a fixed azimuth scale. When inside, the commander had a lever for traversing the turret left or right. Just behind him was mounted the SCR 5-28 radio set. Due to its lengthwise position, a mirror allowed the commander to use the commands at hand. The gunner had an M10 periscope, with x6 magnification, and to its left was an M71 auxiliary telescope with x4 magnification.

The M3 90 mm (3.54 in) gun was power traversed, with a joystick controlling elevation and a pump for manual traverse. The gun also had an elevation handle and, just behind it, a manual trigger, in case of failure of the electrical fire system. There was also a gear change lever, for choosing between the manual or hydraulic options for traverse. At a lower position was found the manual traverse lock, which was used when the turret was reversed and gun lowered and attached for transportation. The gun had a classic percussion fire system and manual breech. The loader also fired the cal.30 (7.62 mm) coaxial machine gun, and had his own vision system. Just left of him were the ready racks, storing ten rounds of various types for immediate use. Additional stowage inside six floor compartments was used. He also had a pistol port.

The driver and assistant driver both had sprung suspended seats and single-piece hatches. The driver had a rotatable periscope, immediate access to the semi-automatic fire extinguisher to his left and a brake release. The instrument panel counted (in order) five circuit breakers, a fuel gauge, a lever for fuel tank selector, electrical starter, electrical gauge, tachometer, personal heater, differential settings, fuel cut-off emergency button, panel light trigger, main lights, speedometer, oil pressure & engine temperature gauges, as well as several lamp indicators.

The two brake levers had no neutral positions. The turning radius was about 20 feet (6 m). The assistant driver was in charge of the bow machine-gun, a ball-mount cal.30 (7.62 mm), and had a complete set of driving levers if needed to replace the driver, and had a simple hatch periscope which allowed him to see his machine-gun tracers. The turret roof also housed, near to the commander cupola, a multi-purpose cal.50 (12.7 mm) heavy machine gun. Ammunition racks for it and the coaxial cal.30 were found inside the turret rear cast “basket”.

Production and Controversy

It is a known fact that the actual production of the T26E3 preseries, which was standardized in March as the M26, only began in November 1944 at the Fischer Tank Arsenal. Only ten were built this first month. Then it raised to 32 in December and gained momentum in January 1945, with 70 vehicles and 132 in February. Added to this, the Detroit Tank Arsenal also joined this effort, releasing some additional tanks in March 1945. From then, around 200 left both factories each month. In total about 2212 vehicles were built, some after WW2. Although months were needed to train crews and maintenance teams, the first real operations began in western Germany in February-March 1945.

The controversy came with the legitimate question about the well-documented inefficiency of the M4 Sherman against German armor after 1944, correlated with the fact that the US Army failed to field a new tank model in time, since the T26 was delayed for so long. Several historians, like Richard P. Hunnicut, Georges Forty and Steven S. Zaloga specifically pointed to the responsibility of the ground forces head, General Lesley McNair, in this matter of fact. Depending on the these opinions, several factors contributed to these delays:

-The development of tank destroyers alongside regular M4s and based on the same chassis (McNair himself developed and strongly supported this doctrine) or the introduction of improved M4s (the 1944 “76” versions).
-The need to have a streamlined and simplified line of supply. Most US tanks at that time were M4s or based on the M4 chassis, sharing the same components. Adding to this a brand new set of parts and a heavier, untested tank, would have imposed many changes and perhaps jeopardized such 3000 miles long (4800 km) supply lines, which became essential from D-Day on.

A state of complacency after the introduction of the M4, as it was seen as superior to German tanks in 1942 and still a match in 1943. Many officers, including Patton himself, were quite happy with the high mobility and reliability of this model, and opposed the introduction of a new heavy type, which was seen as unnecessary. Even when the Tiger and Panther were encountered in limited numbers, the order to study a new model was not given, and instead time was “wasted” on studying a new electric transmission. Only after Normandy were some efforts made to develop a new tank from the T25.

-From Zaloga’s point of view, there was a clear opposition to the development of the T26, only lifted when General Marshall, supported by Eisenhower, overruled McNair in December 1943 and renewed the project, although it proceeded quite slowly. Hunnicut underlines the ordnance requested 500 vehicles of each model in development then, the T23, T25E1 and T26E1, because of contradictory wishes. The Army Ground Forces systematically objected to the 90 mm (3.54 in) armed new heavy tank, while the Armored Forces branch wanted the 90 mm (3.54 in) to be mounted on the Sherman.

The Super Pershing & T26E4

The first combat experience showed that the M26 still fell short on firepower and protection when facing the formidable German Tiger II. Because of this, experiments were carried out with the longer and more powerful T15 gun. The first vehicle, based on the first T26E1-1 vehicle, was shipped to Europe, where it was uparmored and saw limited combat, being now commonly known as the “Super Pershing”. Another T26E4 prototype and 25 “serial” vehicles followed, with slight differences.

Super Pershing, 1945

The M26A1

This modified version came into production after the war and most Pershings in service were upgraded to this standard. It replaced the M3 with the new M3A1 gun, characterized by a more efficient bore evacuator and single-baffle muzzle brake. The M26A1s were produced and modified at Grand Blanc Tank Arsenal (1190 M26A1s in all). They cost $81,324 apiece. M26A1s saw action in Korea.

Active service

Europe

The Army Ground Forces wanted to delay full production until the new T26E3 was battle-proven. So the Zebra Mission was mounted by the Armored Forces Research and Development unit, led by General Gladeon Barnes in January 1945. Twenty vehicles of the first batch were sent in Western Europe, landing at the Belgian port of Antwerp. They would be the only Pershings to see combat in World War Two, spread between the 3rd and 9th Armored Divisions, part of the First Army, although some 310 would be shipped to Europe until V-day. They drew their first blood in late February 1945 in the Roer river sector. A famous duel took place in March at Köln (Cologne). Four T26E3s were also seen in action during the “mad dash” to the bridge at Remagen, providing support, but not crossing the fragile bridge for days. Instead, these heavyweights crossed the Rhine on barges.

After the war, M26s were grouped into the 1st Infantry Division, stationed in Europe as a reserve, following the events of the summer of 1947. The “Big Red One” counted 123 M26s in three regimental and one divisional tank battalions. In the summer of 1951, with the NATO reinforcement program, three more infantry divisions were stationed in West Germany, and accepted mostly battle-proven M26s retired from Korea. However, by 1952-53, these were phased out gradually in favor of the M47 Patton.

The Belgian Army inherited the bulk of these, including many reconditioned M26A1s from USA, for a total of 423 Pershings, leased for free as part of the Mutual Defence Assistance Program. These served in three Régiments de Guides, three Régiments de Lanciers and three Batallions de Chars Lourds. These were also phased out and replaced by the M47 Patton, only two units retaining them by 1961. They were retired from service in 1969. By 1952-53, France and Italy also benefited from the same program and were given M26s. France swapped them soon after for M47s, while Italy retained them operationally until 1963.

Belgian M26 at the Brussels Army museum

The Pacific

While the heavy fighting at Okinawa raised concerns about the losses taken by M4s, it was eventually decided to send a shipment of 12 M26s, departing on May, 31. They landed at Naha beach on the 4th of August. However, they arrived too late as the island was nearly secured.

Korea

The bulk of the M26 (and M26A1) force saw action during the Korean war, from 1950 to 1953. The first units to be called were the four infantry division stationed in Japan, only counting a few M24 Chaffees and howitzer support models. The M24s were quickly found no match for the numerous T-34/85s fielded then by the North Koreans. However, three M26s were found in storage at the Tokyo US Army ordnance depot, and were quickly brought back in service with fortune-made fanbelts. They were formed into a provisional tank platoon by Lieutnant Samuel Fowler. They were deployed in mid-July, first seeing action when defending Chinju. However, their engines overheated and died out in the process. By the end of July 1950, more divisions were sent, but still counting mostly medium tanks, M4s of the latest types. Many M26s were hastily reconditioned and shipped. By the end of the year, some 305 Pershings managed to arrive in Korea.

M26 Pershing in Korea, 1952

After November 1950, however, most of the tank to tank battles were already spent, and North Korean T-34s became rarer. A 1954 survey showed that the M4A3s scored the highest kills (50% because of their large availability), followed by the Pershing (32%) and the M46 (only 10%). However, the kill/loss ratio was clearly favorable to the second and especially for the third, as the M26 found no difficulty getting through the T-34s armor at any ranges, well helped by the largely available HVAP ammunition, while its armor stood well against the T-34’s 85 mm (3.35 in) gun. In February 1951, Chinese forces deployed considerable numbers of T-34/85s, but these were widely spread between infantry divisions for close support. The same year the M46 Patton, the upgraded version of the M26, gradually replaced the Pershing, as it was found unable to display sufficient mobility on the mountainous terrain of Korea.

Starting a Dynasty: The Patton Series (1947-1960)

Too late for World War Two, but also not mobile enough for Korea, produced in small quantities related to other models from the same time frame, the Pershing seemed to have been a stopgap model, bound for history’s dark corners. However, it technically started a brand new generation of US Cold War tanks, sharing the same revolutionary suspension system, roomy turret and low-profile hull, better known collectively as the “Pattons”. A dynasty which lasted well into the 90s, when the last modernized M60s in service came to retirement. Many are still found in frontline units all around the world.

M26 Links & Resources

The M26 Pershing on Wikipedia
The M26 on WWIIVehicles

M26 Pershing Specifications

Dimensions (L-w-H) 28’4” x 11’6” x 9’1.5”
8.64 x 3.51 x 2.78 m
Total weight, battle ready 46 tons (47.7 long tonnes)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, assistant driver, loader)
Propulsion Ford GAF 8 cyl. gasoline, 450-500 hp (340-370 kW)
Maximum speed 22 mph (35 km/h) on road
Suspensions Individual torsion arms with bumper springs and shock absorbers
Range 160 km (100 mi)
Armament 90 mm (2.95 in) gun M3, 70 rounds
cal.50 M2Hb (12.7 mm), 550 rounds
2xcal.30 (7.62 mm) M1919A4, 5000 rounds
Armor Glacis front 100 mm (3.94 in), sides 75 mm (2.95 in), turret 76 mm (3 in)
Production (all combined) 2212

Light Tank M3A3 with 7.5cm PaK 40

Yugoslavian Partisans (1945-49)
Modified Light Tank – 3 converted

Genesis of the Light Tank M3A3 With 7.5 cm PaK 40

The Axis invasion (codenamed ‘Directive 25’) of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia started on the 6th of April 1941 (also known as the ‘April War’). The Yugoslav Army was taken completely by surprise by the speed and size of the Axis forces. The war ended on the 17th of April 1941 with the capitulation, occupation, and division of Yugoslav territory by the Axis forces.

However, very soon after the Axis occupation, in the second half of 1941, the first resistance groups started a rebellion against the occupiers. There were two resistance fighters groups, the Royalist Chetniks (Četnici/Четници) and the communist Partisans (Партизани). The Chetniks were led by General Draža Mihailović (Дража Михаиловић) and the communist Partisans movement was led by Josif Broz Tito (Јосиф Броз Тито). The term ‘Partisan’ describes both groups by definition, but today the name Partisans has become a synonym for the communist resistance movement in Yugoslavia.

Although in the beginning, these two groups worked together in the fight against the occupying Axis forces, a conflict between these two forces in late 1941 would break out into an open civil war. This lasted until the end of the war and the victory of the Partisans.

By the end of 1943 and early 1944, because of the lack of Chetnik actions against the Germans, the Allies decided to send large amounts of military aid to the Partisan movement instead, including weapons, tanks, and aircraft. According to the agreement between the Partisans and the Allies, it was planned to form one tank brigade equipped with Allied fighting vehicles (armored cars and tanks).

A column of Partisan M3A3s. A PaK armed one can be seen just behind the leading vehicle. 

This unit, named the First Tank Brigade, was formed on the 16th of July 1944. The British provided all the equipment needed to equip this brigade. In its inventory, there were some 56 M3A1/A3 Stuart tanks, 24 AEC Mk.II armored cars, and two M3A1 armored reconnaissance cars. The next larger delivery of 36 mostly M3A1 tanks would take place on the 6th of March 1945 (plus a few Stuart tanks received during the war from the Allies) so that the total numbers of Stuart tanks used is around 100.

The caliber (37mm) of the main gun on the Stuart M3A1/A3 tanks was inadequate for anti-tank duties in 1944/45, but Stuarts were still used, since most German tanks on this front were older (mostly Italian and French models). There was also nothing better available at that time, partly because there were not enough Soviet-supplied weapons. The Partisans, as a result, were forced to use the AEC Mk.II armored car (due to its better firepower, the 6 pounder – 57mm Anti-Tank Gun) for engaging better and stronger enemy tanks in mix units together with Stuart tanks.

But this tactic of using both vehicles types for fighting enemy armor led to a lack of any reconnaissance (vehicle or infantry) element of the brigade. The inability to determine exact information about the enemy forces, in particular, unit strength and exact positions, led to great losses.

By the end of the War, more than 60 Stuart tanks were destroyed or damaged. On several of these damaged tanks, the turrets were removed and Partisan engineers decided to try to mount some captured German weapons, to be used as improvised self-propelled guns with increased firepower. Two confirmed modifications are known; one armed with a German 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun and the second armed with the 20mm Flak 38 Flakvierling anti-aircraft gun. These modifications were quickly built and put into use without proper testing.

There is also no information about the exact names for these vehicles, or whether the Partisans even assigned an official name for them.

Front view of the modified tank. This one is armed with a second Browning machinegun placed above the gun shield or behind it.

The Modifications

On some damaged tanks, the tank turret was removed and in its place, a new modified gun platform was fitted. The upper structure mounted the 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun with its twin layer gun shield of 4mm (0.16 in.) thick steel and a small armor plate (there is no information on its thickness) between the gun and the tank hull. Two more armored plates were used for the side protection (taken from damaged German Sd.Kfz.251 or 250 half-tracks). In principle, the armor of the upper modified gun platform offered only limited protection for its crew, mostly from small caliber bullets and shrapnel.

The main armament, as previously noted, was the 7.5cm Pak 40 anti-tank. The choice for the main gun was very simple one, as the Partisans captured a number of these guns, so they used what they had. The exact number of rounds for the main gun is not known, but it is often mentioned as being around 25 rounds. The 7.5cm Pak 40 gun had enough power to destroy nearly all types of enemy tanks that could be encountered on this front. These being the German Panzer IV or some captured Russian T-34/76 (known as “Panthers” by the Partisans) in Germans use.

The secondary armament consisted of one original hull mounted Browning 7.62mm (.30 cal) machinegun. On some photographs, a second Browning machine gun can be seen placed on top of the gun shield or behind it, but the photographs are not clear enough.

Due to the removal of the tank turret and installation of the new 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun, it was necessary to do some modifications on the two roof hatch doors (used by the driver and hull machine gunner) so that they could be opened forwards only. Except for the change in the upper structure of the tank, the rest of the vehicle was the same as the original (hull, running gear, armor, and engine).

The dimensions of this vehicle were similar to the original tank configuration. Due to the length of the 7.5cm Pak 40 gun, it was certainly a bit longer than the original but the exact details are unknown. The weight of this vehicle was probably around some 15 to 17 tons. It had four crew members: commander, driver, gunner, and a loader. The gun crew had a very limited working space to effectively operate the main weapon.

In Combat

There is little information on the precise participation and loses of the Partisan Stuart PaK version. What is known from the contemporary photographic evidence is that they were used in combat. There are only a few documented actions in which these tanks were used.

The PaK armed M3A3 in action somewhere in Yugoslavia. Exact date and location unknown.

They were used at the end of March 1945 in the area of Drenovača (Дреновача) against German positions. Then, on the 27th and 28th of April 1945, near Ilirska Bistrica (Илирска Бистрица), after some heavy fighting (between the Partisan and German forces), the Germans managed to push the Partisans out of Bistrice. This was with the support of one armored company equipped with several or more ‘Panther’ tanks (in reality captured and reused Russian T-34/76 tanks), The next day, Partisans carried out a counter-attack and on that occasion, one T-34/76 was hit and destroyed by a Stuart PaK version. They also took part in tough battles for the liberation of the Trieste (Трст) by the end of April 1945.

The final fate of Pak version is not known, whether they were lost in combat or if they survived. Тhe First Tank Brigade war losses were as previously noted, around 30 to 34 tanks destroyed and a similar number of damaged tanks. So it’s possible that in these numbers include some Pak-conversion tanks.

The role of this vehicle was very likely primarily for destroying enemy heavy armor and as a long-range fire support in a way similar to some German armored vehicles. We can conclude that this hybrid vehicle had both good and bad sides. The positive side was the superior firepower compared to the original and weaker cannon 37mm main gun. Negative sides were: limited working space for the gun crew, weak armor, limited ammunition storage, unproven designed and the whole new gun platform was very likely to stressful for the whole chassis.

PaK armed M3A3 and crew.

Number Built

It is believed three Stuart tanks were modified, but according to other sources (mostly on different internet websites) up to 5 vehicles were rebuilt this way, but this is probably not correct. What is particularly strange is that this conversion always appears alone in contemporary photographs, so it possible that only a single vehicle conversion was ever carried out. Currently, it cannot be exactly verified how many such vehicles were built. Their final fate after the war is unknown.

The 7.5 cm PaK 40 Anti-Tank Gun

The 7.5cm PaK 40 was a Rheinmetall solution for the German problems with their insufficiently strong anti-tank guns. It was first issued in very limited numbers by the end 1941 and start of 1942. It became the standard and a highly effective German anti-tank gun used until the end of the war, with some 20,000 examples being built.

The Pak 40 was in essence just a larger version of the 5 cm Pak 38. It had a split tubular trail carriage, double plate shield (two 4mm plates 25mm apart) to protect the crew, solid rubber tires with a torsion-bar suspension, and a muzzle-brake on the long gun barrel. It was an excellent anti-tank gun, but the main problem with it (according to many sources) was the heavyweight in action, many were lost because they became bogged down in mud, especially on the East Front. After the war, many European countries put them to good use to re-equip their shattered armies for some time.

The maximum effective range of Armor Piercing (AP) rounds was 2 km and for High Explosive (HE) rounds was 7.6 km (4.72 miles). Elevation was -5° to +22° with 65° traverse. Weight in action: 1425 kg /3142 lb. The armor penetration at a range of 1 km (0.62 miles), depending on the ammunition used was around 97 mm which was enough to destroy almost every tank of the period at that range.

The Pak 40 used several different types of ammunition:
– 7.5cm Pzgr Patr 39: Conventional piercing shell (AP) with ballistic and penetrating caps. Complete round weight of 12 kg (26.46 lb),
– 7.5cm Sprg Patr 34: Standard high explosive shell (HE) Complete round weight of 9.15 kg (20.18 lb),
– 7.5cm Patr H1/B: Complete round weight of 8 kg (17.64 lb), Hollow charge shell used in limited number because the low muzzle velocity (450 mps/1476 fps) made precise and accurate shooting at fast targets very difficult.

Specifications

Dimensions 4.33 x 2.47 x 2.29 m
14.2×8.1×7.51 ft
Total weight, battle ready 15-17 tons
Crew 5 (Gunner, two loaders, driver and commander).
Propulsion Continental 7 cylinder petrol
250 hp – air cooled
Speed 58 km/h (36 mph) road
29 km/h (18 mph) off-road
Range 120 km at medium speed (74.5 mi)
Armament 7.5cm Pak 40 Anti-Tank Gun
Armor From 13 to 51 mm (0.52-2 in)

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Artillery From WWI to the present day, Michael E. Haskew, Amber Books 2010.
Waffentechnik im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Alexander Ludeke.
Fighting men of WWII Axis Forces, David Miler, Chartwell Books.
German Artillery of World War Two, Ian V.Hogg
Oklopne jedinice na Jugoslovenskom ratištu, Bojan B. Dumitrijević i Dragan Savić, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2011.
Armored units and vehicles in Croatia during WW II, Part I Allied armored vehicles, Dinko Predoević, Rijeka 2002.
Modernizacija i intervencija, Jugoslovenske oklopne jedinice 1945-2006, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Beograd 2010.
http://www.srpskioklop.paluba.info/m3/opis.htm

76.2mm GMC M18 Hellcat

USA (1944)
Tank Hunter- about 2,507 built

Historical Background

As the United States army entered World War II, it drew certain conclusions from Germany’s quick victories over Poland and France. One was that a highly mobile tank destroyer force needed to be held in reserve to deal with sudden Panzer breakthroughs as they occurred, rather than keep anti-tank forces at the front.

Therefore, anti-tank elements were removed from infantry divisions to form independent battalions, which were initially equipped with a number of improvised mobile tank destroyers, the M3 half-track mounting a 75 mm (2.95 in) gun, and the GMC M6, a truck with a 37 mm (1.46 in) gun.

Restored M18 GMC Hellcat tank destroyer at the Military Odyssey event in southern England.

Once Operation Torch provided battlefield experience for the army to evaluate, it became apparent that more powerful tank destroyers would be needed. First of the more powerful weapons was the M10, built on the chassis of an M4 armed with a 76.2 mm (3 in) gun. However, the M10 was still insufficient, so an order went out for a tank destroyer designed from the ground up to hunt and destroy tanks. This vehicle would become the M18 Hellcat.

In December 1941, the Ordnance Corps issued a requirement for a fast tank destroyer using torsion bar suspension, a Wright/Continental R-975 engine, and a 37 mm (1.46 in) gun. This became the T42 37 mm (1.46 in) Gun Motor Carriage. The army then changed their request to a vehicle mounting a 57 mm (2.24 in) gun, thus the designation changed to the T49 57 mm Gun Motor Carriage. Yet another change, requesting a 75 mm (2.95 in) gun, led to the T67 Gun Motor Carriage, of which one was built from a T49 chassis.

Finally, the T70 76 mm Gun Motor Carriage emerged and would become the M18 Hellcat. It was designed by Harley Earl at Buick. Tests on an oval track, as well as a specially designed bumpy track, demonstrated that the lightly armored vehicle could achieve high speeds. Production of the M18 started on January 7th, 1943, when 1,000 units were ordered.

Design

Speed and agility were the hallmarks of this particular tank destroyer; these qualities came about from using a powerful engine and by keeping armored protection to a minimum. As was the case with other tank destroyers used by the United States, the M18 had an open turret, which left the crew vulnerable to snipers, grenades, and shrapnel.

Rarely was the high speed of the Hellcat fully used in combat, but the ability to outflank German tanks, for side and rear shots, did benefit the crews against the heavily armored Panther and Tiger tanks. Ease of maintenance came from the engine being mounted on steel rollers, which permitted quick removal and replacement. The transmission was also easily accessed in this manner. The 76 mm (3 in) gun soon proved to be not as effective as hoped against German armor, although a limited supply of high-velocity armor piercing ammunition did compensate to some extent.

The crew comprised five members, the commander in the turret left rear, gunner in the turret left front, loader in the turret right, driver in the left front, and assistant driver in the hull right front. The armor consisted of rolled and cast homogeneous steel, as follows: Gun shield .75 inch (1.9 cm) from 0-60 degrees; Front (cast) 1 inch (2.5 cm) 23 degrees; Sides .5 inch (1.3 cm) 20 degrees; Rear .5 inch (1.3 cm) 9 degrees; Top (none); and floor 0.25 in (6 mm).

The main armament was a 76 mm (3 in) M1A1, M1A1C or M1A2 gun with 45 rounds. It had a 360-degree manual and hydraulic traverse at 24 degrees/second, +20 degrees to -10 degrees of elevation/depression. The secondary armament comprised a .50 (12.7 in) caliber M2HB machine gun in a ring mount (800 rounds), rotating 360 degrees, with manual traverse.

Production

In July of 1943, the Hellcat went into production at the Buick plant in Flint Michigan. Although Buick was contracted to build 8,986 Hellcats for the US army and Lend-Lease recipients, only a total of 2,507 vehicles were produced, with production ceasing in October 1944.

Variants

There were a number of variants tested using the chassis of the Hellcat. The T86 and T86E1 amphibious tank destroyers, as well as the T87 105 mm (4.13 in) amphibious Howitzer Motor Carriage, the T88 105 mm (4.13 in) Howitzer Motor Carriage and the Super Hellcat mounting the turret from the M36 turret were all tested, but none proceeded to production before war’s end.

M39 of a Medical unit in Korea

The only variant of the M18 to see production and combat was the T41/M39 armored utility vehicle, used as a turretless personnel or cargo carrier and as a gun tractor. M39s saw service in both World War II and Korea, before being declared obsolete on February 14th, 1957. A prototype of the M39 was tried as a flame thrower tank, the T65. It did not go into production.

Active Service

Although some Hellcats went to China to fight the Japanese army, they were primarily used in support of infantry, as Japanese armor was scarce and of poor quality. Two battalions of tank destroyers did see service in the invasion of the Philippines using Hellcats. Starting with Anzio in Italy, M18s saw action in Italy and Northwest Europe.

Hellcat at Wiesloch, Germany, 04/01/1945.

The following tank battalions used the M18 during part or all of their service: 602nd battalion 9\1944, 603rd 8\1944, 609th 9\1944, 612th 1\1945, 637th 1\1945 (Pacific), 638th 11\1944, 643rd 2-3\1945, 648th 5\1945?, 656th 2\1945, 661st 2\1945, 704th 7\1944, 705th 7\1944, 801st 4\1945, 805th 6\1944, 807th 4\1945, 809th 2\1945-4\1945, 811th 11\1944, 817th 4\1945, 820th 4\1945, 822nd 4\1945, 824th 3\1945, 827th 12\1944. Note: The dates are for when the unit received the Hellcat.

According to the army’s “Seek, Strike, Destroy” doctrine, these battalions were to be kept under the control of upper echelon headquarters, in order to respond quickly to mass Panzer attacks. However, since the Germans almost never employed their tanks in this manner, the battalions ended up parceled out to infantry divisions, where they provided direct fire support, blasting pill boxes and other fortifications, or in indirect fire roles interdicting German movement. Not designed for these roles, the M18 nevertheless did excellent work supplementing the artillery of these infantry divisions.

Throughout the long campaign in Italy, then through France and the Low Countries, the tank destroyer units had a number of moments to shine as tank destroyers; at Arracourt, in France, on September 19th 1944, the 704th TD battalion in support of the 4th Armored Division destroyed 15 tanks of the German 113th Panzer brigade while in a dense fog; during the Ardennes offensive on December 19th-20th 1944, 4 Hellcats of the 705th TD battalion supported an attack on the 2nd Panzer division.

This spoiling attack slowed down the German attempt to seize Bastogne until the Americans could organize their defenses. In addition to serving with the United States army, the Hellcat also served with the armies of Taiwan, West Germany, and Yugoslavia (until the 1990’s).

An article by Tim Cox

Sources & Links about the M18 Hellcat

tankdestroyer.net
AFV Data Base
The Pacific War Online
“Seek, Strike, and Destroy: US Army Tank Destroyer Doctrine in World War II.” Dr. Christopher R. Gabel; Combat Studies Institute, US Army Command and General Staff College Fort Leavenworth Kansas September 1985
Buick M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer First Drive – Four Wheeler
M18 76mm Gun Motor Carriage Hellcat – History of War
M18 Gun Motor Carriage (Hellcat) – Tank Destroyer/Gun Motor Carriage – History, Specs and Pictures – Military Factory
UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II, The European Theater of Operations – “THE LORRAINE CAMPAIGN” Hugh M. Cole

76mm Gun Motor Carriage M18 Specifications

Dimensions
(L-W-H)
19ft 9″ x 9ft 11in x 7’3″
(6.01m x 3.03m x 2.32m)
Total weight, battle ready 18 tons (39,000 lbs)
Crew 5 (driver, co-driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Continental radial R-975-C4 9 cyl., gas. 900T Torqmatic transmission
Top speed 50 mph (80 km/h) road
18 mph (29 km/h) off-road
Range (road) 105/160 mi (160 km at cruising speed)
Armament 76 mm (3 in) gun M1A1/M1A1C/M1A2, 45 rounds
Cal.50 (12.7 mm) Browning M2HB, 800 rounds
Armor From 1 inch (glacis) to 0.2 in (floor) (25 mm to 5 mm)

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