Sunday, July 26, 2015


This is one of the perennial myths that seem to live on in cyberspace. During the Kursk battle, 13 guns were lost, only one of which can be credited to close combat infantry assault (The gun was blinded by a smoke grenade and fell into a ditch - crew bailed). Another three guns were destroyed by their own crews after being immobilized in minefields (with a bit of a stretch, the claim could be made because of enemy infantry threat, but would be pure speculation)

Other causes of losses were:

- Artillery round into open drivers compartment.
- Artillery round through fighting compartment roof.
- Crushed by flying Pz III, falling onto gun/engine deck.
Pz III was advancing on top of an embankment, the Elephant was behind the embankment and traveling parallel to the Pz III. The Pz III was hit by Soviet AT fire and flew through the air landing forward of the armored casemate.
- Friendly (sic) Pz IV fire.
- Generator fire.

All info: "Combat History of SchPzJgrAbt 653" by Karlheinz Munch.

German Armour Development WWII Part 1

On 1 September, 1939, the total number of German tanks amounted to 3195, but of this 1445 were the light, machine gun armed Pz.Kpfw.I and only 211 were Pz.Kpfw.IV. However, in their opening campaign against Poland they did not meet any serious tank opposition. On the eve of the 1940 offensive against France there were still only 280 Pz.Kpfw.IV out of a total of 3379, although this now included 710 tanks armed with 37mm guns, among which were ex-Czech Pz.Kpfw.35t and 38t as well as Pz.Kpfw.III. Most German tanks were not therefore very powerfully armed. The striking successes achieved in 1940 in France by the German armoured forces were consequently due to the way the tanks were employed rather than to their characteristics. Thus, all 2574 tanks that were actually deployed were concentrated in the ten Panzer divisions which the German Army had at the time and nine of these were concentrated on a narrow front.

The Panzer divisions were even more successful in relation to the opposing forces in 1941 when seventeen of them, with a total of about 3350 tanks, spearheaded the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The total number of Soviet tanks at the time has been generally estimated at about 24000, which was not only four times as many as the total number of German tanks but more than the number of tanks in the whole of the world outside the Soviet Union. Seventy five per cent of this total consisted of T-26 and BT tanks, both of which the Soviet Army regarded as light tanks. However, they were far better armed than other contemporary light tanks, including those which represented 37 per cent of the German tanks, and the BT was generally comparable to other 'light-medium' tanks. The large number of Soviet tanks was somewhat less formidable than it might appear because many of them were in a poor state, which has been reflected in claims that 73 per cent of the older types were in need of overhaul. Moreover, Soviet tank forces were in considerable disarray as a result of two reversals of policy. The first was a 1939 decision to abolish the tank corps, which until then contained a significant number of Soviet tanks, and to use tanks by brigades for infantry support. The second was a decision taken in July 1940, following the striking success of the German Panzer divisions in France, to reform mechanised corps on a large scale. But this decision was only partly implemented by the time the German forces attacked in June 1941. In addition, the Soviet tank forces were badly employed and as a result of it all they were almost annihilated, losing, according to German records, 17500 tanks.

The German Tiger heavy tank which had appeared by the end of 1942.

The Tiger was, in turn, one of the German responses to the appearance of new Soviet tanks in 1941 and in particular of the T-34. At the time the German Army had no heavy tanks, except for a few experimental vehicles. However, once the new Russian tanks were encountered the German High Command realised the need for tanks more powerful than the existing Pz.Kpfw.IV. In consequence two new tanks were hurriedly developed. One was the 56 ton Tiger, whose design incorporated some features of one of the earlier experimental tanks but which was armed with a tank version of the 88mm anti-aircraft gun that had already proved highly effective as an anti-tank weapon. The other was a new medium tank which became the Panther, a 43 ton vehicle armed with a 70 calibre long, high velocity 75mm gun. The Panther began to be produced in January 1943 and, together with the Tiger, gave the German tank units a qualitative superiority over the Russian tank units. But both tanks were produced on a relatively small scale, the total production of the original Tiger I amounting to 1354 and that of the Panthers to 5976. In consequence, there were not enough Panthers to reequip the Panzer divisions completely with them and the Tigers were generally held back in independent battalions.

Both tanks had the same general layout as Pz.Kpfw.IV and five-man crews but apart from having much more powerful armament and thicker armour they were much more advanced mechanically. As a result of its combination of characteristics the Panther came to be regarded as the best medium tank of the 1943-45 period while the second version of the Tiger became the most powerful tank to be used during the Second World War. Thus, Tiger II was armed with a higher performance 88mm gun which was 71 calibres long and which could pierce considerably thicker armour than the 122mm gun of the IS-2. It was also heavily armoured, its frontal hull armour being 150mm thick, although this contributed to its weight of 68 tons, which made it the heaviest tank used during the war. But the total production of Tiger II amounted to only 489 vehicles.

German Armour Development WWII Part 2

In the meantime, while the Tiger and the Panther were being developed, the existing German tanks were belatedly armed with more powerful guns. In particular, Pz.Kpfw.IV was armed in 1942 with more powerful 75mm guns, first 43 and then 48 calibres long, instead of the short barrelled gun of 24 calibres, which had been used in German tanks since the Grosstraktoren of 1929. In contrast, the Soviet Army armed its tanks with progressively longer barrelled and, therefore, higher velocity 76.2mm guns. Thus the early Russian tanks, including some of the BT, were armed with guns only 16.5 calibres long but the final versions of the BT and T-28 medium tank were armed with guns 26 calibres long while the original versions of the T-34 and KV had guns of 41.2 calibres. However, when the Pz.Kpfw.IV was finally rearmed with the 75mm L/48 gun the latter proved to have an armour piercing capability considerably greater than that of the Russian 76.2mm guns of 41.2 calibres and as good as that of the 85mm gun with which the T-34 was eventually armed.

The armament of the most numerous German tank during 1941 and 1942, the Pz.Kpfw.III, was also improved. The Pz.Kpfw.III was conceived as a light tank to be used alongside the medium Pz.Kpfw.IV (1.76). However, it had the same general layout, five-man crew and almost the same weight as the Pz-Kpfw.IV, which was extravagant in relation to its original armament of a 37mm gun. After the 1940 campaign in France it was rearmed with a 50mm gun 42 calibres long, which at short range could penetrate more armour than the short barrelled 75mm gun of the contemporary Pz.Kpfw.IV. However, its performance proved inadequate against the frontal armour of the Russian T-34. In consequence it was rearmed again, being fitted in 1942 with a 50mm gun 60 calibres long, the armour piercing performance of which was at least comparable to that of the Soviet 76.2mm tank guns of 41.2 calibres. In the end it was armed with the same 24 calibre 75mm gun as the original Pz.Kpfw.IV. This should have been done from the start and might have led to the merger of the two types into a single battle tank that could have been produced more efficiently and employed more effectively.

As it was Pz.Kpfw.III was best used when its chassis became the basis of the turretless Sturmgeschütz. The latter was conceived as an assault gun for infantry support but in 1942 it was rearmed with the same long-barrelled 75 mm gun as the Pz.Kpfw.IV. This turned it not only into a tank destroyer but also into a very effective turretless tank and it was used as such by the Panzer divisions when there was a shortage of turreted tanks. Ultimately the number of Sturmgeschütz built on the Pz.Kpfw.III chassis amounted to 9409, which was more than the total production of any German tank.

Sturmgeschütz mit 8.8cm PaK43/2 (Sd Kfz 184)

History: During the development of the Tiger(P) and Tiger(H), Hitler had agitated for a turret design which would be large enough to mount the 8.8cm KwK L/71. This had not materialized and on 22 September 1942 it was decided that a StuG with 200mm frontal armour and the long 8.8cm gun should be immediately designed, with the Tiger( P) as the basis, and part of the Tiger( P) production diverted for the vehicle. Alkett was to design and produce the Ferdinand, with Nibelungenwerke supplying the completed chassis. Despite the shortage of suspension parts and lack of test runs, on 6 February 1943 Hitler ordered that 90 Ferdinands were to be supplied for the front as quickly as possible by all available means. This resulted in the order for Nibelungenwerke to complete the Sturmgeschutz Ferdinand instead of Alkett. All 90 were completed by the end of May 1943, in time for use in the summer offensive at Kursk.
Specific features: The hull of the Ferdinand was that of the Tiger(P), but with 100mm plates bolted to the front, and an addition to the rear to support the superstructure and vent cooling air for the electric motors. The superstructure housed the long 8.8cm gun in a limited traverse mount. No secondary armament was mounted until late 1943, when those returned from the front were modified to carry a hull machine-gun. The superstructure was also changed at this time to provide the commander with a cupola. Forty-eight Ferdinands were so modified.
Combat service: Ferdinands were issued to Panzerjagerabteilungen 653 and 654 in April and May 1943. These units fought at Kursk during the limited offensive and helped plug holes in the line for the rest of the summer and autumn. The units were pulled out late in 1943 to overhaul the vehicles, after which, the 653rd Panzerjagerabteilung was re-equipped and a separate company was attached to the 614th Panzerjagerabteilung.

Jagdtiger (Sd Kfz 186)

History: Early in 1943, orders were given to design a heavy, self-propelled anti-tank gun, by mounting the 12.8cm gun on a Tiger II chassis. A wooden model of the enormous vehicle was displayed on 20 October 1943, and the finished prototype, in April 1944. Two Jagdtiger (Nos. 305001 and 305004) were built with the Porsche-designed longitudinal torsion-bar suspension. This proved unsatisfactory and delayed production until the Jagdtiger had been redesigned with a torsion-bar suspension. The initial series was for 150, but an order issued in October 1944 stipulated that when these had been completed, production capacity was to be used for building the Panther. However, this was reversed in January 1945, with an order to continue the assembly of Jagdtiger as fast as possible. A Jagdtiger mounting the 8.8cm L/71 was designated Sd Kfz 185, but this never went into production.
Specific features: The Jagdtiger had the same suspension as the Tiger II, but its hull was lengthened. The superstructure had a very box-like appearance, with the sides being formed by the continuation of the upper hull sides. The hull machine-gun mount was retained in the hull front, as secondary armament to the 12.8cm PaK44, mounted in the superstructure front.
Combat service: The Jagdtiger was issued to only two combat units, Panzerjagerabteilung 653 and schwere Panzerabteilung 512. The 653rd was employed on the Western Front during the Ardennes offensive, and later with the 512th in the defence of Germany proper, in such actions as that of the Remagen Bridgehead on 10 March 1945.