Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Krupp Stehlen

Following on from last week's article I'm going to talk about armour once again, this time Krupp Steel! Now this has probably been discussed on just about any forum you care to name at such great lengths before that you're already likely familiar with the argument.
If you're not, it's that German steel was somehow superior, however, as the war went on lack of resources meant that German armour quality deteriorated. There are some comments from the renowned German armour historians Jentz and Doyle that are used to parry the blows of the Allies, as they seem to say the opposite of the reports cited by the deteriorating war situation crowd.
Now while talking about this on a forum I frequent, I was reminded of a document I'd seen previously, and have mentioned on here, about the quality of Japanese armour. That's the point at which I formed a new theory, that might account for the disagreements around this subject.

The issue here is that pretty much everyone you speak to on the subject has an axe to grind. It's either fervent wehraboos complaining Germany would have won if it wasn't for those pesky bombers. On the other side you have what seems to be mostly Soviet (but I'm sure we can find some British or American fanboys wading in) fanatics ranting about how they're superior when it comes to designing armour. So as each side has an agenda then comes the giant game of trying to spin the results to your side, it then ends up as a bunfight with both sides battering each other with their selected evidence until the mods exterminate the thread, much to every sane posters relief.
The Tiger about to under go an air burst test. The panel above the tank is to detonate the HE shell.
So the case for the accusation: there are four main reports widely available on the internet of a captured Panther, a Tiger, a King Tiger and the assessment of plate from a captured Panther.
Incidentally the British tested out the lower hull by stacking a box of No 75 anti-tank grenades, three non-boxed No 75's and a box of detonators, and buried it to the depth of two inches and then triggered the lot.
The results of the pile of explosives.

The most damning of the lot is the US metallurgical assessment and testing of German armour plate. Its given a high Brinell hardness of about 300, but lacking in a key material, and extremely brittle. Yet other reports from big cats (mostly tested by the British, with Soviet reports also suggesting the same) say that the plate is quite soft, surprisingly so, with a hardness of less than 250.
Most, if not all the sources say the same thing in their conclusions, that German plate is bad, but they do so for different reasons. Plus the Panther plate that was tested that lacked crucial ingredients is being cited as standard for all German armour, however this report comes from 1945.
All this might suggest that something else is going on.
The King Tiger before testing by the British.
Now in the defence we have Doyle backing up Thomas Jentz. In a book about the Tiger, in 1998, Jentz writes
"[...]there is no proof that substandard German armour plate was used during the last years of the war. All original documents confirm compliance with standard specifications throughout the war."
At first glance that looks like the Germans just produced some bad plate. But if that's the case, how can items from differing ends of the spectrum pass quality control? Or is there something else we might consider?
It might at this time be useful to point out that although I'm using phrases like "bad" or "poor" the plates tested by the British conformed roughly to what we called medium quality plate, known as IT80. So it's by no means terrible.
Some of No.1 Armoured car squadrons vehicles.
So what might be causing the differing results and the change in quality? Well exposure is a possible candidate. At least in the case of Tigers some of the tested ones were captured in North Africa, and there's an anecdote that I read about that might apply. A No.1 RAF Armoured Car Squadron was serving in the Middle East, in what is now Saudi Arabia. To overawe the locals a demonstration was put on for the Sheik, and a Rolls Royce armoured car was driven around at speed to display its prowess. The Sheik was informed of its bullet proof skin, and the officer invited the ruler to take a shot at the armoured car. The Sheik readily agreed and had his rifle brought forward. This turned out to be a colossal Jezail. This was duly fired and hit the car, much to the crew's surprise the bullet passed right through their armour! Luckily the car didn't display any signs of the penetrating hit and the British were able to bluff their way through and cover up the incident, they subsequently convinced the locals that taking on the might of the British Empire was a very bad idea. A very quick investigation showed that exposure to the temperatures and the sunlight had degraded the armour properties, to the point it wasn't actually effective. All the Rolls Royce armoured cars were quickly shipped back to the UK where they were re-armoured.
"I'll get you, you pesky Roller!"
At the other end of the spectrum you have the extreme cold of Russia, what effect does this have on armour one wonders. So without knowing the full history of all the German vehicles tested one can not say that they never encountered something such as this to effect their armour.

The other thing that struck me was the tests on Japanese plate. The thinnest Japanese plate was considered better than the equivalent British plate. This was I recall about 6mm. However as the plate increased in thickness the Japanese methods of treating the armour plate remained the same, and so the face hardening wasn't such a high percentage of the total depth of the plate and so the armour rapidly became worse than a British equivalent. This is what spawned my theory.
So maybe as armour thickness drastically increased then the German methods for treating the plate weren't able to keep up with the increase in thickness which caused the quality to drop. So while the treatments used maintained the standards required, it wasn't producing the same effect due to the increase in plate thickness. You’ll note that the drop in armour performance appears to link with the increase in armour to 100mm. Previously Panzers were manufactured with plate thickness of 50mm or lower. Mid war Panzer IV’s had 50mm plate with 30mm appliqué.
Of course as a theory it's just that. There's still several points of data required to confirm it. But it's just a thought.
Up armoured Panzer IV
Oh, and to clarify, and be blindingly clear: the myth of Krupp Steel is just that, the Germans didn't have a super special type of armour that was vastly in advance of everybody else, they had, and here's the surprise; armour plate just like everyone else. So when you see someone talking about a special German steel modifier (either for or against) ask yourself about their agenda. Because I suspect a lot more work will need to be done on this before either one side or the other has sufficient evidence to explain away all the holes in either argument.

Image credits:

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Building a Better Boxtank?

The following video came out a few weeks ago, and upon seeing it several of my friends (including a German) accused me of writing the script for it. Upon challenging this claim they pointed out that British tanks tend to be a bit boxy and heavily riveted, and as I like British tanks its a pretty easy conjecture to make.

Then we began to talk about the merits of sloped vs vertical armour (I know, exciting right...). As I've just read a presentation to a large gathering of armour officers about this very subject I figured it'd be good to make an article on it. So what follows is a non-mathematician trying to explain a horribly complex subject (and we all saw how well that went in the nuclear bomb article).

It is a commonly held belief that sloped armour is better than vertical armour, this isn't strictly true (some claim it isn't even slightly true). Equally it's often claimed that the Russians invented sloped armour on the T-34. First of all let's address the last point and consider what the claim is saying, that every engineer between the ancient Greeks (I'm using Greeks, as Pythagoras' measurements of triangles are the one most used in later on in this article), and the Russian designer of the T-34 had forgotten or were never taught the maths that make up geometry. Yet tanks before and after the T-34 continued to be made with flat plates... why? Maybe it's because flat armour isn't as bad as many claim, if not superior. Consider this, if sloped armour is so inherently superior why do modern tanks use fairly shallow angles on their front plates, and some like the Leopard 2, use none?
Its a Tiger!
Like all things in armour design the slope/vertical choice is a compromise. If you assume that the best idea is to wrap the armour as tightly as you can around components, and thus use the minimum armour for protecting these parts, then with the engine bay, transmission and fuel you quickly get a large rectangle. Which is great as it allows you to fasten the suspension onto the side plates, and already you pretty much have a layout that resembles most tanks ever built. On top of this, literally you have to consider the turret ring. Sloping the upper hull sides means the size of the turret ring you can fit is smaller, and with a smaller turret ring you get a smaller gun. You can't just increase the width of the tank, as most tanks have a restriction on their width. In the Second World War the restriction was limited by the railway gauge that would be used for transporting the tank.
The Sherman is narrower than the T-34, yet the Sherman could carry the bigger gun.

But what of the armour itself? An example given in the paper I mentioned is a 100mm vertical plate vs a German KwK 42 L/70 75mm, the gun most famously mounted on the Panther, at 2000 yards. At that range the KwK 42 could penetrate 104mm, and so beat the 100mm vertical plate by 4mm.
But what if we slope it?
Well to cover the same area, at say 30 degrees, the plate now weighs more. Before you all grab for calculators scratching your head or reach for the comment button, remember the missing part is the roof and thus normally much thinner and lighter, and is a different calculation and balancing act for the designer. We're just talking about the ability to protect fire from the flanks. Most people when working this out have the “roof” of the triangle the same thickness as the sides for simplicity. However even the newest student of armour design can spot that the idea of having a 100mm thick roof is a bad idea. (Note: I'd actually be interested in seeing a comparison of weights and thickness that includes the difference in thicknesses of side and roof plates)
So using the same weight of armour means you could get, 80mm of armour at 30 degrees. The same gun at the same range as used before has a penetration of 89mm. So you're actually worse off as the gun has beaten you by over twice the margin of the vertical plate.
But one thing we've failed to take into account is ballistics. All the numbers listed so far are for a shell approaching on a dead flat trajectory. As the range increases the arc the projectile needs to take to impact on the target also increases. This has the effect that the strike gradually moves closer to a 90 degree angle on sloped armour. At the same time on vertical armour the angle is getting steeper, actually increasing the thickness of the plate. A similar effect could be achieved by the tank driving cross country, which would have dips and be uneven.
Yeah, now go down the slope and the angle decreases, and add in a ballistic curve to the shot.
Also to add to the mix is the type of projectile being shot at you. A pointed projectile is best for shooting at a vertical plate, whereas a blunt nosed projectile does best against sloped surfaces. The latter is because the corner is the tip of the impact. So knowing your enemy is going for sloping armour in a big way, start firing blunt projectiles at him. During the Second World War British rounds were designed to be fired against tanks with 30 degree sloped armour..

So in summary, a vertical plate will always give its designed level of protection, and may actually give more. It's also technically (possibly?) lighter. With that in mind why are modern tanks not universally square? I honestly have no idea, it is reported that sloped armour is actually harder to spot, and blends into the background better than a square tank, and that right angles show up really well to radar. There's also a question of crew morale, as sloped armour is seen as better. So if you ever see another “design your own tank” competition, give the poor humble vertical plate another chance!

Image Credits:
www.brhoward.com, www.fprado.com and globeatwar.com

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Early Invasion

You'll remember some years ago now I mentioned Jack Churchill, and his special brand of madness. Well when I heard of this chap I immediately knew I had to do this article, although material on him is a bit sparse. Another reason for me picking him is that this soldier was born in a village not to far away from where I grew up, and one I passed daily for many years on the way to work.

On 30th of October, the wife of Mr King, a builder from Cambridgeshire living in Caxton, had a son. He named him Peter. Six months short of the Second World War Peter, now aged 23, joined the army Dental Corp. He actually served as an instructor and became proficient in weaponry. As the war situation worsened, and being proficient in most forms of weaponry, and getting disillusioned about teaching dentists how to shoot straight, Sgt King applied for transfers to combat units, these were all rejected.
At this point Sgt King fell in with Private Leslie Cuthbertson, from Newcastle. Together they decided to do something about the situation they both found themselves in. Together they pooled their bank accounts, and had a total of £30 as operating funds. Then they managed, presumably with King's instructor status to obtain a number of hand grenades and a pair of revolvers. They also obtained one bayonet. As would any other self respecting soldier they also purchased a knife. With this arsenal of materiel they turned their attention to the men to wield it, and after lights out on the base the two would meet for clandestine route marches and after hours PT.
Eventually they saw themselves as ready. On 11th of April 1942, Sgt King stole two rail travel warrants from the guardhouse, and the two soldiers left for adventure. They arrived in a small Cornish village, and pretending to be soldiers on holiday they spent two weeks in the location. During this time they taught themselves to rock climb.
After this time they collected their weaponry and set out for the harbour. On their way they posted a letter to Winston Churchill. The letter contained their pay books and an explanation of their plans.
At the harbour they stole a boat, and these two soldiers with a pair of revolvers, set course for France to storm Festung Europa, two years ahead of the rest of the Allied armies...
They landed, oddly enough, on the Cherbourg Peninsula. Once here the army of liberation roamed the countryside looking for mischief to inflict on the Germans for several days. On one occasion they spent their time cutting telephone wires. Then feeling this was insufficient they found a railway line which they promptly set about with some of their hand grenades. Some sources say they tried to cut the line as a German troop train approached. However it is unlikely that a hand grenade would have had an effect on length of track.
Now with, one presumes, the Germans alerted to the invasion, the first wave used the rest of their grenades on a signal control box blowing it to pieces and then retreated. They reached a French port and hijacked another boat, setting out for England. Again sources differ as to what happened. Some say that the boat had a run in with a mine, others that the engine broke down. Either way they found themselves drifting in fog, as the Channel current pushed them towards the Atlantic. They drifted in this boat for about twelve days, when an RAF air sea rescue launch found them.
Their story was so unbelievable that they were at first treated as spies. However the precaution of sending their pay books into the Prime Minister paid off, and both men were just Court Martialed. After the Court Martial they were drummed out of the Dental Corp. Pte Cuthbertson was transferred to the Durham Light Infantry, and survived the war to eventually became the deputy Lord Mayor of Newcastle and he died in 1996.
Lord Lovatt
King, by now a private however, still has a story to tell. Pte King joined the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. After a while he went on detached service to another unit, the Commandos. Upon hearing of Pte King's exploits their commander Lord Lovat got King transferred to his company. In the Commandos King rose to the rank of Sergeant Major, and landed in the first wave on D-Day, with the objective to blast through to the Paras at Pegasus Bridge.
By the war's end King was a Captain, after being promoted in the field for a series of actions, including a three day patrol behind enemy lines to guide artillery onto targets of choice. After the war King emigrated to New Zealand and became a factory manager, until 1950, at which point he joined the New Zealand army to fight in Korea. In 1951 at hill 335 King was acting as a forward observer for an artillery battery. Using his guns he broke up the first Chinese human wave attack. However return artillery fire cut his communications. Cpt King then joined in the defence of the hill, leading a section of LMGs against a second human wave attack. After bitter fighting Cpt King was wounded and had to be evacuated.

After Korea he left the army again, however he wasn't out of colours for long, rejoining the army in 1956 to be part of the peacekeeping force in Kashmir. For this post he was given the rank of Major. King finally left the army in 1959 for the last time, the same year he got married. Three years later while travelling to a meeting his car spun out of control and crashed into Lake Wahapo and he was drowned.

Note: Any formatting/picture oddities are down to Blogger. Its getting worse every week.

Image Credits:
dailymail.co.uk and www.canadiansoldiers.com

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Friendly Fire

Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK, and keeping with tradition I'll be writing about something a bit different from my normal fare.

When Finland managed to claw itself to freedom from the mess of the Russian Civil War its military obtained a number of items from its former Russian overlords. One such spoil of freedom was the minelayer Voin. Armed with a pair of 47mm guns, bad seakeeping and a low mine laying capacity she was soon turned into a depot ship.
In the 1930's she was renamed Louhi. During the Second World War she was re-armed and served throughout as a minelayer, and despite her shortcomings she achieved the third highest total number of mines laid.
The minelayer Louhi
At the end of the Continuation War the Finns made peace with the Russians. One of the clauses of this peace was to expel the German forces inside Finland, this in turn led to the Lapland War. There was a veteran submarine officer called Captain Olavi Syrjänen who had been a liaison officer with a German U-boat. He'd been selected for this role due to his ability to speak German fluently. At the outbreak of the Lapland War Cpt Syrjänen held a goodbye party for his friends, the crew of U-370, and their commander Oberleutnant zur See Karl Nielsen.
Oblt.z.S Nielsen was born in Hamburg in 1911, and had joined the navy in 1935. He was posted to command of U-370 in November 1943, later he'd become good friends with his liaison officer.
Olavi Syrjänen
As the Lapland War progressed, there wasn't much fighting as the Finns were slowly pursuing the retreating Germans, just enough to keep their former allies moving, but not enough to catch them or have a fight. This might have had something to do with the Germans conducting an orderly withdrawal, and then informing the Finns, in secret, of their timetables so the Finns could follow up and just happen to miss the retreating Germans. Eventually pressure, and threats of resumption of hostilities, from the Soviets forced the Finns to take an active part in the war.
Karl Nielsen
The Finnish Navy also had to start operations against the Germans in conjunction with the Russian Navy. One of the ships included in these was the minelayer Louhi, now captained by Cpt Syrjänen. Due to the chance of mines being laid in the wrong place a Russian liaison officer was stationed on the ship.
On 12th of January 1945 the Louhi and another Finnish minelayer were placing a minefield to hinder the Germans. They were escorted by a pair of Soviet gun boats. Suddenly there was an explosion at the Louhi's stern. She was ripped wide open and  began to sink, going under about two minutes later. She took eleven of her 41 crew down with her.
After twenty minutes in the freezing sea, without a life jacket, which was being used by the Russian liaison officer, Cpt Syrjänen was rescued by the Soviet gun boats. He was the last of the survivors to be rescued.

Some distance away lay U-370. Oblt.z.S Nielsen had ordered a pair of acoustic homing torpedoes to be fired at the flotilla, not knowing his friend was on one of the ships.
Cpt Syrjänen died in 1992, and  Oblt.z.S Nielsen is still alive today. U-370 was scuttled on the 5th of May 1945.

Image credits:
uboat.net and www.hs.fi

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Ivanhoe's Fire

I will now issue the largest disclaimer I have ever used on here. First I am am not a nuclear physicist (AKA: “Magician”). So a lot of numbers have been gotten from the fudge'o'matic, as I had a deadline to meet on writing this. Even that maths was beyond me (yes I'm thick when it comes to maths) and I had to get help, so my thanks to Dominic Gravina, and his bloody useful radiation graph.
Second, the documents I'm using to provide data points are from 1955 and 1959. At this point the effects of radiation and the technology to measure them weren't as precise or accurate as we have today. Nor were the mathematical formulas.
So the numbers in this could be quite easily wrong, and if shown to a nuclear scientist it might cause them to die of laughter at how badly out I am. Be warned!

Last week I left you with the Allied powers in Germania on the brink of war with the despotic Saturnian nation, and its satellite states which it had subjugated. The exercise commenced from there, however there's no notes on what happened in the defence of the Elbe River and how the Saturnian forces were dealt with. But as it's a British exercise I'll have the British valiantly holding out and then launching a counter attack deep into Saturnia. With the British forces penetrating deeply one armoured division swings northwards, and rolls through the sparse defenders. As they drive for their distant objective, Danzig, they approach the Saturnian town of Joachimsthal.

The peaceful town of Joachimsthal
A lot of the RAC conferences were about how to fight on the nuclear battlefield and the effect of nuclear weapons so I thought it might be interesting to compile all the effects and subject a British armoured division to attack by a Saturnian tactical nuclear warhead.

First, for this exercise we need some parameters. For the British armoured division I'm using the organisation from the Second World War until the mid 1950's. This divisional structure had quite a few bad features. First with sixty tanks per regiment it was considered unwieldy and difficult to control. In WWII this didn't come up as much as armoured regiments were nearly always below strength.
The UK Armoured Division also had 15170 personnel, compared to 16053 for a US formation and 14234 for a Soviet unit. However despite this both the USSR and US forces had a ratio of one tank per fifty men, while the British had a ratio of one per seventy. With this divisional structure there are a couple of areas where the British vision had the highest numbers, although these are not necessarily advantages. The UK division had the most B echelon vehicles (these are soft skinned support vehicles), also the British had more lorried infantry units, in fact most of the British infantry were in lorries. The Soviets and US didn't have any infantry so transported.
The biggest flaw in the divisional structure was the fact that British divisions only had two brigade command posts (US: three, Soviet: five). This meant that the British commander had a choice to make. Would he fight with both brigades forward in his battle line, but lack depth or reserves, or have a worryingly small frontage.
British armoured Divsion advancing through the outskirts of Joachimsthal
For the frontage I'm going to use an arbitrary average number of 40 yards between tanks, and the squadrons advancing two up, with one in reserve. The brigade would have two such regiments, so that equals about 1200 yards frontage. The division will be advancing with one of its brigades forward with the other held as a reserve. I'll have the one regiment of Conquerors in the reserve brigade, the other regiments will be in Centurion MK.III's. As the majority of the division is tied to roads the unit will have a screen of Daimler armoured cars spread across its front, one Regiment will manoeuvre through the town accompanied by lorried infantry. The motorised infantry will be on the flank supporting the second brigade as it advances through the wooded country around the city. The rest of the division will be moving towards Joachimsthal, and its road network. As the Daimler armoured cars emerged from the far side of the town the some of the observers spotted a lone high altitude contrail. Unbeknownst to them it was a single heavy four engined Saturnian bomber, in its hold the free fall 20 kiloton nuclear bomb.

Saturnian Dictator at the loading of the Atomic bomb into the Bomber
The Church of the Cross, which dated from the 1600s, and was devastated in 1814 by fire lies at the centre of Joachimsthal. As B Squadron passed its looming spire a new form of devastation was about to arrive in a fireball. As it passed 2000 feet the gun type nuclear weapon fired.
The Church of the Cross
The armoured regiment in the town it would be effectively obliterated. Heat and blast would have torn the tanks to pieces. The crew would have received an instantly lethal dose of radiation. Equally any non armoured vehicle in the division would have been rendered destroyed. In a test with just a 9 kt bomb soft skins within 1200 yards were destroyed utterly with only parts of their engines being salvageable.
Of the troops in soft skins further back you'd need to be over a mile from ground zero not to be killed or incapacitated by the radiation, but even then you'd have to deal with flash burns.
In an armoured vehicle you'd have stood more chance, but much not of one, even as far as way as 1100 yard the light vehicles would have been smashed to pieces. Even the tanks would have suffered, the Regiment passing round the side of Joachimsthal would have been hit hard by the blast wave. Any tanks broadside on would have likely been flipped. The blast would have ripped skirts and even gun mantlets off, or crumpled the skirts into the running gear. Never mind the fixtures not part of the body of the tank, flying debris would smash external items like smoke launchers, those that were not smashed would have likely been pulled off and added to the flying debris. A lot of this debris would have been sucked towards ground zero, after being flung away.
The biggest risk from the blast however would have been the movement of the tanks. At a range of 400 meters a Centurion pointing towards ground zero would have been shoved away from the blast a distance of ten feet, which would equate to a speed of 15mph. In effect the crew would have been hit by a tank moving at that speed, a terminal experience. Even crew members strapped in would have been killed or severely injured, as during a crash there's several stages to deal with, the final two are your body hitting the restraints and then your internal organs hitting your body. At about 600 yards the movement of the tank would be about 7.5 feet, and the speed about 11mph.
This blast effect would have killed the crew of the tanks the radiation left alive. The radiation we'll be looking at here is two forms, gamma radiation is actually pretty survivable as the armour of a tank makes a reasonable shield against it. Its interesting to note that the gamma radiation has peculiar effect on the optics of a tank, turning them all yellow in hue.
For crew whose tanks were facing the blast they would survive the gamma radiation. Even at 400 yards the dose would have been about 1400 REM. A REM is a measurement of how much radiation a body absorbs. A dose of 5000 REM is instantly fatal, 3000 REM will render the victim unconscious in about five to fifteen minutes and they may yet die. Even at 400 yards the crew in the turret would receive only 1400 REM of gamma radiation. However the driver, and any tanks not facing towards the blast would suffer lethal doses out to a much larger range.

However there's the second form of radiation to consider, neutrons. These have much more penetrative energy and without a dedicated radiation liner in the tank they will be much more deadly. The RAC briefing mentioned that the best way of stopping these was to use a substance close to the same atomic weight, then when the neutrons impact upon this substance it imparts some of its energy onto the atom the neutron hit. The scientist at the briefing gave the analogy of billiard balls, and what happens if you were to fire another ball at a cluster of them, eventually the ball that was fired into the others would strike so many its velocity would drop to a manageable level. In the case of the tanks, the neutrons would fall into the thermal range and be absorbed by the tank's armour.
The problem is that the closest atomic weight is hydrogen, a not particularly dense material that isn't particularly good as armour. For example polyethylene gives good neutron protection. Against neutrons you'd be taking a lethal dose out to about 800 yards, a tank's driver or tanks turned to the side would likely gain only negligible benefit from the armour.

So as well as a sudden lack of drivers, no softskins, mass casualties and the effective destruction of the lead brigade, there is some good news. Despite heavy damage a lot of the tanks in the second brigade could continue to move and fight, although the rubble from Joachimsthal would be impenetrable to the tanks. If some crews could be brought together a scratch force could fight to some degree, although you lack any form of logistics or infantry, the tanks would likely be damaged, but still able to move and shoot.
Another piece of good news, the dust kicked up by the blast would dissipate in minutes and the chance of fires from the thermal energy would be minimal as most would have been instantly blown out by the blast wave, although there may have been a few patches of smouldering that would need to be looked at.
Now you can see why tactical weapons were going to be a key part of the Allied defence against Soviet attacks during the cold war. Its also interesting to note the radiation effects were much larger than blast effects so even a small nuclear warhead would have a much larger kill radius with radiation. For example a blast with a yield of just 20 tons had a lethal radiation footprint of 100 yards, while its blast radius was only 20 yards. You can see why the US army developed the Davy Crockett weapon, and why very briefly the British toyed with the idea of an anti-tank guided missile with a tiny nuclear warhead. Before you discount the idea, in 1959 the scientists giving the briefing to the RAC pointed out they could make warheads with a one ton yield, and that the Russians might not know such small yields were even possible.

Image Credits:
www.atomicarchive.com, cacpeaceday.wikispaces.com and www.lacoupole-france.co.uk

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Thinly Veiled

Every year the Royal Armoured Corps holds a conference to update their officers on things that are happening or soon to happen within the Corps. It also features some data on emerging threats. I've recently been reading the reports on them from the 1940's and 1950's. Some years the conference is an HQ exercise. Seeing as the article I had planned for this week is taking longer than I anticipated I'm going to use what was originally going to be background material in support of the article as a full article.

Most of the HQ exercises had an imaginary name for the enemy. For example the 1948 Exercise Sabre had the evil nation of "Fantasia" (I kid you not) seizing the French coast then launching a lightning cross channel invasion, landing in Dorset and pushing inland around Bovington, mainly I suspect because most of the officers knew the area.
The 1950's Exercise Ivanhoe had a new threat, what follows is the background and briefing material for the exercise, it has what appears to be the most thinly veiled bunch of references I've ever seen... can you guess what country Saturnia is meant to be? Also remember that this was written in 1950.

1. The end of the second Great European War in 1945 left Britain, the British Commonwealth and Empire, the United States and the Western powers victorious over Germania [Listy: Link to briefing about Germania]. Post-war measures of economy, however, had led to drastic reductions in their armed forces. Saturnia on the other hand, having contrived to remain neutral, had not only suffered no ill effects from the war but had reaped considerable advantages. Her strongest suit remained her practically limitless manpower.
The Saturnian Dictator
2. After the war, Germania had been split into zones occupied by Britain, the United States and France. Thus the eastern borders of the British and US zones met with Saturnia, while on the southern flank of the United States zone lay the states of Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia and Austria. None of them had taken part in the war, though continuous pressure had been exerted on them by Germania and they had paid with continuous privations for their neutrality.

(exercise note: Berlin is assumed to be an ancient university city of no special military significance, the capital of Germania being Frankfurt which is jointly occupied by the British, US and the French.)

3. With Germania and her conquerors wearied by war, Saturnia had been, not unsuccessfully, attempting by fifth column and every other possible underground means to spread her own particular brand of totalitarian doctrines beyond her own borders. These doctrines were in no way more acceptable to Western thought than those against which the Second Great War had been fought for six years.

4. From 1945 onwards the rate of demobilization by the Western powers had been rapid and the forces which they had in Germania by 1953 were small, amounting to no more than five or six divisions. The Saturnians, on the other hand, were estimated as being likely to deploy sixty to seventy divisions in the proportions two tank, six mechanised, eight rifle on the boundary of their territory with occupied Germania, Bohemia and Moravia. Furthermore, if they elected to go to war in the late spring at the beginning of their normal manoeuvre season, they would be able to largely conceal their mobilization which could be effected within a month from their "M" Day by bringing up their existing regular divisions to war establishment.
British ex-forces member gets fitted with his Demob suit. As most of the personnel in WWII had been in uniform for several years and stood a good chance of having lost all their clothing the government provided everyone with a suit on demobilisation.
 5. Every year that had passed since 1945 had shown clearly that the ideas of the Western powers and the Saturnians were diametrically opposed, and that the steadily increasing truculence of the Saturnians made the prospect of war ever more likely.
6. The year 1953 was marked by even more provocative behaviour on the part of Saturnia. Ever since 1945 she had been infiltrating her fifth column and agents into her neighbours territory and into their vital concerns. Saturnia evidently now considered that these clandestine arrangements were sufficiently far advanced for her now to attempt political coups in the open.

7. In January 1953 the Saturnians engineered racial disturbances in Slovakia in which the inhabitants demanded political union with their powerful neighbours and freedom from "foreign" domination. In answer to extremely vocal requests for assistance by the pro-Saturnian element, the Saturnian army marched in and became in effect the master of Slovakia. Naturally, the Western powers could not remain indifferent to this behavior and protests were registered in the appropriate quarters but with a conspicuous lack of effect.
Saturnian tanks approach Wenceslas Square.
Where they met a warm reception

8. This, however, turned out to be no more than a prelude to a further and more serious adventure, namely the absorption of Hungary into the orbit of the Saturnian sphere. Over a period of years, with Saturnian assistance, a Hungarian People's Party had been in the process of being built up. At the same time a strident campaign against the Church was worked up which resulted in shameless and ruthless persecution of the priests. Ultimately a situation was engineered in August 1953, in which the People's party started a revolt against the "Reactionary" government in Budapest and within a very short time the whole country was intimidated and placed under Saturnian domination.

9. Again the Western powers went through the usual procedure of protesting by all possible diplomatic means against this flagrant breach of international relations, but again the results were as negligible as before. In view of the brusqueness with which Saturnia had rejected all the protests against the above two incidents, it was now clear that she was determined to achieve her ends by any means that might be necessary and these would not exclude war. If she could gain her ends without war, so much the better, but should she be thwarted she would not hesitate to have recourse to arms, so strong did she feel her military and political position to be.

10. The Western powers had now to admit that their efforts to solve international problems by peaceful means were useless and as a result they had no alternative but to speed up their military preparations. This they now set about with a will, and no time was lost in putting the arrangements in hand for resisting armed aggression in the near future.

11. Such was the state of mind which prevailed in all the Western European capitals owing to the recurrence of these crises at such frequent intervals that it came as no surprise when yet another crisis occurred in November 1953. The Saturnians now switched to the north the pressure which they had been exerting in a southerly direction. A convoy of depot ships and transports had anchored outside territorial waters in the immediate vicinity of Bornholm in the Baltic and a large Saturnian fleet with submarines was exercising in the straits dividing Denmark and Sweden. This manoeuvre had all the appearance of a second "Agadir" and the governments of the Western powers were reinforced in their opinion that Saturnia was definitely out to pick a quarrel and that the next step would most probably be a violation of the frontier between Germania and Saturnia by Saturnian military detachments.

12. Diplomatic protests couched in the strongest possible terms were sent by all the governments concerned to Saturnia, and military preparations were pressed on with all speed. To the amazement of all concerned these protests did not go entirely unheeded as had happened previously, and the Saturnian fleet and detachments withdrew as suddenly as they had come. However, the Western powers wisely did not allow themselves to be lulled into any false sense of security by this unexpected development and preparations for war were intensified.

13. List of actions taken by the UK government in preparation for war
14.As the probability of war changed to certainty the Western powers completed their plans for defence against Saturnian aggression. The basis of the plan was to hold a defensive line from the Baltic in the north to the Erzgebirge in central Germania following the general line of the River Elbe. In the north the possibilities of flooding in the Wismar-Donitz-Lauenburg-Lubeck were to be exploited to the full. From the Erzgebirge to the Alps light forces were to hold a mountain line.

To further give you an idea of the scenario conditions there was also a brief description of forces and scientific advancements. On the nuclear weapon front the Saturnians had a very limited number of tactical nuclear weapons, the reasoning being the Saturnians were not as technologically advanced in that department. Their yield was given as about 20 kt.
However things got a bit more interesting on the chemical weapons front. Both sides were judged to have large quantities of regular agents, such as mustard gas freely available with protection. The Allies possessed a small stock of nerve agents, while the Saturnian forces had large quantities. Allied respirators were not effective against nerve agents, however new models of respirator were starting to come off the production line which would protect against the nerve agents. Equally monitoring was partially effective with the Allied monitoring and warning systems being able to warn of exposure after the fact, and so able to indicate who needs treatment, but not warn soon enough to prevent the attack being effective.
On the Saturnian side they had no monitoring or defence, meaning the very limited stock of allied nerve agent would be extremely effective.

One advance the Saturnians had made was mentioned. Their infantry had access to some number of buoyant oversuits, with an inflatable ring around the chest. These allowed a swimmer to cross a river with equipment and small arms.

Next week I shall be carrying on the exercise, but with a twist.

Image Credits:
www.cvce.eu, dailymail.co.uk, www.aworldtowin.net, thecoldwaryearswadek.weebly.com and dailynewshungary.com

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mourning the Monmouthshire

Note: Imgur and Blogger are playing silly buggers this morning, so if the images aren't appearing that's why. I've spent the last 20 mins trying to insert images. Occasionally the two websites randomly decide they're not talking to each other, and it makes life interesting.

On the 27th of November, 1944, an understrength platoon and section of sappers from the 9th Cameroons were trying to sneak through the muddy fields surround the castle at Broekhuizen in Holland. Their task was to infiltrate the minefield and storm the castle in a surprise attack. Things went badly, of the 32 soldiers in the Coup De Main only eight were to return, the rest being captured or killed by the dug in German defenders. The failed attack was their last attempt at this position, on the 28th the 3rd Battalion, Monmouthshire Regiment took over. They would be the ones to launch the attack to subdue one of the last German strong points in Holland and clear the bank of the Maas. The 3rd Mons were to go over the top on the 30th of November.
Broekhuizen "castle" not quite what you were thinking.
 Intelligence suggested that one to two hundred Hitler Jugend were dug in at the castle and nearby village. They were surrounded by minefields some 700 yards deep. The Germans were well dug in as well, even if the quality of the fight they were expected to put up was low. Two platoons from the Westminster Dragoons equipped with Sherman Crabs were provided to support the attack. The plan was a three company attack, launched in stages. First in action would be A Company, they along with a platoon of three Crabs would go direct for the castle, starting at 1000. An hour later C Company with another troop of Crabs would attack the village. B Company would attack the village from the far side. Before the off a supporting artillery barrage and smoke screen would be laid.

Things went wrong almost immediately. Germans had plentiful and liberal fire support from their bank of the Maas, and a heavy barrage of mortars and artillery, including 150mm pieces rained down upon A Company. One of the flails became bogged, and was unable to bring their gun to bear on the defenders. The other two were destroyed by German fire. With the German machine guns raking the muddy shell torn field the remaining men of A Company went to ground, their commander killed, along with several officers. All their wireless sets were rendered useless as well.
At 1100 C Company set off. The flails were leading at a steady one MPH, the chains flogging ("flog" was the slang the crew used to describe using the flails to clear mines) the ground, exploding mines on contact. The crews of the Crabs had an extremely long drive in a very nerve wracking manner. Slowly crawling forward listening to the explosions of the mines they hit, tensed for the moment an AP shell would rip their tank apart. To make matters worse the turret had to be turned to the side while flailing.
To make the crews feel a bit better, every so often one of the tanks would halt, stop flailing and crank the gun round to the front to fire a few rounds, then start up its flail again and continue on its way.
The troop commander of the second platoon of flails cleared its lane, it was now fifty yards from the German lines and the infantry of C Company were taking the same beating that A Company had suffered. When the other tanks finished their flogs they were ordered back to the start. He remained in position just short of the village directing point blank fire into the German positions. The uniforms of the Germans however were not Hitler Jugend, but those of the Fallschirmjäger. The defenders were actually elite veterans of the 21st Fallschirmjäger Regiment.
After a few salvos a Panzerfaust was fired at the lone Sherman sitting there in a field, it hit the left side of the turret, near the coaxial machine gun. The gunner with his ears numbed from the blast and unable to hear anything felt blood dripping, at first he thought it was his, but looked over to see that both his commander and loader were injured. Both of the latter bailed out immediately, as he started to move the gunner's hearing began to return and he could hear the driver and hull gunner yelling for help as the gun was blocking their escape. With the turret power traverse out of action the gunner stayed in his position hand traversing the turret until both of his crew mates could escape, once that was done he leapt out of the commander’s cupola and down behind the tank, and started crawling back along the track marks his tank had left. On the way he found they'd driven over an Italian box mine which had failed to detonate. Shortly after reaching their start line and safety the Crab was hit by another shot and blew up instantly.
The infantry were in dire straights. However two officers stepped forwards. The CO of the 3rd Mons,  Colonel R. C. Stockley managed to reach the forward elements of C Company, where all previous officers who'd attempted it had been killed. Additionally the commanding officer of the 15/19th Hussars came forward in his tank to investigate. The 15/19th Hussars linked up with the 3rd Mons reserve, just 60 men of D Company and began an attack on Broekhuizen. Col Stockley managed to rally the men of C Company as well and lead them towards the castle. With point blank fire from the Sherman's of the Hussars the men of C Company stormed the castle, with Col Stockley leading at the front with his service revolver drawn. However as he charged over the bridge he was shot and killed. Nevertheless C Company carried on into the castle. Meanwhile the men of D Company attacked Broekhuizen from an utterly unexpected direction, this and their tank support enabled them to make the village. Outnumbered the infantry set to clearing the village, a task that would take most of the night.
The 3rd Mons had been gutted capturing this village. They'd taken 140 killed and wounded, and would be out of action absorbing replacements for several months. The Germans had 139 taken as prisoner and an unknown number killed. Estimates put it between 17 and 60.
The experience of the 3rd Mons impacted decisions made elsewhere. When the 6th Guards were faced with a similar situation at Geijsteren, they knew of the experiences at Broekhuizen, and took an entirely different approach.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Broken History

In the First World War the Dover Barrage was a series of anti-submarine nets with attached mines stretching across the narrowest point of the Channel. Its aim was to hinder, if not prevent German U-boats getting out into the Atlantic. This very quickly became a skirmishing point for the Royal Navy and the Imperial German Navy. One battle on the seas offers an interesting study for the historian as it shows just how fickle and difficult history can be.

First into the mix is a ship, which had a history of ramming other vessels, or being involved in actions that resulted in collision. The Faulknor Class destroyer, HMS Broke, was originally built for Chile but was purchased by the Royal Navy at the outbreak of the First World War. At Jutland she collided with HMS Sparrowhawk, after earlier taking part in a torpedo attack that caused a collision between German ships SMS Nassau and SMS Elbing.

HMS Broke after her collision at Juttland
Next we have a Royal Navy Commander by the name of Edward Evans. His previous claim to fame was taking part as second in command of Scott's doomed second Antarctic voyage. Cdr Evans was one of the people that accompanied Scott towards the South Pole, but was selected to lead the final supporting team back to safety, while Scott made his famous push for the pole with five men.

After HMS Broke was repaired from the damage sustained at Jutland, Cdr Evans was given command. On the night of April the 20th HMS Broke and HMS Swift were patrolling the Dover Barrage. Fatefully on the same evening twelve German ships set out to bombard both Dover and Calais. The German ships were heavy torpedo boats, smaller than the British destroyers, but still not torpedo boats as the description suggests. These heavy torpedo boats displaced around 1000 tons and in comparison HMS Broke for example was 1700 tons. A Second World War E-boat which is what people normally think of when someone uses the term “torpedo boat” is closer to 80 tons. Because of this size these ships are often referred to as "destroyers". Six of these were sent to Calais to bombard the port, and the rest were sent to do the same to Dover. The Calais detachment completed their mission without incident however the Dover squadron, after a poor bombardment were returning to base when they ran into HMS Broke and HMS Swift.
HMS Broke
At 0045 on the 21st of April, HMS Swift and HMS Broke were three miles east of the Goodwin Sands lightship when a sailor on watch on the port bow of HMS Swift spotted the German force sailing at twelve knots. The Germans were in line astern, and heading across the British lines course. HMS Swift immediately opened her throttles and swung towards port and the reported position of the German ships, intending to ram them. At the same time the Germans opened fire. As the German line was now passing the British line HMS Swift had to turn hard to starboard to come about and close for the ram.
However the flash from HMS Swift's main gun dazzled the ship's commander and he missed the target, and so passed through the German line giving a full broadside to the German on his port side. As she passed through the line HMS Swift turned to pursue the Germans and launched a torpedo.
German Heavy Torpedo Boat
Meanwhile on HMS Broke Cdr Evans had followed the agreed plan holding fire, but increasing speed. When a second German was spotted HMS Broke opened fire. On his own initiative the leading seaman in charge of the one of HMS Broke's torpedo tubes fired a single torpedo. One of the two torpedoes fired by the British found one of the German ships, SMS G85, sinking her. The kill was credited to HMS Swift.
HMS Broke then slammed into one of the Germans amidships, slightly after of dead centre. She began to bodily shove the German vessel through the water. Both ships began to turn to port, HMS Broke to ram again, and the German SMS G42 to dodge the attack. The German had a smaller turning circle and so got inside the British ship, scraping down the starboard side.
At the same time the next two German ships passed Broke whilst battering her with gunfire. After this SMS G42 began to sink, and the heavily damaged British ships had to retire.
Popular telling of this incident has the Royal Navy crew having to defend the forecastle of HMS Broke from German boarders, and this is where things get interesting from a historian's point of view. The following account was written by Cmdr Evans for the weekly boys magazine "Chums" in 1927:

"Anticipating close action of this description, we always kept loaded rifles with bayonets fixed at each gun and torpedo tube, besides which cutlasses were provided all around the upper deck, revolvers were provided to all petty officers, and many were kept loaded on the bridge, so that when "Boarders" was piped on the forecastle the weapons practically fell into the hands of the men waiting to use them."

Did the men of HMS Broke fight off German boarders with cutlass and bayonet, while two ships locked together by a ram struggled to separate, with the screeching of metal, and fire shot smoke bellowing from funnel as both ships at full power tried to pull away, all the while tracer and gunfire slashing across the sea granting flashes of illumination...

Well it's certainly a powerful image, and thrilling tale. But is it true?
Well the first thing you might ask is where did they get the cutlasses from? The Royal Navy is nothing if not a stickler for tradition, and it's certainly true that cutlasses were issued even in this stage of history. There's even a suggestion from the Second World War of a cutlass being used, so that's plausible.
Casualties from HMS Broke being burried
Now we must consider the source, yes it is an eye witness account, but it's written for a boys magazine and they want the story to be a bit more exciting. The above quotation also misses out the propaganda phrases. The following quote carries on directly from above.

"A deadly fire was poured from our fore part into the huddled mass of men who, terror stricken, grouped about the enemy destroyers upper deck. Many of them clambered up our bow and got onto the forecastle, to meet with instant death from our well armed men and stokers."

At the Board of Enquiry after the battle, of the six people interviewed under oath (including Cmdr Evans), no-one reported seeing an enemy sailor.
It seems cut and dried then. Not so. There is a newspaper report which mentions the action from 7th July 1917. Its report mentions the Germans attempting to board the forecastle of the HMS Broke. So despite this story being the common one, and now forever in our military history there appears to be just enough evidence to hint at it being not the case, but alas I doubt we'll ever know. Maybe one or two Germans did clamber up the sides and were repulsed, but these seamen didn't get interviewed by the Board of Enquiry?

Image credits:
www.naval-history.net, www.doversociety.org.uk, www.stoke-sub-hamdon.co.uk and duckduckgo.com

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Huge hills, Huge Spiders!

As last week I was on holiday I failed to get an article written. That's mostly due to climbing mountains in Dorset (the wife claims they weren't mountains, however they fit the Oxford English dictionary definition!). I'm from the Fens, so I've spent my life between 0-15m above sea level. We get to Dorset, a county in dire need of ironing and the wife starts taking us up rises that are nearly 252m. I should have spotted the trend on Sunday when we went to Lulworth, and went along the range walks, we started off going up Bindon hill (168m). I was lured up there by promises of tank wrecks to poke. But here's as close as I got (taken on maximum zoom):
I do like the armies new HESH target though:

That night we were sitting there at our rented cottage when a Spider dropped in through the open window. Lets be clear here, it was massive. Its size was best described as "Australian". At first I thought it was a moth it made such a loud thump as it hit the table. The wife, whom is in no way arachnophobic, squealed and ran. Luckily we have three dogs, one the size of a German Shepard. This gave me my first clue to the location we're in. Dorset is known as "The Jurassic Coast", and it really is the land that time forgot! Mobile signal is extremely limited, about the only time I had full reception was on top of the Eggardon Iron age hill fort (252m). I worked out why as well. I kept seeing smoke from bonfires, so I reckon the locals communicate with smoke signals. The entire area we were in seemed to have missed the modern age with no cash points, banks or shops. Its like the entire place closes down for the weekend.
We also went up Golden Cap (191m).

But I did spend a very nice two days down Bovy archives with some fun discoveries!

Anyway, as an emergency article, a couple of months ago I went to a 1940's weekend at a place called Ramsey. I've been saving the pictures from that for busy week, so here we are.

At these sorts of shows you always get lots of quality German kit for sale...

A "Yellow Goddess". Basically a Green Goddess painted yellow and fitted out for Northern Ireland
Wouldn't kneel there... those things are made by Volkswagen!
A real M36 Slugger?
"You alright, mate?"

The Germans had a 1:1 scale Airfix Panzer III
Elite British front line troops...
...and proper British quality Engineering!
Tank rides were on offer, but my brain was very confused. I was getting Germanic Marder signals from this IFV, but I can see its not a Marder.
The only Russian in the show.
More Quality British stuff, this time an APC...
...especially when you compare it to this shoddy US product, knocked out in four hours or so unless I miss my guess.
POW (Prisoner of Woofing?) making a break for it. He didn't achieve a home run.