Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Best Laid Plans

A few weeks ago I covered an action of C Coy, 6th Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment in 1936 when deployed to Palestine for the Arab Revolt. Well the file that came had several other reports, so here's more accounts from those actions.

During the start of June the Jewish settlement of Ben Sherman had been repeatedly attacked by snipers. The Arabs normally used a wooded hill to the north of Ben Sherman, and then fired upon the town. The attackers were presumed to be from the settlement of Lydda.
To prevent these attacks a plan was drawn up. A subsection of two MKIII Light Tanks would take up position to the west of the colony. Upon an attack being launched they would move up to a Wadi short of the wood and open fire. This would force the attackers either to head south into the colony, where a force of infantry would be stationed, or to try to flee over open ground to the south east, which was covered by another two tanks.
The tricky part of the plan was getting four tanks into position unobserved and camouflaging them. Both sub-sections made wide detours to reach the area, hoping the Arabs very good intelligence network wouldn't warn the locals. One subsection made a normal road march then as darkness fell turned off the road in the middle of nowhere.
After 2.5 km it reached a Wadi which then took half an hour to find a crossing point to use, it also successfully navigated irrigated fields, and cactus hedges up to 12 feet high. They even encountered one electrified fence. This subsection was in position only ten minutes late, had covered 6 km in just over an hour though very dense and difficult terrain. However both subsections of tanks were in position and camouflaged very well, as you will see.
On the 12th of June three Arab snipers were spotted crawling through the maize field, the same one in which one of the subsections was camouflaged! They were coming from the village of Beit Nabala to the west, not Lydda to the north. This of course caused some issues with the British plan, as the route of advance for the Arabs was directly over the British position. The three Arabs carried on crawling closer and closer. Eventually they reached a point about 30 yards away, luckily this was the closest their course took them. This scout party was allowed to pass to ensure the British caught the main body of attackers.

 Shortly afterwards the main body of attackers was seen advancing on Ben Sherman. At the sight of the main body one of the NCO's in the subsection used his radio to warn the other tanks. However the noise of the radio and the NCO's voice gave the position away, the Arabs were that close and the tanks that well camouflaged. Immediately the Arabs took the tanks under fire, who quickly replied with their machine guns. The Arabs fired 21 rounds and the tanks 117. After this brief fire fight the Arabs dispersed and were never caught.

The original map submitted by the commanding officer in his report to describe the action
On 15th of July a section of three light tanks was escorting a patrol of infantry in the same area when it came under attack. This patrol had a 3" Stokes Mortar with it which opened fire immediately, however, this was before the enemy positions had been located, and caused the Arabs to immediately disengage. They were pursued by the tanks and although the Arabs positions were overrun, no enemy casualties were caused as the area is criss-crossed with old Roman ruins and caves, giving the Arabs plenty of cover to break contact,. So despite fleeting glimpses of Arabs none were caught. During the patrols around the area one of the tank commanders was badly injured, when his foot became stuck between a turret control pedal and the wall of the turret. As this happened the gun caught on a tree as the tank drove past. The tree forced the turret to rotate wrenching the leg of the commander. This left the man in hospital for two months.

Image credits:
http://www.aviarmor.net and http://www.oocities.org

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Tigers for Breakfast

The following article is put together from multiple sources, each one not quite tying up with the others. So some of the elements may later turn out to be out of sequence.

By January 1943 the war had turned against Germany. At this point the allies were pushing the Germans from two sides in North Africa, including in Tunisia. On the 31st two companies of infantry and two troops of six pounder guns were dug in covering the road leading to Robaa. They were on an area of rocky rough terrain on the side of the hill, with the German lines somewhere to their front. At about 0600, in the pitch darkness reports start to filter back from the infantry that they can hear tank movement to the front. Immediately the two troop commanders of the AT guns leapt out of the truck they'd been sleeping in and struggled up the hill. The Lieutenant for the 2nd Troop in his haste just threw on a greatcoat over his pyjamas before dashing to his troop. Lt Stanley Edwards of 1st Troop however had only to pull on his boots.

About an hour later just as the sun was peeking over the horizon, the huge bulk of a Tiger peeked over the crest of the hill. The Tiger was still new to Tunisia and the British had hardly fought them. The giant hulking monster clanked forwards, then suddenly halted. It had spotted a string of explosives the infantry had placed across the road. Lt Edwards had wanted to wait until the German tanks were much closer, so he ordered his guns to hold fire. The Tiger then began to open fire, shelling British positions, but still Lt Edwards didn't give the order to fire, hoping the Tiger would move closer. After about ten minutes he knew the Tiger wasn't going to oblige them, so he released his guns. At a range of 680 yards, Sergeant Marcus Bauer's 6 pounder was the first to fire. His round hit the side of the tank at such an extreme angle it ricocheted off. Along with the storm of 6 pounder shells the Tigers were hit with a hail of small arms, which forced the tanks to button up.
The Tiger then lurched forwards. The next four rounds did nothing more than gouge chunks out of the armour. However as the Tiger was moving the crew had much reduced visibility due to being buttoned up and they didn’t know where Sgt Bauer's gun was situated. So the tank had slowly been turning away from the gun. The next volley of rounds at a range of 650 yards all went through, and with three penetrating hits the tank lurched to a halt. Two other armoured vehicles accompanying the Tiger had been set on fire by the anti-tank ambush.

Now the Germans replied, another Tiger, and several other Panzers (Presumably Panzer III Ausf N) sat hull down on the ridge line and began to hammer the British positions. This storm of fire caused several casualties, not least of all Sgt Bauer's gun layer. Sgt Bauer immediately leapt into the layers seat, where he would remain fighting the gun for the rest of the day.
The Germans now made another attempt, a third Tiger and two Panzer III's roared over the ridge, and rushed towards the British line. Lt Edwards had ordered his guns to hold their fire again. This time the Germans played along and roared down the road, past the knocked out first Tiger, they punched through the infantry screen and headed towards the rear. Sgt Bauer's gun was almost overrun by this aggressive attack. However the 2nd troop of six pounders came into action, hammering the Tiger. Sgt Bauer also opened fire and between them quickly set the Panzer III's and the Tiger on fire. The Tiger brewed up on the first hit.

Now Lt Edwards ordered Sgt Bauer to try to set the first Tiger on fire. As he started attacking the first Tiger, the Tiger on the ridge line fired towards his position every time he fired. Every round Bauer fired had hit with no sign of starting a fire. With the return fire from the Tiger on the ridge getting closer it was decided to save the gun and cease trying to ignite the enemy tank.

During the rest of the day the Germans poured fire on the British positions including artillery and a very nasty air strike. That night the Germans launched a second attack, their dismounted infantry closed within range of the British line and began to lob grenades at the infantry. After a day of fighting the British were in no mood for a close action fight and with their morale gone they began to flee. This left the two troops of anti-tank guns as the only defenders holding the line. The Germans quickly recovered and towed the first knocked out Tiger away, then began to press forward.
Sgt Bauer stayed at his gun and fought with the rest of his platoon. At one point the Germans were a mere 15 yards away from the gun. At this point when all seemed lost reinforcements in the shape of fresh infantry arrived. With no hope to tow the burnt out Tiger away the Germans quickly set some large demolition charges and blew the Tiger to pieces before falling back.
This drawing was taken from a German assessment of the Tiger recovered from that battlefield. Black dots show penetrations.
This was the first time a Tiger had been knocked out by enemy action and destroyed. For their actions on that day Lt Edwards was awarded a Military Cross, and Sgt Bauer a Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Image credits:

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Pitfalls of tank Design

Earlier in the week on April 1st I asked the following question on my Facebook page:

"There's a large debate on which is the better rifle, the Mauser or the Lee Enfield. Well True or False:
The record for shots per minute from a bolt action rifle is 38 rounds into the bulls eye of a 12" target at 300 yards."

The answer will be at the bottom of this page, so feel free to contemplate the question, and see if I was pulling a double bluff due to it being Aprils Fools Day. Anyway onto the main article:

When designing a new armoured fighting vehicle there's many factors to worry about, transmission protection and cost to name but a few. But even a well designed vehicle can fall foul of the oddest issues. Just after World War Two the British designed and built a new generation of Carriers to replace the ageing but awesome Universal Carrier. This was called the Oxford Carrier.

Oxford Carrier
A newer and better version of the Carrier was being tested, known as the Cambridge Carrier. However it was at this point the concept of Carriers fell out of favour and it was decided to move on with a proper APC. Its interesting to note that there was a lot of interest in the Canadian Iron Crown project that produced the Bobcat IFV, and the British nearly skipped the plain APC. However it wasn't to be and the FV432 was born.

From the first it was named the Trojan. However after some press an issue cropped up. In December 1962 a letter landed in the mail bag of the War Office from a solicitors office. The solicitors demanded that all reference to the FV432 Trojan be dropped by the War Office as the use of the name would be injurious to their clients, one Trojan Limited.

I'm sure you can see how you might confuse this 1963 Trojan car with the FV432 APC.
Now I know what you're thinking, would this be Trojan, as in the makers of certain well known rubber contraceptives? No, it was actually a motor vehicle manufacturing firm in Croydon, Surrey.
This of course led the War Office to search for alternative names. The first name they came up with was "Thruster" (no, I'm not making this up). Although other names suggested were "Tomahwak", "Tuscan" and "Troy". All these were checked over by the governments lawyers and found to be usable.
By the end of January the solicitors had issued a full list of demands, namely that the War Office stop using the name Trojan, that they prevent the name being used by any contractors and the government issue a statement in the national and technical press.
On the 11th of March 1963 another letter arrived were the solicitors demanded a statement to the House of Commons on the subject and apparently included a statement that was to be used in the press release. The War Office released a slightly modified version of the statement in The Times on 25th of March, but told the solicitors to go away about the statement to the House of Commons.
On 9th of April the name Trojan was officially deleted from records.
However it didn't quite work, unofficially the FV432 was still very rarely called the Trojan by soldiers, this was still happening even in the late 1990's.
In a way it was a lucky escape for the FV432. As the latest version, the MKIII now uses ribbed armour, you can only imagine the jokes that would follow!
FV432 with added protection.

Right now back to the True or False.
Hands up those of you that found out about Sgt Instructor Snoxall putting 38 rounds into the bullseye at 300 yards within a minute in 1914?

Well there is some doubt about if Sgt Snoxall even existed. Ian Hogg makes mention of him in a book on small arms, and it seems that is the source of the quote you see everywhere. But other details are missing. Other people have looked, but been unable to find anything more on his existence. There may be a book from 1922 that makes the same claim as Ian Hogg does.
What is well documented is that Sgt. Maj. Wallingford managed to achieve 37 rounds on target in a minute.

Image credits:
www.canadiansoldiers.com, www.defense-update.com

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Cambridge Camal

Last week we looked at amateur hour when it comes to inventing anti-tank weapons. This time around lets look at what craziness the scientists can come up with.

In this particular case the shell came first and then it was realised that the principles behind the round could solve an Ordnance Board requirement for a new infantry support gun of extremely light weight.

The shell in question is called a Cambridge Projectile. It was developed sometime in 1943. The idea behind it was for a flame weapon with much longer range than a normal flamethrower. To achieve this it needed to have a high capacity, and of course the highest capacity you can get is a cylinder, so that's exactly what it was, a plain cylinder filled with flammable liquid. If you rotate a cylinder of liquid, like you would a normal shell, it will become very unstable due to centrifugal forces. So it was decided to fire it from a smoothbore weapon. Of course a blunt nosed shell fired from a smoothbore will also be horribly unstable in flight and thus very inaccurate. However it was discovered (possibly by someone at Cambridge, hence the name?) that the if sheath of unstable air was brought behind the centre of gravity the shell would then become very stable.
During development they were aiming for accuracy at extremely long ranges, it was at this point the obvious occurred, if you can achieve a satisfactory degree of accuracy at long range at much closer ranges the accuracy would be extremely good.
This combined with the Cambridge shell's high capacity meant that it had a number of envisioned uses such as Flame, Incendiary, Smoke, Chemical Warfare, Hollow Charge and Low Shrapnel HE. The difference in capacity can be seen from this table:

So with a clear advantage and having overcome the main disadvantage normally associated with a blunt nosed shell the rounds moved onto the testing stage.
It was found that the shells would often deform at the base when firing due to the pressures. So the same ballistic witchcraft that created the sheath of turbulence was applied to the issue of the shell, and the scientists overcame the issues. (To be honest at this point I lost track of what the document was talking about as I'm no ballistics expert!)
Rounds for the 3" mortar were developed and tested. But despite the advantage in payload the amount of material was still insufficient for a suitable flame shell.
In July 1943 trials were carried out with a round for a 3" howitzer, of the same type mounted on the Churchill I and the Matilda CS tanks. Its interesting to note that both these and the later 75mm guns are rifled, yet the very principle of the round needs it to be fired unrotated. However the document I saw doesn't mention how this was dealt with.
As the 3" was obsolete by this stage 22 rounds were manufactured for the Royal Ordnance 75mm. In comparative trials against rotated 75mm shells in May 1944 the Cambridge shell was considerably more accurate up to 2500 yards, despite being lighter and having a higher payload.
The test gun
To carry out the first trials a simple smoothbore gun was constructed. The original shell was made of impregnated Bakelite paper filled with thickened petrol and WP. The simple nature of the weapon can be grasped by the fact that the Cambridge shell didn't have a cartridge case, and so the gun couldn't be depressed lest the round fall out. Although production shells did have a cartridge case.
Recoil from this gun was managed by it having a very heavy steel barrel of around 200 pounds, and a pair of small springs to deal with the remainder of the recoil.
Test round strike on a tank
It was at this point the Ordnance Board requirement appears. They needed a lightweight gun that could be towed or manpacked, by a minimum of two soldiers, with no single load exceeding 100 lbs, and a gun crew of at most four. This of course meant the maximum weight of the complete weapon could only be 200 lbs.
Its role was to defeat any enemy tank it would meet and defend infantry. The reason for its lightness was so that it could keep up with the infantry in terrain that would prevent normal AT guns being brought up, such as if the infantry crossed an anti-tank obstacle or penetrated a mine field. Minimum range was to be 500 yards, and at that range the weapon must be able to hit a stationary five foot square target, or a moving five foot high by 15 foot long target doing 10mph. Rate of fire was to be at least five aimed rounds per minute.

The gun built to test fire the Cambridge shell was used as a starting point. The gun was called the "Camal gun" (Or in one entry in the documents the "Cam-Al gun"). This is presumably due to the abbreviation of "Cambridge" which is "Cam", and the light weight portability that resembles Camel guns from the previous centuries.
The heavy steel barrel was replaced by one made of RR77 Aluminium alloy. This has a weight one third that of steel. In fact the majority of the gun was made out of this alloy. This brought the barrel down to a weight of 47 lbs.
The recoil was managed by adding an oil type recuperator slightly modified and taken off a Vickers S gun, and the breech was an interrupted screw type. Even so the recoil was too great to allow it to be fired on a tripod giving 360 degree arc of fire, so they had to settle for the minimum in the requirement which was 90 degrees.
The final version of the mount had a tripod with two long rear legs and a shorter front leg. However the requirement also called for it to be towable. So the gun was designed that the front leg could be removed and replaced with a simple axle and two light car wheels, while the longer rear legs became the towing bar. Once it arrived the axle and wheels could be simply unlatched and the normal leg fitted.
The final design
The final point was destruction of the enemy tanks. Unrotated shells are very good at firing HEAT so it was obvious this would be selected. A Royal Ordnance 95mm HEAT cone was cut down to fit the dimensions of the 3" Cambridge shell and the round tested. In the first test the 3" shell went clean through 120mm of armour at 30 degrees. A second later test achieved penetration of 150 mm plate at 30 degrees. To give you an idea this sort of performance would likely go through the frontal armour of a Panther, and might cause spalling inside a King Tiger. In comparison the 95mm round would only get 93% penetration of 110mm plate at 30 degrees.
Muzzle velocity of the shell was recorded as 710 feet per second, and with 5 degrees of elevation on the gun barrel the round travelled 818 yards. In addition a HE and WP shell were developed for the gun.

The document I saw doesn't go into the fate of the Camal gun. But I suspect it's likely that as the war was winding up and advances in other man portable AT weapons caused its demise.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Don't Panic!

Due to real life workload and time issues, the articles for the next few weeks will be a bit shorter than normal. On the plus side it means I can use some of the funnier or more interesting pieces I've had that I've not been able to make a full article out of.

In July 1942 a note was received by the Prime Ministers office. It stated that the British military mission to the US was sending home samples of a new "anti-tank rifle which shoots a rocket propelled projectile". We of course know this weapon as the famous Bazooka. Prime Minister Churchill of course wanted to see it in action. The demonstration was held at Shoeburyness on the 15th of August on a US T1 rocket grenade launcher. The results were less than impressive. It should be noted that these weren't full trials, but just a demonstration. However the back-blast was judged to be too dangerous for prone firing, and "there is a constant danger of prematures." The weapon was also judged to be too flimsy for field use.
Equally they were unable to view the armour penetration as the weapon missed the target all day.
The Bazooka's one selling point, its recoilless nature wasn't new to the British. A recoilless weapon had been created by two Home Guard officers, one of whom was called Jones, the other was named Wise. They created the Jones-Wise Projector. Its once again proof that smart people are often only smart in one way. Between them they designed a weapon that used a very clever system of achieving recoilessness, a system that is used in part in a lot of modern weapons.

These two officers were serving in the Hampshire Home Guard, seeing as I can only find one mention of the Jones-Wise projector, and its from 32nd Hants Battalion, Home Guard, one would presume that is the unit the two officers served in. It was first brought to the Prime Minister's attention in October 1940.
The Royal Navy trialled the weapon, as did the Army. However they both turned it down. The Royal Navy because they deferred in the matters of anti-tank weapons to the Army. The Army turned it down because the Home Guard had Northover projectors, the devastating Blacker Bombards and the Smith Gun was just coming into service. It was felt another AT weapon was surplus to requirements. Plus its rather unique design possibly raised some eyebrows.
No, a different Jones!
The weapon was described by one officer that saw it as a "Heath Robinson contraption", and although I've yet to find a picture of the device there is an ample description.
It was a semi-circular trough with a parallel sighting bar, shaped a bit like a rifle, with sights on top. One would also presume it had some form of tripod mount. Into the trough a steel tube was loaded which contained a complete round. Upon firing the round was fired outwards, and the barrel backwards, which made the weapon ready to take another shot instantly with no recoil. This system is very similar to one used by many anti-tank guided missiles today, such as the Milan.

The issue of course is that the steel tube weighed 34 Lbs, and was flying backwards at a high rate of speed, would be incredibly dangerous to friendly soldiers. Plus the entire weight is the guns barrel, and each round would need a corresponding barrel. So while the actual gun was cheap to produce the ammunition would be expensive.
Finally one needs to make mention of the firing system. The firing hammer strikes a cartridge sticking out of a touch hole on the steel tube. Why is that odd I hear you ask, well because its a hammer. Yes, one of the crew members had to whack the cartridge with a normal hand held hammer to fire the projectile, presumably this would make fine aiming and shots against a moving target interesting to say the least.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Tiger gets the Bird

Despite what many say the British anti-tank guns of World War Two were always a match for their targets. This happened simply because the British tended to look forwards. Just as the two pounder was coming into service design work started on the six pounder. Equally as the six pounder was just entering production design work started on its replacement. The replacement was to be the famous 17 pounder which was required to penetrate 120mm-150mm of armour.  This 3 inch gun hurled its shot at over 800 m/s. This performance was achieved with the shell technology of the time such as normal armour piercing rounds. Later developments such as ballistic caps and even APDS (armour piercing discarding sabot) meant the gun stayed a devastating AT gun throughout the war.
Although the gun was ready in early 1942 the design of the chassis lagged behind, leaving the gun with nowhere to go. Luckily the six pounder was more than capable of dealing with the German armour then in the field.
Then the War Office received worrying news. Ultra intercepts had determined that a new German heavy tank was being deployed to the African front, this was of course the famous Tiger. While the 6 pounder could deal with the Tiger, it required skill, nerves and a spot of luck. So the War Office issued an urgent requirement for the 17 pounder to be deployed. The solution was to mount the 17 pounder gun on a 25 pounder chassis. Although the 25 pounder carriage was used to firing a much lower velocity round the study construction stood up to the punishment inflicted on it by the forces of the 17 pounder. When fired it was described as " [...] something of a lively weapon.”
One curiosity is the 25 pounders turntable. Some sources say it wasn't used, while others indicate it was. As most of the pictures show the turntable in place it is likely that it was used.
To prevent German intelligence getting wind of the surprise in store for their shiny new tank the 17/25 pounder, as it was officially known, was codenamed "Pheasant". In October 1942 59 guns were shipped to Tunisia, with a total order of 150 pieces completed by December that year.
In early 1943 The Afrika Korps was planning a spoiling attack against the 8th Army. But again the British had been warned the attack was coming. So they prepared to hold in the area of Medenine. More and more preparations were made, and by the start of March Stephen Wier, one of the officers involved in the defence, said 'I have so many anti-tank guns I am having difficulty in siting them."
This array of fire-power included everything from 2 pdr's all the way up to and including 3.7" AA guns. It also included the Pheasants.
The defensive line was covered by fake minefields. These were placed so as not to restrict any counter attack by British tanks. But by clever positioning they were placed to force the German panzers to expose their flank to the Allied gunners. The troops were issued with orders not to engage until the AT guns had opened fire.
Due to still being secret weapons the Pheasants were sited to the rear, with orders not to fire unless the front line was breached.

On the morning of the 6th of March thick fog covered the battlefield. When it lifted the area to the front was covered by the German army as it advanced. In accordance with their orders the defenders held their fire. The Germans spotted the false minefields as they advanced. Even with tempting targets such as exposed tank commanders the troops held their fire. The German tanks followed the line of the false minefield and as planned they exposed their flank. The anti-tank gunners let fly instantly knocking out the first 4 tanks. Another tank had its tracks blown off by a salvo of mortar bombs. The rest of the day long battle was the Germans trying to advance into the face of overwhelming fire-power.
During the next week the 17 pdr's came into action as they were used to snipe from forward positions against the Germans. There is one fragmentary report of a single Tiger on a road and the suggestion that the Commonwealth troops tried to stalk it with a Pheasant. But no records have been found of the two ever having an engagement. So as yet I've not been able to find out when the first meeting between these two famous weapons happened.

Image credits:
nzetc.victoria.ac.nzwww.desertrats.org.uk and en.wikipedia.org

In addition to the above I have a number of WOWS Closed Beta access keys to give away. To enter just send an Email to this address:

Competition closes this Friday at 1800 GMT. After that I'll randomly select the winners and send a reply to their email, so make sure the Email you send your entry from is one you can receive with as well!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The British 88?

A question I often see asked is "Why didn't the British use the 3.7" AA gun like the German 88?". By that they mean why not crank its elevation down to 0 degrees and start knocking out tanks. This is partially supported by Wikipedia's entry on the subject that reads:

"The 3.7″ was inherently unsuitable as an anti-tank gun. It was big and heavy, 2 tons heavier than the German 88, making it tactically unsuitable for use in forward areas. Additionally, heavy AA Regiments equipped with the 3.7″ gun were relatively few in number in the field army and controlled by Corps or Army HQ, or at even higher level HQs, and command of them was not often devolved to the commanders at Divisional level where the anti-tank role might be required."

The implication is that the 3.7" AA gun was only ever used in desperation before being overrun. As you might guess this isn't entirely true. Certainly pre-war, up until some time in 1938, crews were trained in direct fire roles. However the rapid re-arming of the British forces meant that this training was dropped. The mounts also had a part to play. With the MKI being a complex piece of equipment, the gunners faced forward. In the MKII (the static mount) the gunners were facing in towards the gun mount, and finally in the much simplified and lightened MKIII mount the gunners were facing towards the rear of the gun. 
 In the early years of the war the 3.7" did fight against German armour but not entirely successfully. In part this is because of the lack of suitable ammunition. In most cases they used a plugged shell, which is a shell with the fuse removed. At Boulogne the 2nd Heavy AA Regiment knocked out two attacking Panzers in this manner. Equally at Calais, at the Oyez farm four 3.7" AA guns of the 6th Heavy Anti-Air Regiment were dug in as part of the strong point. Two were sited to cover the wide open ground, and two were sited for AA work. The position was one of the last to be captured by the Germans, although some reports indicate the two forward guns sited for ground defence may have had to have been abandoned earlier, but they did take out several German tanks before being made unsuitable for use.

During and immediately after the Battle of Britain, defence of the home islands was on the minds of everyone. One of the worries was the new 100 ton tanks the Germans were thought to have. The answer was obvious, the 3.7" AA gun was about the only piece the British had that could dent these imagined monsters. So on the south coast a study was undertaken to find which beaches were suitable for landing these super heavy tanks, and several guns were sighted to deal with any landing.

But what to fire? Again here I can shed some light on another dark spot in the historical record. Up until now the only figure for penetration I've been able to find is from British & American Artillery of World War 2 by Ian V. Hogg. He gives a penetration figure of 117mm at 1000 yards against 30 degree sloped plate.

The quickest option was to make an semi-armour piercing round. This SAP round was an normal HE round with an armour piercing cap on top of it. Against a 30 degree slope this would go through 110mm at 400 yards and 94mm at 1000 yards. By July 1941 1000 rounds of SAP had been manufactured and shipped to the Middle East. However a full armour piercing round was under development at the same time. It was, unusually for the British, an AP round with a bursting charge. The British didn't tend to use bursting charges in AP rounds due to the chance of the charge being ejected from the shells base upon impact, making the hit ineffective. Its performance in the documents are 126mm at 400 yards and 115mm at 1000 yards, which tallies nicely with the previous figure. In total one third of a million of the AP rounds were manufactured.

The other innovation that came out of the invasion defence came from Birmingham. Under a plan codenamed "BARGAIN scheme" HAA units were tied into local artillery control and could be used to fire bombardments at pre-arranged targets. This did meet with some resistance from AA command as they pointed out that the high velocity would hamper indirect fire. However it was in this role the 3.7" was normally used throughout the war, where its long range was considered very useful.

Now what of that shipment to the middle east of ammunition? Well it may have first came into use in May 1942, when four guns were dispatched to the Knightsbridge Box at Gazala. The small size of the Box meant that only two guns were accepted into the position. These were set up, but ultimately didn't perform too well.

Things were different at Tobruk when in June German armour assaulted the line. Upon receiving warning of the attack the 3.7" crews dismantled the walls of their dug outs so they could depress their guns low enough. The German tanks were spotted at a range of 1500 yards, but before they could be taken under fire they entered dead ground. The dead ground led right up to the guns, meaning they'd next appear at a range of about 200 yards.
The gunners held their fire and waited. Then the Panzers appeared. The crews lept into action. With the gun barrel so low to the ground each blast kicked up a huge amount of dust, so it was difficult to see what was going on. However with a rate of fire of around twelve rounds per minute the guns laid down a fearsome barrage. In an engagement lasting two and a half hours the Germans were forced to retreat, losing six of eleven tanks that attacked the position.

Elsewhere in the desert the potential of the 3.7" was being tested with HAA units practising AT work at ranges filled with the hulks of knocked out Italian tanks or practising movements to form anti-tank screens. One particular exercise sounded very dangerous as the guns were not unlimbered first and were fired still on their wheeled carriages.

There is one other notable story from the war. During Operation Market Garden there are reports of a battle between Jagdpanthers and a HAA troop near the Town of Veghel, which the HAA troop won.

Image credits:

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Palestine MKIII

During April 1936 the British mandate in Palestine was rocked by an armed revolt and insurgency by the Arabs living in the area. The violence was targeted at the Jews and the British forces stationed there. To give you some idea of how bad the situation became British forces were forbidden from leaving their bases unless on operations and before departing outside the wire all weapons were to be loaded, although not charged. So for small arms such as a revolver this meant five rounds loaded, or for machine guns the ammunition belts being loaded into the feed. So all the soldier needed to do was cock the weapon twice and he'd be ready to defend himself.
Equally traffic all but disappeared from the road as Arab attacks were so common, along with roadblocks. To that end the British instigated a convoy system. For example from Tel-Aviv a convoy would run north via Tulkarm, Nablus to Haifa in the morning, and then make the return journey in the afternoon. Any vehicle was free to join these convoys, and the British presence was limited to mostly armoured cars and lorries. In later fighting the Rolls Royce armoured cars would often push a flatbed railway car in front of them to protect against mines and IEDs.
Despite this the situation continued to get worse with attacks on Jewish settlements and utter breakdown of law and order in the cities. So the British started to deploy further forces. One of the units selected to deploy was the "C" company, 6th Battalion, Royal Tank Corps. Consisting of about twelve Light Tanks MKIII the company arrived in May 1936. This was the first time in British experience that light tanks had been employed in this sort of role, so naturally a very close eye was kept on the performance of the tanks. Despite fighting ten engagements during their tour it’s the eleventh and final battle I'll be covering, this happened in the area of Kafr Sur and Wad At Tin on the 8th of October 1936.
A section of three tanks commanded by Lieutenant W. M. Hutton was carrying out a patrol, possibly to test the performance on poor terrain. The area was criss crossed by wadi’s, and the broken and rocky ground pushed the tanks to their limits. Some had thought the area impassable to tracked vehicles, however, due to perseverance Lt Hutton's section had reached Kafr Sur by about 1500. Having reached the objective the section began to withdraw and that is when the trouble started. Almost instantly the terrible terrain caused one tank to throw a tread, possibly due to a broken wheel. At the same time Arabs began to snipe at the tanks. The tracks were repaired under fire, and the section moved off again. Then after travelling about 100 yards further a second track was thrown, again it was repaired but instantly another one was broken.
The track breaking terrain had been anticipated and every tank had a spare wheel, and one of the tanks was also carrying a complete bogie as spares. However the multiple breaks had used up the units entire supply.
At this point a large gang of Arabs appeared and charged the the tanks. They clambered over the rocky sides of the wadi and snipping from its edge. Lt Hutton immediately put an "XX" call out on the radio. "XX" calls were used by the British forces in the theatre in a way similar to using an "SOS" today. The advantage of that is that the RAF could pick up and understand the call as well.
As the Arabs approached the stranded tank platoon the British opened fire with the Vickers machine guns in the turret. Again the terrain came into play, the jolting as the tanks crossed the uneven terrain had rattled the guns around to an unprecedented level. This caused a round to work its way loose and fall down behind the feed block on the gun causing it to jam. Of the three machine guns only one functioned. Even with only one functioning gun they managed to deter the Arabs from charging, then about 1700 the RAF arrived and began strafing the Arabs.
The combined fire meant that they managed to hold the Arabs at bay, however at dusk the plane from the RAF had to return to base. Lt Hutton sent out a distress call, then shortly afterwards the message "Hurry". After that no one could make contact with him. As the plane left the scene in the failing light it could make out that the three tanks were utterly surrounded and signs of heavy fighting could be detected, and passed that information onto the army.

This caused an immediate reaction, the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment's 1st Battalion was based at Tulkarm, only about seven miles away. At 1800 its "B" Company was dispatched in lorries, however due to the darkness and the awful terrain they had to halt nearby on the road until early the next morning when they were joined by the Quick Reaction Forces of about five other battalions.

Closer to the action was Captain B. Carey's five tank section. It had a similar mission only its destination had been Wad At Tin. When they reached the settlement they found a group of Arabs digging in near a mosque. They then had come under heavy sniper fire, one of the rounds hit a driver’s vision port and the bullet splash injured him in the arm. Despite this he continued to drive his tank as they extracted from the area, however, after a short period both the tracks came off his tank. Upon receiving news of the plight of Lt Hutton's section Cpt Carey had made best possible speed to find Lt Hutton. However as he entered the wadi the broken ground reaped its usual tally of destroyed running gear, with four of the tanks being immobilised. Despite being lost in the network of wadi's Cpt Carey was only about 1000 yards from Lt Hutton, however the darkness and terrain prevented him from linking up.
In the darkness Lt Hutton was worried. The sniping had caused several issues. The two big ones were all the containers with water had been punctured and so the crews had nothing to drink. The bullet impacts had also severed all the exposed electrical cables on the tank, meaning none of the lights were working. Normally one of the tanks headlamps was removed and mounted above the gun to provide a primitive searchlight for this sort of situation. The design flaws of the Light Tank MKIII turret were also starkly clear as it lacked vision ports to provide a good enough all round vision. The tank commanders were also sorely missing the ability to fire smoke, high explosive or flares.

After a tense night waiting for the final assault from the Arab gang morning brought with it the relief forces. After action reviews determined the Arabs had withdrawn at some point around 2030. After sweeping the area they found out how close it had been. One Arab body was found no more than 25 yards from the tanks. Due to the terrible terrain it wasn't possible to recover the body, especially as more Arabs might return. They did take his rifle, a Turkish one in good condition and the 45 rounds of ammunition he had been carrying. All the tanks in both sections were repaired by spares brought up and the last of them had returned to base by 1800 the next day

Image credits:
wikipedia.org, wwiivehicles.com, hmvf.co.uk and arcaneafvs.com

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Japanese Monster?

A couple of weeks ago I was flicking through an Archive here in the UK. I was mostly after light tank related information. I then saw a file simply called "light tanks". So a file in a UK archive titled "light tanks"... want to guess what it held? Well it did have a few pages on Japanese light tanks,  but it was mostly a file built up by MI10 (the intelligence department for foreign equipment) during the war about what we now know as the Type 97 Chi-Ha.

Inside it gave an interesting look at what an Intelligence Officer has to work with to produce a viable assessment. Including information from a Japanese POW. Now I don't know if this POW, or the later one, was deliberately providing false information, or if they genuinely believed what they were saying.

The first POW was a Lieutenant in the 1st Independent Mixed Regiment on Saipan, he was captured in July 1944. However half his interrogation file seems to be missing, and only the bits relating to the tank survive. He stated that the Type 97 Chi-Ha had 15 mm of armour and a twelve cylinder diesel engine. His unit had trained on them in August 1941.

Equally he claimed all tanks had radio's, air conditioning and twin 47mm guns, with one mounted in the standard turret and another in the hull. He also claimed that they could fit 30 ammunition boxes in the tank, each box being 2 feet long, 1 foot tall and 1.5 feet wide.
The POW's were asked to draw sketches of the tanks.
Finally and most bizarrely he claimed as well as one drive wheel at the front, it had two smaller drive wheels at the back, both 14 inches across. The intelligence officer indicates that this might signify an earlier model.
The POW also gave a rundown of crew numbers. Three men for this particular medium tank, two for a light tank and an unknown number for a heavy tank.
"Heavy tanks?" I thought, so more searching ensued, and another POW report was found.

This one is from a private captured in the Manus Islands. He was wounded and sought help from natives. Unsurprisingly they promised to help and simply turned him over to the US forces some time around the 6th of August 1944. In civilian life he'd been a foreman at the Hitachi's forging plant at Kameari, where he'd been working up until at least November 1943. Whilst there he'd seen several of Japan's heavy tanks; the Type 97.

More guns needed I think...
The Type 97 Heavy was 22 feet long, 8 feet 6" tall and 9 feet wide, weighing in at 27 tons. Protected by 30mm of armour its 300 horsepower engine could move it at 15mph, it could climb a 35 degree slope and had a crew of six.

Then this story takes a bizarre turn. In one of the files I was reading there was a page of French. When translated it was further stats for the Type 97 Heavy Tank. In a final odd twist some original captured Japanese documents appear, again detailing the Type 97, with plans which look somewhat like the above sketch.
Further searching finds even more of what appear to be original Japanese plans for several models of heavy tanks.

Finally, I'll leave you with a report that is a bit of a mystery. What were the Japanese firing? Any of you want to take a swing at it?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Foiled Again

Bit of a short one this week, so apologies. My originally planned article proved to be much harder to research than I thought. An article normally takes me about four hours. After that period of time I'd only completed half the research. Who'd have guessed that Palestine would be difficult... Anyway that'll later. Today you'll have to settle for a short look at something I found in an archive, namely Project Foil.

The project was to design a multiple rocket launch system for the British Army. This had become possible with recent advancements in rockets that had made them more accurate than the area weapons of the Second World War. So with this in mind the British started looking at large calibre unguided rockets. Phase one of the project was finished in 1969, with talks about a joint German and Italian collaboration the following year. It seems that the rocket chosen was the same one as used in Project JAWL, which ran from 1963 until 1968. Foil in turn lead to the RS-80 project of 1974, which got killed off by the United States MLRS system, which had a massively faster reload due to the rockets being loaded in pods.

RS-80 system
Each of the Foil rockets was 7" diameter, 9.5 feet long and weighed about 350 lbs. 8", 9" and 10" rockets were also considered for the system. The rockets were fired from a 12 ft beam that weighed another 350 lbs. There were two main warheads looked at, an anti-light armour warhead which blasted 1120 dense metal spheres across an area, and a anti-personnel warhead which scattered  22,250 spheres. Finally a cluster warhead with 220 bomblets was also built.
Consideration was also given to warheads with fuel-air explosive, explosively formed penetrators, minelets and flechettes.
Phase one of the project looked at mounting on vehicles, and studied the logistics requirements. All these systems were designed and plans made. The first question was what vehicle to mount the rockets on? Well the consideration of shoot and scoot made a tracked vehicle ideal, although some wheeled vehicles were considered. So plans were drawn up for mounting a very similar turret on each type of tracked chassis the Army was using. The turrets mounted between 1-10 rockets (depending on type) in lightly armoured boxes. The exact arrangements and weights meant that the traverse to either side ranged from 66 degrees down to 30 degrees. Elevation arc for all mounts was 0-55 degree's.
The soft skin launchers were planned for 4 ton Bedford MK and a 10 ton AEC Militant MK3. They also looked at towed versions, portee versions and strapping them to Land Rovers. Tracked chassis considered were Abbott, Chieftain, MICV, CVRT, M107.
The MICV, if you're wondering is the embryonic stage of the Warrior, and was planned as a family of vehicles weighing about 20-28 tons and came in two versions, one with five road wheels, the other with six.
Of all vehicles the Abbott was judged to be the best chassis, carrying six rounds of 7" rockets. That was the most common amount of rounds carried, although some of the M107 builds could carry ten rockets. The CVRT could however only carry one, but was the only vehicle to carry a re-load, which interestingly enough was just strapped to the top of the turret and not protected.
Re-loading was carried out by having a truck parked next to the launcher and a second truck equipped with a crane near by. The rounds would then be pulled tail first from racks on the ammo truck by the crane and then swung out and slid into the launcher box from the rear. This slow labour intensive process was ultimately why the project failed.

Image credits: