Archive for the 'History' Category

10
Jun
09

Steel Storm – Waffen-SS Panzer Battles on the Eastern Front 1943-1945

The Eastern Front was the decisive theatre of operations during World War II. The pivotal point came in mid-1943, when the Red Army and Nazi Germany massed the largest tank forces in the history of modern warfare for a titanic clash of armour. At the Battle of Kursk in July 1943, millions of troops and thousands of tanks clashed in an epic engagement. The Red Army’s defences held and Adolf Hitler’s panzer armies were stopped in their tracks. Over the next 21 months, having gained the strategic initiative, the mighty Red Army surged forward into the heart of the Fuhrers Thousand Year Reich. Standing in the way of the Russians was an increasingly bclca-guered and battle-weary Wchrmacht, its divisions understrength and its reserves largely spent. When crises threatened. Hitler turned to the elite panzer divisions of the Waffen-SS. Time and again they were thrown into desperate holding actions and counterattacks to plug gaps in Germany’s Eastern Front. As a result, they soon became known as the Fuhrer’s “Fire Brigade”. As the war progressed, these actions became more forlorn until even the die-hard Waffen-SS commanders could see that their cause was lost.

10
Jun
09

Iron Hulls Iron Hearts – Mussolini’s Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa

In March 1935, Hitler renounced the disarmament clauses of the Treaty
of Versailles and revealed the reconstruction of German military power. The European powers, including Italy, met soon afterwards at Stresa to formally condemn Germany; hut they took no practical action. This weak response was further undermined by the British, who were prepared to appease Germany to avoid another war: in June 1935 they signed the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, which declared British acceptance of German rearmament and effectively shattered the post-war consensus. They did so without consulting the French or Italians, and so broke the Stresa Agreement before the ink was dry. The instability created by these events presaged the effective abandonment of the post-war system; it also encouraged the Italians to resurrect their own expansionist ambitions, and their covetous gaze quickly tell on Ethiopia.

10
Jun
09

German Tanks in WWI – The A7V and Early Tank Development

At the very beginning of the war consideration was given in Berlin to the construction of overland vehicles for use in transporting supplies in areas without roads. A contract was issued by the War Ministry to engineer Hugo G. Bremer on July 19, 1915 for the production of a so-called “overland wagon.” On October 6, 1916 a model was introduced in Neheim. Two pairs of tracks, of which only the rear ones were driven, were installed under a normal 4-ton truck. Fifteen of these “Bremer Wagons” were to be built in Marienfelde, near Berlin. But they were in no way satisfactory and were either rebuilt into normal trucks or developed further into the “Marienwagen.” In the Marienwagen I, the running gear of the tracks was supported by two springs from the frame, with the tracks running over small road wheels as well as two return wheels. Since the front tracks were, as before, not powered, and tended to slide off in turns, they were replaced by a front axle with normal wheels. To meet the need for tanks, which had mean while become acute, the Bremer-Wagen was equipped with a body of 9-millimeter steel armor. But the truck was not capable of carrying this burden, and so the remaining chassis and the modified Marienwagen II were used as carriers for anti-aircraft and antitank guns. A fully tracked vehicle (Bremer-Wagen III) was designed later but not built.

10
Jun
09

British Battle Tanks 1945 to the Present

During the Second World War, British tanks were generally inferior to their German opponents with respect to their firepower and armour protection, while their high mobility in the early years was severely compromised by chronic unreliability. Since the war British designers have consistently pursued a policy that would prevent British troops ever taking the field again with tanks of inferior armour and armament. Unlike the European school of thought which advocates high mobility and firepower to ensure survival on the battlefield, the British consider that firepower is the primary attribute of a tank in defeating enemy armour at long ranges, followed closely by heavy armour protection to enable it to absorb punishment and manoeuvre at close quarters with relative immunity in a theatre of high-intensity warfare. Immediately after the war Britain abandoned the misguided doctrine of dividing tanks into ‘Cruiser’ and ‘Infantry’ types and adopted the idea of a ‘Universal’ or ‘general purpose’ tank, later to be known as the ‘Main Battle Tank’ (MBT). The first of these was Centurion, an excellent design capable of being repeatedly upgraded. Originally armed with the 17pdr, it was subsequently fitted with the 20pdr and finally the 105mm gun; the frontal armour was increased and fuel capacity more than doubled.

10
Jun
09

4.Panzer Division on the Eastern Front (1) 1941-1943

Three new early production Sd.Kfz.263 radio vehicles parked near a rail siding in the spring of 1941 as 4.Panzer-Division was preparing for the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Sd.Kfz.263 was equipped with a long range radio set and was usually used by Nachrichten (signals) units and in Korps and Armee headquarters. They are protected with canvas covers around the crew compartment and on the telescoping mast antenna. The boxes hanging on the sides are metal containers for stick hand grenades. The nearest vehicle carries the license number WH-76694. Just above it can be seen the divisional emblem while on the opposite side of the radiator grille can be seen the tactical sign for a signals unit. This photo proves the usefulness of the canvas covers as evidenced by a fresh snowfall still in the spring of 1941. Note the square metal pennon frame on the front of the vehicle signifying a Korps HQ vehicle. In June 1941, 4.Panzer-Division was moved close to the Soviet-German border in the area of Brest-Litovsk with 3.Panzer-Division on their northern flank and 1.Kavallerie-Division on their southern flank.

10
Jun
09

Waffen-Arsenal Band 176 – Deutsche Sturmgeschuetze im Einsatz

Am Anfang dieser Entwicklung stand der Wunsch Feuerkraft und Beweglichkeit miteinander zu verbinden, und beides wegen der gesteigerten Feuerwirkung der Abwehrwaffen auf dem Gefechtsfeld mit einer Panzerung zu schützen. In Deutschland nahmen solche Überlegungen Mitte der 30er Jahre konkrete Gestalt an. Gefordert wurde ein wirkungsvolles Geschütz auf gepanzerter Selbstfahrlafette zur unmittelbaren Unterstützung der Infanterie. Jede Infanteriedivision sollte eine Abteilung solcher Geschütze erhalten. Ein Ziel, das selbst auf dem Höhepunkt der Entwicklung der Sturmartillerie nicht verwirklicht werden konnte. Sturmgeschütze blieben, abgesehen von einigen Ausnahmen, eine Schwerpunktwaffe des Heeres. Eine recht treffende Charakterisierung ist in einer, ebenfalls vom Oberkommando des Heeres während des Krieges herausgegebenen Schrift über die Artillerie zu finden: “Die Sturmbatterien sind Kinder des gegenwärtigen Krieges. Sie sollen den Angriff der Infanterie unmittelbar in der vordersten Linie unterstützen. Sie sind, um sich hierbei dem Gelände weitgehend anschmiegen zu können, niedriger gebaut als die Panzerkampfwagen, denen sie übrigens bis auf den Wegfall des Drehturms ähneln. Ihre Panzerung schützt sie gegen alle infanteristischen Waffen.

10
Jun
09

US Armored Funnies

The fighting in the Normandy hedgerows in June 1944 created significant problems for lank operations since they restricted the movement of US tanks. Since there were too few dozer tanks, various other methods were developed to penetrate the dense hedgerows. The earliest types were designed simply to create holes at the base of the hedgerow so that engineers could plant explosive charges to breach the obstacle. Since there would never be enough explosives to use this tactic on a large scale, other types of steel devices were tested to penetrate the hedgerow without explosives. One of the first of these, dubbed the “Salad Fork” was tested during an offensive near St. Lo on 11 July 1944. A better hedge-buster was subsequently developed by Sgt. Curtis Culin, and local production of the “rhino” was undertaken by First US Army ordnance units to equip several hundred tanks prior to Operation Cobra. There were several variations of the Rhino, such as the Douglas device devised by engineers of the 3rd Armored Division. Additional photos of these devices can be found in a previous book in this series “US Tank Battles in France” (Concord Armor at War 7050).