Purpose of this blog

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

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.

Sunday, October 2, 2016


I'm on Holiday this week!

A few months ago the Wife suggested that we hire a cottage and go away or a week with the dogs. To which I replied "I hear Dorset is nice." (For those of you who don't get it). Yes, I am going to be visiting the archives there. So I'm away this week. However I've still got some history for you, just something a bit shorter than normal.

If you wondered how bad it could get in Burma:

If that's not enough for you, well this Youtube historian is rather funny, here's one of his pieces:

Right see you in a week.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Back to the Future?

Throughout the last few years I've seen a great many projects related to armoured warfare. Nearly every single one of them was scuppered by technological considerations. Either the technology was unavailable, or too cutting edge and so would cost too much. However with modern technology these ideas suddenly become feasible, in most cases tanks continue to be churned out looking much like the FT-17. So, let's consider some of the past projects and how they can fit in current warfare.

You might not know it, but there are laws to tank design. Break them and your tank will fail.This law is simple that there is a ratio of a tank's footprint, i.e. the surface of the track in contact with the ground, the track gauge. Both of these factors have an impact on the tanks width and length, lest you end up with something like a St Chamond from the First World War.
 This is because as a tank gets longer it gets harder to steer, as there's more track in contact with the ground. If you consider the tanks centre as a pivot point, and two parallel lines as the tracks in contact with the ground, then the edges of the tracks have the furthest to travel, equally they have the most resistance to overcome. As you make the length longer, you increase the footprint in contact with the ground, and thus the forces involved. Make a tank too short and it'll not be able to cross trenches, and it will lack stability. So you have to balance these requirements. The ideal ratio is about 1.3-1.8 times the width of the tank.

Now the length and width from the base of the tank also affect how high you can take the centre of gravity, take it too high and your tank will start to flip over. From this you can see that all three dimensions on a tank are related to each other.

Early tanks had a further trouble as they used skid steering. This is where one track is locked and the other drives dragging the tank around, this adds a massive anchor to one side of the tank. In Rhomboids of the first World War it was made worse by the two large gun sponsons right over the tracks. Another tank that broke this rule was the T-35. The engine used in the T-35 was the Mikulin M-17. This was also used in BT series and T-28's. While the latter two were not considered super reliable, they were vastly better than the T-35. The T-35 had between 49-51 units issued, in its combat tour in 1941 only five were lost to enemy action but 43 were lost due to mechanical breakdown. A large portion of those would be due to the over taxed engine just giving up.
Even today the ratio causes problems. The newest British IFV the Ajax has been accused by some commentators as being too long and too wide. This is a factor of the need to have enough length to fit infantry dismounts in the back.
 However by the 30's engineers were beginning to look at solving this issue, although they didn't know it. Giffard Le Quesne Martel, a famous British Army engineer officer that pioneered the use of tanks and bridging equipment, and who commanded the British at the Battle of Arras was in India and started looking at the problem. It was known that smaller tracked vehicles such as the Carden Loyd MG carrier steered just fine, but even the next step up, the light tank caused steering problems until a specialist gearbox was developed. But even then there was a theoretical maximum length to the light tank. He began to look at ways to make steering easier by making the tanks actually turn, like a truck, instead of skid steering.
His idea was to have four sets of tracks, two at the front and two at the rear. This four track set up has massive advantages in tank design. First it's much more stable, for example a bump or boulder would simply fit inside the gap in the tracks, where as a tank of the same length would still be rearing up until it tipped over. The tank would steer like a truck, which would make crew training a little bit easier. It also adds a bit of survivability to the tank, meaning it could theoretically continue to maintain some degree of mobility after a track was destroyed by a mine hit. Most importantly it disconnects the ratio of length vs width. In the case of an armoured vehicle carrying infantry it'd also give a useful position to mount a set of dismount doors in the side hull.
On these two images note where the doors hinges are located. This means they open out one each way, so that no matter which direction enemy fire is coming from you have an armoured door covering you as you dismount. Possibly a good idea for these side doors on the four track IFV?
In the last 40 years there have been at least two serious suggestions (that I know of) to make AFV's with four tracks. However these have all been shot down by more traditional officers who consider the idea too new fangled and too technical. But consider this. Martels prototype was hand built by himself in a shed at home, with 1930's technology. That was a tank with all four tracks driven mechanically, and it worked.  Hägglunds has been producing four track articulated all terrain vehicles, such as the BV-206, that have seen wide service throughout European militaries.
 In fact the concept of four tracks is actually easier now than it ever was, with the advent of hybrid electric drives you no longer need to run mechanical power to the track units, making maintenance and reliability even better. So maybe it's time to look at four track tanks again?

Another thing one sees a lot of in the 1980's is elevating ATGM platforms. Such as this German entry.
The arm erects to launch ATGM's across the battlefield, while the launching tank stays nice and safe.

Now the two main driving forces behind its cancellation was the end of the Cold War, and the massive elevating arm. That's a lot of weight in an AFV, and it also takes time to erect and the vehicle can’t move if it’s erected. However in the 1960's as part of the infamous Project Prodigal some bright chap suggested drones connected by radio to a tank to attack enemy targets. His sketch shows tiny helicopters linked to Centurions, flying above the tank platoon as it charges towards Soviet armour, the mini-helicopters are adding their fire-power to that of the Centurions resulting in a total rout of the enemy defences.
But what if we combine the two ideas? Quadcopters are getting pretty advanced, to the extent the average person can buy one cheaply. And look at Amazon's latest idea, drones delivering parcels. Beef the engines up a bit, and get them to carry a single ATGM. You get all the advantages of the arm mounted ATGM, without the negatives. You could for example have one of these drones lurking inside a building, where you'd not normally be able to mount ATGM's due to the problems of backblast. Or you could use a drone for reconnaissance, like a forward observation post, or similar roles such as ISTAR.

Another old British idea, that oh so nearly became reality that could help the modern British military, is that of liquid propellant. In the late 1950's and 1960's the British started studying liquid propellant. They even converted a couple of guns to test fire them. The main problem was that of uneven ignition of the propellant, which in turn gave wildly different muzzle velocities. If the issue of uneven ignition could be fixed then it could solve a huge issue facing the British Army.
At current our Challenger 2 tanks are getting old, and we can't replace the gun. To do so would mean ripping out the ammunition storage and that would pretty much require an entirely new tank, or at the very least an entirely new turret. The main driving force behind this is that tank penetrators have gotten longer to provide more penetrating power. Of course a longer penetrator is subject to more yaw force, which means it breaks up easier, but the general consensus from those in the know whom I trust is that the longer penetrator is better.
The current gun on the Challenger 2, called the L30, uses bag charges. On modern guns the penetrator extends down into the case of the round, which is something you cannot do with an L30.
So you have the issue of what to do. Well consider a new breech with more chamber space and a longer penetrator. Then consider a liquid propellant. The restrictions of the bag charge are removed, you could even create tanks to store the charge liquid in the same size and shape of the current charge bins, and the rod could be as long as is needed.
Charge bins in a Chieftian
You might even get advantages such as a higher rate of fire, or open the way for larger shells. As one big technical issue that people are bumping into is the next logical step up in tank calibre is to the 140mm. But the shells become so large you're limited to the number you can carry and hand loading is all but impossible.
When in the 80's it looked like the main tank gun calibre was to be 140mm, this is the autoloader the British developed.
When reading the above, however, the thing to consider is I'm no engineer. I'm a historian. So there could be massive technical problems, especially in the last idea, which mean the suggestions won't work in the real world. So please treat this article as just a set of casual observations.

My thanks to Maddest, for his help with this.

Image Credits:
www.fiddlersgreen.net, hmvf.co.uk, defense-update.com

Sunday, September 18, 2016

First and Only

The story of Finnish tanks during the Second World War isn't exactly a happy one. From a manpower point of view they did extremely well, with tank crews showing high levels of skill and courage. On the equipment side of things however the situation was dire. Finland had ordered 32 Vickers 6 ton MK.E's before the war, but to save money they'd been ordered without lots of fittings or equipment. They lacked any guns or sights, any radios, even the drivers seats were missing. By the time the Winter War broke out 26 tanks had been delivered. During the summer of 1939 the tanks were briefly armed with the 37mm guns loaned from Finland's FT-17's, so the Vickers tanks could be used in war games.
 After this time the FT-17's got their guns back and a program to arm the Vickers started. The tanks were fitted with a 37mm Bofors gun and water-cooled Maxim, both with improvised sights which reduced their accuracy. The driver curiously had a 9mm Suomi SMG fitted that he could use in place of a hull machine gun. This rearmament program continued during the Winter War. By late February 1940 thirteen tanks had been armed, and it was decided to send them into action. What followed was the one Finish tank attack of the Winter War.
Next to Lake Naykkijarvi (my spell checker just gave up and cried when I entered that name) lies the town of Honkaniemi. The attacking Soviets had pushed through the town, using the lake to screen their right flank. So it was decided that the 13 armed tanks which formed the 4th Tank Company would be launched into the salient and cut off the exposed Russians. Finnish Jaeger infantry was trucked to a site three km short of the assembly point at Jukkala. The infantry then skied the remaining distance arriving at 0400. The tanks were transferred by train to the front then unloaded and road marched 50 km to a staging area, arriving at 0430. However during that road march the Fins suffered their first losses. Five of the tanks had their fuel contaminated by water and broke down on the way. At the staging area a further two were put out of action with mechanical troubles. This left just six tanks for the attack.

The attack with several companies of infantry and two battalions of artillery in support was to cross a band of swampy terrain and slam into the Soviet front-line, tearing the top off the salient. Then the Finish infantry battalion at the head of the salient would pass through the counter attacking force and stop the penetration of Russian forces attempting to recapture the town. Don't be fooled by the description of "town", despite being the second largest settlement in the area it was mostly a combination of wooded areas and open cultivated fields with houses dotted about.
 The attack was scheduled for 0500 February 26th 1940, however communication issues with the supporting units meant the attack was postponed for an hour and fifteen minutes. Then when the artillery bombardment did begin some of the rounds landed short causing causalities in the Finnish force. Despite this the first ever Finnish armoured attack crossed its start line.
It failed to get off to a very auspicious start when tank 644 drove into a ditch and damaged the turret. Unable to fight the tank had to return to base.
Note the T-28 in the background. Likely a Vehicle Collection Point after the battle on the Soviet side.
Of the five remaining tanks all were destroyed, several whilst trying to inspire the infantry to follow them into close assaults. Three were destroyed in the lightly wooded areas. One, commanded by the platoon leader managed to reach a point where he could see the frozen lake on the other side of field. However his tank was hit and the crew forced to bail out. In return the Soviets lost at least three tanks, although the Soviet High Command claimed to have destroyed six enemy tanks for no loss.

Image credits:

Sunday, September 11, 2016

At the heart of the labyrinth

On a couple of occasions I have been to the Defence Capabilities Centre at Shrivenham (both times the visit was organised by Ed Francis). Some of the models they have are curious jobs that no-one has seen or heard of before. Equally you'll occasionally find a picture of a mysterious and strange model of a armoured fighting vehicle in British archives. These all come from one source, which has had many names throughout the years, but is best described by one of its names; The School of Tank Technology.
It is DCC Shrivenham’s fore runner, and was all about teaching soldiers about armour developments. One of the ways they did this was to set a course a mock specification and ask them to design a tank to fulfill this requirement. Some courses lasted only a few hours, others were much longer affairs lasting months. Today I'm going to talk about one such course and the design it came up with, the project was named Minotaur, and it came from the design exercise of 1950.

Another design exercise, this one called Taurus
Unfortunately we don't actually have a sketch or model of this design exercise. But we do have a detailed technical view, and the response by the people marking the work. From the description the tank seems to resemble a Jagdpanzer IV, only a 40 feet long, 10.25 feet tall and 13.3 feet wide Jagdpanzer IV! It weighed 75 tons, the upper superstructure front was slightly sloped at just 25 degrees, but was a fairly chunky 11" thick. The armour basis for this tank was 12".
The lower hull held the driver, with a domed hatch to give him sufficient headroom. Beside him was a co-driver with a small sub turret mounting twin Robinson machine guns to cover a blind spot. The commander had another sub turret with twin Robinson .30 machine-guns in it to provide local defence. The armour on these sub turrets is 4" thick, and each held 6000 rounds of ammunition for the machine guns. The MG's had a unique trait in that they ejected spent cases forwards, and so outside of the vehicle. Pretty much every other plate on the tank is a mere 2" thick, to provide protection against HE shell bursts and small arms. Interestingly the roof was a whopping 1.5" thick, normally you have less than an inch on the roof of most tanks. These plates also provided the structural strength to the tank. The rest of the tank was pretty boxlike with flat sides all the way around.

Now we move onto the main armament, and this is where things start to get interesting. The gun was a 180mm Lillywhite gun, and that's not a typo. It was another of the British big AT guns, much like the L4 183mm gun from the FV215b. The ammunition for this monster matched the dimensions and weight of the L4 183mm. Whether this gun was actually 183mm or 180mm I don't know, but if two guns had the same calibres the British had a habit of giving the other gun a different calibre in its designation to make sure the rounds for the two guns didn't get mixed up. The most famous version of this was the 77mm gun, which had the same calibre as the 17 pounder. Another example is the 95mm close support howitzer which shared a calibre with the earlier 15 lbr tank mortar.
The Lillywhite gun could be pulled back into the hull for movement, making the tank much more mobile. This did mean that the gunners controls were not directly linked to the gun, but to the hydraulic drives that controlled the gun. Speaking of which the gunner and commander were on opposite sides of the gun, which was a big departure from normal crew placements. The commander also had a naval style rangefinder which he'd then use to get a range and then pass the details over to the gunner. With this system an 80% hit chance was anticipated.
L4 183mm in the Fv4005 Stage I
The loading arrangements for the gun were also ingenious and unique. The huge nature of the Lillywhite’s rounds meant shell handling was tricky. First to get the rounds into the vehicle a removable derrick was provided. The ammo bins were on the floor raised slightly to provide room for drainage.
The next big issue was loading the gun, and this is possibly the bit that is the most ingenious. Around the back of the fighting compartment ran a conveyor belt. This was angled through a curve to match the position on the guns arc of 20 degrees either side of the centreline. On the belt were a series of loading trays each holding one complete round (the shell and two charge bags). This belt arrangement also elevated and depressed in line with the gun breech. The belt could be powered by one of the two loaders. An arm stuck out from the breech and when a loading tray hit the arm it automatically cut off the power to the conveyor. At this point the round contained within the loading tray was now aligned with the breech and if the loader wanted it loaded he'd just activate the power rammer. If he didn't want that round type he could override the cut off and keep the belt moving. This allowed rapid fire of the gun in any position for an extended period, as the conveyor belt had twenty loading trays! It was estimated the rate of fire would be six rounds per minute.
Same idea for the Minotaur, a derrick to winch the shells into the tank. Of course the Lillywhite shells are a little bit smaller.
The engine on the Mk.I Minotaur was a Rolls Royce Eagle engine that had been re-rated to 1400hp and was named "Nebula". A Mk.II Minotaur was planned with a gas turbine power pack producing 1300hp. Minotaur ran on four feet wide tracks.

So how well did they do when they submitted the design?
Generally their designs were considered acceptable, apart from two points.
The person assessing the firing accuracy summed it up by saying the tank would be slow to fire its first round, and would only have a 67% chance of hitting, which was below the required 80% on the specification. The other thing that they came in for some criticism on was for the basic premise they took of supplying such a large amount of armour at the expense of a turret. The assessor pointed out that the specification did not require armour protection to be as great as the students had made it. This in turn had led them to decide against a turret, which was a rather critical flaw in his view.

Image credits:
www.arcaneafvs.com and www.achtungpanzer.com

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Battle of the Yarra

HMAS Yarra was the second ship to bear that name. She was a Grimsby Class sloop, a tiny ship was lightly armed with only three four inch guns and a three inch gun along with a small compliment of automatic guns. She spent the first years of the war fighting in the Middle East against Italians, Iraqis and Iranians. During the Iraqi revolt she provided covering fire to Gurkhas as they launched an amphibious assault in locally acquired sailing boats. Her 4" shells smashed the Iraqi positions, often smashing through the houses she was firing at. Shortly after the Commonwealth achieved victory in the Middle East the Japanese attacked. HMAS Yarra was recalled to the Pacific.
On the 5th of February 1942 HMAS Yarra was part of a convoy escorting two troop ships to Singapore. The Japanese launched a massive air attack aimed at the two troop transports. Despite HMAS Yarra's barrage of fire the Japanese pilots pressed home the attack, setting both troop ships on fire. The first ship managed to get the flames under control, the second failed, and soon was a raging inferno amidships with the soldiers clustered fore and aft. During the height of the dive bombing attacks HMAS Yarra came alongside, the Japanese planes as well as dropping bombs were strafing the defiant sloop as she put a barrage of fire into the air. At 2000 yards range one Japanese plane was hit by the No.3 gun, receiving the captains praise. After the action the Captain also praised Acting Leading Seaman Ronald Taylor, whom commanded No.2 gun. The AA fire also claimed two probables.
While under this fierce unrelenting air bombardment, the stationary HMAS Yarra also rescued 1804 soldiers off the deck before the flames consumed the ship. The soldiers on the fore deck were taken off by other ships. The transport’s captain and his chief engineer were the last two to be evacuated from the foredeck. Now grossly overloaded the captain of HMAS Yarra ordered everyone who didn't need to stand to sit down. The survivors were then unloaded at Singapore, and were the last troops to arrive in the doomed city.
The ferocity of the gunfire laid down by the HMAS Yarra was such that her magazines were now over half empty.
Over the next few days HMAS Yarra was rushing about providing escorts for damaged ships and convoys. However on 11th of February seven personnel were detached from the ship. These men had served on board HMAS Yarra for up to 2.5 years, and were being returned to Australia. One of these men was the captain, Lieutenant Commander W.H. Harrington. He was replaced by Lieutenant Commander Robert W. Rankin. However there still hadn't been time to refill HMAS Yarra's empty magazines.
Lt.Cdr Rankin
The ship continued her duties until the 27th, when she was to lead a small convoy to Australia to evacuate the ships from the steadily worsening situation as the overpowering Japanese fleet pushed south. In the convoy HMAS Yarra was the most heavily armed ship. The rest of the convoy was made up of a tanker named Francol, the depot ship Anking and the minesweeper MMS.51.

What followed was two days of calm, apart from two incidents. The first excitement was spotting a single plane which couldn't be identified one evening, and then the next morning two lifeboats were sighted. These were attempting to sail for shore. Inside were the exhausted survivors of the Dutch ship Parigi, they had been in the boats for two days since their ship had been sunk.

At dawn of the 4th of March, 1942 the crew were at action stations. This was part of the normal daily routine. Together the crew watched the sun rise in a blaze of colour. They knew that with another day's sail they'd be safe in an Australian port. The men stood down, and the normal watches resumed. Then shortly later the the klaxon started to scream and the ship's company dashed back to their action stations.
The IJN Takao taken from the IJN Atago's deck.
A lookout had sighted the masts of three large warships. These hove over the horizon in the form of the IJN heavy cruisers Atago, Takao and Maya, accompanied by two destroyers. Each of these monsters had ten eight inch guns and armour up to five inches thick, and there was three of them. HMAS Yarra had three four inch guns and no armour.
Immediately Lt. Cdr. Rankin gave two orders. First he ordered the convoy to scatter and make best speed for safety. Next he had his radio room send a sighting report.

Then he turned his ship and charged the three giants.

As she charged forward HMAS Yarra laid smoke to try and cover the retreat of the convoy. The Japanese opened fire, almost instantly destroying Anking. Then HMAS Yarra returned fire, scoring a single hit on one of the cruisers. The Japanese force veered off and gave their full attention to HMAS Yarra. The initial volley that hit HMAS Yarra destroyed her No.1 and No.3 guns, sickbay and engine room. She was also listing heavily, with all her lifeboats smashed.
The other ships were sunk in short order, the tanker spewing flames and smoke all over the place giving a backdrop to events.

Knowing it was hopeless Lt. Cdr. Rankin gave the order to abandon ship moments before a follow up shell from the Japanese hit the bridge killing everyone there. One survivor was a rating who had just began to clamber down the ladder from the bridge when the shell hit, blowing him off the ladder and badly wounding him.
Ls Taylor
The senior surviving officer started to arrange the evacuation, some survivors started to launch Carley floats. At No.2 gun the crew heard the order to abandon ship. Leading Seaman Taylor heard the order, and dismissed his gun crew, stating he would continue to man the gun. Through the smoke he could see the two destroyers closing in on HMAS Yarra. By now her stern was under water. Eyewitnesses saw LS. Taylor’s gun begin to fire. After two or so rounds the gun took a direct hit silencing it forever. It is said that one of LS. Taylors shots hit one of the destroyers.
The last anyone saw of the HMAS Yarra was her sinking hulk being circled by two Japanese destroyers and a massive column of smoke.

34 survivors from HMAS Yarra were on those two Carley floats. Some were from the Dutch ship whom they'd rescued earlier. When the Dutch submarine K11 surfaced to recharge her batteries on the 9th of March, they spotted the survivors. By then wounds and exposure had reduced the survivors to just thirteen.
On the 4th of March 2014 the Australian Government awarded the HMAS Yarra a Unit Citation for Gallantry. Today the Royal Australian Navy has two ships in service linked to this fight, the HMAS Rankin and HMAS Yarra.

Image credits (and a more complete story):