Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, December 25, 2016


At 0430 on the 14th of May 1917 Zeppelin LZ-64 (Formerly LZ-22) was cruising about over the North Sea near Terschelling. She was engaged on her 31st reconnaissance flight, in preparation for a Kriegsmarine sortie the next day. However she'd never make it back to base. About ten miles away and two to three thousand feet higher was a Curtiss H-12 flying boat of the RNAS. After it spotted the Zeppelin it began to climb in order to gain a bigger height advantage. It then dove down on the lumbering German behemoth, pulling into level flight about twenty feet lower than the German and only fifty feet away. The front gunner opened fire with his twin Lewis guns, but almost immediately both guns jammed. The Curtiss flying boat began a bank away from the Zeppelin to allow the gunner to clear his jams, however as it turned the gunner thought he saw a glow inside the envelope. When the Zeppelin came into sight again a mere 15 seconds later she was hanging at an angle of 45  degrees tail down down and the underside of the envelope was fully alight. Five seconds later she was a glowing inferno, falling tail first vertically. A mere 45 seconds after the attack commenced the fires were out leaving a charred blackened metal skeleton plummeting into the sea. When she impacted she left a massive slick of black ash and a 1500 foot smoke column.
This was one of the many incidents in the air over the North Sea in the later years of the war that has gone largely unmarked by authors to date. One of the key players in this story were the Curtiss flying boats. When first delivered they were considered unfit for purpose by their aircrews, however, several modifications and most importantly two engine upgrades later and the definitive Felixstowe F.2a version appeared.
These flying boats were a key part in halting the German U-boats in the channel. And as well as reconnaissance they also carried out attacks carrying bombs. Equally as we have seen they fought with German Zeppelins on at least three occasions, one of the later attacks was flown by the pilot in the opening paragraph, Flight Sub-Lieutenant R. Leckie.

While robust, agile for such a large craft and well armed the F.2a didn't have it all its own way. The Germans began to mount naval sweeps with floatplane fighters. One such plane was the Hansa-Brandenburg W.29. Rumoured to have been designed on the back of a wine list by Ernst Heinkel at a cabaret show one night, it involved removing the top wing from an earlier double decker seaplane. On several occasions these German patrols (not always in W.29's) clashed, for honours even.
One such event, on 18th March 1918, one F.2a was attacked by two German planes, later in the same patrol they got attacked by another three. Upon reaching base they counted 80 bullet holes in the plane, with one through the pilots coat and another through his boot!
By far the biggest fight between the two foes was on the 4th of June. A patrol of four F.2a's and a H-12 was lead by the now promoted Captain R. Leckie. On the German side were 14 W.29's led by the Ace Friedrich Christiansen. Before the battle started one of the F.2a’s suffered a blocked fuel line and had to land. Interestingly it seems that Christiansen claimed this plane as a kill. In the roiling furball the Germans lost six planes, and the British had another F.2a forced down due to the blocked fuel line problem, which was common on the type.

At this point two stories appear. One has one of the F.2a's involved being painted bright red with yellow lightning bolts, and it was claimed by the pilots its was the only way they could identify it. Another is that the fuel line problem was so common the threat of being forced down at sea meant there was a need for a high visibility scheme that meant the flying boats could be spotted and rescued easier.
Whichever was true the go ahead was given for the pilots to paint their craft as they so desired.
The risk of landing without the ability to take off again was not a minor one. On one occasion a H.12 landed at sea to rescue the crew of another plane that had been forced down. They then found the sea to rough to take off again. The crew released four homing pigeons with a message for help and their location.
Pigeon N.U.R.P/17/F.16331 arrived with the message after a gruelling flight of fifty miles, and the crew was rescued. However the incident was not without casualty. The gallant pigeon collapsed from exhaustion and died shortly after arriving. He was stuffed and preserved with the title of "A very gallant gentleman", and is currently on display at the RAF Museum at Cosford.
One of the most graphic accounts of the battles in the North Sea comes from the 31st July 1918. Friedrich Christiansen was leading his squadron when they spotted a lone F.2a, which had set out on its patrol at 0600.  What makes this so unique was one of the observers in the W.29's had brought a camera with him and recorded what happened next.
Caught from several directions at once the F.2a tried to dive away reaching just over 100mph. However their escape route was cut off by two of the W.29's who made a head on attack killing the bow gunner with a bullet to the neck. Then the five W.29's sat on the F.2a's tail and took turns to riddle it with bursts of gunfire. Eventually one of the bursts hit the gravity tank. Full of holes this began to leak fuel everywhere, and more seriously this meant the engines were not getting enough fuel and they spluttered and died, forcing the pilot to set down on the water. The pilot got a carrier pigeon away, and was about to send another when the five W.29's re-appeared line astern and began to strafe the sitting duck of a F.2a.
The F.2a landing, under attack.
The crew clings to the wing for safety as the fuel leaking from the gravity tank catches fire under repeated strafing attacks.

One of the crew, who didn't know how to swim, and had a damaged life jacket was set on fire and severely burnt, so he leaps overboard from the nose of the aircraft. Seeing their comrade sinking the last two surviving crew abandon the burning plane and swim to his rescue.

The burning F.2a was soon to sink, leaving a pool of burning petrol. The crew (seen here in front of the nose) swam away and after 35 minutes in the water were rescued by HMS Halcyon.

Of the people mentioned so far, Robert Leckie retired from the RCAF as an Air Marshall in 1947, and died on 31st of March 1975. Friedrich Christiansen survived the First World War, and during the Second World War was in charge of the occupation of Holland, and was tried for war crimes after the war. Originally sentenced to twelve years in prison in 1948 he was released in 1951, and died in 1972.

Image Credits:
nzhistory.govt.nz, www.aviastar.org and www.wingnutwings.com

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Will the real Americans please stand up?

At the start of the Battle of the Bulge on the 16th of December 1944 several freezing, scared, ill-supported engineers were manning a roadblock at Malmedy. The sounds of war had picked up over the last few hours and troops fleeing from in front of them had brought tales of a massive German attack. During the day they passed a straggler though, it was a single Jeep with three or four men in it. Unbeknownst to the engineers the men in the Jeep were Germans. They were a reconnaissance team from the now almost mythical Panzer Brigade 150. This team reported back how lightly defended Malmedy was to their commander Otto Skorzeny.
VisMod Stug III as used by the Germans.
After the failure of the original plan due to a massive traffic jam which held up Panzer Brigade 150, Skorzeny convinced his superiors that his force could attack and defeat the scratch defence at Malmedy. He was given the go ahead. Panzer Brigade 150 was again held up by traffic jams, and this delayed their ability to marshal for attack until the 21st. In between the 16th and the 21st the defenders were reinforced by four battalions of infantry (one armoured), with support from two platoons of M10 tank destroyers. In the intervening days the engineers had also began mining and booby trapping the area. One of the leg infantry battalions was the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), it consisted of Norwegian-American soldiers, and all were fluent in Norwegian. Compare if you will to the German attempts at assembling English speakers in Panzer Brigade 150, where you had just ten who were fluent in "American", thirty odd who spoke fluent English and some two hundred with moderate English skills. The Germans had some US equipment, although in this battle they only used the vehicles. By a strange turn of fate the mortars on the US side ran out of ammunition early on in the battle, so to keep the guns firing they took 8cm German rounds from a nearby captured dump and fired them at a risk of a round detonating in the tube.
So you had Norwegian-Americans using German weapons to fight off Germans using American equipment!

Some of that captured US equipment was rattling down the road toward Malmedy at 0300 on the 21st of December. On one flank a German formation led by a halftrack drove through a dense forest and wound its way along a road hacked into the side of a steep hill. As they approached Malmedy the lead halftrack hit a mine and became a bright fireball, the Germans reacted with an immediate assault towards the US lines, yelling, in English, for the US soldiers to surrender. The US mortars and their base of fire put down such a withering hail of fire it slowed the German assault to a crawl and then the artillery joined in. US artillery of World War Two had some problems, one was a somewhat slow time on target approach, where using carefully timed charges and elevations at the guns they could have multiple rounds in the air from one tube, all of which would arrive at a target at the same time. This meant the opening salvo of a US unit could often be devastatingly massive compared to other nations, but it did take some time to calculate. However it would arrive without warning. Now the firepower of six battalions of artillery, and even two of anti-air, fell on the flank force. This in effect removed them from the battle.
Waiting a mile away in a small hamlet above Malmedy was the main assault force of Germans, with two companies of infantry and four Ersatz M10's (Panther tanks disguised to look like M10 tank destroyers). While the sounds of the battle rumbled across them they maintained their positions ready for the attack. At 0530 they started their offensive planning to take the US forces by surprise. Almost instantly their hopes were dashed as they hit several tripwires linked to flares and other pyrotechnics which stripped the cover of darkness from their attack. One of the Ersatz M10's hit a mine as it charged down the road towards a flanking position with some infantry as they tried to capture a railway embankment.

Four other Panthers, and a mass of infantry assaulted directly towards Malmedy. In the foggy darkness the four Panthers found themselves looking in a mirror as they faced four M10 tank destroyers. Unsurprisingly the four Panthers won the short fight and forced the American line to bend back, with the US defences congealing at the Paper Mill. Here they met Private Francis S. Currey. His Medal of Honor Citation reads:
He was an automatic rifleman with the 3rd Platoon defending a strongpoint near Malmedy, Belgium, on 21 December 1944, when the enemy launched a powerful attack. Overrunning tank destroyers and antitank guns located near the strong point, German tanks advanced to the 3rd Platoon's position, and, after prolonged fighting, forced the withdrawal of this group to a nearby factory. Sgt. Currey found a bazooka in the building and crossed the street to secure rockets meanwhile enduring intense fire from enemy tanks and hostile infantrymen who had taken up a position at a house a short distance away. In the face of small-arms, machinegun, and artillery fire, he, with a companion, knocked out a tank with 1 shot. Moving to another position, he observed 3 Germans in the doorway of an enemy-held house. He killed or wounded all 3 with his automatic rifle. He emerged from cover and advanced alone to within 50 yards of the house, intent on wrecking it with rockets. Covered by friendly fire, he stood erect, and fired a shot which knocked down half of 1 wall. While in this forward position, he observed 5 Americans who had been pinned down for hours by fire from the house and 3 tanks. Realizing that they could not escape until the enemy tank and infantry guns had been silenced, Sgt. Currey crossed the street to a vehicle, where he procured an armful of antitank grenades. These he launched while under heavy enemy fire, driving the tankmen from the vehicles into the house. He then climbed onto a half-track in full view of the Germans and fired a machinegun at the house. Once again changing his position, he manned another machinegun whose crew had been killed; under his covering fire the 5 soldiers were able to retire to safety. Deprived of tanks and with heavy infantry casualties, the enemy was forced to withdraw. Through his extensive knowledge of weapons and by his heroic and repeated braving of murderous enemy fire, Sgt. Currey was greatly responsible for inflicting heavy losses in men and material on the enemy, for rescuing 5 comrades, 2 of whom were wounded, and for stemming an attack which threatened to flank his battalion's position.

The Germans now devastated and beaten began to withdraw, and the Battle of Malmedy was over. Soon the Panzer Brigade would be replaced in the front line, and then disbanded. The 99th Infantry stayed in the area until January then was replaced in the line and undertook several other rear area duties until the end of the war.

Sgt. Currey survived the war, and is still alive today. In 1998 he was awarded another accolade, he had an Action Man (yes I used "Action Man" because I'm British. In the US it was called G.I. Joe) figure modelled on him.

Image Credits:

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Hangor On

Forty five years (and two days) ago a part of a naval war led to the first sinking of a ship by submarine since the Second World War, one of only three to date. The other two being the ARA Belgrano sunk by HMS Conqueror and the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan.
The subject for today's article was the sinking of the INS Khukri in 1971. A subject I was hesitant to look at, as the last time I featured an India-Pakistan war story I had to wade through such a mountain of bile, nationalism and propaganda it put me right off. Luckily this time saner heads have prevailed and the incident is discussed in a much more educated fashion. However I mention the above so that you can understand when I give a warning about the authenticity of some of the data in this article. Some of it comes from eye witness accounts, and thus may well have been edited by the various sides. To cap it all there is still some controversy on the subject.

The 1971 Indo-Pakistani war lasted just thirteen days, and the Pakistanis came off the worst and lost. The war overall was a part of the complex and unpleasant Bangladeshi Liberation War. At the start of the war the Pakistani Navy was blind and had no intelligence on what was happening at sea, and so its submarine, PNS Hangor (of French origin and built in 1968), sailed out into the Indian Ocean to see what intelligence could be found.
The PNS Hangor
She found information all right. The PNS Hangor detected a large fleet of Indian ships closing to create a blockade and bombard the main Pakistani Navy port of Karachi. PNS Hangor transmitted this warning to the Pakistani Navy, but for some unknown reason the warning wasn't acted upon by the PNS Hangor’s superiors. The message was also picked up by the Indians and they did act on it. They dispatched a number of maritime patrol planes and Sea King helicopters to search for this submarine. Along with the air assets a trio of British built Blackwood frigates were also dispatched. However one was in port with boiler trouble, and that just left two ships, the INS Khukri and INS Kirpan.
INS Khukri
The INS wasn't the only navy to be suffering mechanical troubles. The PNS Hangor had also developed an engine fault which reduced its speed. So when she came to periscope depth briefly sometime after 1100 on the 9th of December 1971, she could see the two Indian ships but lacked the speed to approach them to make an attack. However Commander Ahmed Tasnim, the captain of the PNS Hangor, could see the ships were conducting a search pattern. Both navies had the same background, and used the same text books and publications, so Cmdr Tasnim was able to recognize the pattern the Indians were using and decided to position himself ahead of the ships to launch his attack. However there was a complication. During the day a pair of Sea Kings started to operate in his area with dipping sonars. These would have picked up the sub moving to its ambush position. However at about 1700 to 1800 both Sea Kings left the search area. The Indian vessels were informed that their relief would be with them in an hour, but the replacements never showed up. This let the PNS Hangor take up its ambush position. Now at 40m depth the two Indian frigates were on a closing course moving at just 12 knots to improve the performance of their sonar, both of them were zig-zagging. Unable to pick up his targets in the dark, at a range of 9800m Cmdr Tasnim decided to dive to 55m and use sonar to make his attack. At 1957 he fired his first homing torpedo.
Cmdr Tasnim is pictured in the insert
Each torpedo had a travel time of about five minutes. The first torpedo missed, so a second one was launched. It hit the INS Khukri in the engine room, instantly destroying all power and causing severe flooding. On the bridge of the INS Khukri the captain was thrown from his chair and smashed his head on the bulkhead, opening a severe wound. Despite this he immediately ordered full speed, but his ship was already doomed. The captain sent one of his officers to assess the situation whilst he tried to regain control of his ship. The officer returned almost immediately suggesting that the order to abandon ship was to be given as the rear of the ship was already under water. The captain agreed. However there was only a single escape path. As the ship was at general quarters only a few stairwells were undogged. The rear one was underwater, so that left the one leading to the bridge. The captain and two of his officers remained pulling men out of the stairwell and sending them overboard until the bridge was nearly at the waterline, the captain then pushed the two remaining officers into the water and returned to rescue more men. Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla went down with his ship aged 45, along with nearly 200 others.
Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla
The other ship (INS Kirpan) turned to attack the PNS Hangor with depth charges. However the PNS Hangor fired again and hit the Kirpan and damaged her. The Hangor then started to retreat out to deeper waters. The INS Kirpan also left the area, and here is where the modern controversy lies. Many claim she should have stayed on station to rescue the survivors of the INS Khukri. The Indian Navy launched Operation Falcon over the next four days to try and sink the PNS Hangor. However as the PNS Hangor had headed out to deeper waters, and not directly towards her home base at Karachi she survived. Despite this the PNS Hangor recorded 36 depth charge attacks over the next four days, one salvo bracketed the submarine and left the crew tensed for the killing blow which never came.
The PNS Hangor remained in service until 2006 when she was decommissioned, before becoming a museum ship at the Pakistan Maritime Museum. The last officer to inspect her was Vice Admiral Ahmad Tasnim.
PNS Hangor at the Pakistan Maritime Museum

Image credits:
urbanpk.com and www.shipspotting.com

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Krupp Stehlen

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

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

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

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

Image credits:

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Building a Better Boxtank?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Early Invasion

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Friendly Fire

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Ivanhoe's Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Thinly Veiled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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