sábado, 1 de janeiro de 2011

Russian front: new tanks

I had started to read some weeks ago, the book "War without garlands", from Robert Kershaw. It's a great book, for sure. With a german view of the battle, the author brings a new look about the whole war.

Following I quote some nice parts about the T-34 soviet tank and how the germans had defied this weapon.

 An unpleasant surprise for the supremely confident Panzer troops was the quality of some of the Soviet equipments they soon faced.

German PAK 38 50 mm (Wikipedia)

On the second day of the campaign, in the 6th Panzer Division sector, 12 German supply trucks were knocked out, one after the other, by a solitary unidentified Soviet heavy tank. The vehicle sat astride the road south of the River Dubysa near Rossieny. Further beyond, two German combat teams had already been destroyed. Rutted muddy approaches and a nearby forest infested with bands of stay-behind Russian infantry negated option to bypass. The russian tank had to be eliminated. A battery of medium 50mm German anti-tank guns was sent forward to force the route.
The guns were skifully manhandled by their crews through close terrain up to within 600m of their intended target. Three red-hot tracer-based shells spat out at 823m/sec, smacking into the tank with rapid and resounding 'plunks' one after the other. At first there was cheering but the crews became concerned as these and another five rounds spun majestically into the air as they ricocheteated off the armour of the unknow tank type. Its turret came to life and remorselessly traversed in their direction. Within minutes the entire baterry was silenced by a lethal succession of 76mm HE shells that tore into them. Casualties were heavy.

Flak 88mm

Meanwhile a well-camouflaged 88mm Flak gun carefully crept foward, slowly towed by its half-tractor, winding its way among cover provided by the 12 burnt-out German trucks strewn about the road. It got within 900m of the Soviet tank before a further 76mm round spat out, spinning the gun into a roadside ditch. The crew, caught in the act of manhandling the trails into position, were mown down by a swathe of coaxial machine gun fire. Nothing moved until nightfall when, under the cover of dakness, it was safe enough to recover the dead and wounded and salvage some of the knocked-out equipments.
An inconclusive raid was mounted that night by assault engineers who managed to attach two demolition charges onto this sill, as yet, unidentified tank type. Both charges exploded, but retaliatory turret fire confirmed the tank was still in action. Three atacks had failed. Dive-bomber support was requested but not avaible. A fourth attack plan was developed involving a further 88mm Flak gun, supported this time by light Panzers which were to feint and provide covering fire in a co-ordinated daylight operation.
Panzers, utilising tree cover, skirmished forward and began to engage the solitary tank from three directions. This confused the Russian tank which, in attempting to duel with these fast-moving and fleeting targets, was struck in the rear by the newly positioned 88mm Flak gun. Three rounds bore into the hull at over 1,000m/sec. The turret trversed rearward and stopped. There was no sign of an explosion or fire soa further four rounds smashed remorselessly into the apparently helpless target. Spent ricochets spun white-hot to the ground followed by the metallic signatures of skyward. With the engagement over at last, the nearest German troops moved forward to inspect their victim.
Excited and chaterring they clambered aboard the armoured colossus. They had never sen such tank before. Suddenly the turret began to rotate again and the soldiers frantically scattered. Two enginners had the presence of mind to drop two stick grenades into the interior of the tank, through one of the holes pierced by the shot at the base of the turret. Muffled explosions followed and the turret hatch clattered open with an exhalation of smoke. Peering inside the assalut engineers could just make out the mutilated remains of the crew. This single tank had blocked forward replenishment to the 6th Panzer Division vanguard for 48 hours. Only two 88mm shells actually penetrated the armour; five others had gouged deep dents. Eight carbonised blue marks were the only indication of 50mm gun impacts. There was no trace at all of the supporting Panzers strikes, many of which had clearly been seen to hit.

This was the KV-1 (Klim Voroshilov) which mounted a 76.2mm gun. Its sister variant, the KV-2, although more unwieldly, did have a 15cm gun.



The appearance of the 34-ton T-34 caused much consternation to the German Panzerwaffe. Developed in relative secrecy six years before, its 76mm gus was the largest armament (apart from the 15cm KV-2) then mounted. Its 60% sloping armour was revolutionary in terms of the increased armoured protection it offered against flat trajectory anti-tank shells, which often simply ricocheted off. Josef Deck, a German artilleryman with Regiment 71 in the central sector, complained that the 37mm standart anti-tank fire 'bounced off them like peas'. Adapting the American Christie suspension system, the T-34, with extra-wide tracks and a powerfull lightweight diesel engine, possessed an enormous relative power-to-weight ratio, conferring superior mobility on the Russian vehicles. Is was to prove the outstanding tank design of the war, and was a formidable adversary, even in the hand of a novice. [...]
Oqueka's battery commander, Oberleutnant Rossman, had a similar experience with the "grey-green colossus", finishing they off firing at the tracks with 20mm cannon.
They moved foward curiously to examine the results of their handiwork and discovered that, apart from cut caterpillar treads and damage to dive and sprocket wheels, there was nothing to explain the abrupt abandonment of the tanks. 'Not until the prisioners were questioned did the riddle become clear', explained Oqueka. The answer lay in the resonant din produced by multiple 20mm strikes os cast steel turrets, which had the effect of transforming them into 'huge bellls'.
'Continuous explosions on the turret had produced a hellish noise which had grown louder from explosion to explosion. The sound had swollen beyond the realms of tolerance and had virtually driven the crews insane'
Oqueka recalled the example of executions of indirected criminals in ancient China. Hapless individuals were incarcerated inside a huge bell which was hammered outside until the unfortunate victim expired. [...]
Kershaw, Robert. War without garlands. Pag. 175-177, 346-347.