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WW2 French Other Vehicles

Lorraine 37L (Tracteur de Ravitaillement pour Chars 1937 L)

ww2 French tanksFrance (1936-1945)
Artillery & Supply Tractor – circa 630 built

The French Armored Tank supplier

The Renault UE was the most produced tracked armored vehicle in the French Army before WW2. Its main job was to transport supplies to infantry units on the front line. In April 1936, by which time the UE had already been in production for two years, the Chief of Staff, General Maurice Gamelin, issued specifications for another larger tractor. This bigger tractor, which would become the Lorraine 37L, was designed to serve the same purposes, the supplying of ammunition, gasoline and water, but for the armored units.

The philosophy behind such vehicles was that large armored formations, without infantry or with very limited specialized troops, would be used to penetrate through the enemy’s defensive lines. The breakthrough would be exploited by armored cavalry, while the armor would dig into position to repel enemy counter-attacks while waiting for the infantry to catch up. This was the point at which the Lorraine 37L armored tractor would come in most handy, as it could bring fuel, ammunition, spare parts, food and other much needed supplies to the rapidly-changing front lines and keep pace with the armor.

Production started in January 1939, less than a year before the official commencement of hostilities, but was never completed on the intended orders. While the vehicle was found to be reliable and sturdy despite its lightness, there were not enough Lorraine 37Ls issued to the units and this partly contributed to the poor supply situation of the French Army during the Battle of France. However, many were captured by the Germans and put into service, some being converted into self-propelled artillery guns or tank destroyers. Some would also be produced clandestinely in Vichy France and put into use for the liberation of the country.

Lorraine 37L tractor towing a tracked fuel trailer in muddy conditions. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Development of the Lorraine 37L

The French Army used the Renault UE to supply troops, as well as to tow mortars and small artillery pieces. However, it was not suitable for working with tanks, as both its operational range and its armor were poor. At first, in 1934, the Army entrusted Renault with the design of a larger tracked vehicle for this purpose. This vehicle, the Renault 36R, was initially considered satisfactory and 300 vehicles were ordered. Despite these orders, it was realized that the lack of armor was a problem when operating alongside tanks on the front line.

Therefore, on 17th April 1936, the Chief of Staff ordered the development of a new fully armored tractor explicitly meant to supply tanks on the move and on the frontline. In early 1937, the first prototype by Lorraine-Dietrich was ready to be shown to the Commission de Vincennes (the experimental automotive commission of the French Army). This was a lengthened version of a 1931 vehicle that had competed against the Renault UE. In February 1937, the Commission was supposed to take delivery of the prototype in order to start a long campaign of trials and evaluations, with a decision regarding the vehicle to be taken in November 1937. However, the prototype was still not ready, being plagued by teething problems, and the presentation was delayed until July 1937, thus postponing the decision.

The first trials started on July 9th and lasted until August 4th 1937. However, this first version appears to have been woefully underpowered. While the vehicle was capable of reaching 30 km/h on hard flat ground, the speed fell to 22.8 km/h when towing the petrol tank trailer, and was further reduced in muddy conditions. As a result, the commission rejected the prototype, finding it unacceptable. Lorraine retrieved the vehicle, which was driven back to the factory. After modifications of the engine compartment and exhaust, the new Delahaye type 135 six-cylinder inline petrol engine giving out 70 hp was chosen to power the tractor. This was one of the most powerful car engines available in France at that time, outside of those from Bugatti. The Delahaye 135 luxury and sports cars, which used the same engine, were finding success on the race tracks of the time.

However, the engine was not military-grade and had to be modified for these new requirements. This mostly included a modified, sturdier transmission. The first factory trials were successful and the vehicle was taken back to the Vincennes proving grounds. New official trials took place between 22nd September and 29th October 1937, where the vehicle was able to reach 35 km/h, which was found to be acceptable by the commission. After a few revisions, the commission granted the vehicle a greenlight for ordering in November or December 1937. The excellent suspension system was most appreciated as noted by the commission.

Details of the 37L design

A light, stretched-out hull

The 37L was derived from a much shorter model designed as a competitor to the Renault UE. Therefore, Lorraine lengthened the chassis to 4.22 m long while adding another suspension bogey, up to a total of three per side instead of two. The width remained the same at 1.57 m which was advantageous on narrow roads and paths and also allowed the Lorraine 37L to be carried on a standard railway carriage. However, it left little space for cargo capacity. Since the driver and co-driver were seated quite low, the vehicle was only 1.22 m high without anything sticking above, and was easy to conceal and difficult to spot.

The narrow, low hull was lightly armored, only offering limited protection even in the frontal arc. It had 12 mm (0.5 in) of armor on the cast nose, 9 mm on the sides, and only 6 mm for the top and bottom of the main hull. The armor was made of riveted plates. Therefore, the empty weight was only 5.24 tonnes, rising to 6 tonnes when battle-ready, while the trailer weighed another 1.9 tonnes.

Outstanding Suspension

Despite this, the vehicle was able to carry a 5-tonne load without stressing the chassis. This was due to the addition of leaf springs above each bogie. This was quite efficient at spreading the load and offering a relatively smooth ride. However, it did not allow for high speeds with 35 km/h being its maximum. This was enough to keep up with almost all medium, heavy, and light tanks in the French arsenal except for the reconnaissance cavalry light tanks and the Somua S35. However, the 37L was supposed to catch up with them after they stopped for resupply, as well as travel with them as part of the unit. The great advantage of this suspension system was its ruggedness and simplicity. This contrasted with the delicate and complex, sometimes fragile suspension systems encountered on some French tanks at the time, such as the Char B1.

The bogies were relatively big, supporting two pairs of large road wheels, and despite the narrow tracks (22 cm), the vehicle still operated well on muddy ground and in snow. Each bogie could move along the vertical axis, connected to an inverted set of leaf springs just under the upper track. Four return rollers supported the track on each side. The drive sprockets were at the front, with the transmission housed in the cast nose, the strongest part of the hull. The two crew members were seated at the front, separated by the gear lever. The driver was on the left, with the commander on the right. Two large access hatches in the front of the vehicle allowed the crew to access their stations. The smaller, more vertical one was also used to allow unimpaired vision when no danger was present, being dropped down in combat areas.

Powerful Engine but Limited Range

The engine compartment was located in the center, behind the crew compartment. Above it, there were air intake grilles and a fireproof bulkhead separated it from the crew. Near the exhaust, a silencer was placed on the left under the shielded hood. Inside was the 3,556 cm3 6 cylinder in-line Delahaye type 135 engine which developed 70 hp at 2,800 rpm. When this engine was fitted to the Delahaye sports cars, the vehicles were capable of reaching a blistering 100 km/h, whereas the 37L tractor could only manage 35 km/h on flat ground. During trials, the vehicle was shown able to ford to a depth of 60 cm, cross a 1.30 m wide trench, and climb up a 50% slope. The engine was fed by a single gravity-fed fuel tank that could hold 144 liters of fuel. This gave a theoretical maximum range of 137 km, but far less on rough terrain, higher speeds, or with a heavy load. This range was rather limited for modern warfare, but the Lorraine was not supposed to dash on its own, but rather to maintain a link between rear area supply depots and the front line units. It was just the end of the supply chain, but this limited range would have played a limiting role during a French offensive.

Trailer

The Lorraine 37L was delivered with a tracked trailer using a pair of road wheels on each side. It was of the same type as that of the Renault UE and allowed the storage of 810 kg of ammunition in the bin or a 565-liter fuel tank. The fully laden weight of the trailer would then rise to 1,890 kg and, added to the vehicle, the whole thing reached 7.9 tonnes and 6.9 m in length. The trailer, in addition to the utility bin, oil, grease, water canisters, also contained tools for tank maintenance. If the 565-liter fuel tank was present, a Vulcano fuel pump was used to quickly transfer the contents of the fuel tank to the vehicles to be resupplied.

Production 1939-1940

Despite the first order being issued in late 1937, production really started in January 1939, over a year later. Contracts had been given to Lorraine for 78 of the new Tracteur de Ravitaillement pour Chars 1937 L (TRC 37L), then another two separate contracts for another 100 vehicles each for a total of 278. In 1939, another order for 100 vehicles came through, followed by yet another for 78 (meaning a total of 456 vehicles). Shortly thereafter, another order was issued for 100 ‘short’ Lorraine tractors, as an alternative to the Renault UE. The vehicle was called a ‘chenillette’ (tankette), as it barely approached 4.8 tonnes empty.

Setting up the production lines at Lorraine-Dietrich took time, with numerous delays, along with some disorganization in the networks of the parts suppliers and social troubles. The first vehicles emerged from the factory lines in January 1939. By the time war was declared nine months later, just 212 had been delivered to the Army. With the war and the creation of new semi-autonomous armored units, the head of staff decided that a total of 1,012 vehicles would be needed to cover the needs of the army. The theoretical production goal, as set by the general staff, was an optimistic 50 vehicles per month. It was also decided that, since the Lorraine factory at Lunéville was perilously close to the German border, a second, less exposed one would be built at Bagnères de Bigorre, in South-West France.

Fearing delays in deliveries even before the war, the FOUGA factory in Béziers, Southern France was contracted to help with the orders. Once more, tooling took time and the factory received a 20-30 vehicle monthly target. These figures were never achieved and, in January 1940, total monthly deliveries amounted to only 20, reaching 32 in later months. By the time the western campaign started on 26th May 1940, only 432 vehicles had been delivered in total, reaching 480 by June. The Vichy regime would eventually take over the production of more vehicles from the FOUGA factory, under the cover of building civilian agricultural and utility tractors.

Tactical deployment

When the 37L arrived at frontline units in 1939, tactical thinking was just undergoing a full reset. In the 1930s, French armored doctrine revolved around deep protection “belts” meant to counter and defeat enemy infiltrations. The only aspect in which armor was instrumental was part of the larger ‘operational art’ school, the in-depth breakthrough, with the goal of breaking the enemy lines and being later reinforced by the slower infantry. Other aspects requiring greater mobility, like envelopment tactics, were completely set aside. At the end of the 1930s, combined tactics were in vogue. However, most officers did not entertain the idea of large armored units (with organic artillery, reconnaissance and infantry), as it would require an expanded skilled and professional core to a largely conscript army. Politics also prevented this move and the army was stuck with a large conscription structure unfit for these large armored units.

It was agreed that concentrations of armor, without infantry or with very limited specialized troops, would be used as a “masse de manoeuvre” (maneuver mass) capable of piercing enemy defensive positions. This breakthrough would be exploited by armored cavalry, while the tanks would dig into position to repel enemy counter-attacks while waiting for the infantry to catch up. This was the point at which the Lorraine 37L and Renault UE would come in most handy, as they could bring supplies and reinforcements to the rapidly moving frontline positions. APCs, such as the 38L and modified APC versions of the UE, were developed with this prospect in mind. Trucks were too vulnerable for the task since the flanks of the open corridor would not be protected against enemy artillery.

Lorraine VBCP 39L with an enlarged platform and raised forward deck, tested without a roof in June 1939. Source: Armorama

Therefore, the Lorraine 37L vehicles were organically integrated into the bataillons de chars de combat (BCCs). Thirteen vehicles were issued to each unit, split into three platoons of four vehicles plus a spare. Each platoon was allocated to one of the BCC’s three companies. BCCs attached to the Armored Divisions and equipped with Char B1/B1 bis heavy tanks required an additional 14 TRC 37Ls, for a total of 27. Essentially, the heavy tanks’ demands for fuel, lubricants, and ammunition demanded that each tank had a Chenillette of its own.

In practice, this could never be achieved, as the tractors were not allocated in time, leading to a large number of Char B1s being abandoned due to a lack of fuel and other supplies during the French campaign. The DIM (Division d’Infanterie Mécanisée) were not supplied with these tractors, neither the second-rate units, equipped with the Renault FT.

However, a single colonial unit was equipped with the Lorraine 37L. This was the 67e BCC sent in June 1940 to Tunisia with a battalion of Char D1 light tanks. Cavalry units, or Division Légère Mécanique (DLM), were also equipped with the Lorraine 37L, 24 being allocated per unit, or three tractors for every 20 tanks (Somua S35s). The units equipped with fast vehicles such as the AMR 35 or the AMD 35 were not provided with any tractors, as these were too slow to keep up. Lorraine proposed a more powerful and faster version (50 km/h) to solve the issue, but this was not followed by any order. The Divisions Légères de Cavalerie (DLC) received no TRC 37L either.

In operations, the Lorraine was meant to advance, preferably using roads for speed, and supply gasoline using its fast Vulcano pump. It could transfer around 565 liters in just 15 minutes (2,260 liters per hour), meaning a B1 tank could take up to one hour for a full supply, which also included oil, spare parts if needed, and ammunition. The Lorraine would not return afterward to a regular depot, but a moving truck-based field depot, placed far from any possible artillery barrage, keeping the distances short. Each truck carried 3,600 liters of fuel, supplied to the Lorraine in 72 fifty liter jerrycans. These trucks needed to be resupplied themselves at battalion depots in the rear. However, in 1940, the quick pace of operations rendered all this process ineffective. Tanks were more often than not directly supplied by trucks.

On May 10th, 1940, the French Army had, on paper, about 606 Lorraine 37Ls. However, they were either not crewed, not supplied to their units, or stuck in depots. Those that found their way to the frontlines were far fewer than needed by active units, notably those of the First Army in the North. A third of active units never received their intended complement of supply tractors. On 10th May, the French high command ordered the doubling of the tractor allocations to the 1st and 2nd Divisions Cuirassées (DCr). Entirely equipped with the slower Char B1, these units were kept in reserve near Gembloux. This enhanced allocation was made by diverting the vehicles meant for the 3rd DCr. Ironically, the 1st DCr was surprised on 15th May 1940 by the 7th Panzerdivision while refueling. The first weeks of fighting also led some units to try to fit machine-guns to their Lorraine Chenillettes.

Used in Norway?

On 9th April 1940, the German Army invaded Norway in Operation Weserübung. The Western Allies had previously also contemplated invading Norway in order to deprive the Nazi war machine of vital iron ore shipments that were coming through the Norwegian port of Narvik. However, in face of the new events, an Allied Expeditionary Force was formed and sent to Norway to help fight off the Germans.

Part of this force was the 342nd Independent Tank Company (342e Compagnie Autonome de Chars de Combat), part of the 1re Division Légère de Chasseurs, which landed in the north of the country at Narvik. This unit was armed with 12 Hotchkiss H39 infantry tanks and it is sometimes speculated that these were supported by Lorraine 37L tractors. However, no photographic or source evidence for the presence of the Lorraine 37Ls could be identified.

On June 7th, following the German success in the invasion of France, the unit was withdrawn to France, with a part of its vehicles shipped to Great Britain while a part was abandoned in Norway. It is unclear what might have happened to the Lorraine 37L tractors if any had been present.

Lorraine 37L in Syria and Lebanon

Following the end of the First World War and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the area roughly corresponding to nowadays Syria and Lebanon came under French control as part of the Mandate for Syria and Lebanon.

There, the 68th Tank Battalion was formed on 30th November 1939, following the start of hostilities in Europe. Another unit, the 63rd, had been previously formed in the area from troops from Tunisia. The Battalions were equipped with vehicles that were originally meant for the Polish Army and were to be shipped through Romania. However, with the fall of Poland, the convoy was redirected to Syria. It consisted of Renault R35 tanks and a small number of Lorraine 37L tractors (at least 4).

Four Lorraine 37L tractors of the 68th Tank Battalion in Syria photographed sometime in 1939 or 1940. Source: Fonds Jourdan via anneesdeguerres.blogspot.com
A column of trucks of the 68th Tank Battalion in Syria. In the background, a Lorraine 37L can be observed with its trailer. Source: Fonds Jourdan via anneesdeguerres.blogspot.com

Following the Fall of France, elements of the 68th Tank Battalion tried to join the British Forces in Palestine in order to continue fighting. However, they were stopped en-route by other French units and apprehended. The 68th would be disbanded in early 1941. It is unclear who took over its equipment.

On June 8th, 1941, British, Commonwealth, and Free French forces invaded Syria and Lebanon in order to bring back under Allied control this region that was nominally controlled by the collaborationist Vichy France. The Vichy French forces surrendered on 14th July. A part of the Lorraine 37Ls were captured by the British.

A Lorraine 37L captured in Tripoli, Syria (nowadays part of Lebanon). The officers are from the 2/3rd Australian Army Field Workshops. Source: Australian War Memorial

Following the Second World War and the withdrawal of Western Forces from Syria and Lebanon, these two countries became independent. The two Arab nations also inherited at least one functional Lorraine 37L tractor which was armed with an American M1916 75 mm gun and used during the Arab-Israeli War.

Lorraine 37L for Switzerland?

A few online sources claim that, in 1946, following the end of the Second World War, there was an attempt to export Lorraine 37L tractors to Switzerland. While the Lorraine 37L might have been well suited for the difficult Swiss terrain, it is curious if the Swiss would have been interested in acquiring a pre-war design given the immense progress made in the field of tank design.

Unfortunately, no further information is available and this export attempt cannot be verified.

Early War French Variants

The Lorraine VBCP 38L APC

A VBCP 38L photographed by German trooper Böhmer, left over in May 1940. Source: Bundesarchiv

The first development of the Lorraine 37L chassis was called the Voiture Blindée de Chasseurs Portés 38L or “Armored Car for Reconnaissance Infantry 38L” (VBCP). This was an armored personnel transport for light reconnaissance infantry (chasseurs). The 38L consisted of a modified tractor with an armored tracked trailer. Like on the regular 37L, the driver and co-driver were seated in the frontal cab. Four infantrymen were seated in the rear platform, with six more in the trailer for a total of ten, a platoon.

Protection consisted of a tall box-shaped rear superstructure. The armor plates were proof against small arms and were riveted to the rear open body. The same arrangement was present on the trailer. Rear doors were present in these crew compartments, but they were crude. There were no hatches, window slits, or pistol ports.

The 38L model supplied to the Chasseurs Portés was hastily converted and must be seen as a stopgap. A separated platoon in a small armored compartment and a trailer was indeed an odd choice. Tactically they inherited the same role as the German Panzergrenadiers, following the tanks after the position was forced and cleaning it up. Introduced with the 1st and 2nd DCR, they comprised the 5th and 17th “bataillon de chasseurs portés” (BCP) equipped with the VBCP 38L. The theoretical allocation was 61 vehicles per battalion. However, since a variant of the VBCP 38L capable of towing the battalions’ 25 mm anti-tank guns was not ready in time, Latil M7T1 vehicles were adopted as a stopgap measure.

Prior to 1st September 1939, 240 VBCP 38L were ordered: 120 for the first two BCPs from August 1939, 120 in February 1940 for a further two BCPs. However, production was slow and only about 150 were delivered until the French capitulation of 1940. When the mobilization was declared, 200 Lorraine 39L were also ordered, to be delivered on 31st December 1940, although none were completed when the armistice was signed on 25th June.

A VBCP 38L towing a 25 mm SA 34 gun, with the gun crew in the rear superstructure. Image colorized by Jaycee ‘Amazing Ace’ Davis.

These vehicles were used only by the mechanized infantry battalions within the DCRs, plus the organic armored battalions of infantry divisions. However, infantry divisions used existing, unprotected semi-tracked vehicles, such as the Laffly.

This APC for “chasseurs portés” was used to accomplish many tasks: carrying a platoon of ten chasseurs with two FN 21 machine guns, carrying a 60 or 80 mm mortar, servants, and ammo, or towing the 25 mm standard AT gun (which was never done). The cramped crew of 12 comprised the driver and section chief in the front compartment, four infantrymen in the rear armored casemate, and six in the trailer.

The reality soon showed the vehicle’s deficiencies. In May 1940, both the 5th and 117th BCP were fully equipped but with 96 instead of the 120 planned vehicles, with Latil trucks used to fill in the gaps. In action, the vehicle soon came under criticism for their poor overall visibility, with few and narrow sight slits, poor off-road handling of the trailer, and inadequate armor for frontline service.

The Lorraine VBCP 39L APC

VBCP 39L APC, manufacture official photo Source: clausuchronia.wordpress.com

The 38L was only a transitional model. Plans were only set in motion in 1939 to replace the VBCP 38L with the VBCP 39L. The latter was created by enlarging the payload platform with a larger armored box (30 cm higher) and moving the engine forwards under a raised hood. It could carry eight infantrymen and no trailer was added. Only a single prototype was made.

The 39L was very much the final evolution of the concept started with the 38L, but refined and matured. The prototype was presented to the Vincennes commission in 1939. The whole chassis was lowered a bit, but the driver and commander were seated in a much more comfortable and straightforward position compared to the Lorraine 37L and 38L.

However, only the front compartment was protected by an armored roof, the troop compartment was left open. The men could always place a tarpaulin above in rainy weather, but it offered no protection against airborne shrapnel (It should be remembered that this was also the case with the US M2 and M3 half-tracks, the British ‘Universal Carrier’ and German Sd.Kfz.250 and 251). This open-air configuration facilitated fire on the move and throwing grenades. The chasseurs entered the vehicle through hinged rear doors, while their commander and driver entered through the front panel, which folded down. The armor was not improved in thickness, but slightly sloped for the front section’s sides and better sloped at the front, at least for protection against heavy machine-gun fire and shrapnel.

The commission in charge of the adoption, or CEMAV, estimated on 31st August 1939 that the second prototype “is sufficiently ready on technical terms and is sufficiently superior to the first prototype to be preferred for the next series of VBCPs and should be built from now.” On 1st October 1939, an order was passed for 150 VBCP related to the second prototype (39L) to be delivered at a rate of 50 vehicles per month. However, this had to wait for the delivery of the 241st 38L, which would only happen in theory by August 1940. This explains why this advanced APC (by WW2 standards) never passed the prototype stage.

An image showing the frontal crew compartment of the VBCP 39L. Source: Vauvalier

Renault, having the factory capacity to deliver more vehicles faster was also ordered to deliver a prototype for this role on 8th April 1940. Trials of the Renault prototype were to start in June and production in October, with 100-150 vehicles per month, reducing the estimated future delivery rate of the Chenillette UE2.*

Prototypes

Chasseur de Chars Lorraine. Source: chars-francais.net

Another interesting variant that reached pre-production status was a tank hunter armed with a 47 mm SA mle 1939 cannon, the new standard anti-tank 47 mm gun of the French army, of which only 1,300 would be built. It was simply called the “Chasseur de Chars Lorraine”. This, and the Laffly W15 TCC, were the only early-war French attempts at converting an existing vehicle to a tank-hunting role.

This prototype fell into German hands and was named the 4.7 cm Pak-181(f) auf PanzerJäger Lorraine Schlepper (f) by the occupying forces. This vehicle led to the appearance of false information on the internet that this was a German early tank hunter conversion. However, this is not the case and this vehicle was produced by the French. In addition, it was unlikely for the Germans to venture into doing a conversion using the French 47 mm gun, of which supplies were limited. The gun had a penetration of 60 mm angled at 30 degrees at a distance of 600 yards (550 m).

Another close derivative was a command tank with a large enclosed compartment, allowing the mounting of a map table and radios. It looked similar to the 38L VBCP.

Wartime production

Semi-Clandestine production 1941-42

Outside of the FOUGA factory in Béziers, the only plant capable of producing the 37L was the second Lorraine plant at Bagnères de Bigorre. Both FOUGA and Bagnères had the crucial advantage that, after the partition resulting from the capitulation, both were in the ‘Zone Libre’ controlled by the Vichy government.

Production was resumed in June 1940, reaching around 150 units, with some of these being built with a smaller chassis with four bogies instead of six (2 per side instead of three). Officially, the German authorities turned a blind eye, as these new vehicles were unarmed, declared as “agricultural tractors”, and therefore compatible with the capitulation conditions.

Tracteur Lorraine 37L with the shorter chassis. Source: WW2 Images

Clandestinely, the model evolved into the Tracteur Lorraine 37L 44, which was unarmored in case of an inspection. However, the design had been constructed with rapid conversion to military use in mind and armor plating was manufactured at the Ateliers de Construction d’Issy-les-Moulineaux (AMX) and stockpiled there in secret. In case of a general insurrection, vehicles could be quickly converted. After November 1942 and the occupation of the Vichy ‘Free Zone’, these tractors were hidden. However, the Allies in London were unaware of these plans and suspected that the factory was used for the German war effort. The French Resistance was contacted and directed to attack the Bagnères factory in the spring of 1944.

When the real intentions of the project manager became known, further attacks were canceled. Having made contact with the Resistance, clandestine production resumed after discussions with London and De Gaulle and, in January 1945, the twenty new vehicles, fully armored, were delivered to the French Army involved in operations and cleaning up pockets of resistance using a growing number of armed tractors. About 20 were delivered monthly. These were equipped with a single MAC 7.5 mm machine gun and would act as armed APCs. The best-protected model had a single forward-firing ball machine gun mounted in the fully enclosed rear compartment. Some had a front-mounted armored superstructure.

A rare conversion with a machine gun armed casemate used by the Free French in 1944-45. The Free French also converted one to carry a British 17 pounder. Source: Flickr, Massimo Toti.

German use

After the 1940 campaign, numerous Lorraine TRCs fell into German hands, practically all in perfect state. The new vehicle partially filled the Wehrmacht’s need for an armored supply vehicle. Therefore, 300 to 360 (depending on the source) Lorraine vehicles were reconditioned and pressed into service with the Wehrmacht as Lorraine Schlepper (f), the ‘(f)’ denoting a captured French vehicle in German service.

Gradually, the Germans came to appreciate it for its simplicity and the sturdiness of the suspension and the vehicle was renamed Gefechtsfeld-Versorgungsfahrzeug Lorraine 37L (f) or Munitionstransportkraftwagen auf Lorraine Schlepper. They were used by frontline units in 1941, in the Balkans, Russia, and North Africa.

Self-propelled gun conversions

Hitler himself headed an evaluation commission on 23rd May 1942. He ordered the conversion of a hundred Lorraine 37Ls to self-propelled howitzers. Therefore, in 1942, about 40 15-cm schwere Feldhaubitze 13/1 (Sf.) auf Geschützwagen Lorraine-Schlepper (f) were ordered. These were converted by Alkett, with 166 delivered in total. About 60 10.5-cm leichte Feldhaubitze 18/4 (Sf.) auf Geschützwagen Lorraine-Schlepper (f) were also ordered, but only 12 were delivered.

The best-known conversion of the Lorraine 37L was the 7.5 cm PaK40/1 auf Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper (f) or Marder I. This was the first tank hunter designed for the Eastern Front, kick-started by encounters with the T-34 and KV-1. They replaced the inefficient Panzerjäger I armed with a Skoda 4.7 cm gun, while the Marder I received the 75 mm (2.95 in) Pak 40. The idea was experimented with in May 1942 by Major Alfred Becker and about 170 were delivered, the first lost on the Eastern Front, while later conversions fought in Normandy in 1944.

Beobachtungswagen auf Lorraine Schlepper (f)

This was a dedicated Wehrmacht artillery observation vehicle made by Baukommando Becker, a group that took over control of three factories in occupied France and converted a large number of captured vehicles for various purposes, most importantly tank destroyers and artillery SPGs. It was meant to sit near the frontline, keeping a safe distance from the shelled area and anti-tank guns, in order to observe and communicate the results of the bombardment and any corrections in real-time. The observation post was in the elevated top rear part, with a range finder and binoculars. The radio operator had a powerful emitter-receiver FuG radio. The vehicle was unarmed except for a defensive multipurpose 7.62 mm MG 34 pintle-mounted at the rear of the casemate. Access was done through the rear. A ventilation plate was mounted above the engine for extra ventilation.

Beobachtungswagen auf Lorraine Schlepper, 1st August 1943 Source: German Army Official Photographer (cc)

12.2 cm schwere Feldhaubitze 396 (r) auf Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper (f)

A rare conversion with a Soviet M30 122 mm howitzer captured from the USSR. It was used as a mobile unit carried (or firing from) an armored train in France, in action in 1944.

Post-war use

After the war, some Lorraine 37Ls found their way into civilian hands, being turned into agricultural or forestry tractors without their armor. Most of them seem to consist of post-occupation short chassis versions. No further info is available on how many were used as such. A few ended up in various collections and survive to this day.

An interesting short chassis Lorraine 37L with no armor towing a trailer filled with logs, most probably after the war. Notice the improvised driver’s cab at the front. Source: tanksrarities.blogspot.com

Conclusion

The Lorraine 37L arrived a bit too late to significantly impact the Western campaign of 1940. Not enough had been produced and even of those produced, many had not been issued to units. Nonetheless, the supply tractor would have been a step forward for the French armored divisions, with its ability to resupply troops even under machine-gun fire.

After the Fall of France, many of them found their way into German hands. The Germans, never ones to pass an opportunity to reuse a capable chassis given their paucity of armored and transport vehicles, used them both in their original role and converted into tank destroyers or artillery SPGs, and the Lorraine 37L continued to see service throughout the war, a notable distinction for a small supply tractor.

However, nowadays, the Lorraine 37L and its variants are mostly overlooked, although they represent an interesting step in the evolution of French arms and doctrine, and their fate mirror that of France itself.

Surviving Lorraine 37L/38L

According to the Shadocks website, there is quite a substantial number of Lorraine tractors still in existence:
-Two Lorraine 38L APCs are displayed at the Militärhistorischen Museum, Dresden (Germany) in the exterior court and in poor condition
-Two 37Ls in good condition are showcased in the private collection of Paul Bouillé, a CRI version and a TRC version. The first is in French 1940 livery, the second in 1944 all olive green FFL camouflage.
-One Lorraine 37L tractor is undergoing a restoration which began in 2016 at the Association France 40 véhicules (France)
-One 37L was spotted in Ghisonaccia, Corsica (France), rusty, without an engine, and with part of the hull missing
-A short 37L version is housed by the Kevin Wheatcroft Collection (UK), restored in German colors
-A 37L tractor (shortened) in French colors is the property of All American Imports BV, in Kaatsheuvel (Netherlands), used as a prop for movies
-A short 37L painted in green is displayed at the MM Park, La Wantzenau (France)
-A short 37L in grey artillery color is displayed at the Maurice Dufresne Museum, Azay-le-Rideau, not far from Saumur.
-A short 37L in working condition is owned by the Dupire Collection, Monthyon (France)
-A modified 38L tractor, short, is used in working conditions and German colors by the MVCG Midi-Pyrénées, Villeneuve-sur-Lot (France)
-A short 37L, post-war tractor conversion, is kept outside in a Private collection in France (rusty)
-Another one, in working condition and better shape is part of another Private collection at Saint Féliu d’Avall (France)
-A brown working condition short 37L is part of the Igor Ballo Collection (Slovakia)
-A German-painted supply version is owned by the State Military Technical Museum at Ivanovskoje (Moscow)
-A shortened Lorraine 37L in German colors and markings is in a US Private collection
-A wreck of a short Lorraine 37L is on private property in Poland
The authors of this list can be contacted for any find at [email protected]

Lorraine 37L Specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 4.20 m (13 ft 9 in) x 1.57 m (5 ft 2 in) x 1.29 m (4 ft 3 in)
Total weight 6 tonnes
Crew 2 (Commander, driver)
Propulsion Delahaye type 135, 6-cylinder inline gasoline, 70 hp
Suspension Leaf Spring suspension
Speed (road/off road) 35 km/h (22 mph)
Range 137 km (86 mi)/114 litres
Armament None
Maximum armor 5 to 9 mm (0.33 in)
Total production circa 630

Sources

Yves Buffetaut, Le Baukommando Becker et les chars français modifiés Batailles n°60,‎ Nov. 2013
S. Zaloga and Ian Palmer – Osprey 209 – French Tanks of World War II
F.Vauvillier, JM Touraine, L’Automobile sous Uniforme 1939-40
Lorraine tracteur de ravitaillement, panzerserra.blogspot.com
1938 Lorraine VBCP, chars-francais.net
VBCP Lorraine 39L, clausuchronia.wordpress.com
Lorraine APCs, france1940.free.fr
Surviving Lorraine 37L Tractors, the.shadock.free.fr
Lorraine 37L, fr.wikipedia.org
Lorraine 38L, fr.wikipedia.org
Historique du 68eB.C.C.(R35), cavaliers.blindes.free.fr
Albert Jourdan du 506e RCC au 63e BCC en Syrie, anneesdeguerre.blogspot.com
Lebanon’s past equipment, milinme.wordpress.com

French models

Speculative camouflage of a Lorraine 37L of the 342nd Independent Tank Company operating in Norway, March-April 1940.
Lorraine 37L of the 3/15e BCC in May 1940.
Lorraine 37L with its trailer in June 1940.

Variants

Lorraine VCTP 38L with its trailer in May 1940.
Lorraine VCTP 39L APC Project.
Lorraine 38L of the 1942 type (“demi-chassis”).
Free French armored cab model, 1945.

German conversions

Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f), Eastern Front, 1942.
Geschützwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f), 15th Panzerdivision, North Africa, 1942.
12.2cm FK auf-GW Lorraine Schlepper(f).
Grosser Funk-und Beobachtungspanzer auf Lorraine-Schlepper (f). 30 conversions were made with a brand new armored compartment with sloped sides.
Baukommando Becker’s Beobachtungspanzer auf Lorraine Schlepper(f) adapted from the VBCP 38, Normandy, June 1944.
15 cm sFH-13/1 auf Geschuetzwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f), converted by Baukommando Becker, Normandy, Summer 1944.
7,5 cm Pak 40 auf Geschuetzwagen Lorraine Schlepper(f), better known as the Sd.Kfz.135 Marder I, winter 1942-43, Eastern Front.

All illustrations are made by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

10.5-cm leichte Feldhaubitze 18/4 (Sf.) auf Geschützwagen Lorraine-Schlepper (f) in the background. Source: Bundesarchiv
Captured 150 mm German Lorraine-based artillery SPG in 1944.
105 mm Lorraine self-propelled howitzer conversion by Alkett.
Lorraine 37L modified in 1944. It has been armed with a 8 mm Mle1914 Hotchkiss MG. Source: aviarmor.net
Lorraine 39L APC prototype during tests. Source: Vauvalier
A post-war attempt of mounting a 17 pounder gun onto a Lorraine 37L. The odd muzzle brake is a Galliot type. Image colorized by Jaycee ‘Amazing Ace’ Davis.
Categories
Cold War French SPGs

155mm GCT AUF1 & 2

Self Propelled Howitzer (1977)
France. Around 407 built 1977-95.

In the sixties and seventies, the main French self-propelled gun was the Mk F3 155mm based on the chassis of the AMX-13 light tank. This self-propelled howitzer (SPH), which also saw success as an export, was in line with other SPHs of the era, meaning the crew had no protection whatsoever. Furthermore, the gunners and the ammunition had to be carried by a separate vehicle. In the case of a modern conflict, with the risk of Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) being used, the crewmembers were left exposed. Just like the US in the 60s, when the M108 was developed (which lead to the more famous M109), which had closed rotating turret which protected the crew, France started work in the early 70s on a successor to its old SPH, based on the larger AMX-30 chassis.

Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!

GTC 155mm Bastille Day 14 July 2008
GTC 155mm Bastille Day 14 July 2008 CC licence- author Koosha Paridel/Kopa
After a period of tests and trials running from 1972 to 1976, the final AUF1 version was approved in 1977, with 400 being ordered. This was followed by the improved AUF2 version in the 90s, based on the AMX-30B2 chassis, 70 of which were bought by the French Army. 253 AUF1 and AUF2 were bought by France in total. The production ended in 1995, and the 155 GCT (standing for “Grande Cadence de Tir”, which can be translated to High Rate of Fire), like its predecessor, was largely exported to Iraq (85), Kuwait (18) and Saudi Arabia (51), with 427 built in total. The 155 GCT saw service during the Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of Kuwait, both Gulf wars and in Yugoslavia.

155 mm GTC Auf-F1 in Bosnia, IFOR. US Army picture source

Design of the 155 mm GTC

The basis of the design was the chassis of the AMX-30, the Main Battle Tank of the French Army until the introduction of the Leclerc. Other vehicles were based on this chassis as well, like the engineering AMX-30D, the AMX-30H bridge layer, the Pluton missile Transport Erector Launcher (TEL), the AMX-30 Roland surface to air missile carrier, the AMX-30SA Shahine for Saudi Arabia and the anti-aircraft AMX-30 DCA also meant for the same country.

Front view AuF1 UN at Saumur Museum – Author Alf Van Beem
The engine compartment at the rear houses a Hispano-Suiza HS-110 12 cylinder engine (some sources incorrectly identify it as the 8-cylinder SOFAM 8Gxb). The B2 chassis, used on the AUF2, has a Renault/Mack E9 750 hp engine coupled to a semi-automatic gearbox. The latter propels the 41.95 ton vehicle to a maximum speed of 60 km/h (37 mph), a respectable value, superior to that of the American M109. An automatic fire suppression system is also located in the engine compartment. The suspension consists of five roadwheel-pairs connected to torsion bars and to shock absorbers for the front and rear units. The track is also supported by five return rollers. The drive sprocket is at the rear of the vehicle.The range of the vehicle was 500 km (diesel) or 420 km (gas) (310/260 mi). The 155 GCT is not air-transportable but it can ford 1 meter of water without preparation.
AuF1 155mm GTC side view
AuF1 155mm GTC “Falaise 1944” side view Saumur Tank Museum – Author Alf van Beem
The armor of the original tank was retained, the hull frontal glacis being 80 mm thick, the upper part being angled at 68° and the lower one at 45°. The sides were 35 mm thick at 35°, the rear was 30 mm thick and the top 15 mm. The driver was seated in the front of the hull, on the left, with a hatch sliding to the left and three episcopes, the central one being replaceable with an infrared night-driving system. The new turret was made of 20 mm homogenous laminated steel all around. For active protection, two pairs of smoke-grenade launchers are fitted on the lower part of the turret front. For the AUF2, these can be replaced with the GALIX multifunctional system (like on the Leclerc).
The rest of the crewmembers are seated in the large turret that was specially designed around the gun. The chassis alone weighs 24 tons, with the turret weighing 17 more. The latter needs its own auxiliary power sources mounted in the chassis, taking the shape of a 4 kW Citroën AZ generator which can power all the electrical systems when the vehicle is stopped.

AuF1 155mm GTC United Nations colors, rear view at Saumur Museum – author Alf van Beem
The 39-caliber long 155 mm howitzer was specially designed for this vehicle in 1972. The tests started in 1973-74 and showed that it can reach a rate of fire of 8 rounds per minute and, in special cases, it can fire three rounds in fifteen seconds thanks to a semi-automatic loading system. The howitzer was improved, including a combustible shell casing and an improved automatic system allowing it to fire 6 rounds in 45 seconds. Because the combustible shell casings do not need to be thrown outside, this improves the NBC protection.
The AUF 1 39-caliber long gun has a maximum practical range of 23.5 km that can be extended to 28 km using a rocket-assisted projectile. The turret can rotate a full 360° and has between 5° and 66° of elevation. The muzzle velocity is 810 m/s. 42 projectiles are carried on board, held in the rear part of the turret, along with the explosive charges. This compartment, which is usually closed off from the outside, can be opened and fully resupplied in less than 20 minutes. The High Explosive shells are NATO standard (BONUS). For close defense, a 7.62 mm machine-gun or, more commonly, a cal .50 Browning M2HB is placed on the roof of the turret, fired by the gunner. This crewmember has a hatch on the right side of the turret with a rail-mount for an AA-52 anti-aircraft machine-gun. The vehicle commander, on the left-hand side, has a peripheral observation cupola and an infrared vision system.

Development

In 1978, the testing campaign of the first six prototypes finished. These were followed by six vehicles in 1979 deployed with the 40th Artillery Regiment in Suippes. However, budgetary cuts delayed the project until 1980 when it was relaunched due to a successful export deal, as a series of 85 vehicles were sold to Iraq. Large-scale production was started and lasted until 1995 at GIAT in Roanne. The French artillery regiments received 76 vehicles in 1985 and, by 1989, 12 of the 13 active regiments were equipped with vehicles based on the AMX-30B chassis.

AuF1 in service with Saudi Arabia – 20th Brigade of the Royal Saudi Land Force 14 may 1992 Source author TECH. SGT. H. H. DEFFNER

Export

Iraq received 85 vehicles between 1983 and 1985, quickly deployed against the Iranians. They were in service when Saddam Hussein decided to invade Kuwait and during Operation Desert Storm. The Iraqi 155 GCT were mostly destroyed they did not fight in 2003.
Kuwait also received 18 vehicles (only 17 according to other sources) according to the JAHRA 1 contract, delivered just after the Gulf war. They were equipped with the CTI inertial fire control system and are currently in reserve.
Saudi Arabia also received 51 AUF1 vehicles. AUF2 vehicles mounted on the T-72 chassis were demonstrated in India and Egypt.

Modernization: AUF2

In the 80s, the armament system was deemed insufficient, especially the range. GIAT was responsible for incorporating a new 52-caliber long howitzer. The range passed 42 km using rocket-assisted munition. More importantly, the loading system allowed a rate of fire of 10 shots/minute with the capacity to fire grouped salvos, that impact the target simultaneously.
The AUF1T version introduced in 1992 was an intermediary version equipped with a modernized loading control system, while the auxiliary electrical generator was replaced with a Microturbo Gévaudan 12 kW turbine.
The AUF1TM introduced the Atlas fire control system, tested by the 40th Artillery Regiment in Suippes.
The AUF2 final version was based on the AMX-30B2 chassis, equipped with a 720 hp Renault Mack E9 engine with increased reliability compared to the previous powerplant. More importantly, the turret was modified in order to be mountable on the chassis of the Leopard 1, Arjun and T-72. At least one T-72/AUF2 vehicle was presented at an exposition for export. The roof machine-gun was standardized (7.62 mm AA-52). In total, 74 vehicles were converted by Nexter to the AUF2 standard starting in 1995. These were deployed in Bosnia. The 155mm GCT can be deployed in 2 minutes and can leave in 1 minute.

AMX AuF1 40e Artillery Regiment – Implementation Force 1996 – US Army photo Source

AUF2 in action

The Iraqi vehicles were the first to see service. The French AUF1 vehicles were deployed for the first time in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Eight AUF2 were deployed on the Igman mountain plateau in 1995 and participated in a bombing campaign (Operation Deliberate Force) in September against the positions of the Army of the Serbian and Bosnian Republic which threatened the security areas controlled by the UN. The intervention of these vehicles of the 3rd battery of the 40th Artillery Regiment and of the 1st Marine Artillery Regiment proved decisive, having fired 347 rounds.

155 mm GTC parked after an engine trouble – Author Ludovic Hirlimann, CC licence source

1st class Boucher and L. Hirlimann stacking 42kg ammo and charges separately – Author Ludovic Hirlimann CC licence Source
Currently, the 155 GCT vehicles are being retired and replaced by the CESAR system, which is far less costly in operation. In 2016, the ground army had 121 155 mm cannons, of which only 32 were GCT vehicles. However, their total retirement into the reserve is planned for 2019.

Sources

On chars-francais.net (many photos)
On army-guide
Forecast Intl Document

155mm GTC AUF2 specifications

Dimensions 10.25 x 3.15 x 3.25 m (33’6” x 10’3” x 10’6” ft)
Total weight, battle ready 42 tons
Crew 4 (driver, cdr, gunner, ammo handler/radio)
Propulsion V8 Renault/Mack, 16 hp/ton
Suspension Torsion bars
Speed (road) 62 km/h (45 mph)
Range 420/500 km (400 mi)
Armament 155 mm/52, 7.62 mm AA52 MG
Armor 15-80 mm hull, 20 mm turret ( in)
Total production 400 in 1977-1995
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index


Canon-Automoteur 155mm GTC with IFOR, 40th RGA, Mt Igman, 1995 NATO bombing campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Canon Automoteur 155mm GTC Iraq
Iraqi 155mm GTC in 1991
Canon Automoteur 155mm GTC UN
Auf F2 in UN colors
All illustrations are by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Categories
WW1 German Armor

Sturmpanzerwagen A7V

German Empire (1917) Heavy tank – 20 built

High command scepticism

In 1916, both the British and the French introduced tanks on the battlefield and gradually improved their performances and design through frontline experience. But still, even by 1917, the German high command still considered they could be defeated by using special rifle bullets and artillery, in direct or indirect fire. The impression they had was mixed, seeing their breakdowns and apparent difficult crossing of the heavily cratered no man’s land. But the psychological effect on an unprepared infantry was such that this new weapon had to be seriously taken in consideration.

Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!

The traditional view still prevailed, seing infantry as the most versatile way to make a breakthrough, notably the famous elite “assault squads”, or “sturmtruppen”, equipped with grenades, small arms and flame-throwers. They proved successful during the spring offensive and further hampered the need for a tank.

Designed by Joseph Vollmer

Despite initial resistance against tanks, their first, shocking appearance on the battlefield in the fall of 1916, led, in September of the same year, to the creation of a study department, the Allgemeines Kriegsdepartement, 7 Abteilung, Verkehrswesen. (Department 7, Transport)
This Department was responsible for all the information gathering on Allied tanks and for formulating both anti-tank tactics and devices and specifications for a possible indigenous design. Based on these specifications, the first plans were drawn by Joseph Vollmer, a reserve captain and engineer. These specifications included a top weight of 30 tons, use of the available Austrian Holt chassis, ability to cross ditches 1.5 m (4.92 ft) wide, to have a speed of at least 12 km/h (7.45 mph), several machine guns and a rapid-fire gun.

The chassis was also to be used for cargo and troop carriers. The first prototype built by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft made its first trials on April 30, 1917, at Belin Marienfeld. The final prototype was ready by May 1917. It was unarmored but filled with 10-tons of ballast to simulate the weight. After successful trials in Mainz, the design was modified once more to incorporate two more machine-guns and a better observation post. Pre-production started in September 1917. Production started in October with an initial order of 100 units and a training unit was formed in the process. By then, this machine was known after its studying department, the 7 Abteilung, Verkehrswesen (A7V), “Sturmpanzerkraftwagen” meaning “assault armored motor vehicle”.

The only operational German tank of WWI

When the A7V was first introduced in the two first operational units, Assault Tank Units 1 and 2, it had already revealed some flaws, notably the relatively thin underbelly and roof (10 mm/0.39 in), not able to resist fragmentation grenades. The overall use of regular steel and not an armored compound, for production reasons, meant that the effectiveness of the 30-20 mm plating was reduced. Like contemporary tanks, it was vulnerable to artillery fire.

It was overcrowded. With seventeen men and an officer, the crew comprised a driver, a mechanic, a mechanic/signaler and twelve infantrymen, gun servants and machine-gun servants (six loaders and six gunners). Of course, the restricted interior wasn’t compartmented, the engine was situated right at the center, diffusing its noise and toxic fumes. The Holt track, using vertical springs, was hampered by the overall weight of the tall structure and its very low ground clearance and large overhang at the front meant very poor crossing capabilities on a heavily cratered and muddy terrain. With this limitation in mind, these first two units (ten tanks each) were deployed on relatively flat grounds.

The amount of ammunition carried was considerable, further reducing the internal space. Around 50-60 cartridge belts, each with 250 bullets, plus 180 rounds for the main gun, split between special HE explosive rounds, canisters and regular rounds. In operation more shells were loaded, up to 300. During operations, a single tank was converted as a “female” with two Maxim machine guns replacing the main gun. As initially no engine was powerful enough to move the 30 tons of the A7V in the restricted allocated space, two Daimler petrol 4-cylinder engines, each delivering about 100 bhp (75 kW), were coupled together.

This solution produced the most powerful tank of the war, with a speed even greater than British late tanks (Mk.V). 500 liters of fuel were stored to feed this engine, but due to the enormous consumption, the range never exceeded 60 km (37.3 mi) on road. Top speed off-road was limited to 5 km/h (3.1 mph) at best. The driver had very poor vision. The A7V was committed mostly on open terrains and roads, just like armored cars, were its speed and armament could reveal its true potential. Last but not least, the A7Vs were all hand-built and of great manufacture quality (and very high cost). Every model had unique features as no standardization was achieved.

The A7V in action

The first five squads of A7Vs from the 1st Assault Tank Unit were ready by March 1918. Led by Haumptann Greiff, this unit was deployed during the attack on the St Quentin canal, part of the German spring offensive. Two broke down but successfully repelled a localized British counter-attack. On April 24, 1918, however, during the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, three A7V leading an infantry attack met three British Mark IVs, a male and two females. As the two females, damaged, were unsuccessful in damaging the German tanks with their machine-guns, they withdrew, and left the leading male (Second Lieutenant Frank Mitchell) dealing with the leading A7V (Second Lieutenant Wilhelm Biltz), in what was to become the first tank-to-tank duel in history. However, after three successful hits, the A7V was knocked-out and the crew (with five dead and several casualties) promptly bailed out.

The disabled tank was recovered and repaired later. The victorious Mark IV roamed the German lines, creating havoc and was joined later by several Whippets. But after murderous mortar fire, this attack was stopped in its tracks. Three Whippets were destroyed, as well as the Mark IV. This attack included all available A7Vs, but some broke down, other toppled into holes and were captured by British and Australian troops. The entire attack was deemed a failure, and the A7V removed from active service. The 100 machines order was cancelled and several were scrapped in November.

Aftermath

The commitment of all available tanks with poor results increased the resistance from the German high command. Some successes were achieved by the most numerous German tank in service during the spring offensives, the Beutepanzer Mark IV and V. Almost 50 captured British Mark IVs or Vs were pressed into service under German markings and camouflage. They showed the advantage of full-length tracks over difficult terrains. They influenced, along with the few captured Whippets Mark A light tanks, the design a new enhanced model, the A7V-U. U stands for “Umlaufende Ketten” or full-length tracks, a German-made but British-looking rhomboid tank.

Its featured two 57 mm (2.24 in) guns in sponsons and had a tall observation post similar to the A7V. Although the prototype was ready by June 1918, this 40-ton monster proved to have a high center of gravity and poor maneuverability. However twenty were ordered in September. None were completed by the armistice. All other paper projects (Oberschlesien), mockups (K-Wagen) and prototypes of the light LK-I and II also laid unfinished in November 1918. Starting late in the war, the Germans never had the opportunity to fully develop their tank arm both tactically and technically. This was achieved, mostly clandestinely, but successfully, during the twenties and early thirties. Nevertheless this early and deceiving attempt was a landmark in German development.

Links about the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V

The Sturmpanzerwagen A7V on Wikipedia

The first German tank

The only German tank to ever roam the battlefields of France and Belgium during WWI was nicknamed by the British the “moving fortress”. Big, tall and symmetrical, with sloped armor, surprisingly fast, bristling with machine-guns, it was indeed more akin to a moving fortification than a real tank. As it was basically an “armored box” based on the Holt chassis its crossing abilities were far from equal to the contemporary British Mark IV or V. With only 20 built of the 100 initially ordered, it was more a propaganda tool than an effective breakthrough apparatus.

Stürmpanzerwagen A7V
A7V replica on display at the Munster Panzer Museum. All A7Vs were christened by their crews. The “Nixe” for example took part in the famous duel at Villers Bretonneux, in March 1918. “Mephisto” was captured on the same day by Australian troops. It is now displayed at Brisbane Anzac museum. Other tanks were named “Gretchen”, “Faust”, “Schnuck”, “Baden I”, “Mephisto”, “Cyklop/Imperator”, “Siegfried”, “Alter Fritz”, “Lotti”, “Hagen”, “Nixe II”, “Heiland”, “Elfriede”, “Bulle/Adalbert”, “Nixe”, “Herkules”, “Wotan”, and “Prinz Oskar”.

Gallery

An A7V at Royes
An A7V at Royes, during the spring offensives, March 1918.

A7V
by Giganaut
on Sketchfab

A7V specifications

Dimensions 7.34 x 3.1 x 3.3 m (24.08×10.17×10.82 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 30 to 33 tons
Crew 18
Propulsion 2 x 6 inline Daimler petrol, 200 bhp (149 kW)
Speed 15 km/h (9 mph)
Range on/off road 80/30 km (49.7/18.6 mi)
Armament 1xMaxim-Nordenfelt 57 mm (2.24 in) gun
6×7.5 mm (0.29 in) Maxim machine guns
Armor 30 mm front 20 mm sides (1.18/0.79 in)
Total production 20

Sturmpanzerwagen A7V
The StPzw A7V number four, one of the five tanks under command of Hauptmann Greiff committed to the attack of St. Quentin canal (British sector), part of the March 1918 offensive.

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Categories
WW2 German Heavy Tanks

Neubaufahrzeug

German tanks ww2 Germany (1933)
Heavy tank – 5 built

The origin: The Großtraktor

The very roots of the Neubaufahrzeug (literally: “New Construction Vehicle”) are connected to the arrival of Hitler as the new head of state, and the desire to have, as quickly as possible, a suitable heavy tank, both for the army needs and for propaganda purposes. It had to be a symbol of the renewal of the German Army and was conceived in quite a hurry. Its inspirations can be traced back to the British multi-turreted prototype Vickers A1E1 Independent, which also inspired the the Soviet T-28 and T-35. The former was under intense scrutiny when the Reichswehr decided, in 1926, to give a contract to Rheinmetall-Borsig, MAN, Daimler-Benz and Krupp for the Reichswehr Großtraktor.

Reichswehr Großtraktor built by Krupp undergoing trials
Reichswehr Großtraktor built by Krupp undergoing trials (Bundesarchiv)
This was a disguise designation, used to cover up tank development, which was forbidden under the Versailles treaty. Tests were performed at Panzertruppenschule KAMA, the gunnery and testing grounds at Kazan, in the USSR, and Oberstleutenant Malbrandt supervised the tests. This high security proving ground was part of the joint Red Army and Reichswehr training and testing cooperation, born from the treaty of Rapallo signed in 1922. Two prototypes of Daimler Benz’s Grosstraktor I were tested in 1929, showing transmission problems. Two others, Rheinmetall-Borsig’s Großtraktor II, were also tested in 1929 and modified for new tests in 1931. After a new campaign of trials, the four prototypes were given to the 1st Panzer Division for the 1935 maneuvers. Since they had been plagued by many problems, they ended as monuments outside training camps or practice targets for gunners but paved the way for the upcoming Neubaufahrzeug.
grosstraktor_iii
A Großtraktor turned into a monument with 2 german trainees. (Source N/A)

Pz.Kpfw. Nb.Fz.V and VI

Only two prototypes were built at first, one by Krupp – Model A, and the other by Rheinmetall-Borsig – Model B, and they differed only by their gun arrangement. The 75 mm (2.95 in) KwK L/24 main gun and secondary 37 mm (1.46 in) KwK L/45 was mounted coaxially in a single mantlet on the Krupp prototype and in vertical tandem on the Rheinmetall one. The two secondary turrets, equipped with 7.92 mm machine-guns, were borrowed from the Panzer I, then in development, but modified in order to fit. The Rheinmetall version was named Pz.Kpfw. Nb.Fz.V, and the Krupp vehicles were named Pz.Kpfw. Nb.Fz. VI. Once the two designs were ready, the first two prototypes were built in 1933-34 (N°1 and 2) and three others (N°3, 4 and 5) in 1934-36.

Design of the Neubaufahrzeug

The first two tanks were built in mild steel, with partially welded hulls. Final assembly (fittings and turrets) was performed at Krupp. The first one had the original Rheinmetall turret with the tandem guns (the 37 mm/1.46 in Tankkanone L/45 was installed over the 75 mm/2.95 in KwK L/24) and a horse-shoe FuG turret antenna. All the other four were given the Krupp turret (coaxial guns). There was also a project of conversion to a Nebel Panzer, armed with 105 mm (4.13 in) gun firing smoke rounds, which never materialized. The two secondary turrets were mounted in a lozenge configuration, one on the front left and the other one on the right rear. The driver compartment was next to the front turret, with the main fighting compartment behind. There were two rear hatches for the original BMW engine (Type A), replaced for the four others by a more powerful 300 hp gasoline Maybach HL 108 TR fed with 457 liters of fuel.
Transmission was done by a crash gearbox, 5 speed forward, no reverse. The suspension system consisted of modified coil (leaf) springs coupled with Christie type torsion arms, attached to a set of five bogies with paired road wheels. The front single road wheel was suspended independently, like on the British A1E1 and Russian T-28. They were protected by side skirts with mud chutes in échelon (under each return roller), with two access doors to the suspension. The turret also had two large, one piece access side hatches. The commander cupola was at the turret rear end. Provision for ammunition was 80 rounds for the main gun, 50 for the coaxial 37 mm (1.46 in), and around 6000 for the two MG 34 machine-guns. Armor was not particularly thicker than other Panzers of the time, just enough to provide minimal protection against infantry weapons, light AT guns and shrapnel.

Active service

Soon after delivery, the three late prototypes were extensively tested at the proving grounds at Putloss, while the first two took part in army maneuvers. However, by the end of 1936, it was decided to cancel all further development of the series, priority being given to the Panzer IV. The main tactic devised, notably by Heinz Guderian, favored mobility over firepower, which was as the very core of the Blitzkrieg. This condemned these vehicles, which soon became the “white elephants” of the Wehrmacht, displayed in all propaganda displays, shows and newsreels, starting with the International Automobile Exposition in Berlin, 1939. Another of these mediatic coups was that a platoon consisting of all three late prototypes, named Panzerzug Horstmann, after its commander, Lieutnant Hans Hortsmann, was deployed in Norway, notably to give the impression of a larger production. Similar disinformation operations had been also successfully performed with the Heinkel 100 fighter, despite the appearance in Spain of the Bf 109. The three were landed at Oslo harbor on April, 19, 1940 and took part in local operations. Although handicapped by their speed, they were still an impressive sight, and by far the most heavily armed German tanks fielded there. This unit was later posted at Akershus Fortress (Oslo) in Norway, in 1941 and their fate is unclear, although they were eventually captured in Norway by 1945 and scrapped afterwards. The two others seem to have taken part in operations in Ukraine and Romania.

Neubaufahrzeug specifications

Dimensions 6.6 x 2.9 x 2.98 m (21.8×7.2×9.9 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 23.41 tons
Crew 6 (commander, driver, loader, 3 gunners)
Armament 75 mm (2.95 in) KwK L/24 gun
37 mm (1.46 in) KwK L/45
2 or 3 x7.92 mm (0.31 in) MG 34s
Armor 13 to 20 mm (0.51-0.79 in)
Propulsion 290 hp BMW Va or a 300 hp Maybach HL 108 TR
Suspension Leaf spring system
Speed (road) 25-30 km/h (16-18 mph)
Range (road) 120 km (75 mi)
Production 5 prototypes

Grosstraktor
Rheinmetall Grosstraktor prototypes N°45 and 46, the last of the six prototypes tested at Kazan.

Nb.Fz.V
Neubaufahrzeug number 1 (Type A) was the only fitted with the original Rheinmetall-Borsig turret, showing an early large FuG horse-shoe radio antenna. The large size of the tank was well suited for a platoon commander vehicle. The three-tone camouflage was usual by 1937-38, seen here used in maneuvers at Panzertruppenschule Putlos. Their fate during the war is unsure. Reports seem to point to the fact that the first two vehicles served in the Balkans in March-April 1941, and were shipped to Army Group South, the Romanian sector. In the summer of the same year photos of one of these was taken at Dubno (28 of June, western Ukraine, during operation Barbarossa), with the usual dunkelgrau livery and a triple X as unit marking on the turret.Nb.Fz.VI, Norway.
Nb.Fz.VI, or Type B, with the Krupp turret and operational markings, part of the Hortsman platoon, also comprising two other “B” tanks. Number 8, Vaerwaagen, southern Norway, late April 1940. They were later stationed near the Oslo fortress during most of the war.

Neubaufahrzeug gallery

rosstraktorphoto026
Another Großtraktor turned into a monument. Photo: – forum.valka.cz
Neubaufahrzeug Type B tank (Pz.Kpfw. Nb.Fz. VI) off to Norway, April 1940Neubaufahrzeug Type B tank (Pz.Kpfw. Nb.Fz. VI) off to Norway, April 1940 (ebay)
Neubaufahrzeugs in Oslo
Neubaufahrzeug in Norway, Olso harbor, 19 March 1940
Neubaufahrzeug VI in Norway
Neubaufahrzeug Type B (Pz.Kpfw. Nb.Fz. VI) in Norway, April 1940 – Credits: Bundesarchiv.
Neubaufahrzeug at the Krupp factory
Neubaufahrzeug Type B being repaired – Credits: Bundesarchiv.
Neubaufahrzeug in Norway
Neubaufahrzeug in Norway – Credits: Bundesarchiv.
Neubaufahrzeug in Norway
Neubaufahrzeug in Norway – Credits: Bundesarchiv.
Neubaufahrzeug in Norway
Neubaufahrzeug in Norway – Credits: Bundesarchiv.
Captured Renault UE next to a Neubaufahrzeug
Captured Renault UE Type 2 Chenillette (Renault UE (f)) next to a Neubaufahrzeug – Credits: Bundesarchiv.
Neubaufahrzeug tank turret number 10 being admired by two soldiers
Neubaufahrzeug tank turret number 10 being admired by two soldiers – Credits: Bundesarchiv.

Artist impression of a Type A Nb.Fz.Artist impression; Nb.Fz.Type B
Originally published before 1 December 2014


Neubaufahrzeug
by GiganautGermans Tanks of ww2
Germans Tanks of ww2

Categories
WW1 British Tanks

Tank Mark I

United Kingdom United Kingdom (1916)
Heavy tank – 150 built

100years-tanks

100 years of armored warfare

The Tank Mark I marked both the dawn of armored warfare and the start of the whole tank lineage that would soon find its treasured place in almost all armies of the world. It is important to remember that, although a weapon of war, perfected in the art of death and destruction on land, the tank also saved lives, thousands of them. This started right in 1916, when the first Mark Is helped restore the confidence of the exhausted and depressed fighting men, after facing years of being treated like meat for the butcher. This was the weapon that would unlock the stalemate and put an end to trench warfare.

Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!

In reality, things get more complicated and, as crude as it was, the tank was never more than an organic part of a refined late trench warfare as a whole: New infantry tactics (inaugurated by the Canadians at Vimy Ridge), creeping artillery barrages with deadly precise schedules, better air reconnaissance and even strafing and aerial bombardments, and of course better coordination with tanks. The Mark I was the first of a lineage that stretched until 1918 with the Mark VIII Liberty, a lineage which also marked the beginning and the end of the “rhomboid” type in a period of just two years. As the famed “Little Willie” prototype is celebrated as the first practical tank, built a hundred years ago, the Mark I was the first operational tank.

The Big Willie in an illustration showing the first tank being tested with a tail wheel. According to photographs, it was painted in white, a color adopted by the navy for land vehicles.

The “Little Willie”

The Mk.I tank was the first operational tank in the British army and in the world. It was based on the “Little Willie” (The Lincoln machine) project, supported by the Landships Committee, headed by Walter Wilson and William Tritton. It was largely an attempt to overcome the previous model’s issues. One of the solutions was to avoid adding a turret and mounted the guns in sponsons instead. The Little Willie, also known as the “Lincoln machine number one”, was tested and modified, and the lessons were taken in account for the development of the Mark I and its prototype, called “Big Willie” or, more commonly, “Mother”.

“Mother”, the production prototype

In December 1915, the final prototype was ready for the first trials, which took place in April 1916. It was named officially “His Majesty’s Land Ship Centipede”, but was know colloquially as “Mother” or “Big Willie”, as a joke directed towards the German Kaiser and the crown prince, both named Wilhelm. In the meantime, the “Tank Supply Committee” succeeded the Landship Committee, under the chairmanship of Albert Stern. Other members included Ernest Swinton,  the head of the committee, General Haig, who acted as a liaison officer, Hugh Elles who would  later become the commander of the tank force in France. The trials were held up in an impressive reconstruction of no-man’s land with trenches, parapets, craters and barbed wire, and impressed all officers except the Secretary of War, Lord Kitchener. Despite of this, an order was secured for 150 tanks in two batches, with one order being issued 0n 12 February 1916 and another on April 23.

Design

The Mk.I was elaborated to encompass all the lessons learnt from the Little Willie trials in 1915. No turret (giving a low center of gravity), armament mounted in sponsons, bolted hull made of boiler panels, newly designed tracks inherited from the Little Willie and a large, easily recognizable rhomboid hull, with the tracks surrounding the hull, making up the entire length of the machine. This shape could not be underestimated. While Great Britain learned the difficult trade of crossing heavily cratered, muddy terrain with the previous Lincoln machine, a radical solution was adopted, which proved adequate to the task, but too radical at the same time, and would emerge in postwar years.

The “Mother” on trials. It was made of boiler plates, chiefly to speed up construction. Following Mark Is had hardened steel plates.
Indeed, a running track of this size allowed to gap the largest known trenches of the time, negotiate craters, while the front three meter recess allowed the vehicle to climb almost any obstacle. But, in addition of being heavy, these full-running tracks caused a safety problem for the crewmembers, who could get caught in it and be dragged under the tank. It also limited the ability to store anything on top, save for a narrow portion of the central hull. Visibility was perfectible and a lot of space was lost by cramming all the return rollers. A nightmare for an engineer, as well as the maintenance crew.

Mobility

Propulsion relied on a six cylinder petrol engine at the rear of the hull, with no compartmentalization, due to the transmission system tunnel, which ran through the tank and, more importantly, because, at that stage, the engine was relatively untested and finicky enough to force engineers to need to be able to get their hands on the engine just in case. In addition, the engine had to push quite hard to carry the 28 tons of steel with its just 105 horsepower, with a crushingly low of 3.7 hp per tonne. Not surprisingly, the burden was made greater by the incredibly sticky nature of the mud, which was shown by recent studies to just stick to metal, which meant a tremendous force was required to extract whatever was plunged in it.
At least in the case of the tracks, the flat shape and serial arrangement made it more likely to “surf” on the surface, although taking along a large amount of mud in the process. Being clogged in a sinkhole was just the level of effort which the valiant little Daimler was not ready to undertake. Breakdowns were commonplace and ruined the early stage of the assault, largely diminishing the number of tanks that just had the luck to make their way into the no-man’s land and reach the destination. Also, the engine not being separated from the fighting compartment proved ruinous for the crew, which fell ill quite quickly, but that feature remained unchanged until 1918. The general staff didn’t see this sickness as a limitation either, given the relatively short distance which had to be crossed between opposing trenches. A mobility aspect which was incorporated into the design concerned the removable sponsons, allowing the tank to be narrower and thus, providing easier transport by rail.

Crew

The crew comprised eight men, of which two were drivers (one for the gearbox and the other for the brakes) and two others controlling the gears of each track. This system needed perfect coordination, which was difficult due to the noise inside and the protective leather helmets they used. The four others were gunners, serving the six-pounders and the machine guns, depending on the armament. 50% of the Mk. Is were armed with two guns in the sponsons and three machine-guns (two in the sponsons, one axial in the hull), named “males”, and the other half were “females”, armed with five machine-guns. These were either Vickers models or the 8 mm (0.31 in) Hotchkiss air-cooled equivalents. The tanks were quite big, weighing 28 tons with an eight meters long hull and an overall length of nearly ten meters with the additional tail wheel, another feature kept from the Little Willie. It was designed to help crossing very large trenches, but later proved impractical and was dropped.

Production

No less than 150 Mk.Is were built at William Foster & Co. of the Lincoln Metropolitan Carriage and Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon & Finance Co. at Wednesbury. The first order of 100 was increased to 150 in April 1916, acting as a pre-series for further mass-productions. The Foster deliveries concerned 37 males, while Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon, and Finance Company, of Birmingham, delivered 113 Tanks, including 38 “males” and 75 “females”. Later on, two rails were mounted over the hull to handle a wooden beam, used for unditching. The first were ready in a hurry and deployed in August, just in time for the Somme Offensive. From the end of 1917 and until 1918, some of the surviving ones were converted as signal tanks with a large antenna at the base of the driver’s cab, participating in the battle of Cambrai. Others were converted as supply tanks.

Succession: the Mk. II and III

As the Mark I showed many limitations, the next batch of 50 tanks (25 females and 25 males) were built at Foster & Co and Metropolitan for training purposes only. There were some claims about their unhardened steel plates, but all data seems to show that the Mk.IIs were regular Mk. Is with a few modifications for training purposes. Some 20 were sent to France for advanced training and those left remained at the Wool training ground in Dorset.
However, in 1917, there weren’t enough tanks operational for the offensives planned in April 1917 near Arras, and twenty surviving Mk.Is and all the Mk.IIs remaining in Britain were put in action (despite some protests), suffering high casualties, mainly due to the new armor-piercing bullets the Germans employed.
The Mark IIIs were training tanks as well (the great improvements were still planned for the Mk.IV) and were all fitted with Lewis machine guns in smaller, lighter sponsons. Otherwise, few changes were visible at the beginning, as this batch of 50 vehicles was designed to incorporate all the Mk.IV improvements. Deliveries were slow and none left Great Britain.

The Mark I In Action

Their first operational use was in September at Flers-Courcelette, but this first attempt was a near disaster. Most of the tanks broke down on their way, others bogged down in the mud. However, despite the lack of training of their crews, some managed to reach their designated objective, if only too few. Only 59 were part of this attack, most of them being captured afterwards by the Germans. The first issues quickly arrived at the War Office. When they appeared however through the fog, they had an uncanny psychological effect on the German troops, which fled their trenches, leaving their machine guns. The distant roar and clinging of the tracks, and later the slow-moving masses emerging from the fog which resembled nothing built yet were enough. But their ability to take punishment and return fire was compelled by the fact the Germans were caught completely unaware of their existance. A real surprise achieved by the well-guarded secret behind the name that stuck ever since, the “tank”.

Sick Crews

The noise, the smell and the temperature that reached nearly 50 degrees Celsius were just unbearable. There were powerful emanations of carbon monoxide, cordite, fuel and oil vapors, all made worse by poor ventilation. The crews often opened the narrow door situated just behind the sponson, in an attempt to get some fresh air in. With poor training and almost no internal communication, steering was enormously difficult, resulting in mechanical over-stress, causing many breakdowns.

Breakdowns

Another factor was the petrol engine, overwhelmed by the weight of the hull combined with the very sticky, heavy mud typical of the region, something that was rediscovered when excavating and experimenting with the supposed battlefield of Agincourt. Coordination between the tanks also proved inadequate, theoretically by using a set of fanions, flags, lamps, semaphores and other devices inspired by navy practice. There was no radio on board. Pigeons were used instead to report positions and status with the General Headquarters.

Protection issue

Crew security was also an issue inside the tank. If the 8 mm (0.31 in) plates were proven bullet proof, each impact produced mini-shrapnel inside the hull, injuring anybody inside. Following the first reports, thick leather jackets and helmets, or a combination of leather and chain-mail, were provided to the crews. Spall liners only appeared decades later.

Surviving example

Despite its historical importance, which could already be perceived in 1916, only a single male survived. The world’s oldest surviving combat tank is showcased at the Bovington Tank Museum, in static display. Its Number is 705, C19 and it was named “Clan Leslie”, but both its true identity and wartime history remain a mystery. It was suggested that it might have been used as a driver training tank, numbered 702, the second Mark I built. It was discovered laying in 1970 in the grounds of Hatfield House, the world’s earliest proving ground for tanks.

Video footage of Mark I at fers-Courcelette in september 1916

Sources

David Fletcher – Osprey British Mark I Tank 1916
Wikipedia Mark I tank
The “Big Willie”, or Mother on militaryfactory
The Mark I on tanks-photographs
About camouflages and liveries (landship II)
Tank-Hunter.com Mark I tank

Mark I specifications

Dimensions Length 26ft (7.92m).
Length with tail 32ft 6in (9.92m)
Width 8ft 4in (2.53m).
Width with Sponsons 13ft 2in (4.03m)
Height 8ft (2.44m)
Total weight 27.5 (female) 28.4 (male) tons
Crew 8
Propulsion British Foster-Daimler, Knight sleeve valve, water-cooled straight six 13-litre petrol engine, 105 hp at 1,000 rpm
Road Speed 3.7 mph (5.95 km/h)
Range 28 miles (45 km)
Trench Crossing ability 11ft 6in (3.5m)
Armament Male Tank 2x Hotchkiss QF 6 pdr (57 mm) gun (1.4m long barrel)
4x 0.303 inch (7.62mm) Hotchkiss air-cooled machine guns
Armament Female Tank 4x 0.303 inch (7.62mm) Vickers water-cooled machine guns
1x 0.303 inch (7.62mm) Hotchkiss air-cooled machine gun
Armor From 6 to 15 mm (0.23-0.59 in)
Track links Length 8 1/2 inches (21.5cm)
Width 1ft 8in (52cm)
Sponson Hatch Length 2ft (61cm)
Width 1ft 4in (41cm)
Rear Hatch Length 2ft 3in (69cm)
Width 1ft 3in (37cm)
Total production 150

Gallery

First engagement
The irst engagement of the Mk.I at Flers Courcelette, 15 September 1916. Despite their poor performance, the tanks were increasingly popular among soldiers, with propaganda and songs talking about “miracle weapons”.
Mark I Lusitania
The Mark I C19 at Bovington

tank Mk.I
The “Mother” prototype in trials by April 1917. The hull was made of resistant boiler panels which, along with poor ventilation, kept the interior very hot. Proof against normal infantry weapons, it was sensible to machine-gun rounds and could be disabled by field guns and specially-crafted armor-piercing bullets.
tank Mk.I Male
A wooden and wire mesh frame was added to the roof of the Mark I tank to deflect hand grenades thrown at the tanks by the German infantry. The Mark I Male tank was armed with a 6pdr gun and three machine guns. On 15th September 1916, 2nd Lieutenant J.P. Clark commanded this Mark I Male tank No.746 in C Company, Section 3, Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps (HSMGC). It was later given the unit number C15. It crossed German trenches and returned to Allied lines at the end of the day.
Tank Mark I female in 1917
Mark I Female tanks took part in the Battle of Flers–Courcelette on 15th September 1916. They were armed with four 0.303 in (7.62 mm) Vickers water-cooled machine guns in side sponsons and a 0.303 in (7.62 mm) Hotchkiss air-cooled machine gun in the front cabin. A two wheeled steering tail was attached to the rear of the tank. Tank No.511 was commanded by 2nd Lieutenant E.C.K. Cole on that day as part of D Company, Section 4, Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps (HSMGC). It was given the unit number D25. It engaged the enemy and returned to Allied lines at the end of the day.
Mark I Female tank No.523, C20 under the command of Lieutenant MacPherson, C Company, Section 4,  Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps (HSMGC)
Mark I Female tank No.523, C20 under the command of Lieutenant MacPherson, C Company, Section 4, Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps (HSMGC) was due to be part of the attack 15th September 1916. Like many other tanks, it broke down. It was repaired by the afternoon and tried to catch up with the advancing units. It had to be abandoned on the battlefield on 16th November 1916 after it ditched and could not get out.
Mark I Male tank No.745 D22 of the
This Mark I Male tank No.745 saw action on 15th September 1916 as part of D Company, Section 4. It was given the unit number D22. Lieutenant F.A. Robinson commanded the tank. Unfortunately, the tank crew mistook some soldiers as the enemy. They fired on and killed some British troops. The tank ditched but managed to get out. It returned back to Allied lines after the battle. It was back in action again on 26th September 1916 attached to C Company. It was hit and destroyed. The rear tail could be locked in the up position when necessary. The three ‘A’ shaped bits of metal on the roof were used when the sponson needed to be removed for rail travel.
Some Mark I Male tanks were used as supply tanks. This is tank, No.712 called 'Dodo', was part of B battalion, 5 company, 8 section, B37.
Some Mark I Male tanks were used as supply tanks. This is tank, No.712 called ‘Dodo’, was part of B battalion, 5 company, 8 section, B37. It was photographed 7th June 1917 at Messines. This was the first time old Mk.I tanks were used as supply vehicles. This tank was later renamed “Badger”, it presumably remained with “B” Battalion until the Mk I and II supply tanks were withdrawn.

Tank Hunter WW1
Tank Hunter: World War One

By Craig Moore

The First World War’s fierce battles saw the need to develop military technology beyond anything previously imagined: as exposed infantry and cavalry were mowed down by relentless machine-gun attacks, so tanks were developed. Stunningly illustrated in full colour throughout, Tank Hunter: World War One provides historical background, facts and figures for each First World War tank as well as the locations of any surviving examples, giving you the opportunity to become a Tank Hunter yourself.

Buy this book on Amazon!

Categories
WW2 US Tank Destroyers

90mm GMC M36 Jackson

ww2 US tanks USA (1943) Tank Hunter – 1,772 built

The ultimate American tank hunter of WW2

The M36 Jackson was the last dedicated American tank hunter of the war. After the early, soon obsolete M10 Wolverine and the superfast M18 Hellcat, the US Army needed a more powerful gun and better armored vehicle to hunt down the latest developments in German tanks, including the Panther and Tigers. Indeed, in September 1942, it was already foreseen that the standard 75 mm (3 in) M7 gun of the M10 was only efficient at short range (500 m) against the enemy vehicles. Engineers were tasked with devising a new 90 mm (3.54 in) gun, which became the M3 gun, to engage German tanks on equal terms considering range. This gun was also used by the M26 Pershing.

Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!

M10A1 GMC in trials, 1943. The T71 was developed on this hull and chassis
M10A1 GMC in trials, 1943. The T71 was developed on this hull and chassis.
The need for a better armed tank hunter was confirmed, at a high cost, in the battle of Kasserine pass and later in multiple engagements in Sicily and Italy. The new tank equipped with this gun was designed quickly on the basis of the M10 tank destroyer. At first, the T53 sought a dual AA/AT rôle, but was eventually canceled.
The T71, which would become the M36, was completed in March 1943. However, due to multiple issues, the production only started mid-1944 and the first deliveries came in September 1944, two years after the idea was first proposed. This new tank hunter was known by the soldiers as “Jackson” in reference to the Confederate general of the Civil War Stonewall Jackson, or “Slugger”. Officially, it was named “M36 tank destroyer” or “90 mm Gun Motor Carriage M36” by the ordnance and US Army at large. It proved itself vastly superior to the M10, and was arguably the finest American tank hunter of World War Two, with a long postwar career.
T71 GMC pilot prototype in 1943
T71 GMC pilot prototype in 1943

Development (1943-44)

The first M36 prototype was completed in March 1943. It was characterized by a new turret mounting the 90 mm M3 gun on a standard M10 chassis. The prototype designated T71 Gun Motor Carriage and passed all tests with success, proving lighter and thus more agile than the regular Sherman M4A3. An order for 500 was issued. Upon standardization, the designation was changed to “90 mm Gun Motor Carriage M36” in June 1944. These were produced by the Fisher Tank Division (General Motors), Massey Harris Co., American Locomotive Co. and Montreal Locomotive Works (chassis) and hulls by the Grand Blanc Arsenal. The M36 was based on the upgraded M10A1 Wolverine hull, whereas the B2 was based on the regular M10 chassis/M4A3 diesel.
M36B2 at Danbury - side view
M36B2 at Danbury, – side view

Design

Like all US tank destroyers, the turret was open-topped to save weight and provide better peripheral observation. However, the turret design was not a simple repeat of the sloped plates of the M10 but rather a thick casting with front and side slopes and a backwards recline. A bustle acting as turret basket was welded on this casting to the rear, providing extra ammo storage (11 rounds) as well as acting as a counterweight for the M3 main gun (47 rounds, HE and AP). The main secondary armament, the usual dual purpose “Ma Deuce” cal.50 (12.7 mm) Browning M2 heavy machine gun was installed on a pintle mount on this bustle, but there was no coaxial MG. The B1 variant introduced a secondary Browning M1919 cal.30 in the hull. Postwar modifications included a folding armored roof kit to provide some protection against shrapnel, but also later fitting of a hull ball mount Browning cal.30 machine gun on the co-driver’s position and the new M3A1 gun.
GMC 6046 engine
GMC 6046 engine
The chassis was basically the same as the M10, with a Ford GAA V-8 gasoline 450 hp (336 kW) which gave a 15.5 hp/ton ratio, coupled with a Synchromesh gearbox with 5 forward and 1 reverse ratio. With 192 gallons of gasoline, this gave a 240 km (150 mi) range on roads with a top speed on flat ground of up to 48 km/h (30 mph). The running gear was comprised of three bogies with Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS), 12 rubberized roadwheels, with front idlers and rear drive sprockets. Hull protection counted on 13 mm thick add-on bolted armored panels like the M10 and ranged from 9 mm (035 in) to 108 mm (4.25 in) on the gun mantlet and front hull glacis plate. In detail these figures were:
Glacis front hull 38–108 mm / 0–56 °
Side (hull) 19–25 mm / 0–38 °
Rear (hull) 19–25 mm / 0–38 °
Top (hull) 10–19 mm / 90 °
Bottom (hull) 13 mm / 90 °
Front (turret) 76 mm /0 °
Sides (turret) 31,8 mm / 5 °
Rear (turret) 44,5–130 mm / 0 °
Top (turret) 0–25 mm /90 °

Variants

M36 (standard): 3″ GMC M10A1 hull (M4A3 chassis, 1,298 produced/converted)
M36B1: Conversion on M4A3 hull and chassis. (187).
M36B2: Conversion on M4A2 chassis (same hull as M10) with a twin 6-71 arrangement GM 6046 diesel (287).
M36B2 GMC at Danbury
M36B2 GMC at Danbury

The M36 in action

Although fielded much earlier for training, the first M36 in organic tank hunter units, in accordance with the US TD doctrine, arrived in September 1944 on the European Theater of Operations (also at the insistence of Eisenhower that regularly had reports about the Panther). It showed itself a formidable opponent for German tanks, largely on par with the British Firefly (also based on the Sherman). In addition, between October and December 1944, 187 conversions of standard Medium Tank M4A3 hulls into M36s were performed at the Grand Blanc Arsenal. These were designated M36B1 and rushed to the European Theater of Operations to combat alongside regular M36s. Later in the war, M4A2 (diesel versions) were also converted as B2s. The latter, in addition to their roof-mounted add-on armor folding panels, also had an upgraded M3 main gun with a muzzle brake.
The M36 was capable of nailing down any known German tanks at reasonable range (1,000 to 2,500 m depending of the armor thickness to deal with). Its gun left little smoke when firing. It was liked by its crew, but because of its high demand, fell rapidly in short supply: Only 1,300 M36s were manufactured in all, of which perhaps 400 were available in December 1944. However, like other US tanks hunters, it was still vulnerable to shell fragments and snipers due to its open-top turret. Field modifications, like for the M10, were hastily performed by the crews, welding additional roof iron plating. Later on, a kit was developed to protect against shrapnel, made of folding panels adopted by the M36B2, generalized after the war. When entirely closed there was a gap above the turret allowing the crew to still have a good peripheral vision. The other backsides was the choice of its Sherman chassis with a high transmission tunnel which made for a conspicuous target at 10 feet tall.
In an engagement with a German Panther tank at 1500 yards, an M36 of the 776th TD Battalion was able to penetrate the turret armor which became the commonplace preferred target, along with the sides, rather than the glacis. Tigers were harder to handle and needed to be engaged at smaller ranges. Mediums were relatively easier prey until the end of the war. The King Tiger was a slight problem, but it could still be destroyed with the proper range, angle and ammo. As an example, near Freihaldenhoven in December 1944, an M36 from the 702nd TD Battalion knocked out a King Tiger at 1,000 yards by a side shot in the turret. Panthers were generally knocked out at 1,500 yards.

M36 GMC, December 1944, en route for the battle of the Bulge
M36 GMC, December 1944, en route to the battle of the BulgeDuring the Battle of the Bulge, the 7th AD was engaged, with its M36s, at St Vith with success, despite artillery shelling and wood splinters, or the presence of snipers in these woody areas. M18 Hellcats (such as those of the 705th TD Bat.) also did wonders and all combined American TDs destroyed 306 German tanks during this campaign. It should be noted there were still numerous towed battalions at that time, which suffered the highest losses. The roof vulnerability of the M36 did much to rush out the arrival of the M26 Pershing, similarly armed. In addition, specialized semi-independent TD battalions ceased to be used and the M36s (the TD doctrine had been discredited meanwhile) were now operated within mechanized groups, fighting alongside infantry.Indeed at the time of the attack of the Siegfried lines, the M36 was used in close proximity of the troops and proved quite useful with HE shells against German bunkers. A postwar study alleged that the 39 TDs battalions knocked out no less than 1,344 German tanks and assault tanksuntil the end of the war, while the best battalion claimed 105 Germans tanks and TDs. The average kill count per battalion was 34 enemy tanks/assault guns, but also 17 pillboxes, 16 MG nests, and 24 vehicles.When the M36s and M18s started to arrive in force in Europe, M10 were gradually reassigned to less sensitive sectors and sent to the Pacific. They were first used at Kwajalein, in February 1944. No less than seven TD battalions operated there with M10s and M18s, but no M36s. Some M36s did eventually serve in Asia, in French use, at first with the Free Forces, then after the war with more US supplied vehicles arriving in Indochina.

Postwar operators

The M36’s main gun was still a match for the first modern MBTs. However, as most US WWII tanks, it was used in the Korean War and proved well capable of destroying the T-34/85s fielded by the North Koreans. They were judged as faster and more agile than the M26 but still much better armed than lighter tanks like the M24 and, some years after, the M41. The hull ball-mounted machine gun on the co-driver’s side was a postwar addition to all surviving M36s, and later an M3A1 90 mm gun (shared with the M46 Patton) was mounted instead of the 90 mm M3. This new gun can be recognized by its muzzle brake and bore evacuator. M36s were prioritized for the Military Assistance Program transfer towards South Korea over the more modern but similarly armed M26/M46. 110 M36s along with a few M10 TDs were transferred to the South Korean Army, serving until 1959. Many also found their way into other armies, although in limited numbers.
In Asia, after South Korea, the Army of the Republic of China acquired just 8 ex-French M36s in 1955, stationed on Kinmen Island until April 2001. At that time, two were still registered for training in Lieyu. The French also acquired some postwar, which were found in action in the 1st Indo-China war. Indeed, against the threat of a possible Chinese intervention and use of the IS-2 heavy tank, a Panther was first tested without success, and M36B2s were sent instead with the RBCEO and custom modifications (roof plates and additional .30 cal) in 1951. As the threat never materialized, these were used for infantry support until 1956.
Italy also received some postwar, deactivated in the 1960s. Another European operator was Yugoslavia (postwar). By the 1970s, these were modernized with a T-55 Soviet-made 500 hp diesel. After the partition of the country, existing M36s were passed to the successor states and saw heavy action, in particular in the Croatian War of Independence (1991–1995, withdrawn in 1995) but also with the Serbian forces in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo War as decoys for NATO air strikes.
M36s were also purchased after the partition of India, seeing action on both sides in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. The Indian 25th and 11th cavalry units used these as mediums due to their mobility. However, the Indians claimed 12 Pakistani M36B2s in the battle of Asal Uttar alone, and the remainder were decommissioned before the battle of 1971.

ROCA (Republic of China Army) M36 on display at the Chengkungling museum.
ROCA (Republic of China Army) M36 on display at the Chengkungling museum.
Iran was also provided M36s before the revolution of 1979, and saw action in the Iran-Iraq war. The Iraqis managed to capture a few M36s and M36B1s which also were deployed in the 1991 Gulf War. Other operators included the Philippine Army (until the 1960s) and Turkey (222 donated, now long deactivated). Many surviving vehicles were maintained in running conditions and some found their ways into museums and private collections around the world.
South Korean M36B2 or modernized M36, South Korean Army (Seoul Museum, Flickr)
South Korean M36B2 or modernized M36, South Korean Army (Seoul Museum, Flickr)

Sources

The M36 on Wikipedia
Tankdestroyer.net
US Tanks destroyers in Combat – Armor at War series – Steven J. Zaloga

M36 specifications

Dimensions (L x W x H) 5.88 without gun x 3.04 x 2.79 m (19’3″ x 9’11” x 9’2″)
Total weight, battle ready 29 tonnes
Crew 4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Ford GAA V-8, gasoline, 450 hp, 15.5 hp/t
Suspension VVSS
Speed (road) 48 km/h (30 mph)
Range 240 km (150 mi) on flat
Armament 90 mm M3 (47 rounds)
cal.50 AA machine gun(1000 rounds)
Armor 8 mm to 108 mm front (0.31-4.25 in)
Total production 1772 in 1945

Gallery

Various references from the web, for modellers inspiration: M36 and M36B1 and B2 from Yugoslavia, Croatia or Bosnia, Serbia, Taiwan, Iran, and Iraq.
Various references from the web, for modeller inspiration: M36, M36B1 and B2 from Yugoslavia, Croatia or Bosnia, Serbia, Taiwan, Iran, and Iraq.

M36 Jackson, early type in trials in UK, summer 1944.
M36 Jackson, early type in trials in UK, summer 1944. Notice the muzzle-less gun and absent add-on side armour plates
Regular M36 Jackson in Belgium, December 1944.
Regular M36 Jackson in Belgium, December 1944.
M36 Tank Destroyer camouflaged in a winter livery, west bank of the Rhine, January 1945.
M36 Tank Destroyer camouflaged in a winter livery, west bank of the Rhine, January 1945.
Mid-production M36 Pork Shop, U.S. Army, 2nd Cavalry, Third Army, Germany, March 1945.
Mid-production M36 “Pork Shop”, U.S. Army, 2nd Cavalry, Third Army, Germany, March 1945.
Late Gun Motor Carriage M36, Belgium, December 1944.
Late Gun Motor Carriage M36, Belgium, December 1944.
M36B1 in Germany, March-April 1945.
M36B1 in Germany, March-April 1945.
French M36B2 Puma of the Régiment Blindé Colonial d'Extrême Orient, Tonkin, 1951.
French M36B2 “Puma” of the Régiment Blindé Colonial d’Extrême Orient, Tonkin, 1951. Notice the extra cal.30.
Iraqi M36B1 (ex. Iranian), 1991 Gulf War
Iraqi M36B1 (ex. Iranian), 1991 Gulf War
Croatian M36 077
Croatian M36 077 “Topovnjaca”, War of Independence, Dubrovnik brigade, 1993.

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Categories
WW2 British Tank Destroyers

Sherman VC Firefly

UK/USA (1944)
Tank hunter – approx. 2000 built

Turning the Sherman into a killer

From the hedgerow of Normandy, France, to the hills of Italy and the plains of Netherlands, the Firefly was one of the few Allied tanks the Germans learned to fear… Among the most potent Allied conversion of the war, and certainly one of the deadliest version of the Sherman, it was a clever -although risky and improvised- move to try to keep up with the latest German tank developments. At that time, the “basic” M4 Sherman equipped the Allies almost exclusively, from the US to the British, Canadian, ANZACS, Free Polish and Free French forces, and its limitations were well known before 1944.

Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!

Its basic 75 mm (2.95 in) gun was excellent to deal with other tanks at reasonable ranges and against armor up to 75 mm (2.95 in), or against fortifications and infantry. But facing the latest versions of the Panzer IV, the Panther and Tiger, it was woefully inadequate. However, the British Army had just received the superlative 17 pounder, which proved itself able to nail any known Panzer. Mated with the Sherman, this stopgap combination (before the new generation of Allied tanks could enter service) became lethal, and added its own weight to the Allied effort to secure victory.
Preserved Sherman Firefly, as seen in 2008
Preserved Firefly, showing its camouflaged barrel, as seen in 2008.

Adoption

The idea of putting the 17 Pounder (76.2 mm/3 in) on a Sherman was long opposed by the Ministry of Supply. It finally happened largely due to the efforts and perseverance of two officers, British Major George Brighty, with the help of Lieutenant Colonel Witheridge, an experienced veteran of the North African campaign and wounded at Gazala. Despite reports and refusals, they managed to pursue the project by themselves and eventually get the concept accepted. Massive delays also began to appear in the development of the official projects which were meant to mount the new gun. Brighty had already made attempts of the conversion at the Lulworth Armoured Fighting School in early 1943. This first version had the whole recoil system removed, locking in effect the gun in place, while the tank bluntly absorbed the recoil. Witheridge joined Brighty due to the doubts of the A30, Cruiser Mark VIII Challenger being ready in time and lobbied actively for the same idea, providing his assistance and solving the recoil problem.
They received a note from the Department of Tank Design to cease their efforts. However, thanks to Witheridge’s connections, they eventually convinced the head of the Royal Armoured Corps. They then won over the Director General of Weapon and Instrument Production, and the Ministry of Supply, who ultimately gave them full support, funding, and an official approval. In October-November 1943 already, enthusiasm and knowledge about the project grew. In early 1944, before the new delays of the Challenger and inability of the Cromwell turret ring to receive the 17 pdr became known, the programme was eventually given the ‘highest priority’ by Winston Churchill himself in preparation for D-Day.
Ex-Dutch Firefly preserved at the Amersfoort Cavalry Museum
Ex-Dutch Firefly preserved at the Amersfoort Cavalry Museum

About the 17 pounder

This legendary piece of ordnance was the first of the many ROF (Royal Ordnance Factory) cannons which came to fame postwar. These included the rifled L7 105 mm (4.13 in) and later the L11 120 mm (4.72 in) gun that was given to the Chieftain and Challenger. The 17 pounder was a 76.2 mm (3 in) gun with a length of 55 calibres. It had a 2,900 ft/s (880 m/s) muzzle velocity with HE and HEAT rounds and 3,950 ft/s (1,200 m/s) with APDS or Armor Piercing Capped, and Ballistic Capped. These figures allowed it to defeat armor in the range of 120-208 mm (4.72-8.18 in) in thickness at 1,000 m and up to 1,500 m with the APDS.
The design of the gun was ready in 1941 and production started in 1942. It proved itself time and again in Tunisia, Sicily and Italy, with the first action in February 1943. So the idea to have it inside a tank turret was a priority, since the QF 6-pdr was found inadequate by 1943. However, the 17 pounder was long and heavy. It therefore needed much reworking and compromises to have it installed in a turret, and intermediary solutions had to be found. By 1944, the Archer used it, as well as the Achilles (M10 Wolverine), the Challenger, and later the Comet.
17 pdr ammo rounds being loaded into a Sherman Firefly
17 Pounder ammo rounds being loaded by the crew of a Sherman Firefly. Notice the camouflage nets around the turret, mantlet and gun barrel

Conversion design

The work of genius was that of successfully cramming the heavy gun into a turret it was never designed for. By doing it, W.G.K. Kilbourn, a Vickers engineer, allowed the quick conversion of the most prolific Allied tank. This ensured that no changes in maintenance, supply and transport chains were needed. These were quite critical factors after D-Day.
There were a few changes made to the chassis, most of which were Mk.I hybrids (cast glacis) and Mark Vs, except for the modified ammo cradles and the hull gunner position being eliminated to make room for more ammo. The turret interior was also completely modified. The rear was emptied to allow the gun to recoil and a counterweight was added to the rear to balance the long barrel. This “bustle” now housed the radio, formerly at the back of the turret, and could be accessed by a large hole in the casting. The mantlet was also modified, 13 mm (0.51 in) thicker than the original. The loader also had his position changed. A new hatch had to be cut into the top of the turret over the gunner’s position since the size of the new gun prevented the gunner from using the normal hatch.
But the 17-pdr itself still had a one-meter long recoil course, and the whole recoil system was completely modified. The main recoil cylinders were shortened while additional new cylinders were added to take advantage of the turret width. The gun breech was rotated 90 degrees to allow the loader to sit on the left. The gun cradle also had to be shortened, which caused stability concerns. These were solved by the adoption of a longer untapered section at the base of the barrel. Therefore, the Firefly had it’s custom tailored version of the 17 pdr.
Sherman Firefly at Namur, in Belgium, in 1944
Polish Sherman Firefly at Namur, in Belgium, in 1944

Main Gun penetration figures

Official British War Department test figures show that the 17pdr anti-tank gun firing armor piercing AP rounds would penetrate the following thickness of homogeneous armour plate and these distances: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 119.2 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 107.3 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 96.7mm. When firing armor-piercing capped (APC) rounds at face-hardened armor plate these are the test results: 500 yrds. (457 m) = 132.9 mm; 1000 yrds (914.4 m) = 116.5 mm and 1500 yrds (1371.6 M) = 101.7 mm. When fired at sloped armour it was estimated there would have been 80% success at 30 degrees’ angle of attack.

The Firefly in Action

The Firefly was ready in numbers and filled the 21st Army Group’s Armored Brigades in 1944, just in time for D-Day. This was fortunate because Allied intelligence did not anticipate the presence of enemy tanks, of which the numerous Panthers were formidable adversaries for the Sherman.
Ken Tout summed up his impressions about the Firefly, then at the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry:
“The Firefly tank is an ordinary Sherman but, in order to accommodate the immense breach of the 17-pounder and to store its massive shells, the co-driver has been eliminated and his little den has been used as storage space. … The flash is so brilliant that both gunner and commander need to blink at the moment of firing. Otherwise they will be blinded for so long that they will not see the shot hit the target. The muzzle flash spurts out so much flame that, after a shot or two, the hedge or undergrowth in front of the tank is likely to start burning. When moving, the gun’s overlap in front or, if traversed, to the side is so long that driver, gunner and commander have to be constantly alert to avoid wrapping the barrel around some apparently distant tree, defenceless lamp-post or inoffensive house”
British Firefly crossing a bridge, Operation Goodwood
British Firefly crossing a bridge, Operation Goodwood
Fortunately, the Firefly was also present. The British and Commonwealth units had to face over 70% of all German armor deployed during the Battle of Normandy, including the much-feared SS Panzer units, in particular around Caen. In turn, the Germans learnt to recognise and respect the Firefly, which often became their #1 priority target in most engagements. Such was the damage they inflicted. In response, the crews usually painted the protruding half of the barrel with an effective countershading pattern to try to disguise it as a regular Sherman. A common tactic was to place the Fireflies in good hull-down positions in support of other Shermans, covering them in the advance each time an enemy tank would reveal itself, at least in theory.
Their effectiveness rapidly became legendary, as testified by the most enviable hunting scores of all Allied tanks. On 9 June 1944, Lt. G. K. Henry’s Firefly knocked-out five Panthers from the 12th SS Panzer Division in rapid succession during the defense of Norrey-en-Bessin. Other Shermans were credited with two more, out of a total of 12, successfully repelling the attack. On June 14, Sgt. Harris of the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards destroyed five Panthers around the hamlet of Lingèvres, near Tilly-sur-Seulles, changing position in between. Even the most feared German top ace tank commander, Michael Wittman, was presumably killed by a Canadian Firefly. This famous action was credited to Ekins, the gunner of Sergeant Gordon’s Sherman Firefly from the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry, A-Sqn. He destroyed three Tigers in a row, one of which was presumably that of Michael Wittman, near Cintheaux, in August 1944.
Fireflies of the Irish Guards group, operation Market Garden
Fireflies of the Irish Guards group, operation Market Garden
In total, the 1900+ Fireflies were used by the 4th, 8th, 27th, 33rd Armored Brigades, the Guards Armoured Division and the 7th and 11th Armoured Division in Normandy and north-western Europe, including the Netherlands and Northwestern Germany. In Italy, it was deployed with the British 1st and 6th Armoured Divisions. The Canadians had Fireflies with the 1st (Italy) and 2nd Brigades and in the 4th and 5th Canadian Armoured Divisions, mostly in north-west Europe in 1945. The 1st Czechoslovak Armoured Brigade operated 36 Firefly 1Cs during the siege of Dunkirk in 1944. The 4th New Zealand Armoured Brigade had some during the Italian campaign, as did the Polish 1st Armoured Division (NW Europe) and 2nd Armoured Brigade (Italy), and the 6th South African Armoured Division in Italy. After the war, Fireflies were still used by Italy, Lebanon (until the 1980s), Argentina, Belgium and the Netherlands (until the late 1950s).

Gallery

British Firefly at the Bovington Tank Museum in 2014
British Firefly at the Bovington Tank Museum in 2014
Belgian Firefly preserved in BruxellesFirefly of the 7th Armoured Division in Hamburg, 4 May 1945A row of rare Firefly Tulips, fitted with two RP-3 rocketsFireflies of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division assisting the 49th infantry Division to clear Germans from the Ede woods, 17 April 1945Firefly of the 1st Polish Division used as a monument, as seen in 2008Fireflies of the SA Pretoria regiment in Italy, 1944Lebanese Militia Firefly destroyed by the Hezbollah around Beirut in the 1980sThe upgunned Sherman M4A1(76)w was in many ways inspired by the Firefly. It arrived en masse in time for the battle of the Bulge.

Sherman Firefly specifications

Dimensions (L/w/h) 19’4” (25’6” oa) x 8’8” x 9′ (5.89/7.77 oa x 2.64 x 2.7 m)
Total weight, battle ready 37,75 long tons (35.3 tons, 83,224 lbs)
Crew 4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Multibank/radial petrol engine, 425 hp, 11 hp/ton
Suspension HVSS
Top speed 40 km/h (25 mph)
Range (road) 193 km (120 mi)
Armament ROF OQF 17 Pdr (3 in/76.2 mm), 77 rounds
Roof cal.50 (12.7 mm) Browning M2
Coaxial cal.30 (7.62 mm) Browning M1919, 5000 rounds
Armor 90 mm (3.54 in) max, turret front
Total production 2000+ in 1944-45
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Links, Resources & Further Reading

The Firefly on Wikipedia
Firefly Gun barrel camouflage
Firefly reconstruction in the Netherlands

British Tanks of WW2, including Lend-Lease
British Tanks of WW2 Poster (Support Tank Encyclopedia)


Firefly Ic hybrid from a Polish armored unit, Italy 1944.


British Sherman Firefly Ic, East Riding Yeomanry, 27th Armoured Brigade, Normandy, 6 June 1944


Firefly Ic, 29 Armoured Brigade, 11th Armoured Division, Normandy, summer 1944.


Firefly VC, 14th Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps, 33rd Armoured Brigade, July 1944


Firefly, VC 3rd County of London Yeomanry, 4th Armoured Brigade, Normandy, summer 1944.


Firefly VC, 4/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, 3th Armoured Brigade, France, 1944.


Firefly Mk.VC “Dopo voi”, New Zealand 15th Armoured Regiment, 4th Armoured Brigade, Trieste, Italy, May 1945.


New Zealander Firefly VC “Peacemaker”, 15th Armoured Regiment, 4th Armoured Brigade, Adriatic front, Italy, 1945.


Rare Mk.Ic composite Firefly Tulip, the ultimate tank hunter. It was given RP-3 rockets also used by the Hawker Typhoon.

All Illustrations are by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.


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“Tank-It” Shirt

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American M4 Sherman Tank – Tank Encyclopedia Support Shirt

American M4 Sherman Tank – Tank Encyclopedia Support Shirt


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By David Lister

A compilation of little known military history from the 20th century. Including tales of dashing heroes, astounding feats of valour, sheer outrageous luck and the experiences of the average soldier.

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Categories
WW2 British Cruiser Tanks

Cromwell, Cruiser Mk.VIII, A27

United Kingdom (1942)
Cruiser tank – 3066 built

The most renowned British Cruiser tank

The Cromwell is arguably the best known, most produced and most successful of the cruisers lineage started in 1936, at least until the arrival of the Comet in late 1944. Its genesis goes back to 1941, and the choice of the gun and engine proved to be crucial matters. War priorities spawned three tanks sharing the same design but different engines. The A24 Cavalier used the Nuffield engine and most components from the Crusader, the A27L Centaur was a transitional model still fitted with the Nuffield Liberty L12 engine but Cromwell components (only to be replaced by Rolls Royce engine at the end of the production). The Cromwell, propelled with the Rolls-Royce Meteor (painfully adapted from the Merlin, the Spitfire’s engine), was a league forward both in mobility and reliability. It was the only one of the three to see active service in Europe, the two other being used for training and as special purpose tanks, especially with the Royal Artillery.

Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!

Front view of a Cromwell at the Bovington tank museum.
Crowmell, face view, Bovington Tank Museum

Early development

All three tanks originated in the A24 Cromwell (a name that was approved early on, named after the Parliamentarian and Puritan victor of the Mid-1600s English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell) first drawn from a General Staff specifications to replace the Crusader. The latter was seen as a good tank in 1940 but became rapidly obsolete both in terms of protection and firepower. Designs were submitted in early 1941. In early 1942, Rolls-Royce was chosen to develop the engine, as the Nuffield V12 showed its age, lack of power and reliability. However, development delays meant a first model, the A24 Cavalier, then known as “Cromwell I”, was produced. It was built by Nuffield and rushed out mostly with Crusader components, although the hull, turret design, drivetrain and general configuration were new. The Cavalier was disappointing because the superior weight of the armor was combined with the same engine as before. In the same timeframe, Leyland and Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon (BRC&W) produced an improved version of the Liberty engine, with the intervention of the General Staff.

The A27 Cruiser

The General Staff A27 included the Rolls Royce engine and, more importantly, the QF 6 pdr gun (57 mm/2.24 in), which was the best AT gun of the Allies at that time. It was expected to enter service in mid-1942, but delays forced some interim solutions. Firstly, the Crusader was rearmed with this gun (at the expense of one crewman) and, secondly, the Cromwell Mark II built at Leyland Factory with the Nuffield Liberty came out as a stopgap measure. It had better armor, better gun, but most of the mechanical parts of the Crusader and a slightly tweaked engine, but still insufficient in power. The A27L, or Cromwell II (for “Leyland”), is almost considered a clone of the A27M, with everything in common but the engine. The cooling system, for example, was way better than on the Cavalier. To avoid confusion, the General Staff decided to rename the A24 (Cromwell I) “Cavalier”, and the A27L (Cromwell II) “Centaur”, while the Cromwell III became the A27M Cromwell.
Cromwell memorial, 7th Armoured Division Desert Rats near Ickburgh, Norfolk.
Cromwell used as a Memorial for the famous 7th Armoured Division (“Desert Rats”) near Ickburgh, Norfolk

From the Merlin to the Meteor

The Merlin engine is a legend. Not only because it propelled the Spitfire, the emblematic fighter that saved Great Britain in the summer of 1940 and soldiered on until the 1950s (more than 20,000 were produced and declined in more than twenty-four variants), but also because of its inherent qualities. This new generation of compact and lightweight aircraft engines was quickly found suitable for the new tanks urgently needed by the Royal Armored Corps in 1941.
Indeed, Rolls-Royce was famous for the legendary quietness of its engines, so carefully hand-built that practically no vibrations were felt, hence the name of its luxury sedans and coupés (Shadow, Ghost, Cloud). These engines were also credited for a very high degree of reliability that contributed to the reputation of the company, which also produced naval engines. The Schneider Cup, the most famous hydroplane race in the 1930s, was a sandbox where aircraft designers and engineers tried out engines and streamlined, aerodynamic fuselages to house them. Macchi and Supermarine were among the best, rivals that would ultimately pass all this experience onto their fighters. The Rolls-Royce Merlin itself was legendary for its raw horsepower that far surpassed other engines in terms of power-to-weight ratio. The Meteor was the version intended to be used on tanks.
The RR Meteor was an V12 water-cooled gasoline engine that was heavily adapted by Chief Engineer W.A. Robotham at the development division in Belper, starting with the Merlin III as a base. Robotham, despite his young age, was made Chief Engineer of Tank Design and joined the Tank board. He also designed the Cruiser VIII (A30) Challenger in 1943, the first tailored design to use the QF 17-pdr (3 in/76.2 mm) gun.
In order to be adapted, the Merlin III had to loose its supercharger, reduction gear and other equipment removed from its camshaft, to ensure simpler construction. It was provided with cast pistons, and de-rated to around 600 bhp (447 kW), while running on much lower-octane gasoline instead of usual aviation fuel, for more safety and easier fuel supply. The most expensive light-alloy components were replaced with steel components (starting with the Meteor X). By all standards, it seemed as a downgraded version of the Merlin. In 1943, due to part shortages, dismantled surplus old Merlin blocks were used for Meteor engines. Although it occupied as much space and had the same 1,650 in³ (27 litre) displacement as the earlier Liberty, the Meteor was way more reliable and doubled the power available.
Leyland initially got an order for 1,200 Meteor engines, but persisted on their own design and expressed serious doubts about being able to provide the cooling system. Eventually, Meadows was contracted, but by then the manufacturer also declined the order, due to over-capacity. Later the Rover Company, which worked with Rolls Royce, took over the bulk of the production, as did Morris (Coventry). For this reason, it is also sometimes called the Rover Meteor. Originally, the order of 1,000 was given to Rolls-Royce, that asked the government for an open credit of £1 million. But development was slow and Ernest Hives, who took over the project, obtained a trade from Spencer Wilks of Rover, exchanging the W.2B/23 production facility at Barnoldswick for the Rolls-Royce tank engine factory in Nottingham. Final production was officially started on 1st April 1943, although the first trials began in September 1941 at Aldershot, with a roughly modified Merlin in a Crusader (which topped 50 mph/80 km/h on its first test run!). These manufacturing delays explained why active units on the front had to content themselves with Shermans and obsolete Crusaders until early 1944.

Design

Hull

The hull frame consisted of riveted beams, but later production versions resorted to welding. The armor plates were bolted to the frame, particularly on the turret, which left large characteristic bosses on the outside. The chassis stood on five large roadwheels, with front idlers for tension and rear drive sprockets. The suspension was of the Christie type, with long helical springs angled back to keep the hull down and low. Four out of the five road wheels (rubber-clad) had shock absorbers. There were no track return rollers. The hull sides were two spaced plates with the suspension units between them, the outer plate being cut out to allow movement of the roadwheel axles. Side skirts were provided to protect the upper sides, but they were generally omitted and only the fore and aft mudguards were left in practice.
The front armor comprised a three part beak with 50 mm (1.97 in) plates and a flat front armor plate, 76 mm (3 in) thick. From it emerged the driver’s visor, a thick glass block protected by an opening “gate” (right-hand side), and a ball mount for the hull Besa machine-gun on the left-hand side. The driver had a one-piece hatch opening to the right and two built-in day periscopes. He was separated from the hull gunner by a bulkhead. The latter had access to ammunition racks and had his own No.35 telescope and a one-piece hatch. The ball mount gave 45° of traverse and 25° of elevation, connected through a linkage to a handle for firing. A bulkhead with access doors separated the front compartment from the central fighting compartment. On later models, protection was increased, with 3.1 in (79 mm) welded plates (Mark IVw/Vw), then to 4 in (102 mm) on the Mark VII.

Turret & main armament

The boxy turret sat directly above the central fighting compartment, isolated both from the front and engine compartments. The turret was of hexagonal shape, with a 76 mm (3 in) thick front and 50 mm (1.97 in) flat sides and an internal mantlet. The main gun and coaxial Besa protruded from the front plate opening, mated on the same axis. This opening was around 60 cm (2 ft) large and 40 cm (1 ft 3 in) high, with rounded corners. All six plates were made of cast hardened steel. There was a porthole for spent rounds on the rear faces, that could also be used as a pistol port. The gunner operated both the main gun and the 7.92 mm (0.31 in) Besa machine gun and had his own periscope and main visor. The main gun was, at first, the 6-pounder QF (57 mm/2.24 in), modified to fit inside the turret and fitted with a muzzle brake. This gun was only present on the Mark I and all other Marks had better guns.
Starting with the Mark II, the Cromwell swapped the QF 6-pdr for the ROQF 75 mm (2.95 in) gun, which was an adaptation of the 6-pounder design to fire the ammunition of the US M3 75 mm (2.95 in) gun, including a better HE round for use in infantry support. This adaptation also meant that the 75 mm (2.95 in) used the same mounting as the 6 pounder and the crew and internal management of the turret remained essentially unchanged. There was already a large supply of ammo of this caliber, both of American and French origin, in North Africa. In fact, with the introduction of Shermans in British service in North Africa at the end of 1942, a consensus was reached about the use of guns firing powerful HE shells against infantry. This was something that previous models armed with the 2-pounder couldn’t do, not even the so-called “CS” versions armed with a 95 mm (3.74 in) gun, mostly reserved for smoke rounds. Therefore, it was decided to standardize this caliber and, at the same time, the reliable and cheaper Sherman became the first tank in service by numbers and would remain so until the end of the war. This ROQF 75 mm (2.95 in) gun, though able to fire a useful HE shell, was not as effective against armor as the 6-pounder or the Ordnance QF 17 pounder gun. In addition, a 2 inch (51 mm) “bomb thrower” angled to fire forward was fitted into the turret top, with thirty smoke grenades carried.

Propulsion

A second bulkhead separated the fighting compartment from the engine and transmission compartment. The cooling system drew air in through the top of each side and the roof. Hot gasses were exhausted to the rear louvers. Fording preparation (up to 4 ft/1.2 m deep) imposed the move of a flap to cover the lowermost air outlet. Another air flow to the engine sucked air from the fighting compartment or the exterior, through oil bath cleaners.
The Meteor engine, in its first version, developed 540 hp at 2,250 maximum rpm, limited by a governor built into the magnetos to avoid reaching speeds that the suspensions could no longer manage without damage. It was shown indeed that the pilot tanks could easily reach 75 km/h (47 mph), something unheard of for a British tank, but the Christie suspension (later reinforced by adding more tension) simply could not cope with these speeds. It was therefore decided to govern the engine maximum RPM and, thus, the top speed. But the torque was there, available both for mobility and traction. The gearbox had five forward and one reverse gears. Fuel consumption (on “pool” 67 octane petrol) per gallon ranged from 0.5 (off-road) to 1.5 miles (road) for a total 110 gallons of internal capacity. Off-road speed was 65 km/h (40 mph) with 3.7:1 final reduction drive and around 25 mph (40 km/h) off-road. Later on, armor was added and the engine was re-rated to 600 hp to cope with the additional weight. To face muddy terrain or snow encountered in Northern Europe, later versions were given 14 in wide (36 cm) or even 15.5 in wide (40 cm) tracks. In all cases, ground clearance was 16 inches (40.6 cm).

Production

Several British firms besides Leyland contributed to the production of the Cromwell and Centaur, including LMS Railway, Morris Motors, Metro-Cammell, Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company and English Electric.
The total number of Cromwell A27M tanks was 2368 (riveted) 126 (welded). This was still way below the total of Shermans used by the British Army and the Commonwealth and, for the sake of standardization, first line regular units were preferably equipped with the Sherman, while the Cromwell was mostly used for special (elite) units and more specific purposes.

Cromwell I

A virtual duplicate of the Centaur I with the early V12 Meteor engine and 6 pdr (57 mm/2.24 in) gun. Only 357 were produced.

Cromwell II

This prototype had increased track width and the hull machine gun was removed to increase storage.

Cromwell III

Centaur Is upgraded with the early Meteor V12 engine. Only 200 were so converted.

Cromwell IV

The first major production version, it also comprised Centaur Is and IIIs upgraded with the latest Meteor engine. Over 1,935 units were produced with several hulls types and the new 6-pdr re-chambered as a 75 mm (2.95 in) gun. By far, it was the most common version of the Cromwell.

Cromwell IVw

A version upgraded with the new Meteor engine, and all welded hull (“w” stands for welded).

Cromwell Vw

A production version using, from the start, a welded construction and 75 mm (2.95 in) gun.

Cromwell VI

Specialized CS (Close Support) version armed with 95 mm (3.74 in) howitzer and carrying with smoke and HE rounds. Only 341 were produced.

Cromwell VII

These were upgraded Cromwell IV/Vs with additional armor (100 mm/3.94 in front flat plate), fitted with the wider 15.5 inch (40 cm) tracks and and some gearbox changes. Around 1,500 were so upgraded and produced relatively late in the war.

Cromwell VIIw

Cromwell Vw upgraded to the Cromwell VII standard or built as such from the start.

Cromwell VIII

Cromwell VI upgraded to the standard of the Mark VII.

Identification issues

The Cromwell and Centaurs were nearly impossible to tell apart visually. Only the identification plates, cross-linked to the specific factory delivery lists can give a clue, since some manufacturers built the A27(L) rather than the A27(M). Centaurs, more often than not, had the raised vent on the engine deck. However, English Electric, that produced the “vented Centaur”, received an order for around 1200 Centaurs, but swapped from the Liberty to the Meteor engines after 130 units, these being Cromwells. However, these vehicles were still essentially built like Centaurs, with weaker suspension springs and proper internal track adjustment features. To add some more confusion, production hulls varied over time and factory adjustments.
Type A hull: Both the driver and hull gunner had lift-up hatches.
Type B and C hulls mostly had a slightly different internal arrangement.
Type D/E hulls: Reworked engine deck panel arrangement.
Type F hull: Swing-out hatches for the hull crewmen, extra stowage bins on the turret sides, fender bin on the driver’s side removed.
Welded hulls (around 100+ built): Applique armor on the front hull and turret sides, “Vauxhall” driver’s hatch.

Variants

Cromwell Command

The main gun was removed and two N°19 (High & Low Power) wireless sets were carried. Used by brigade and divisional headquarters.

Cromwell Observation Post

Cromwell IV, Cromwell VI or Cromwell VIII keeping their main gun but fitted with extra radio equipment (2 x No. 19 and 2 x No. 38 portable radios).

Cromwell Control

These were fitted with two No. 19 Low Power radios and kept their main gun. Used by regimental headquarters.

Excelsior

An experimental design intended to replace the Churchill infantry tank

FV 4101 Charioteer

The Charioteer was a postwar derivative fitted with a new turret housing the QF 20 pounder (84 m/3.3 in) gun.

The Cromwell in action

The A27Ms were already available in the beginning of 1944, but none left the British soil. They were all kept for training, and the series was refined until D-Day. Since Shermans formed the bulk of British and Commonwealth armored units, Cromwells were used only in the armored brigades of the 7th Armoured Division, as well as the armored reconnaissance regiments of the elite Guards Armoured Division and the 11th Armoured Division, which all served in North-western Europe. In June 1944, the Cromwell saw action for the first time, during Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy. The Normandy campaign, however, especially at the beginning and until the Falaise pocket battles, showed the Cromwell struggling with the narrow lanes and hedgerows of the Normandy countryside. Hedgerow-cutters were hastily welded to the beak of some tanks, but losses were generally high. At Villers Bocage, on June 13, 1944, an entire column was ambushed and wiped out by a few Tigers commanded by Michael Wittmann of the 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion. Most of the 27 tanks, lost in less than 15 minutes, were Cromwells. However, after August, the terrain once more favored mobility and speed, and the Cromwell showed all its qualities, despite a much less resolute opposition.
The Cromwell was also used by Allied units of the 1st Polish Armoured Division (10th Mounted Rifle Regiment) and 1st Czechoslovak Armoured Brigade, which soldiered in the Netherlands and Germany until V-day in May 1945. Their career did not end in May 1945. Some saw service in the Korean War with the 7th RTR and the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars. Modified Charioteers saw extensive service until the 1960s in Great Britain and much later in other countries like Finland, Austria, Jordan and Lebanon. The A27M was also used by the IDF in the War of Independence (1948–1949). Others were purchased by the Portuguese Army and maintained in service until the 1960s.
Reception of the new tank by the crews was mixed. Being must faster than the Sherman and favored by a lower profile, they also had a thicker frontal armor plate and a good gun. But, at the same time, it was soon discovered that neither the armor nor the firepower was a match for the Tiger and Panther that were already one step further. Like the Shermans, the Cromwell needed to maneuver in order to get a better angle, which was even easier because of their excellent mobility. The Rolls Royce was a wonderfully engineered piece of machinery but needed much more maintenance than the Sherman engines. Reliability was a discovery for British crews, accustomed to previous generations of Cruisers equipped with the Liberty engine. This resulted in a far greater rate of availability for any given operation.
The next step was to install a 17-pdr (76.2 mm/3 in), the only gun that could take on any German tank at the time. But the turret of the Cromwell was never tailored for it, and a small number of Challenger and Firefly tanks were provided instead. By the end of 1944, British engineers upgraded the Cromwell, which was at last given a new turret able to house the 17 pdr. But it was too little too late and the Comet did not change the face of events. The Comet would eventually lead to the Centurion in 1945, the world’s first MBT and one of the most successful tanks ever designed. At least seven Cromwells are on display throughout the world today.

Links on the Cromwell

The Cromwell on Wikipedia
Additional photos on Wikimedia Commons
The story of the Clan Foundry Belper, where the engine trials took place
The sound of a V12 Meteor engine

Cromwell Mk.I specifications

Dimensions 20.1 x 9.6 x 8.2 ft (6.35 x 2.9 x 2.49 m)
Total weight, battle ready 27.6 long tons
Crew 5 (commander, driver, gunner, loader, bow gunner)
Propulsion Rolls Royce Meteor V12 Petrol, 27 l, 600 hp (447 kW)
Suspension Christie system
Top speed 40 mph (64 km/h)
Range (road) 170 mi (270 km)
Armament QF Vickers 6-pdr (57 mm), 64 rounds
2x 0.303 (7.9 mm) Besa LMGs, 2950 rounds
Armor From 15 to 76 mm (0.5 to 6 in)
Total production 2368 (riveted) 126 (welded)

Centaur Mark III
A Centaur Mk.III, for comparison.
Cromwell Mark I, early 1944, Great Britain.
Cromwell Mark I, early 1944, Great Britain. This version was only kept for training, being equipped with the early V12 Meteor and 6-pdr gun.
The Cromwell Mk.III was essentially a re-engineered Centaur with a Rolls-Royce Meteor engine
The Cromwell Mk.III was essentially a re-engineered Centaur with a Rolls-Royce Meteor engine. Here is one from Normandy, 1944.
Cromwell Mark IV, unknown unit, Normandy, summer 1944.
Cromwell Mk.IV, unknown unit, Normandy, summer 1944.
Cromwell Mk.IV, Type F hull, 1st Regiment, Czech Independent Armoured Brigade Group, Dunkirk, May 1945.
Cromwell Mk.IV, Type F hull, 1st Regiment, Czech Independent Armoured Brigade Group, Dunkirk, May 1945.
Cromwell Mark IV, 1st Royal Tank Regiment, 7th Armoured Division, Germany, May 1945.
Cromwell Mark IV, 1st Royal Tank Regiment, 7th Armoured Division, Germany, May 1945.
Cromwell Mark IV, 13th Mounted Rifle Regiment, 5th Polish Division, Normandy, August 1944.
Cromwell Mark IV, 13th Mounted Rifle Regiment, 5th Polish Division, Normandy, August 1944.
Cromwell Mark IV with hull Type F, 1st RTR, 7th Armoured Division, Germany, 1945.
Cromwell Mark IV with hull Type F, 1st RTR, 7th Armoured Division, Germany, 1945.
Cromwell Mk.IV Agamemnon with rubber stripes, 3rd Northamptonshire Yeomanry, 11th Armoured Division, Normandy, 1944.
Cromwell Mk.IV “Agamemnon” with rubber stripes, 3rd Northamptonshire Yeomanry, 11th Armoured Division, Normandy, 1944.
Cromwell Mk.IV, 3rd Welsh Guards Armoured Division, Germany, April 1945
Cromwell Mk.IV, 3rd Welsh Guards Armoured Division, Germany, April 1945
Cromwell Mark V CS. This model was up-armored, with an add-on welded plate raising the front to 101-102 mm (3.98 in).
Cromwell Mark V CS. This model was up-armored, with an add-on welded plate raising the front to 101-102 mm (3.98 in).
Polish Cromwell Mark VI, 3rd Squadron, 10th Mounted Rifle Regiment, France, August 1944.
Polish Cromwell Mark VI, 3rd Squadron, 10th Mounted Rifle Regiment, France, August 1944.
Cromwell Mark VII of the 7th Armoured Division, the
Cromwell Mark VII of the 7th Armoured Division, the “Desert Rats”, Korea, October 1950.


Variants

The A30 Cruiser Mark VIII Challenger (1943) was a derivative of the Cromwell, and the only one fitted with the massive 17-pdr (3 in/76.2 mm) gun.
The A30 Cruiser Mark VIII Challenger (1943) was a derivative of the Cromwell, and the only one fitted with the massive 17-pdr (3 in/76.2 mm) gun. Here is a tank from the Czechoslovak Independent Brigade, 1st Armoured Battalion, Prague, May 1945.
The FV4101 Charioteer (1950) was a Cold War recycling of the hull, fitted with a new turret housing the 20-pdr (84 mm/3.3 inch) gun, first intended for the Army Reserve Territorial units.
The FV4101 Charioteer (1950) was a Cold War recycling of the hull, fitted with a new turret housing the 20-pdr (84 mm/3.3 inch) gun, first intended for the Army Reserve Territorial units. Around 400 were built and also exported, seeing service until the late 1980s in Lebanon.

Video documentary about the Cromwell

Gallery

Artist impression of a Cromwell, boxart, Airfix.
Artist impression of a Cromwell, boxart, Airfix.
A Welsh Guards A27M in a speed display at Pickering, Yorkshire, March 1944.
A Welsh Guards A27M in a speed display at Pickering, Yorkshire, March 1944.
A Cromwell Mark VI, the close support version equipped with a 95 mm (3.74 in) howitzer.
A Cromwell Mark VI, the close support version equipped with a 95 mm (3.74 in) howitzer.
two Cromwell CS tanks
The vehicles of ‘B’ Squadron, 15th/19th King’s Royal Hussars, included two close support Cromwells with 95 mm howitzers (in foreground). Behind them can be seen a regular Cromwell armed with a 75 mm cannon. The photograph was taken in the low ground between the Dortmund-Ems Canal and the Teutobergerwald.
Cromwell VIIw, the welded hull variant.
Cromwell VIIw, the welded hull variant.
Artist impression of a Cromwell with hedgerow cutters, Revell boxartAnother artist impression of a Cromwell with hedgerow cutters, Revell boxartCromwell Mark VII at the Kubinka MuseumBritish Army Cromwell carrying wounded soldiers, North-West Europe, 1944-45Cromwell of the 15th-19th Kings Royal Hussars, 11th Armoured Division, Uedem, Germany, 28 February 1945.Centaur IV tank of H Troop, 2nd Battery, Royal Marine Armoured Support Group, 13 June 1944.Cromwell IV at the Bovington tank museum.Cromwell Mark I at PuckapunyalCromwell Mark I at PuckapunyalEx-IDF Cromwell at the Latrun Museum, Israel.Ex-IDF Cromwell at the Latrun Museum, Israel.Ex-IDF Cromwell at the Latrun Museum, Israel.Cromwell VI at Gold Beach, June 1944.Cromwell destroyed at Villers Bocage, 13 June 1944 - Credits: Bundesarchiv.Another Cromwell destroyed at Villers Bocage, 13 June 1944 - Credits: Bundesarchiv.English Electric A33 Excelsior prototype (1944)English Electric A33 Excelsior prototype (1944).
British Tanks of WW2, including Lend-Lease
British Tanks of WW2 Poster (Support Tank Encyclopedia)

Categories
WW2 German Assault Guns

Sturmpanzer IV Brummbär

Nazi Germany (1943) Heavy assault gun – 303-316 built

Development of the Sd.Kfz.166

In 1942, Albert Speer placed an order for a howitzer mounted on a tank chassis to keep up with the Panzer Divisions. Alkett received the order to design the new vehicle, which would be known as the Sd.Kfz.166, Sturmpanzer, or Sturmpanzer 43. Although commonly referred to as the Brummbär, this was the nickname given to the Sturmpanzer 43 by Allied intelligence, not by the Germans. They referred to it casually as the Stupa 43.

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Design

The chassis was the one of the reliable, mass-produced Panzer IV. Above it, Alkett fitted a massive 15 cm (5.9 in) Sturmhaubitze (StuH) 43 L/12 developed by Škoda, which had common ammunition with the standard siG 33 howitzer in German service. 38 rounds with their separate propellant cartridges were carried, stored in the casemate and the hull. However, these massive rounds had a combined weight of 46 kg (38 kg/84 lb for the High Explosive shell itself and 8 kg/18 lb for its propellant cartridge), which made manual loading especially arduous on some elevations. The gunner set up the trajectory and aimed the gun using a Sfl.Zf. 1a sight.


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The howitzer was protected by a casemate with sloped sides and thick armor plates. Indeed, this thickness was 100 mm (3.93 in) at a 40° angle on the front, 40 mm/12° (1.57 in) for the front hull, 50 mm/15° (1.97 in) for the side superstructure, 30 mm (1.18 in) for the side of the hull and 30 mm /25°/0° (1.18 in) for the rear of the casemate and 20 mm /10° (0.79 in) for the back of the hull. The top and bottom were protected by 10 mm (0.39 in) of armor at 90°. Outside the main howitzer, a single MG 34 machine gun could be fastened to the open gunner’s hatch, in the same way as for the Sturmgeschütz III Ausf.G. In addition, early vehicles carried a MP 40 sub-machine gun intended to be fired through the two firing ports on each side of the superstructure.
The driver was located forward, slightly in front of the casemate, and was given the Tiger I Fahrersehklappe 80 sight. Ventilation of the casemate’s fumes and heat was provided by natural convection, exiting through two armored covers at the back of the roof. By the time these vehicles were ready, spaced armor became the norm and Schürzen plates were factory-fitted. The first production vehicles proved their superstructure was way too heavy for the chassis, and experienced breakdowns of suspension elements or the transmission. The second series corrected this issue with a newly shaped, lighter casemate. The decision was taken in October 1943 and after the redesign, 800 kg (1,800 lb) of steel were spared, including from the gun mount itself on the third series. This new series was named StuH 43/1. Also, the Zimmerit anti-magnetic coating was factory-applied until September 1944.

Production & variants

Sources conflict as to how many were built, either 306 or 313. There were four series built as follows, all using variants of the Panzer IV chassis.
– Series 1: April 1943 60 built by Vienna Arsenal, with 52 using Panzer IV Ausf.G and 8 using rebuilt Ausf.E chassis.
– Series 2: December 1943-March 1944 60 built at the Vienna Arsenal using Ausf.J chassis.
– Series 3: March-June 1944 Built at Vienna Arsenal.
– Series 4: June 1944-March 1945 Built at the Deutsche Eisenwerke on Ausf.J chassis.
Because of the weight of the gun, there were problems with the suspension of the Brummbär. With Series 4 a new, lighter gun eased the problem considerably; in addition, a MG 34 was mounted for close defense. Previous models had a MG 34 mounted on the commander’s cupola.
The only variant of the Brummbär was a command vehicle, Befehlsturmpanzer IV. It had extra radio capacity. Krupp also built one prototype of a proposed Jagdpanzer IV with a 8.8 cm Pak 43 L/71.

The Sturmpanzer IV in action

The Brummbär primarily saw service in 4 battalions, Sturmpanzer-Abteilungen 216, 217, 218, and 219.
Sturmpanzer-Abteilung 216 first saw action at Kursk, when it formed the 4th battalion of Panzerjaeger 656, where it got as far as Ponyri. Afterwards, it withdrew to defensive positions to repel the Soviet offensive around Orel. As an independent battalion, it next saw service at Anzio in Italy, and from then to the end of the war it withdrew north until the battalion was forced to destroy its remaining vehicles and surrender in the Po valley.
Sturmpanzer-Abteilung 218, raised in August 1944, fought against the Warsaw Uprising, then remained on the Eastern Front until destroyed in East Prussia, in April 1945.
Sturmpanzer-Abteilung 219 fought against the Soviets in the Budapest area. At least two companies of Brummbär-equipped units are known: Sturmpanzer -Kompanie z.d.V. 218 took part in crushing the Warsaw uprising, then incorporated into the Sturmpanzer Abteilungen noted above. Sturmpanzer-kompanie Z.B.V. 2.-/218 was transferred to the Paris area on August 20th 1944, nothing more is known of this unit.
During the battle of Normandy in the summer of 1944, short barrelled 15 cm Sturmpanzer IV ‘Brummbärs’ (Sd.Kfz.166) were deployed to assist in street fighting in the villages and deal with enemy units in fortified locations. They were part of the 217.Sturmpanzer-Abteilung (assault tank battalion). It was formed of three companies of fourteen Sturmpanzer IVs and three additional vehicles used by the command company.
On 24 June 1944 it was ordered to move from Grafenwöhr in Germany to Normandy. On 18 July 1944 the battalion reported that it had reached the area of Condé-sur-Noireau/Le Bény-Bocage and Vire in Normandy. Not all of the Sturmpanzer IVs had completed the journey. Some had suffered mechanical problems.
On 23 July 1944 the 2nd Company was attached to the 21.Panzer-Division. It reported it had eleven working vehicles with two being repaired. On 29 July 1944 it was transferred to the II.SS-Panzer-Division LAH and the next day reported that it now only had nine working vehicles with two in repair.
The 3rd Company had been attached to the II.SS-Panzer Korps. On 30 July 1944, the 3rd Company was transferred to the LXXIV Korps.
On 6 August 1944, Thirteen Sturmpanzer IVs from the 217.Sturmpanzer-Abteilung were reported to be supporting the 89.Infantry-Division. Things changed because on 9 August 1944 ten of these Sturmpanzer IVs were in action with the SS-Panzer-Divison Hitlerjugend on only one was left with the 89.Infanterie-Division.
Some wrecked Sturmpanzer IVs locations were noted following Operation Totalize 8/9th August around the Normandy village of Cintheaux on the Caen-Falaise main road. One was found 1.5 km north west of Cintheaux in the field south east of the junction of the D23 with the road, now track, called La Maisonnette by the cross roads. Two were found near each about 750 m south west of Cintheaux along a track that runs south west from the town limits sign on the D183. A fourth was reported in a field to the west of the D167 about 1 km south south west of Cintheaux.
On 10 August 1944, only five of the ten vehicles were reported in a working condition. The situation was the same the next day. On 11 August 1944 the 1st Company, 217.Sturmpanzer-Abteilung was reported attached to the 271.Infanterie-Division.
On 16 August 1944 the 217.Sturmpanzer-Abteilung reported that between 1 to 15 August 1944 the battalion had lost ten men killed, twelve were missing and thirty-five were wounded. Only seventeen Sturmpanzer IVs were combat ready. Fourteen were under repair and predicted to be ready in less than three weeks.
The Battalion’s remaining Sturmpanzer IVs continued to see action supporting the SS-Panzer-Divison Hitlerjugend and the 89.Infanterie-Division. Both units fought on the same front in Normandy.
Those that escaped the Falase pocket were reformed and saw action during the battle of the bulge, Ardennes offensive. It reached St. Vith, but got no further. The unit was finally captured in the Rhur pocket in April 1945.

Sources

Objective Falaise by Georges Bernage
Sturmpanzer-abteilung 216 by Attilios on Panzer-central, World War II German Army Research, Historyofwar.org, Achtung Panzer
The Sd.Kfz.166 Brummbär on Wikipedia
Sturmpanzer IV article

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.9 m x 2.8 m x 2.52 m
(19ft 5in x 9ft 5in x 8ft 3in)
Total weight, battle ready 28.2 tons (62,170 lbs)
Armament 15 cm (5.9 in) StuH 43 L/12 (Series 1), StuH 43/1 L/12 (series 2-4) (38 rounds)
7.92 mm Machinengewehr 34 (external machine gun)
Armor 10 mm to 100 mm (0.39 – 3.93 in)
Crew 4-5 (commander, driver, gunner, 2 loaders)
Propulsion Maybach HL120TRM V-12 watercooled, gasoline, 300 bhp (221 kW)
Speed 40 km/h (25 mph) road, 24 km/h (15 mph) off-road
Suspension Leaf springs
Range 210 km (130 miles)
Total production Approx. 316

Sd.Kfz.166 Brummbär, July 1944, Normandy
Early Brummbär from the Sturmpanzer Abteilung 217, Caen area, Normandy, France, July 1944.
Sd.Kfz.166 Brummbär, Warsaw
Early Sd.Kfz.166 from the St.Pz.Abt.218 in Warsaw, August 1944.
Brummbär, Italy, 1944-45
Sturmpanzer Abteilung 216, Italy, fall 1944.
Sd.Kfz.166 Brummbär, Zimmerit
Late production Sd.Kfz.166 Brummbär with Zimmerit paste and metallic rim roadwheels, now preserved at the Saumur Museum.
Sd.Kfz.166 Brummbär, Schürzen, Germany, 1945
Late production Brummbär with the “ambush” type camouflage, Eastern Germany, 1945.

Gallery

Brummbär at Saumur
Late type Brummbär at the Saumur tank museum, covered with Zimmerit.
Brummbär, front, Saumur museumBrumbär in Italy, Anzio-Nettuno area Brummbär, Deutsch Panzermuseum MünsterFront view of the BrummbärFront right view of the BrummbärBrummbär track detailBrummbär drivetrain detailBrummbär drivetrain detail - leftBrummbär, Aberdeen proving groundsBrummbär next to a Tiger in the Anzio-Nettuno area

Video about the Brummbär


Germans Tanks of ww2
Germans Tanks of ww2

Categories
Cold War US MBTs Modern US Armor

M1 Abrams

U.S.A. (1978) – Main Battle Tank – 9,000 built

The American iconic MBT

The M1 Abrams eclipsed for the last thirty years all past MBTs to date, including the M48/M60 series. It represented a definitive change in US tank design since World War 2 and was engineered with the crew protection in mind, but without sacrificing either the firepower or mobility.

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Since numerous reports from the 1973 Yom Kippur war were carefully dissected, this was expressed inside NATO as the “air-land battle” concept in 1976, formulated in 1982 as the AirLand Battle Doctrine, which emphasised adequate combinations of land and air power to deal with a considerable fleet of soviet tanks with increased lethality. The future tank was to be capable of tactical superiority on the battlefield in order to compensate for the numerical inferiority.

The approach taken by the Army staff was not to build the best tank overall, but to reach any objectives within the lowest budget possible. Since any MBT is a compromise, the process was not simple, and the Army chose to play for a competitive process, each company trying the best possible tank design for a development at the lowest cost. The two companies chosen were without surprise, Chrysler Corporation (builder of the M60) and the General Motors Corporation (builder of the MBT-70).
Eventually, the M1 proved its excellence in combat, during the first Persian gulf war (1991), and the post nine-eleven operations in Afghanistan and Irak. In all these operations, the M1 reigned supreme and washed over any armored opposition with apparent ease, earning a solid reputation as one of the world’s very best MBTs.

 MBT-70 as built, in full speed trials
The MBT-70 as built, in full speed trials at Aberdeen proving grounds in 1968.

Developed from the MBT-70

The MBT 70 (For “Main Battle Tank, 1970) was an attempt to devise a joint US-German project for a new battle tank. US Army already evaluated the Leopard when in Germany in the 1960s and it was clear that both countries learned a great deal about the evolution of tactical warfare and ideas revolving on new concepts based on armored mobility, with new standards both in protection and firepower. At that time, both the M48 and M60, derived from the postwar M47 proceeded from the same 1st generation basic design, with classical RHA protection, and the upgrade of the British L7 105 mm “sniper gun”.

When the existence of the T-62 and its 120 mm smoothbore gun were known, the need for a new MBT generation was even accentuated. At that time theories about AT missiles which could be fired by a tank, like the Shillelagh program tested on the M60A2 and Sheridan, were largely in favour, but proved later ill-fated in practice and abandoned in the 1980s.
The whole program began in 1965 or so, with a memorandum of understanding. The program however soon encountered multiple difficulties over different armies requirements over the engine, gun, armour features, and overall the use of either the SAE or metric system for measurements. These were settled by using both, and considering all options at once in a same package, raising costs at a staggering levels. However the concept concentrated many new technologies, unheard of for the time. The height-adjustable pneumatic suspension which allowed the tank to elevate or depress the gun like never before, and at the same time, allowed for far greater speeds in a smooth ride.

The small body saw the driver always facing the direction of travel. The main gun (for US service) was a 152 mm tailored to fire the MGM-51 Shillelagh missile and conventional rounds. But the whole program proved to be too heavy, complex, and moreover expensive. Fearing the cancellation, the U.S. Army introduced the XM803 as a “backup” solution, sharing some technologies but removing the more costly and troublesome ones. but doing so, this produced a still expensive system with capabilities which were not advanced compared to the M60. Germany on the other hands, was not satisfied either, pulling more and more the project in another direction.

The first prototypes construction started in 1965, with 7 hulls of both the US and German versions, for a total of 14. Others tests were performed from 1966 to 1968 with the full trials. Problems occurred with the centerline cupola, XM-150 gun/launcher autoloader, 20 mm AA gun, turbine engine, and overall weight (near 60 short tons at the end of the development).
XM803 in trials
The XM803 in trials, 1970. This was the ancestor of the XM815, then XM-1 standardized as the M1_Abrams. Credits:wikipedia.

Genesis of the Abrams

Soon, the original MBT 70 program estimated $80 million (292.8 million DM) plan was shattered, as in 1969 the project cost was $303 million (1.1 billion DM). The Bundestag stopped all further developments and the Bundeswehr used what was already gained to built the Keiler (Future Leopard II).
The US. Congress eventually canceled the MBT-70 in November, followed by the alternative XM803 in December 1971. The funds were reallocated to the XM815, renamed later XM1 Abrams. This new program reused most of the XM803 features but again, in a simpler and cheaper way. The need to eliminates the costliest technologies from the failed MBT-70 project, defined those used in the new tank.
The name of the new tank was a departure from the postwar tradition, chosen to honor General Creighton Abrams, considered as an equal or even a better tank commander by Patton himself. A veteran of the Korean and Vietnam war, Abrams was promoted Chief of Staff of the United States Army in June 1972 before passing away in 1974.

In June 1973, The Chrysler Corporation and the Detroit Diesel Allison Division of the General Motors Corporation were awarded the contract to built prototypes of the new tank designated M1, handed over to the US Army for trials in February 1976. The first prototypes were armed with the license-built 105 mm L/52 M68 rifled gun (L7), and both were compared in field tests between themselves and to the Leopard 2. Chrysler Defense actively promoted a turbine-engine model and was selected for the development of the M1.
Chrysler’s experience with so-propelled land vehicles was going back indeed to the 1950s. After 1982, General Dynamics Land Systems Division purchased Chrysler Defense. Initial production was set up at the Lima Army Modification Center at Lima in 1979, and the first production vehicles rolled out the factory in 1980. The first production was preceded by eleven Full-Scale Engineering Development (FSED) XM-1 testbed vehicles produced in 1977-78, also called Pilot Vehicles (PV-1 to PV-11). The first batch of M1s, before standardization, were still designated XM-1s, as Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) models.
XM1 prototype
The XM1 Abrams prototype in trials, 1976. it was standardized later as the M1 Abrams. Credits: General Dynamics.

Design

Hull

The hull is made of solid RHA, a single block made of massive parts welded together (bottom, front beak, glacis plate, sides, rear plate), with compartmentation. The driver is located in the front center, at the feet of the turret ring, with three periscopes (see later) and a one-piece hatch which can be opened at any time in regards to the turret.

The particular hull front is composed of a beak sloped downwards, which joined an almost vertical glacis plate up to the turret. The hull armor is made of RHA but the turret was made of a composite armor. There is a characteristic rear hull elevation to house the turbine engine. The sides are flat, but tooling storage is assumed by the turret’s sides and rear baskets and bins.
Crew protection inside the tank comprised the halon automatic fire extinguisher system. In addition, smaller hand-held fire extinguishers are also provided. The engine compartment’s one is engaged by pulling a T-handle located on the left side of the tank. Fuel and ammunition are safely stored in armored compartments with blowout panels to prevent the ammo from “cooking off” if damaged, and the main gun’s ammunition is stored in the turret rear with blast doors which opens and slides automatically when ejecting a spent round. The tank is fully NBC-proven with a special lining, a 200 SCFM clean conditioned air system, a Radiac Radiological Warning Device AN/VDR-1 and a chemical agent detector, in addition to the crew’s protective suits and face masks.


XM1 Abrams “Thunderbolt” of the first series in 1978. Credits: General Dynamics.

Propulsion

The big heart of the Abrams, siege of unparalleled performances, is the Lycoming AGT 1500 multi-fuel gas turbine (later manufactured by Honeywell) capable of delivering 1,500 shaft horsepower (1,100 kW). It was served by a six-speed (four forward, two reverse) Allison X-1100-3B Hydro-Kinetic automatic transmission. Top speed was 45 mph (72 km/h) on paved roads, and 30 mph (48 km/h) cross-country with a governor, but up to 60 mph (97 km/h) on road with the engine governor removed, which was way ahead of the M60 and M48, and equalled the Christie “race tank” performances back in 1930.
However in operations, to prevent any damage to the drivetrain and shock injuries for the crew, a cruising speed of just above 45 mph (72 km/h) was maintained. The engine is multifuel according to NATO’s standards, accepting diesel, kerosene, motor gasoline and even high-octane jet fuel like JP-4/8. For logistical reasons, the JP-8 is preferred by the US military.

This gas turbine was proven quite reliable in practice and in combat conditions but was soon hampered by its equally high fuel consumption, ending in a serious logistic issue. Starting the turbine alone consumed no less than 10 US gallons (38 L) of fuel, and was rated for 1.67 US gallons (6.3 L) for each mile or 60 US gallons (230 L) per hour on flat, much more cross-country and even to 10 US gallons (38 L) when idle.
The use of a mine plough could increase these numbers by 25 percent. The M1 uses around 300 gallons in 8 hours for a sustained usage which can depend on the missions specifics, terrain and weather. The refueling process of a single tank takes about 10 minutes and rearming, in addition, a full tank platoon can take around 30 minutes under ideal conditions and with a trained crew. Not surprisingly it is the Achilles heel of the Abrams, restricting its operational range.


M1 Abrams Lycoming LGT 1500 turbine schematics. Credits: General Dynamics.
Moreover, the turbine own’s high-speed & temperature, equalling a jet blast from the rear prevented the infantry to follow the tank closely, an issue especially in urban combat. However it was very quiet compared to diesel engines, with less resonance when perceived from afar. For this, the M1 was nicknamed “whispering death” during its first REFORGER exercise in Germany.

This power was transferred to the ground by a set of seven doubled ruberrized roadwheels (per side) suspended by torsion arms. The first pair was further apart to the front. Another pair acted as tensioners. The High-hardness-steel torsion bars were given rotary shock absorbers and provided an even smoother ride than the M60, while being still compatible with the general ordnance and less complex mechanically, easier to maintain than the original hydropneumatic system. The tracks were of the RISE standard for durability.
The driver is laying low in his seat due to the hull’s gacis extreme angle and Reclining. He has at his disposal a full station displaying the condition of vehicle with fluid levels, batteries and electrical equipment (now digitalized) and in some cases a steer-to indicator to find the best tactical route. He can scan for the best ground and the protection offered by the terrain through a set of three observation periscopes (or two and a central image intensifyer for night vision and poor visbility in general; dust, snow, heavy rain, fog…), covering a 120° frontal arc. This AN/VSS-5 image intensifier is developed by Texas Instruments, based on a 328 x 245 element uncooled detector array, working in the 7.5 to 13 micron waveband.

Turret

For the first time, the Turret was designed from the beginning to operate a laser range finder, a ballistic computer, a gunner thermal-imaging day and night sight, a muzzle reference sensor to measure the gun-tube distortion and a wind sensor. It was a real leap forward compared to previous generations.

The crew of three take place inside the central inner turret, with a standard loader instead of an autoloader. The latter was a uniquely shaped pentagram, with a sloped faceted nose, flat sides and rear. Fastening equipments took place all over. The turret was in fact much smaller, but with side composite armour blocks that acted as massive extensions.
This was already a modular compartimentation, although the blocks were welded and not just held in place by brackets. The two cupolas (commander to the right and loader to the left) are side by side.

The turret is fitted with 2×6 L8A1 (M250) smoke grenade launchers (2×8 for the USMC version) blocking both vision and thermal imaging, and in support a smoke generator triggered by the driver. This system is well known. Fuel is injected into the hot turbine exhaust, creating a massive smoke cloud. But because of the JP-8 used more commonly, this possibility was disabled due to the risk of fire damage in the engine compartment.
Active protection consists of the the AN/VLQ-6 Missile Countermeasure Device (MCD) Softkill Active protection system, mounted on the turret, in front of the loader’s hatch. It is box-shaped and fixed into position. The MCD can disrupt SACLOS guidance systems, wire and radio guided ATGMs. It could also thermally blur the infrared image with a condensed, massive emission that confuse the IR view or any targeting acquisition system, when detected, and the missile is left to detonate elsewhere.


A view of the gunner’s station (bottom left) and commander station (top right). Credits US Army, public domain.

Gunner

He is situated in the right hand side of the turret, in front of the commander seat. His Primary Sight-Line of Sight GPS-LOS is manufactured by the Electro-Optical Systems Division of Hughes Aircraft Company. It is a single axis stabilized head mirror. Daylight optics has a x10 narrow x3 wide magnification wide field of view on 18 degrees at close range. The night vision Thermal Imaging System has a x10 narrow/ x3 wide agnification field of view.
It is a part of the eyepiece of the gunner’s sight, coupled with the range measurement provided by the laser range finder. The two-axis GPS-LOS provides an increased first round hit probability due to fast target acquisition & gun pointing, with a stabilization accuracy/bore sight retention less than 100 microrads. His secondary sight is a Kollmorgen Model 939 with a magnification x8/8°.

Laser rangefinder

The Hughes LR is composed of a neodinium yttrium aluminium garnet (Nd:YAG), a laser transmitter, and a receiver. Data transferred and integrated into the FCS in real time. The laser beam reflection provides a time of travel for accurate range measurement with a wavelength of 1.06 microns. The upgraded laser rangefinder includes a Raman resonator decreasing the wavelenght to 1.54 microns, safe for the eye. The laser beam could be emitted at a rate of 1 shot per second. It is accurate within a 32 feets (10 m) margin and target discrimination of 65 feets (20 m).

Fire Control System

The FCS computer is manufactured by Computing Devices Canada (Ontario). It is composed of an electronics unit, data entry, and test panel. The range data is transferred to computer that calculate the fire control solution. This data includes the lead angle measurement, bend of the gun, wind velocity crossed with data from a pendulum static cant sensor (center of the turret roof). Manual Inputs to the FCS are the ammunition type, temperature and barometric pressure.

Commander

The commander cupola (right hand side) gets six vision blocks for a 360° panoramic view, a day/night sight periscope with range is -12 to +20° in elevation, with 360 degrees in azimuth and a x2.6 at 3.4° narrow field of view magnification up to x7.7 at 10.4° wide magnification. He can also scan his tank interior condition via the inter vehicular information system (IVIS) and in some cases an appliqué digital screen. He also have an automatic sector scanning, and an automatic target cueing of the gunner’s sight and back-up fire control in case. The commander has a gyrostabilized head for sensors and a hand control grip to selecting parameter settings on a panel, an electronics unit with a remote cathode ray tube display. Usually the system is tailored for the commander to spot the target, then digitally pass the information to the gunner and main FCS that directs the fire, while the commander is already picking the coordinates of the next target. With such flow, it is estimated that the Abrams can neutralize ten targets in the matter of 30 seconds.

XM-1 in demonstration at Fort Knox, Kentucky 1979. Credits US Army, public domain.

Loader

He is seated on the left hand side of the main armament, with a simple two-pieces hatch over him. Inside the turret, he is responsible for loading the main gun with ready rounds (and supplying new ones) and serving the coaxial M240 7.62 mm light machine gun, placed on the right hand side of the main gun. Outside the turret, he could use a secondary 7.62 caliber M240 machine gun placed on a Skate mount. It has a -30 to +65° elevation and 265° traverse. He is well placed inside the tank to vizualise the digital displays and generally scan for targets and antitank guided missile (ATGM), using the detection sensors and activating/maintaing the AN/VLQ-6 MCD active protection system.

Armour

The Ballistics Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Grounds began a crash program for a Chobham-inspired armour in 1978, and the first production M1 in 1981 weighed about sixty tons fully loaded, combining a normal RHA steel armour under a new composite special armor (layers of both steel and composites, heat and shock absorbing materials), proven against any sorts of HEAT and kinetic energy penetrators. The general scheme is derived from the “Burlington” armour tested on the Chieftain. It is a multi-layered armour combining various alloys of steel, sandwiched with ceramics and plastic composites, including kevlar.
The order of these layers and relative thickness are top secret and classified. The whole has an equivalent of 1,320–1,620 millimetres (52–64 in) of RHA on the turret front against all chemical energy rounds, and 940–960 mm (37–38 in) for kinetic energy penetrators (APFSDS or “sabot” rounds). The M1 also tried in operations reactive armor over the track skirts to defeat RPGs, mostly encountered in an urban environment, or slat armor (rear and rear fuel cells) against ATGMs. A Kevlar liner prevents any spalling.

Armament

The very core of the early Abrams was its M60A1 105 mm rifled gun, similar to the one used by both the M60 and the upgraded M48, and licence built after the original British Royal Ordnance L7 gun. The turret is however tailored to accept the German Rheinmetall 120mm gun if necessary. With the advent of more advanced 105 mm rounds like the DU penetrator M833 round, it was possible to delay gun upgrade until 1985 (M1A1), despite the arrival of the T-64 and T-72 in the Soviet arsenal, both armed with 120+ mm guns, in addition to the T-62. The improved M883 round was indeed capable of penetrating 420mm of RHA at 60° at 2,000 meters.
This gun can fire the large variety of ammunitions in use within NATO, including the following series:

  • high explosive anti-tank (HEAT)
  • high explosive (HE)
  • White phosphorus
  • Anti-personnel (multiple flechette)

Optimal range was 2000 meters which gave the biggest percentage of first hit probability, maximal range was 3000 meters (1.9 miles). For greater range, a bigger round, and a smoothbore gun were necessary, which led to the introduction of the M256 tank gun with the M1A1.
Secondary armament comprised a combination of 0.3 and 0.5 caliber machine guns, all located in the turret.
The turret top receive the traditional “Madeuce” .50 cal. (12.7 mm) M2HB in front of the commander’s hatch, mounted on the Commander’s Weapons Station, allows it to be aimed and fired from within the tank. With the introduction of the Common Remote Operated Weapons System (CROWS) kit, the M2A1 HMG, M240, or M249 SAW could be adapted to a remote weapons platform (similar to the one used on the Stryker). Transparent gun shields are also prvided, on the TUSK variant. The M1A1 Abrams Integrated Management (AIM) add a thermal sight for night and low-visibility shooting.
A 7.62 mm M240 machine gun in placed in front of the loader’s hatch (right-placed skate mount). Some were later fitted with gun shields during the Iraq War, and night-vision scopes for low-visibility and night fighting. The second M240 LMG is in a coaxial mount to the right of the main gun, and fired with the same computer and FCS which operates the main gun. An optional second coaxial 12.7 mm M2HB could be mounted directly above the main gun in a remote weapons platform (TUSK upgrade kit).

M1A1 interior cutaway. Credits: General Dynamics.

The M1IP or IPM1 (1984)

The M1IP, in which “IP” stands for “improved performance”, and was devised as a quick limited upgrade, with 895 delivered to the US Army starting in 1984 before the introduction of the M1A1. The IP contained a series of upgrades and modifications, such as an upgraded turret with thicker frontal armor.

The M1A1 (1985)

The major upgrade of the Abrams, centered around a new 120 mm smoothbore gun and a series of protection improvements and other upgrades, designed to keep pace with contemporary advanced Soviet designs such as the T-64A, upgraded T-72, and the T-80.
External differences are easy to spot: The turret is the “long” model, at the rear with a rear bustle rack for improved stowage, a thicker front armour, new blast doors, new engine compartment access doors, reinforced suspensions, pressurized NBC system, the absence of drive sprocket ring retainer, and moreover the shorter and thicker gun barrel and more massive bore recuperator.

Protection

The first series in 1985 were equipped with the same armour, but improved turret armour as seen on the late production M1IP. However, starting in 1987, the M1A1 received improved armor packages incorporating depleted uranium (DU) components, under “Heavy Armor” (HA) upgrade name. These were located to the front of the turret and hull, and believed to add an equivalent to 24 inches (610 mm) of RHA.
This combination increased resistance towards most AP rounds, but added a considerable weight due to a 1.7 times superior density compared to lead. The first M1A1 so upgraded were stationed in Germany, in first line against the Soviet Union. In 1991 (during Desert storm) some US-based tank battalions received an emergency HA upgrade shortly after the beginning of operations.
The later M1A2 tanks had an uniform depleted uranium armor (not only the front), but received engine upgrades in the meantime to deal with the additional weight. To this day, all M1A1 tanks in active service have been upgraded to this standard.
Nowadays upgrades practiced on older models includes depleted uranium armor, and the M1A1 AIM FCS and the M1A1D digital enhancement package. There is also a commonality program to standardize parts between the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps M1A1s resulting in the M1A1HC.
M256 tank gun schematics
M256 120 mm smoothbore L44 main gun schematics. Credits: general Dynamics.

Armament

The German Rheinmetall 120mm smoothbore cannon served as a model for the new US gun. This gun was used by all versions of the new Leopard II, until the arrival of the L55 on the Leopard IIA6. However US studies concluded prior to its adoption that this tank gun was overly complex and expensive by American engineering standards.
A simpler version with fewer parts was quickly developed. It had a completely redesigned coilspring recoil system (no more hydraulic). US Ordnance adopted the new tank gun as the 120 mm M256 and it was produced by Watervliet Arsenal, New York. Along with its adoption, many adjustments had to be made to the turret interior, ammunition management, fire control system and storage facilities inside the hull for the new bigger rounds. The larger bore also meant new and more varied ammunitions could be used and the gunners were trained accordingly.
There are plans today to upgrade this gun to the new German standard L55, but still, the M829 APFSDS ammunitions already fired had the same kinetic energy than the German L55 fired tungsten penetrators (around 18-20 megajoules). There are a lot of pros and cons to use the new caliber, the most obvious one being the greater muzzle velocity which can be achieved with older ammunitions.
However comprehensive testing will have to be done to ensure that the current munitions will behave properly with this new caliber. As of 2015, programs with the new gun are still pending due to their cost compared to upgrades on the existing rounds.
M1A1 turret details
M1A1 turret details (General Dynamics).

Ammunitions

Perhaps the most famous ammunition set for the new gun was the M829A1 APFSDS-T (1991). This kinetic energy penetrator (long rod), is made of depleted uranium. It could reach a muzzle velocity of 1,575 m/sec, with a maximum effective range of 3,500 meters. During Operation Desert Storm some M1A1 demonstrated that a 4000 m reach was possible and scored several registered kills this far away. Nicknamed the “Silver Bullet” this ammunition gained fame thanks to the 1991 campaign at the same time this ordnance was first introduced and used operationally.
The DU (Depleted Uranium) “sabot” round is a nasty piece of ordinance. The “dart” is much smaller than the launching envelope, called the “discarding sabot petals”, so in essence it is supposed to pack less punch. But the final speed it reaches combined to its very high density creates a “pyrophoric” effect when hitting an armour plate.
Both the penetrator and the steel are melted due to the tremendous pressure, creating a temperature high enough to carve a pathway right through 610 mm equivalent RHA of armour plate at 2,000 meters, projecting what left of this process inside the turret. This causes untold injuries, and everything in the path of the jet could catch fire, including stored ammunitions.
The APFSDS-T M829A2 (1994) replaced the former M892A1, and was produced by the General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems. It includes the use of a new manufacturing process to improve the DU penetrator strenght. The sabot envelope itself is made lighter because of alloys and composites. This is combined to a new propellant for greater muzzle velocity, around 100 m/sec greater than before or 1,675 m/sec but at slightly lower pressure. It is estimated by expert to be able to defeat 730 mm equivalent of RHA at 2,000 meters.
It is gradually replaced by the most effective round so far, the M829A3. Specifics and performances are classified, but the round itself is 10 kgs (much heavuer than the A2 (4.6 kgs) or A1 (4.9 kgs). Increased accuracy and range resulted in an estimated Muzzle Velocity of 1,555 m/sec and penetration performance of 765 mm at 2,000 meters. This round is now made by the Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK) based in Rocket Center, West Virginia.
The other rounds usually carried includes the M829 (1985) AP round, and the M830 High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT). The latter has a maximum effective range of 3,000 meters. New ammunitions in developement outside the “sabot” are intended to deal with new generation of Russian armour systems like the Kontakt-5 ERA pack, and its modernized variants like the “Kaktus” type.

Variants

  • M1A1HA (Heavy Armor): Added 1st generation depleted uranium armor components. Some tanks were later upgraded with 2nd generation depleted uranium armor components, and are unofficially designated M1A1HA+.
  • M1A1HC (Heavy Common): Added new 2nd generation depleted uranium armor components, digital engine control and other small upgrades common between Army and Marine Corps tanks.
  • M1A1D (Digital): A digital upgrade for the M1A1HC, to keep up with M1A2SEP, manufactured in quantity for only 2 battalions.
  • M1A1AIM v.1 (Abrams Integrated Management): Complete overhaul (see later).
  • M1A1AIM v.2: Added new 3rd generation depleted uranium armor components.
  • M1A1FEP (Firepower Enhancement Package): AIM v.2 for USMC tanks.
  • M1A1KVT (Krasnovian Variant Tank) visually modified to resemble Soviet-made tanks for use at the National Training Center.
  • M1A1M: The export variant ordered by the Iraqi Army.
  • M1A1SA (Special Armor): configuration for the Royal Moroccan Army.[76]

The M1A2 (1986) and upgrades

The M1A2 is the sum of improvements over the M1A1, but moreover and brand new FCS with a powerful computerized core, and consisted in a commander’s independent thermal viewer and weapon station, a new position navigation equipment, and other controls and displays managed by a central digital data bus. More data can be treated simultaneously, improving the tank first hit probabilty, range, and rate of fire altogether.
Upgrades are developed by General Dynamics Land Systems for the US Army and USMC since the end of the production of the M1A2:

Replacement of the ATG 1500 turbine on the field.

SEP version 1 (1998)

The SEP (System Enhancement Package), or “M1A2 Tank FY 2000” configuration was first applied to tanks in service with the 1st cavalry division based in Fort Hood, Texas. It comprised a Second Generation Forward Looking Infared (2nd Gen FLIR) sight, digital maps and FBCB2 capabilities, along with a better cooling system to cope with the additional heat created by these equipments and a thermal management system. Target detection, recognition, identification are improved and coupled with the Firepower Enhancement Package (FEP).
The FCS computer is upgraded with increased memory and faster processors, full color map display and compatibility with the Army Command and Control Architecture; This allows each tank to be monitored and exchange informations in real with the unit command, sharing better situational awareness with other units in the process.
The Under Armor Auxiliary Power Unit (UAAPU) provided the extra power required. Developed by the TARDEC US Army lab, this was a high power density 330 cc (20 cu in) Wankel rotary engine, modified to operate with various fuels, especially the high octane military grade jet fuel.
The armour upgrade consists of a third generation steel with sandwiched depleted uranium armor layers.
The entire retrofit program was to be applied to the entire fleet ot M1A2, M1A1 and M1s, but in 2004 this was curtailed due to funds shortages and priority given to the Stryker and Future Combat Systems (FCS) programs.
M1A1 SEP
M1A1 SEP – US Army archives.

SEP version 2 (2007)

The SEPv2 (version 2) is a joint program led by US Army TACOM and General Dynamics Land Systems. This second upgrade package consists of an increase of reliability and durability of various components and systems (like RISE was for the M60), and various technology upgrades. The first contract was signed on November 2007, for the upgrade of 240 M1A2 SEP. This includes a whole set of new displays, improved sights, more intuitive and exhautive interfaces, a new operating system, and a tank-infantry phone.
Other aspects includes protections enancements with a better front and side armor, and better suspended and reworked transmission to increase durability. Phase II was done in 2008-2009 for the remaining 434 M1A1s in the inventory. Total for these includes 240 new constructions, 300 M1A2s upgraded to M1A2SEP, unknown numbers of upgraded basic M1s and M1IPs, and 400 oldest M1A1s upgraded to M1A2SEP.

FEP (Firepower Enhancement Package) – USMC

The FEP upgrade was awarded to DRS Techologies for the GEN II TIS destined to the US Marine Corps M1A1 tanks. This system comprises a 480 x 4 SADA (Standard Advanced Dewar Assembly) detector, an eyesafe laser rangefinder, a north-finding module and precision lightweight global positioning receiver. These enable the new Far Target Locate (FTL) targeting solution capability.
This subsystem provides accurate targeting data to a range of 8,000 m with a 114 feets (35 m) Circular Error of Probability. This system extends the firing range into uncharted territories, a below-horizon capability with the earth curvature taken in account in what it is barely a “direct fire” anymore.
M1A2 TUSK-I
M1A2 with TUSK I composition (Tank Urban Survival Kit) for urban battles. Credits US Army – public domain.

CROWS

The Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station is called CROWS (or CROWS II). This remote-control weapon system is compatible with a variety of military platforms. It also includes a laser range finder and a miniaturized sensor suite to be kept operational under the worst conditions. Five time more .50-cal. can be stored. 370 CROWs II kits were installed. They are often combined with the TUSK upgrade to be deployed (and battle-tested) in Iraq, and inspired by the Israeli experience with these systems.

TUSK

Called Tank Urban Survival Kit this program was aimed to improve the tank survivability in an urban environment where threats can be located in any directions, including over the tank. Basically, the side, rear and top armour is enhanced. These armor upgrades include ERA blocks fit on the side skirts to defend against ATGMs, as well as slat armor on the rear to protect against RPGs and other shaped charge warheads (ARAT).
This is usually accompanied by a remote-controlled firing platform (CROWS) and/or a transparent armor gun shield (LAGS) and Remote Thermal Sight system (RTS) and Power Distribution Box (PDB) for the loader’s external 7.62 mm LMG and 12.7 mm HMG (Kongsberg Gruppen Remote Weapon Turret) of the commander. An exterior telephone with infantry (TIPS) is also fitted to communicate directly with the tank commander. These kits were made available for field conversions in the areas of operations, mostly in Iraq, without the need of reaching a maintenance depot. Contract was awarded in 29 August 2006 to General Dynamics Land Systems for 505 kist under a US$45 million contract, completed in april 2009.
M1A1_TUSK-II
M1A2 TUSK II – Tamiya artist impression.

CEEP

The Continuous Electronics Enhancement Program (CEEP) comprises the latest System Enhancement Package (SEP) and the Tank Urban Survivability Kit (TUSK) both for M1A1 and M1A2s operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. This program comprises advanced digital systems and better compatibility for the Army’s future combat systems integration. It is a retrofit for SEP models. This comprises more detailed HD color maps, better sensor imagery and a more efficient situational and combined arms tactical display.
Wireless technologies is enable for remote diagnostics, vehicle monitoring and remote command and control capability in the field. All crew members had to receive individual displays and a better intra-vehicular connectivity. New, more efficient batteries are provided in place of the noisy auxiliary power unit.

Engine upgrades

The AGT 1500 turbine engine is getting old (last produced in 1992) and poses problems of maintenance, of declining reliability, fuel consumption and o&s costs that should be adressed. A two-phased PROSE (Partnership for Reduced O&S Costs, Engine) program was devised first to improve the engine readiness at lower costs, then to overhaul the existing components (Total InteGrated Engine Revitalization or TIGER program).
This program is aimed at reducing the overall operating costs while doubling the service life of the turbines. The second phase is a full replacement by a new engine, with the global aim to improve reliability by 30%. Honeywell International Engines and Systems and General Electric were both selectioned to develop a new LV100-5 gas turbine engine for the M1A2, lighter and smaller with better acceleration, quieter and with a much reduced thermal signature. The XM2001 Crusader program featured also a 33% reduction in fuel consumption (50% less when idle) and easier replacement, but it was terminated due to budget cuts.

The M1A3

This latest version is under development, prototypes were delivered in 2014, and operational production was estimated to be by 2017, when the Army first planned to re-launch the Lima tank plant production. The sum of improvements includes a lighter L44 120 mm gun, new road wheels with improved suspension and a more durable track, a lighter armor and long-range precision armaments (for ranges up to 8000 m), upgraded infrared camera and laser detectors. A new internal computer for the FCS is scheduled, relied with fiber-optic lines, also to gain weight. As of today, the M1A3 is delayed to FY2018.

Production

Total : 8800 – 3273 M1 (US Army), 4796 M1A1 (US Army + USMC), 755 m1A1 co-produced in Egypt, 77 M1A2 for the US Army, 315 for Saudi Arabia, 218 for kuwait.
The original builder, Chrysler Defense, ceased to built the Abrams in 1995, which was to be followed by the Lima Army Tank Plant in 2013 as planned by the Army. However General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) opposed the Army decision to postpone the production until 2017, and estimated the costs for shutting down the factory and restarting the production to be higher than a continuous run.
By 1999, the cost of a single tank was estimated to US$5 million and soared since then due to more complex FCS systems and communication upgrades. The production was eventually resumed, pending the FY2017 full restart and/or foreign sales, and in the meantime, overhauls are maintaining the activity.

M1A1 AIM overhaul program

The Abrams Integrated Management (AIM) program overhauls old M1A1s to original factory standards, a program first initiated in 1997. First step is performed at the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama, since 1998. Hulls are separated from the turrets, components are uninstalled, treated and stored separately. Both hulls and turrets are sandblasted until retreiving the original bare steel finish.
These are stored, then sent by rail to the Lima Army Tank Plant in Ohio for complete upgrade, re-assembly (including the turret-hull “marriage”) and tests before delivery. These upgrades includes a Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) and Far Target Locate sensors, tank-infantry phone, full communications suite (FBCB2 & Blue Force Tracking) for crew situational awareness, and a thermal sight for the .50 caliber machine gun.

Future prospective

There are still some questions about the Abrams relevance as a potential 4th generation MBT in the next twenty years. A tank is not a nuclear aircraft carrier, and although the upgrade process could be done indefinitely, there are regular concerns about future weapons systems in adequacy to new (mostly asymetric) threats, and cheaper vehicles to operate and maintain alongside MBTs for low intensity conflict zones, like the M8 Armored Gun System.
But the U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems XM1202 Mounted Combat System was not funded, and the M1A3 program was delayed due to budget restrictions for an adoption scheduled in 2018. The Pentagon finds itself in the peculiar position of facing Congressional support for an apparently unwanted refurbishment program instead of funding properly a new generation of vehicles that are thought more appropriate to deal with current asymetric threats.
Did an “hibernation” process in the Sierra Army Depot (as the Iowa class ww2 battleships) should be considered as an option ? Officially the 1st generation M1A1 are planned to remain in service at least until 2021 and 2040 for the M1A2/A3s.

Derived vehicles

  • M1 TTB (Tank Test Bed): Prototype with unmanned turret, the crew is housed in an armored capsule in front of the hull, remotelly operated 120 mm smoothbore gun and autoloader.
  • CATTB (Component Advanced Technology Test Bed – 1987–1988): 140 mm smoothbore gun test vehicle with upgraded hull with an autoloader, new engine and other upgrades.
  • M1 Grizzly CMV: Engineering vehicle. Tested but cancelled in 2001.
  • M1 Panther II Remote Controlled Mine Clearing Vehicle: turretless, equipped with minerollers and a .50 Cal (12.7mm) MG for self defence. Production unknown. Saw action in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq.
  • M104 Wolverine Heavy Assault Bridge: Current US Army heavy bridgelayer, tested in 1996 to replace the slower M60 AVLB, 44 delivered so far from 2003.
  • M1150 Assault Breacher Vehicle: USMC variant with a full-width mine plow, two linear demolition charges, lane-marking system, protected by ERA. Small turret with two rear-mounted MICLIC launchers and remote M2HB HMG, grenade launchers.
  • M1 ARV: Armored Recovery Vehicle (prototype only).


The remote controlable M1 Panther II Mine Clearing Vehicle (MCV). Photo: Tankograd Publishing

The Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV). The USAs currently serving CEV. It is equipped with a Mine Plow, Dozer Blade, Lane Marking System and a Mine Clearing Line Charge. Photo: Military Today

Exports

The US Army operates today some 1,174 M1A2 and M1A2SEP variants, and 4,393 M1A1 and variants, while the USMC fielding 403 M1A1 FEP. Potential customers includes Greece (400 ex M1A1 tanks offered in 2011, 90 apparently procured in 2012. This new was debunked since). For Morocco 200 surplus M1A1s were requested in 2011, including a Special Armor (SA) configuration, refurbishment and associated parts, but this is yet to be confirmed.
Peru in May 2013 ordered comparative tests to find a replacement for the T-55s. The Taiwanese government also considered placing an order for 200 overhauled M1A1s.

Australia

The Australian Army acquired some 59 revalorized M1A1 (AIM) mixing U.S. Army/U.S.M.C equipment and without HA (depleted uranium layers in armor) in 2006, to replace the Leopard AS1.

Egypt

The Egyptian Army took delivery of 1,005 M1A1s co-produced by the US and Egypt and another 200 on order.

Iraq

The Iraqi Army were provided 140 M1A1Ms (downgraded, without HA). 22 U.S. Army M1A1s were also lend for training in 2008-2011. During the June 2014 Northern Iraq offensive, the Islamic State operated an estimated 30 captured ex-Iraqi M1A1Ms.

Kuwait

The Kuwaiti Army ordered 218 M1A2s (downgraded, without HA)

Saudi Arabia

The Saudi Arabian Army took delivery of 373 Abrams tanks M1A2, in the process of being upgraded to M1A2S configuration, with 69 more delivered until 31 July 2014.
Marine M1A1 offloading from Landing Craft Air Cushioned vehicle (LCAC)
Abrams Integrated Management System and the Tank Urban Survivability Kit conducting a patrol in Baghdad, 2007

Active service

The first active unit receiving the M1 Abrams (at that time the first serie was still called “XM-1”) was the 1st armoured division in 1980. The best units operating in Europe (stationed in germany for the most) shifted their M60A3s for this new model. They participated in numerous NATO exercizes in Western Europe (mostly West Germany) in combination with M60A3s and related Leopard-IIs until the fall of the berlin wall, but also in South Korea. In USA various exercizes saw a large variety of 1-tones seasonal camouflage patterns being tested (MERDC), later abandoned for the olive drab.
NATO Black/Med-Green/Dark-Brown standard CARC (Chemical Agent Resistant Coating) pattern were also applied for some time to M1s deployed in Northern Europe. In Iraq however, the tanks were painted in desert tan. With the following operations in the 2000s in Afghanistan and Iraq, some repaired tanks showed a mix of parts in desert tan and olive drab depending of the depot supplies. Nowadays only the Australian tanks shows a 3-tone disruptive camouflage made of black, olive drab and brown.
Strategic mobility was provided by a C-5 Galaxy or C-17 Globemaster III, but with quite a limited capacity (2 for a C-5, and 1 in a C-17), causing an lengthy deployment and serious logistical problems during first Persian Gulf War. Eventually the bulk of the 1,848 tanks deployed for the operation were shipped by sea. The USMCs Abrams could be carried by the Wasp-class LHDs which generally could land a platoon (4-5 tanks) attached a Marine Expeditionary Unit, or transported by LCACs to the shore (1 combat-ready tank each).
By road, the M1070 Heavy Equipment Transporter (HET) truck usually carries the M1, with reasonable cross-country capabilities, and even accommodates the 4 tank crewmen. First operational airlifts into a battlefield zone occurred in April 2003 (belonging to the 1st Infantry Division) in northern Iraq from Ramstein, Germany.
Marine M1A1 offloading from Landing Craft Air Cushioned vehicle (LCAC)

Desert Storm (1991)

By 1991 and the Operation Desert Storm, resulting from the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces in 1990 the M1 Abrams were deployed operationally for their first major action. This was the biggest test so far for any american tank against an army alledged to be the world’s fouth largest army, a fact later refuted by experts and largely made up by media corporations to raise audiences. At that time the bulk of the army deployed to Saudi Arabia comprised M1A1s, which introduced for the first time the new APFSDS “sabot” round.
These tanks encountered a mix of T-55, T-62s, T-72s from ex-Soviet and Polish stocks and possibly local downgraded “Saddams”, a T-72M variant. Their general readiness and combat capabilities were further limited by the lack of modern night vision systems and rangefinders. After the bombing campaign which destroyed many of the enemy armour, the ground operation saw several battles where the M1s distinguished themselves. In fact, none of the tanks engaged was reported as a total loss, crew included.
23 M1A1s were damaged to more or less great extent, some fatally, but with no casualty. Of the nine destroyed, seven were so by friendly fire. By contrast, over 250 enemy tanks were claimed, many kills being scored at ranges in excess of 2,500 metres (8,200 ft), and some in very poor visibility. There was however a few cases of friendly fires which included direct hits with M829A1 “Silver Bullet” APFSDS rounds, which all were survived, and one including an intentional attempt to destroy an abandoned Abrams stuck in the mud, which failed.
M1A1 ODS Kurdistan
M1A1 ODS of the 5th armoured division in Kurdistan, Iraq. (Credits US. army)
The battle of Khafji: In 29 january 1991 was the first major ground engagement for mostly USMCs M60A1/A3s but also some M1A1s counter-attacking the captured of the Saudi city of Khafji by the Iraqi Third Corps, spearheaded by the 3rd Armored Division and 5th Mechanized Division, the only non-Republican guards equipped with T-72s.
The opposing Saudi forces deployed AMX-30 tanks, V-150 and LAV-25 wheeled vehicles. American units engaged were the 1st Marine Division, 2nd Light Armored Infantry Battalion and 2nd Marine Division but most of the kills came from a massive air support as the city was retaken two days later.
At the battle of 73 Easting: In 26 february 1991, the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment (2nd ACR) stumbled upon a far superior, entrenched Iraqi Republican Guard’s brigade. M1 Abrams destroyed 21 T-72s in the first unit spotted. In total the only allied loss (British troops were also deployed) was a Bradley IFV (one killed) whereas the unit claimed 85 tanks, 40 AFVs, 30 wheeled vehicles, two artillery batteries and about 600-1000 killed or wounded.
At the battle of Medina ridge: The following day, the 1st Armoured division clashed with the 2nd Brigade of the Iraqi Republican Guard Medina Luminous Division outside Basra. This resulted in a decisive engagement, with 61 to 186 Iraqi tanks destroyed (most of the T-72 type), and 127 AFVs destroyed, for no losses but 4 tanks damaged. The M1 were greatly helped however by attack helicopters and A10 thunderbolt II in strafing attacks.
Destroyed M1A1 due to friendly fire.
Several lessons were retained from this operation. The most obvious one was linked to the rate of losses occured due to friendly fire. Abrams but also other U.S. combat vehicles were systematically fitted with Combat Identification Panels for better recoignition, fitted on the sides and rear of the turret.
The most characteristic aspects were the flat panels with a four-cornered “box” image placed on the turret front both sides. A secondary storage bin on the back of the bustle rack was also often added (referred to as a bustle rack extension) as it was shown the crews needed to carry more supplies and personal belongings to remain autonomous in operations.

Enduring Freedom (2003)

The previous operation Desert Storm left a sizeable part of the Iraqi Army safe, and the 2001 terrorist attacks and following events led to invade iraq in 2003. The battle of Bagdad was the most serious engagement of US forces so far, with many engagements following in the aftermath of Saddam’s Hussein capture and sentence. As of March 2005, approximately 80 Abrams tanks were registered of action by enemy attacks.
One of these fights involved a platoon of M1A1s, claiming the total destruction of seven T-72s in a point-blank skirmish (46 m) near Mahmoudiyah, south of Baghdad. Due to the urban nature of the folowing engagements, some crews were issued M136 AT4 shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons to cover the tank in case the main gun was unable to be brought to bear due to tight spaces.

Cases of Abrams irrecoverably lost due to mobility or other problems were often destroyed by other Abrams to prevent their capture. Several cases were due to resolute ambushes by Iraqi infantrymen using well-known tactics in Urban environments. Some aimed their short-range anti-tank rockets on tracks, and on the rear and top of the tank to great effect due to the relative lack of armor.
The flammable fuel stored externally in the lightly protected turret racks were also a cause of a fire that disabled the turbine, when finding their way into the engine compartment. Post-invasion, a growing number of Abrams were frequently damaged by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The amount of losses far exceeded those of the 1991 operations, but the lenght of this protacted fight and the nature of combat (urban) also was a factor.

The 1st battle of Fallujah (april 2004): One of the most notorious engagement of the post-invasion era was urban in nature, but involved M1A1 Abrams engaged by the Marines as bait, to lure defenders out into the open. Apparently however this ruse quickly faded as it was reported that “The enemy (…) would initiate an ambush with small-arms fire on one side of a tank in order to get the tank crew to turn its armor in the direction of fire. They would then fire a coordinated 5 or 6 RPG [rocket propelled grenade] salvo into the exposed rear of the tank” (wikileaks).

By December 2006, a report stated that more than 530 Abrams had been shipped back to the U.S. for extensive repairs. In the meantime the Tank Urban Survival Kit (TUSK) was issued to some tanks operating in the most sensible areas.
By may 2008, another reported a damage caused by an RPG-29, (tandem-charge HEAT warhead) developed in Russia to penetrate not only the layer of explosive reactive armor (ERA) blocks, but also the composite armor behind it.
This created a schock among the head of staff and even conducted other operations with Abrams without appropriate modifications, and jeopardized the planned purchased of Abrams to the newly formed Iraqi Army, fearing these would be captured by insurgents. This would be realized indeed in 2013-2014 in the hands of ISIL combatants.
Eventually by mid-2014 after the planned retirement of occupation US troops in Iraq, the Iraqi Abrams saw action in the north when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria launched the June 2014 Northern Iraq offensive. Some M1A1Ms (overhauled) were destroyed in fighting against ISIL forces and other were reported captured in various conditions. At least one was reportedly used by ISIL fighters in the Battle for Mosul Dam in early August 2014.

Operations in Afghanistan & Iraq

M1A1/M1A2s deployed there, from various strongpoints and camps were free of tank to tank fights, most mission being conducted in infantry support and patrols. This also changed the missions and configuration of the tanks from a wide open-space terrain, to mountaineous terrains that favoured helicopter-deployments instead, and limited urban warfare (villages for the most).
Ambushes could be fatal due to a wide variety of weapons which can be used from various angles by the Talibans. SPGs for the most, but also ATGMs, mines, and especially the infamous IEDs, which can be built quickly and detonate remotelly using a cellular telephone.
M1A2 Tusk 26th HMD Iraq
M1A2 TUSK of the 26th heavy mechanized division in Iraq.
Therefore the emphasis was put on urban survival, using a great deal of the Israeli experience which goes back as far as the Lebanon conflict in the 1980s. The urdan cupola was example of the US Army pushing the adoption of a system developed on American tanks used by the Irsaelis in an urban environment. But the particular situation in these areas led the the US Army to devise kits and packages with extra armor or protections systems that can be fitted easily in the field, without sending the tank to a depot.
The CROWS and CROWS II systems are part of these. Large shields, partly made of bulletproof glass, plexiglas or transparent composites found their way on the secondary weapons. For night vision, individual thermal sights and sensors were added. New remote-controlled weapon systems were introduced, especially for the cal.50 HMG. The second was for the tank weak points (the front is traditionally well armored) by fitting extra ERA protection to the side, rear and extra armour on the turret and engine deck as well. To defend against RPGs and other shaped charge projectiles, the easiest and lightest way was to fit a simple metal grid (slat armor) on the sides and rear, this time the fruit of Russian experience in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

Current upgrades & tests

The actual upgrades are led by the US Army’s Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below (FBCB2) program. This includes rugged appliqué computers and modular cells, and under the FBCB2 standard, the digital battle command information system is aimed to enhance and explore the interoperability and situation awareness from brigade to individual soldier, using also personal interfaces, with a broader and faster connectivity on the internet.
Tests with 3d virtual reality googles (like Oculus rift) for external awareness could be also part of these future upgrades. The latter are to be provided to the drivers, following a succesful campaing in the Danish Army this year.

M1/M1A1 Abrams links & resources

M1 Abrams on Wikipedia
A comprehensive article on fprado.com
Video about the MBT-70
nextbigfuture.com – current upgrades
And above all (early part): M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank 1982-92, Stevens Zaloga, Peter Sarson, New Vanguard, Osprey Publishing, 1993.

Video about the Anniston Army depot (Megafactories)

M1/M1A1/M1A2 Abrams specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 32ft (25’11” without gun) x 11’11” x 9’5″ ft.in
(9.76m (7.91m) x 3.65m x 2.88m)
Total weight, battle ready 60/63/68 short tons (xxx lbs)
Crew 4 (Commander, Driver, Loader, Gunner)
Propulsion Honeywell AGT1500C multi-fuel turbine 1,500 shp (1,120 kW).
Transmission Allison DDA X-1100-3B
Maximum speed M1/M1A1 45 mph (72 km/h) governed, road, 30 mph (48 km/h) off road
M1A2 42 mph (67 km/h) governed, road, 25 mph (40 km/h) off road
Suspensions High-hardness-steel torsion bars with rotary shock absorbers
Range (Fuel) M1A2 426 km (265 miles/130 km for 500 US Gal.)
Armament M1: 105 mm L55 M68, 55 rounds
M1A1/A2: 120 mm L44 M256A1, 40/42 roundsSec: cal.50 M2HB HMG (900 rounds)
2 × 7.62 mm (.30) M240 LMG (10 400 rds) coaxial, pintle mount
Armor (hull/turret front) M1: 450 mm vs APFSDS, 650 mm vs HEAT
M1A1: 600 mm vs APFSDS, 900 mm vs HEAT
M1A1HA: 600/800 mm vs APFSDS, 700/1,300 mm vs HEAT
Production estimated (all combined) 9000

Gallery


M-1 Abrams from the Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in live firing, showing the open loader’s hatch. Credits US Army, public domain.

MBT 70 number 5 prototype
MBT-70 number five prototype (1969) now on display at the Aberdeen proving grounds.XM-803 in the early 1970s.
XM803 prototype in 1970.XM1 abrams
XM1 Abrams of the first serie (1979), with the distinctive personal insigna of Col. C.Abrams on his tank during ww2.MERDC snow, temperate, with open terrain pattern
Here follows several MERDC liveries, in the 1980s. The MERDC (US. Mobility Equipment Research & Design Command) experimented, a system of camouflage patterns for US Army vehicles, standardized patterns composed of up to twelve colours, adapted to each theatre of operation, areas and seasons. These patterns were applied only to a part of the US Army/USMC fleet of M1 Abrams, in the 1980s. The exemple here is the “snow, temperate, with open terrain” pattern.

MERDC Europe-Summer-verdant
MERDC “Europe Summer, Verdant” pattern. It was expected in theory to change one or two colour while keeping the same scheme to be adapted to any season. In practice this was hardly respected.

MERDC-snow-temp-trees-shrubs
MERDC “Snow, temperate, with trees & shrubs” pattern. These patterns combined hard edges (hand-painted) and more commonly soft edges (spray-painted).

MERDC-Winter-US-Europe-verdant
MERDC “Winter, US & Europe, verdant” pattern.

MERDC-Red-Desert
MERDC “Red Desert” pattern. MERDC colour patterns came to an end in the early 1990s. Now there are very rare, due to turn-in requirements.

M1 Abrams 2nd armoured division Demo Team, Saudi Arabia 1983.
M1 Abrams 2nd armoured division Demo Team, Saudi Arabia 1983.
M1 from the Delta Company, 1st Batallion, 64th Armor, 3rd Infantry Division, Germany.
M1 from the Delta Company, 1st Batallion, 64th Armor, 3rd Infantry Division, Germany, in a singular winter livery.

1/11th ACAV Reforger 1983.
M1 Abrams 1/11th ACAV West Germany, Reforger 83. (reference : New Vanguard, Osprey Publishing)

1/11th ACAV Reforger 1983.
Another M1 from the 1/11th ACAV at Reforger 83. These tanks were adorned with tree branches and patches of mud as a deception.

M1 Abrams 1985.
M1 Abrams from the 3/64th Armor, 3rd Infantry Division, Germany, 1985.

M1 Abrams, winter livery.
M1 Abrams with a transitional washable winter paint, over solid green, late 1980s.


M1A1 Abrams of the first serie tested in the Mojave desert, in desert tan livery, 1986.

2nd Platoon, 1st Company, 1st USMC Marines Division.
USMC M1A1HA of the 2nd Platoon, 1st Company, 1st Marines Division, fitted with CIP, TI phone, EPLRS antenna, fall 1990s.

M1A1 HA from the 4th cavalry, IFOR, Bosnia 1996
M1A1-HA from the 4th cavalry, IFOR, Bosnia 1996.
2nd Platoon, 1st Company, 1st USMC Marines Division.
USMC M1A1HA of the 1st Platoon, A Company, Regimental Combat Team 1, fall 1990s.
US Army M1A1 ODS of the 5th Armoured Division in Kurdistan.
US Army M1A1 ODS of the 5th Armoured Division in Kurdistan.
4th Tank Gun 4th Platoon, B Company, 3-7 cavalry
M1A1-HA 4th Tank Gun 4th Platoon, B Company, 3-7 cavalry.
M1A1 HA with mine plough
M1A1-HA with a mine plough.
US Army M1A1 HA Abrams 12th platoon, A Company, 1/64 armoured regiment
US Army M1A1 HA Abrams 12th platoon, A Company, 1/64 armoured regiment, 2nd brigade 3rd Infantry Division “Rock of the Marne”, Iraq march 2003.
Australian M1A1 AIM SA ERA in the 2000s.
Australian M1A1 AIM SA ERA in the 2000s.
US Army M1A1 HA of the US Army 4th Tang gun 3th platoon, A Company, 1/33 armor, in the 2000s.
US Army M1A1 HA of the US Army 4th Tang gun 3th platoon, A Company, 1/33 armor, in the 2000s.
Worn-out M1A1HA Abrams from an USMC unit in Iraq, 2003. Notice the green original roadwheel paint under the faded desert tan color.
Worn-out M1A1HA Abrams from an USMC unit in Iraq, 2003. Notice the green original roadwheel paint under the faded desert tan color.
US Army M1A2 SEP, official prototype by General Dynamics in 1995.
US Army M1A2 SEP, official prototype by General Dynamics in 1995.
M1A2 Abrams, unknown unit of the US Army in Iraq in 2003.
M1A2 Abrams, unknown unit of the US Army in Iraq in 2003.
Partly camouflaged M1A2 Abrams, unknown unit, Iraq, 2000s.
Partly camouflaged M1A2 Abrams, unknown unit, Iraq, 2000s.
M1A2 of the US Army 2nd Platoon, F company, 2nd Batallion, 3th Armored cavalry Regiment in Iraq in april 2003.
M1A2 of the US Army 2nd Platoon, F company, 2nd Batallion, 3th Armored cavalry Regiment in Iraq in april 2003.
US Army M1A2 TUSK I of the 26th Heavy Mechanized Infantry Division in Iraq, in the 2000s.
US Army M1A2 TUSK I of the 26th Heavy Mechanized Infantry Division in Iraq, in the 2000s.
US Army M1A2 SEP TUSK II in Iraq, in the 2000s.
US Army M1A2 SEP TUSK II in Iraq, in the 2000s.