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.
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 “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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
An A7V at Royes, during the spring offensives, March 1918.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
6.6 x 2.19 x 2.98 m (21.8×7.2×9.9 ft)
Total weight, battle ready
6 (commander, driver, loader, 3 gunners)
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
13 to 20 mm (0.51-0.79 in)
290 hp BMW Va or a 300 hp Maybach HL 108 TR
Leaf spring system
25-30 km/h (16-18 mph)
120 km (75 mi)
Rheinmetall Grosstraktor prototypes N°45 and 46, the last of the six prototypes tested at Kazan.
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, 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.
Another Großtraktor turned into a monument. Photo: – forum.valka.cz Neubaufahrzeug Type B tank (Pz.Kpfw. Nb.Fz. VI) off to Norway, April 1940 (ebay)
Neubaufahrzeug in Norway, Olso harbor, 19 March 1940
Neubaufahrzeug Type B (Pz.Kpfw. Nb.Fz. VI) in Norway, April 1940 – Credits: Bundesarchiv.
Neubaufahrzeug Type B being repaired – Credits: Bundesarchiv.
With industrial resources stretched to the limits in France (after the loss of the eastern Lorraine region in 1914, which accounted for a large part of the heavy industry) and Great Britain, (due to massive debt, labor shortages, steel diverted for shipbuilding) the news that the USA entered the war was received with great hope.
Soon after April 1917, the British planned to send a delegation to the USA to convince them to co-produce the next British tank model. But soon afterwards it was thought more judicious that the initiative should be led locally and endorsed by Congress. Via the American military attaché in London, some contacts were made with the US Navy for the Marine corps, based around the next project available, the Mark VI. However, the latter was tailored for the capacities of the British industry and relatively small.
Mark VIII ‘Liberty’ Tank at Fort George G. Meade, MD, USA
Therefore, Lieutenant-Colonel Albert Gerald Stern proposed the Tank Mark VIII, fictitious at the time, a much bigger design. Meanwhile, the American Department of War intervened and asked that the model be developed for the US Army and sent Major H. W. Alden to the Mechanical Warfare Department design team at Dollis Hill. He arrived in October to find that much of the plans had already been made by Lieutenant G. J. Rackham, a veteran from Flanders.
The Tank Mark VIII Liberty design
The Mark VIII had similar features to the British-built rhomboid tanks, with full-length high track run and large track links, sponsons, and raised superstructure at the front. The latter housed three Lewis machine guns in ball mountings, while the driver had a small raised cabin or cupola with four vision slits.
The sponsons housed two 6-pounder (57 mm) guns, while two hull machine-guns in ball-mounts were placed just behind on the hull doors. Other great improvement was the engine compartmentalization through a bulkhead, preventing noise and fumes from invading the fighting compartment. The hull form was studied after reports and much rounder. The sponsons were made retractable to reduce the width for transport, which was in itself fairly limited compared to the total length of the hull. This would later cause serious agility issues.
The ammunition (208 shells and 13,848 machine-gun rounds) was stored inside a large locker on the fighting compartment platform where the crew stood. The US Liberty V12 (replaced by the Ricardo equivalent on the British design) was fed by three armored fuel tanks at the rear holding 200 L (240 US gallons), ensuring a 60-80 km (37-49.7 mi) ride on rough terrain.
The sheer length was intended for assaulting the new German anti-tank trenches and ditches of the Hindenburg line, and possibly to carry twenty infantrymen (thus performing as an APC), added to a crew of twelve. The hollow British prototype was ready in June 1918 and later shipped to the USA for completion in September, by hand-built components. During trials the links failed frequently and had to be strengthened, lengthened and reshaped, in hard cast steel before production. Protection was better than average, with frontal and side thickness of 16 mm (0.63 in).
The gradual set-up of the production was a long an protracted affair. By September 1917 the US Army HQ in France planned its own tanks corps with French and US-built Renault FTs to equip 20 tank battalions, while five heavy tank battalions were to be given the new Mark VIII. James A. Drain from Gen. Pershing’s staff initially ordered 600 Mark VI tanks (then in development).
Later on, Stern was removed from the project by Churchill (the Mark VI was eventually cancelled in December) and instead was sent to study tank production in France, consulting both the French Minister of Munitions, Louis Loucheur, and Gen. Pershing.
However since French production capacities were severely limited, they devised a ten point agreement stating the component production would be separated between Great Britain and USA, and final assembly performed in France, in a brand new factory which had been built from scratch.
The new project was named the Mark VIII “International”. The projected figures of 1,500 heavy tanks had to be then shared among the Allies, including France, whose own project Char FCM 2C had barely advanced at all.
Later on 11 November the name was changed again to “Liberty” in relation to its US-built 300 hp (220 kW) Liberty engine.
Initial production figures stated that 1,200 vehicles could be produced monthly after extensions of the facilities. This proved way too optimistic. The British-built factory at Neuvy-Pailloux, 200 miles south of Paris, was not even completed by June 1918.
Another company was hired and did finish the factory in November, but the war was over then and the whole project was suspended. Meanwhile, the Liberty engine had its piston recast and was only available in October. US component production was also not ready before October. Armament from the UK was fixed and tested later in November.
Due to the end of the war, the needs for the Mark VIII dwindled rapidly. Nonetheless, due to the effort and money already spent, the Congress authorized the production of 100 tanks for US needs, built on US soil and partly British components. These were delivered between 1919 and 1920 by the Rock Island Arsenal at 35,000$ apiece and served with the 67th Infantry (Tank) Regiment, based in Aberdeen, Maryland.
These were the only heavy tanks in US service until the arrival of the M6 in 1942. The side machine-guns were later eliminated to have a peacetime crew reduced to ten, and all machine-guns were replaced by M1917 Browning models. They suffered from poor engine ventilation and reliability issues, phased out in 1932 and in 1934 were placed in reserve.
The first British-built Mark VIII was delivered the day of the armistice, with a mild steel hull and Rolls-Royce engine, but ultimately seven more were completed (out of a 1,500 unit order to the North British Locomotive Company and William Beardmore & co) with the definitive V12 Ricardo engine.
With extra sets of parts, twenty-four more were built after the war, with five sent to the Bovington training center and the others ultimately sold for scrap. The lengthened Mark VIII* (star) projected late in 1918 was supposed to be even longer, with the rear and front section of the fighting compartment stretched by a total of three meters.
This would have allowed it to cross anti-tank ditches up to five meters long. Production was cancelled soon after the armistice.
Surviving vehicles are on display at Fort Meade, Maryland, and at the Bovington Tank Museum in England. A further example is being restored at the National Armor and Cavalry Museum, Fort Benning, Georgia.
In Steven Spielberg’s movie ‘Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade’, a tank vaguely resembling a Mark VIII is seen, but with an added turret on top.
It is often said that in 1940, the surplus Mark VIII Liberty tanks in USA Army storage were sold at scrap value to Canada for training. This is wrong. They were offered for sale but that offer was declined. The Canadian Army purchased 236 American M1917 tanks for training tank crews instead. These were licensed built WW1 Renault FT tanks.
V12 Liberty or Ricardo crosshead valve, water-cooled straight six petrol engine 150hp @ 1250rpm
5.25 mph (8.45 km/h)
50 miles (80 km)
Trench Crossing ability
15ft 9in (4.8m)
4x 0.303 inch (7.62mm) Vickers water-cooled machine guns
7x 0.303 inch (7.62mm) Hotchkiss air-cooled machine gun or
7x M1917 Browning machine guns
Max 16 mm
Length 1ft 1in (32.5cm)
Width 2ft 3in (67.5cm)
Length 3ft 5in (1.05cm)
Width 2ft 4in (71cm)
Mark VIII ‘Liberty’ Tank being restored at the National Armor and Cavalry Museum, Fort Benning, GA, USA – Source: Rob Cogan for the Armour Journal, NACM Centennial WW1 POSTER All Posters
Originally published on 9 June 2014
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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
British Foster-Daimler, Knight sleeve valve, water-cooled straight six 13-litre petrol engine, 105 hp at 1,000 rpm
3.7 mph (5.95 km/h)
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
From 6 to 15 mm (0.23-0.59 in)
Length 8 1/2 inches (21.5cm)
Width 1ft 8in (52cm)
Length 2ft (61cm)
Width 1ft 4in (41cm)
Length 2ft 3in (69cm)
Width 1ft 3in (37cm)
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”.
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.
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.
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) 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.
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. 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.
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.
The most remarkable trait about this Soviet MBT was its turbine, used as main motricity power. It was indeed the first conventional MBT equipped with a turbine, preceding the M1 Abrams from two years in service. It could be argued that the first turbine tank was the innovative Swedish S-tank, but the latter was not a conventional MBT by any means (more an advanced tank destroyer SPG than MBT by all standards). It was more produced than the more modern T-90 MBT and largely exported in its final version T-80U. It was the first Soviet 3rd generation MBT.
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!
T80 in SPb
Perhaps 40 years in the making, this old concept going back to 1949 was only materialized in the 1970s and the final tank borrowed parts from the T-72 and others from the T-64. Often confounded with the latter by NATO experts at the beginning, it has the same family traits of contemporary Soviet MBTs but was by any means a specific branch of MBTs. Much costlier than the T-72, it was, like the T-64 before, considered much as a domestic “elite MBT” to be treated with special care, unlike the mass-produced, easy to manufacture and maintain T-72, it was neither intended for export. Its speed but limited range made it suitable only for “cavalry-type” armored tactics, alongside more conventional MBTs on the great plains of Eastern Europe. Never exported until the 1990s (by Ukraine) and completely overhauled as the T-80UM, it gave birth, still in Ukraine, to the T-84 Oplot.
Speed was always valued as a form of active protection, especially when guns were un-stabilized. This made a fast moving target less likely to be hit even at relatively short ranges. The Soviet military staff became enamoured with speed for tanks already in 1929, purchasing the Christie tanks in USA, which were reverse-engineered in USSR and copied as the BT series, the ancestry of the famous T-34. In the late 1940s with the advent of the
In the Jet age, turbines seemed to be a promising alternative to conventional engines.
Soviet engineers, never short of unconventional approaches, already designed (on official specs) a first blueprint of a turbine-powered tank in 1949. With the T-64 the flattest, smallest and lightest transverse engine was devised in order to give a low and short silhouette. Whereas the American tanks seemed to grow bigger at each generation, the Soviets took the exact opposite path.
The 1949 turbine tank designer was A. Ch. Starostienko, for the Leningrad Kirov Plant (LKZ). Available turbine engines then were of poor quality and the case was quickly closed. In 1955 however, two prototypes rated for 1,000 hp (746 kW) both boasting new turbine engines were built at LKZ under the guidance of G. A. Ogloblin. In 1957, a team led by Josef Kotin constructed two other prototypes (Ob’yekt 278). Both were hybrids between the roomy heavy tanks IS-7 and T-10s, to accommodate the large GTD-1 turbine engine. These weighted 53.5 tonnes, and were armed with a 130 mm tank gun. Maximum speed was an astonishing 57.3 km/h (35.6 mph) but heavy consumption reduced the range to a mere 300 km (190 mi). Development stopped there as there was no future for heavy tanks anyway after the death of Stalin.
In 1963 however, Morozov Design Bureau designed the revolutionary T-64 and T-64T tanks. Both used a GTD-3TL turbine engine rated at 700 hp (522 kW), tested until 1965. Uralvagonzavod L. N. Kartsev team later created the Ob’yekt 167T tank which used the upgraded GTD-3T turbine engine rated at 801 hp (597 kW). In 1966 the Ob’yekt 288 rocket tank was more radical, being given no less than two aerial GTD-350 turbine engines, for a combined power of 691 hp (515 kW). Trials showed that this arrangement was no better than the single one in development since 1968 at KB-3 unit, Kirov Plant and WNII Transmash.
The 1969 LKZ team turbine tank was designed by Nikolay Popov, designated Ob’yekt 219 SP1. It was renamed later T-64T, powered by a GTD-1000T multi-fuel gas turbine engine rated for 1,000 hp (746 kW). It became clear on trials that this boosted dynamic characteristics but also required a complete overall of the drivetrain and track system to absorb the record performances. The Ob’yekt 219 SP2 received in that occurrence larger drive sprockets and return rollers, and six roadwheels (instead of 5).
The turret was modified to use the standard 125 mm 2A46 tank gun fitted with an autoloader and T-64A ammunition carousel. Other equipment was common with the T-64A. This LKZ hybrid was quite successful and practical, cheap, and therefore was followed by a series of prototypes for extra testings. With no less than seven years more of upgrades and gradual modifications in many aspects, the tank was accepted for service as the T-80.
The T-80 was accepted in 1976, but production lasted until 1992, after the fall of the USSR with a grand total of 5,405 main battle tanks. They were quite a leap forward compared to the T-64 and even more to the T-72, and the among the first third generation main battle tanks to enter service worldwide. At the same time, Germany and the US were still struggling to close their over-ambitious MBT-70 design, and two years after both countries launched their own MBTs, the M1 Abrams and Leopard 2.
Therefore for two years, the Soviet Union had hundreds of the most advanced MBT worldwide at their disposal for any western offensive, light years from the M60, at that time the most widespread NATO MBT. However some analysts still saw it for years as a simple improvement of the T-72, whereas it was closely related to the T-64. As a fact T-64, T-72 and T-80 all looked superficially similar, and were armed with the same main gun. The real difference came with performances and the fact the T-64 and T-80 were small and shorter than the T-72. These were also manned by reputedly much better crews, as elite tanks.
The T-80 design not only added to T-64 design a gas turbine engine (denied for many years by western analysts) but compromised with the adoption of suspension components of the T-72. A very high power-to-weight ratio and reliability made it by far the most mobile tank in service worldwide, although still plagued by range problems. Now well known and established fact, the turbine had a high consumption, even at idle. Morozov bureau will later try to create a parallel development (T-80UD) with a commercial turbo-diesel instead.
The M1 Abrams had a much larger 1,500 hp (1,120 kW) gas turbine, but at the price of 61 tons on the balance compared to only 42.6 tons for its rival, meaning 24.5 vs 27.1 power to weight ratio, and it was also later recognized as less maneuverable than the T-80. Nothing is known however about the comparative noise produced by the T-80 turbine. Like the T-64, the T-80 was able to fire the 9K112 Kobra (AT-8 Songster) ATGM through the main gun for an extended reach beyond the 2500 m practical range of its 125 mm gun.
Design of the T-80A
Layout of the “turbine tank” was very similar to the T-64. The hull was quite low, with a highly pronounced front glacis slope (laminate armor) and made of welded steel RHA, assumed with similar armour thickness than the T-64. The driver’s compartment was in the centerline, and in the two-man turret, the gunner was located on the left and commander on the right.
Apart composite armor on the turret and hull rubber flaps and sideskirts protect the sides and lower hull against RPGs. Explosive reactive armor and stronger armor was used on the T-80U and T-80UM1. Active protection include Shtora-1 and Arena APS systems, as well as Drozd APS (Only a limited number installed). The crew was protected by NBC and there were Halon type automatic fire extinguishers in the engine compartment and turret. Also smoke dischargers were used on the turret, from three to six per side, and the usual exhaust diesel dispenser was also used to create a white cloud. Mobility
The T-80 gas turbine engine developed 1,000 horsepower instead of a 750-horsepower diesel engine, although the later T-80 revert to diesel for reasons we will see soon. The gearbox had five forward and one reverse gear (and not seven forward, one reverse). Instead of the hydropneumatic suspensions of the T-64, well-proven torsion bars were used, and the tracks layed on six forged steel aluminium, rubber-clad road wheels. There were also rear sprockets and front idlers. The tracks were also slightly wider and longer than on the T-64, which gave lower ground pressure. Armament
The turret houses the same 125 mm 2A46 smoothbore shared by the T-72. It can fire both standard ordnance of various types, from HE-frag to HEAT and APFSDS, but also anti-tank guided missiles as well. The feeding system is the Korzina automatic loader which holds up to 28 rounds (two-part) ammunition, in the carousel located under the turret floor.
Extra rounds are also stored inside the turret. This proven autoloader is effective and reliable also combat tested since the mid-1960s. The propellant charge is contained in a semi-combustible cartridge case. Only the small metal baseplate is ejected after being consummated. The loading process takes between 7.1 and 19.5 seconds depending on the initial position of the carousel. PKT Machine gun Known issues
Apart the usual uncomfortable and crampy interior that would be unacceptable for NATO crews, the T-80BV used in combat in Chechnya was proven quite vulnerable and prone to catastrophic explosions. The reason given by US and Russian experts was the vulnerability of stored semi-combustible propellant charges and missiles when hit by molten metal jet from the penetrating HEAT rounds. Western tank indeed had their rounds stored in a separate stowage from the crew compartment, using with armored blast doors, ‘blow-out’ panels. The latest T-84 Oplot, the Ukrainian derived version of the T-80 has an entirely new turret with armored ammunition compartment to help prevent accidental detonation. 125 mm 9K112 Kobra gun ATGM
The T-80B (1978)
This first evolution of the basic type came quickly and was characterized by a new turret integrating new laser rangefinder, fire-control, even a new autoloader modified to operate the 9M112-1 Kobra ATGM. This one was credited for accurate 80% hits on the move. On the protection side, improved composite armor was used.
In 1980 this version received a 1,100-hp engine. In 1982 it was provided with a new gun.
In 1985, it received fittings for an improved reactivearmorr. This had an equivalent protection of 400 mm against HEAT warheads. Sighting range for the ammunitions range from 4000 m for kinetic energy ammunitions cumulative ammunition, 5000 m for HE-frag and near 10,000 when using the “side level” system. The night sight TPNZ-49 range in active mode was 1300 and 850 m in passive mode. Accuracy for the “Reflex” ATGMs system in enhanced by a laser beam allows for accurate targeting on the move at any speed.
The T-80BV/UM (1985)
In addition to the modifications seen above, the BV introduces a new ERA (Explosive Reactive Armour), and the UM is given the new Buran Thermal Imaging sight in place of the Luna IR.
The T-80U (1985)
The T-80U (“U” stands for uluchsheniye, meaning “improved”) was designed by SKB-2 in Leningrad for the hull, working with the Morozov Bureau for the turret and armament. The T-80U uses the Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armour (see later), had an improved gunsight, and the 9K119 Refleks ATGM (from 1990).
A development of the T-80A, it was powered from 1990 by a 1,250 hp (919 kW) GTD-1250 gas turbine, for improved range. The latter was derived from the GTD-1000T and GTD-1000TF engines used by the main production T-80s. This new gas turbine was mutifuel, accepting high-octane aviation gasoline as well as diesel and low-octane gasoline. It was also very reliable, stable for a better service life. It also had a built-in automatic system of dust deposits removal but still retains a relatively high fuel consumption. The main gun was provided with the 2A46 fire control system in an improved turret. For amphibious crossings, it was given the new Brod-M deep wading equipment.
The T-80U was preceded by the Object 219AS prototype, a transitional model which used the T-80U turret, but Kontakt-1/ERA instead of the new Kontakt-5. Some of these Object 219As even shows no ERA at all.
The commander version (T-80UK)is equipped with the Shtora-1 APS and the thermal imaging night sight TO1-PO2T (about 6400/4600 meters night range). By comparison the base thermal night sight is about 1750/1500 meters. T-80U 2002 in Kubinka
In terms of protection, The T-80U featured a second generation of explosive reactive armour (ERA) Kontakt-5, well proven against APFSDS rounds, which can largely dissipate the energy from the M829A1 “Silver Bullet”. Kontakt-5 was also integrated to the hull. It gave an equivalent of 780/1320 mm RHAe against APFSDS/HEAT rounds. It has full length rubber side skirts to protect the sides, the first three being rigid, armored, and provided with lifting handles.
The commander’s machine gun is a simple pintle-mounted one. The 9M119 Refleks (AT-11 Sniper) guided missile are provided for the main gun, each having a Long-Rod penetrator (HVAPFSDS) 3BM46. For active concealment, outside the smoke projectors, a special camouflage paint distorts the tank’s appearance in the visible and IR wavebands. The 1A46 fire control system includes a laser range finder, ballistics computer, advanced 1G46 gunner’s main sights, and thermal imaging sights.
These new systems, together with the 125 mm D-81TM “Rapira-3” smooth bore gun, ensures that the T-80U can accurately hit and destroy targets at a range of up to 5 kilometers (ATGMs and HV/APFSDS). Experienced crew was able to successfully at the international exhibition missile to strike 52 targets without a miss at a distance of 5 km. T-80UM-1 exposed at Omsk, 2009.
T-80 UM (1990)
The T-80U(M) of the 1990s introduced the TO1-PO2 Agava gunner’s thermal imaging sight and 9M119M Refleks-M guided missile, and later an improved 2A46M-4 version of the 125 mm gun and 1G46M gunner’s sight was used. Both the T-80 poor combat performances and high fuel consumption conducted the Russian command to standardize the T-90 tank. The Omsk Tank Plant in Siberia since with that decision was left without orders but try to sell the T-80 on the export market. South Korea and China imported it in small numbers, as well as pakistan and Cyprus. The T-80UM1 was in that perspective intended for export only, given active protection systems from the T-80UM2 Black Eagle.
T-80UD Bereza (Ukraine, from 1987)
Morozov Bureau developed a diesel-powered version called the T-80UD, powered by a 1,000-hp 6TD-1 6-cylinder multi-fuel two-stroke turbo-piston diesel engine. This allowed operational fuel temperatures up to 55 °C and to ford to 1.8 m water depth. The engine deck and smoke-mortar array, turret stowage boxes are all different from the Russian-built T-80U. The remotely controlled commander’s machine gun is also part of the package.
500 were built in the Malyshev plant in 1987-1991, a potent addition for the Ukrainian Military after the breakup of USSR. Alongside the derived T-84, this tank is today the staple of Ukrainian MBT force and will remains so in future years.
T-84 (Ukraine 1999): Further development with a 1,200-hp diesel, new welded turret. T-80BVD (Ukraine, 2002): KMDB’s upgrade which includes the 6TD diesel engine, remote-controlled commander’s machine gun, better optics. It remains at a demonstrator but non was sold yet. Chonma-ho V north korean T-80U T-80UM2/Black Eagle tank: Cancelled project. Several Russian prototypes shown at trade shows, with a longer chassis and extra pair of road wheels, and very large turret with separate ammunition compartment.
Armenia: 20 in service. Belarus: 95 in 2000, 90 today. Cyprus: 27 T-80Us & 14 T-80UKs ordered in 1996, 25 T-80Us and 16 T-80UKs later -Total 82 Egypt: 14 T-80UKs, 20 T-80Us acquired 1997. South Korea: 33 T-80Us ordered in 1995, two T-80UKs in 2005, now retired. Pakistan: 320 T-80UDs ordered 1996 from Ukraine, last delivered 2002. They integrated many technologies common to the T-84. People’s Republic of China: 50 (200 ordered in 1993) T-80Us obtained for evaluation used for the development of the Type 96 MBT. Russia: 3,144 active, 1,856 in storage 1995, only 271 active in 2005. Yemen: 31 ex-Russian delivered in 2000. Bulgaria also tested the type in the late 1980s but after comparison with the latest versions of the T-72 rejected the design. Some sources also states that Kazakhstan also purchased some, without precision. According to most trusted sources however only T-72 MBTs of various types are currently in service. Also in 1992, the UK bought a number of T-80U tanks for defence research and development through a specially created trading company intended to deliver these to Morocco, offering five million USD each.
After being evaluated on their proving grounds one was transferred to the US, tested at Aberdeen Proving Ground (and later four Ukrainian T-80UD MBTs). Weak spots and flaws were duly noted. This was officially confirmed in January 1994 by the MOD. South Korean tanks were given in order to pay Russian debts incurred during the days of the Soviet Union. Russia also attempted to sell the T-80 to Turkey and Greece. Sweden also integrated the T-80 in the competition to modernize its armoured brigades in the early 1990s alongside the Leclerc but the upgraded Leopard 2 (Strv 122) was chosen instead and Leopard 2A4s (Strv 121) kept to simplify logistics.
The T-80 in action
The T-80 entered service in the early 1980, very gradually due to repeated teething problems. 1,900 were registered in service in 1985, 4,000 in 1990, and 4,839 during the breakup of the USSR, since passed to successors states (Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan), stored and exported. T-80Us were never deployed in Europe. Instead T-80B and T-80BVs were stationed in East Germany between 1986 and 1987. Their speed led concerns to NATO that the whole Soviet armoured brigades could reach the sea in less than two weeks, and led to the development of new ATGMs and attack helicopters. T-80Us at the 1991 Moskow coup attempt.
But instead of the great rush on the open plains of Eastern Europe, T-80s were deployed in August 1991 when communists and allied military commanders tried to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev. T-80UD of the 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division were launched into the streets of Moscow to no avail as the coup attempt failed as crews refused to fire on the audience and parliament (see above). After that about 460 T-80UD are retained in service with 2nd Guards Tamanskaya Motor Rifle Division and 4th Guards Kantemirowsk Motor Rifle Division. It’s still a costly tank to operate. In the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, (4 October) six T-80UD MBTs -12th Guards Tank Regiment & 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division- took positions on a bridge opposite the Russian parliament and fired on it. Also in July 1998, a single T-80 (Major Igor Belyaev) went in front of the administration building of Novosmolensk, aiming at it in protest of several months of unpaid wages. The Chechen war: Humiliation and Controversy
The real test came with T-80B and BVs deployed (without success) for capturing rebellious cities. Massive tank losses were suffered in particular in Grozny. Crews were not trained nor prepared to face opposing veterans of the Soviet War in Afghanistan, very mobile and well armed with RPG-7V and RPG-18s. They lacked reactive armour or were not fitted with explosive inserts. It was even discovered some “boxes” were left empty. Anti-tank fire was judiciously directed at the least armoured points of the vehicles, if needed with as many hits as necessary.
In general three to six RPG hits were sufficient to disable T-80s, and it was observed that most time the autoloader was the weak spot because of penetrating hits in their side armour, blewing stored ready propellant in a vertical position. They were supposed to be protected by the road wheels from the sides, but most of the times, rebels were posted in cellars and in general dominant positions or at the contrary from basements, whereas T-80s suffered from minimal gun elevation and depression and were unable to respond.
225 tanks in all were destroyed in the first month alone (about 10% of tanks deployed for thos campaign). This led General-Lieutenant A. Galkin (head of the Armor Directorate) to convince the MOD after the war to stop any delivery or procurement of gas-turbine propelled tanks. This led to new tactical assignments, like infantry squads support from a safe distance. On the other hand, some officers argued that the T-72s deployed in urban areas performed as poorly and anyway the crews sent has not been trained properly to face these missions, nor had the right tactics.
As a result T-80s were excluded from the operations in the second Chechen war, and the war in Ukraine. It is not known what the future reserves to the T-80. New offensive actions could come from foreign deployments, since its use in Russia has dwindled down to symbolic numbers, but nothing is closed so far for the Ukrainian ones, not modernized to the latest T-84 level and still in considerable numbers.
Poland chose to produce tankettes (The TK3 and TKS), derived from the Carden-Loyd Mark VI, more because of economical constraints than tactical choices. But there was also a real interest for another Vickers-Armstrong product of 1930, the Vickers 6-ton light tank of which 38 Type A and 22 Type B were ordered in 1932-33. This model served for a local development by the Ursus company, soon known as the 7TP. This was just one of several tanks models that the Army was looking on. Another was an American one, the Christie tank. Indeed, the 7TP was given the same old bogie suspensions systems of the Vickers 6-ton which didn’t made the cut in terms of speed. Whereas the American concept was soon copied by neighboring USSR and Great Britain for its Cruiser Mark III.
10TP without tracks in its original configuration. Narrow tracks were carried, strapped on the catwalks.
The 10TP, however, was born much earlier as the Military Institute of Engineering Research (Wojskowy Instytut Badań Inżynierii, WIBI) sent Captain Ruciński in a mission in the US to legally acquire a Christie M1928 tank plus its blueprint and license. But the deal never materialized. Therefore it was not before the early 1930s that the WIBI Tank Design Bureau took charge to create a local tank inspired by the Christie M1928 and M1931 after data, leaflets and notes taken by Captain Ruciński.
The WBI design bureau was liquidated in 1934 and the project was interrupted by the more urgent 7TP. It was taken over by the newly established Design and Testing Centre of the Armoured Forces, but most of the original documentation has been lost or destroyed so it started almost from a blank page and on 10 March 1935 the 10TP officially started under supervision of Captain Rudolf Gundlach (the famous periscope designer). His team also comprised engineers Jan Łapuszewski, Stefan Ołdakowski, Mieczysław Staszewski, Kazimierz Hejnowicz and process engineer Jerzy Napiórkowski. The design was advanced enough to be officially approved and included by the Armament and Equipment Committee (Komitet do spraw Uzbrojenia i Sprzętu, KSUS) in January 1936 to the 1936-42 armament projection plan.
It was specified to be given to four newly formed tank battalions and two motorised cavalry brigades. The final prototype was built by Experimental Workshop (WD), attached to the Ursus complex near Warsaw (PZInż), supervised by Captain Kazimierz Grüner. Because of the foreign engine and mechanical parts, delays amounted and the delivery did not occur before July 1938, it was ready eventually for tests on August, 16. Secret runs started under the supervision of the Trial and Experiment Department in the Bureau of Technical Studies on Armored Weapons headed by Captain Leon Czekalski. Trials stopped on 30 September to correct several minor defaults at the WD unit. Other long trips started from 16 January 1939 achieving a 2000km crash course on 25 April. Then it was completely dismantled at WD to check the wear on particular parts and assemblies and do extra corrections. Were detected and noted an above normal wear of the gearbox and clutches, excessive roadwheels and tracks fatigue, insufficient engine cooling and greater than expected fuel consumption.
Design of the 10TP
Externally, only the large roadwheels betrayed some connection to the Christie design. In fact, the 10TP was certainly not a copy of the Christie M1931 as the Soviet BT series was. The hull was significantly larger to accommodate two men side by side in the turret and two in the hull front (driver and co-driver/MG-gunner). Armour thickness was the same to the front, sides and back at 20mm, and 8mm on the bottom and top. Compartmentation was standard, with a rear compartment for the main engine, which was eventually a 12 cylinder American La France petrol engine which developed 210HP (245 stated by the manufacturer), coupled to a 5 gear mechanical gearbox. The tracks (one on two was teethed, double pin) had smaller links, more durable and made for a quieter ride. There was also a specific link hooking system. New drive sprockets (rear) were designed. Most importantly the the second pair of roadwheels were raising by using advanced hydraulic servomechanisms for steering. Both this and the hooking system were new and unproven, and caused many teething problems. 10TP suspension scheme
Top speed was around 50-75 km/h which was certainly less than the BT series (almost 90-100 kph), due to a lower output and heavier weight. Range was 210km on roads but fell to 130 in off-road conditions with a 130 l capacity. The two-man turret, protected by 16mm slopes was the same model used on the 7TP, housing a high-velocity 37 mm Bofors wz. 36 coupled with a coaxial 7.92 mm Ckm wz.30. The bow machine gun was of the same model, but its watertank was encased in an armoured mantlet and massive ball mount. There were leather straps on each side to carry the alternative tracks stored on the catwalks.
Rendition of the 10TP by Tanks Encyclopedia, based on the profile photo, March-April trials of 1938
10TP by Bernard “Escodrion” Baker
Eventually, a demonstration allegedly took place before the general staff (perhaps in May 1939). At that stage the idea was no longer to have a convertible (wheeled vehicle/tracked) model, to get rid of all the dual system complications and stick to a track-only model. The spare weight could be then reallocated to improve armour thickness. Therefore, the whole project shifted towards a new model, the 14TP tank. The fate of the 10TP is not known unfortunately. It could have been cannibalized to create the 14TP or stored, or conditioned to take part in the desperate fight in November. The 10TP would have been however comparable with the British Crusader and its 37mm Bofors was able to deal with most German tanks up to the Panzer IV.
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. 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
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
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
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 °
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
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 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.
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.
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)
5.88 without gun x 3.04 x 2.79 m (19’3″ x 9’11” x 9’2″)
Total weight, battle ready
4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Ford GAA V-8, gasoline, 450 hp, 15.5 hp/t
48 km/h (30 mph)
240 km (150 mi) on flat
90 mm M3 (47 rounds)
cal.50 AA machine gun(1000 rounds)
8 mm to 108 mm front (0.31-4.25 in)
1772 in 1945
Rare restored footage: TD Boot Cam color 1943
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. Notice the muzzle-less gun and absent add-on side armour plates
Regular M36 Jackson in Belgium, December 1944.
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.
Late Gun Motor Carriage M36, Belgium, December 1944.
M36B1 in Germany, March-April 1945.
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
Croatian M36 077 “Topovnjaca”, War of Independence, Dubrovnik brigade, 1993.
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When Nazi Germany ruthlessly seized the industrial jewels of Czechoslovakia prior to the war, it also acquired a treasure of tank manufacturing skills that was to provide the Nazi war machine with more than 5,000 extremely reliable tanks during the war. The whole family was derived from a single model: the Škoda/Praga Lt vz.38, or Panzer 38(t) in German service, a light tank which was used until 1943-44, but also gave birth to one of the most prolific German tank hunters of the war, the Jagdpanzer 38(t) or, as it is commonly known today, the Hetzer. G13 modified to look like a Hetzer on display at the Overloon War Museum in the Netherlands.
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Compared to this vehicle, 2nd/3rd generation tank hunters were based on mediums or heavy tank chassis. The nimblest of these was the StuG III Ausf.G, based on the now obsolescent Panzer III chassis. Light tanks had served to develop the first generation of tanks hunters, improvised in 1941-42 with bulky, tall superstructures, while the AT gun was just basically welded on. But, overall, the main goal of this new tank hunter was to be readily available in larger quantities, cheaper, and with a proven chassis to avoid the problems observed with the more ambitious and complex designs derived from the “big cats”.
The very reliable Panzer 38(t) chassis already served as a basis for the prolific Marder III, declined into three major types. In 1943, the StuG III provided the bulk of German tanks hunters, and was quite a success due to its low profile. However, engineers could do even more in terms of protection, low profile and cost-efficiency, and the Hetzer did exactly this, belonging to the late war, third generation of German tank destroyers. It was, of sort, the “little brother” of the Jagdpanzer IV. Moreover, it was produced in Czechoslovakia, relatively spared at the time by the Allied bombings, although that was to change.
Inspiration: The Romanian Mareșal
Among the early inspiration sources for the casemate shape and light tank accommodation, the Romanian Mareșal is often cited. It was developed by the Ateliere Leonida. This vehicle was born after the Romanian encounters with the Russian T-34 in Ukraine, which radically changed their opinion on armor and especially the possibilities of sloped armour. From there a project was born, which tried to create a tank hunter that would be extremely well-protected over an existing, readily available captured light tank chassis (the T-60), while keeping the weight down. It was achieved by giving the hull an extremely sloped, all-side armour. This resulted in the 50 mm (1.97 in) armor plates offering 100 mm (3.94 in) of effective protection against direct fire, which provided this small tank destroyer with the heavy tank protection level.
Six prototypes were built (M-00, M-01, M-02, M-03, M-04, M-05) between December 1942 and January 1944, but, after the 23 August coup d’etat, the plans and the remaining prototypes were seized by the Soviet army. Its main armament was a 7.5 cm (2.95 in) DT-UDR Resita Model 1943 and secondary ZB-53 7.92 mm (0.31 in) machine gun. It was propelled by a Hotchkiss H-39 120 hp engine (10 hp/t) and transmission. It was based on a modified T-60 chassis, but with Rogifer suspensions, comprising four stamped roadwheels per side. The top speed was 45 km/h (28 mph) on flat and 25 km/h (15 mph) cross-country.
Although the development of the Mareșal and the Hetzer advanced in parallel in 1943 (it was even estimated that common production would take place in the future), the Germans were quick to have a finished prototype ready for production. The first wooden mock-up was ready in January 1944, presented and accepted by the Waffenamt. A decision was made to mount the 7.5 cm Pak 39, shared with the early versions of the Jagdpanzer IV. Oberst Thomale signed an agreement for the delivery of the first three prototypes in March 1944, for pre-production trials. Development then went at breakneck speed -in fact it remains a record- the prototypes were built, but since they were based on an already well proven chassis, the model was accepted into service without a pre-series or further testing.
Wooden mock-up of the Jagdpanzer 39(t) Hetzer with muzzle brake.
On 18 January 1944, Hitler signed an order for the production of 1000 vehicles even before the final blueprints were delivered. A very optimistic schedule was defined, which required growing production capacity from BMM and, later, Škoda, revving up from 20 vehicles in April, to 200 in July and 500 in March 1945. It should be noted that, together, the factories never delivered as much as 300 vehicles monthly. The maximal output was performed by BMM, 155 in a month. Another G13 modified to look like a Hetzer on display at the HMG Wheels and Tracks exhibition, Vienna, 2010.
Nevertheless, the first production Hetzers were delivered in March 1944, as scheduled, and accepted by the Waffenamt in early April. The first 20 were demonstrated in front of Hitler on April, 20. However, production goals were significantly hampered by the delivery of the gun mounts. There were a few corrections to be made also, quickly detected in the first batches: leaking gaskets, deficient air filtration, carburetors, governor, incorrect spark plug types and the layout of the connecting lines between the fuel tanks.
Despite its appearance, the Hetzer was not built directly over the Panzer 38(t) chassis. The latter had to be widened and lengthened in order to support the weight of the casemate, and had modified suspensions with an up-rated engine. It had the same combination of large roadwheels and improved leaf spring suspensions units (two pairs), but only one return roller per side. The drive sprockets were at the front and idlers at the rear. The latter were later simplified, with six drilled holes, although most of the production vehicles used the standard model. Details up close, rear.
The engine was the new 160 [email protected],800 rpm (118 kW) Praga AC/2 6-cylinder, connected to a Praga-Wilson gearbox with 5 forward and 1 reverse gears. Along with the reinforced suspension, in order to cope with the weight of the new 75 mm (2.95 in) gun, this engine compensated for the overall weight increase, which went from 9.5 tonnes on the original light tank to the 15.7 tonnes of a Hetzer in battle order. Top speed was apparently still 42 km/h (26 km/h), which appears optimistic, since the power to weight ratio fell to only 10 hp/tonne, compared to 13.15 hp/tonne on the Panzer 38(t). Cross-country speed was probably no more than 15 km/h (9 mph) at best, like the model it was based on. It was far short from the original specifications.
In terms of protection, the big advantage of the Hetzer was its highly sloped casemate, with a 60 mm (2.36 in) thick plate on the front, which was inclined 60 degrees from the vertical, and therefore offered around 120 mm (4.72 in) of effective protection. Needless to say, Allied tank guns had a hard time penetrating it, except for the fabled British 17-pounder. The lower part of the hull was still of the same thickness and sloped (hardened steel E22), but the sides were only 20 mm (0.79 in) thick and made of low quality alloy, but inclined at 40°. The roof was only made of an 8 mm (0.31 in) thick plate, proof only against shrapnel. The belly was 10 mm (0.39 in) thick.
Accommodation and crew
Due to the limited area defined by the narrow chassis/hull width and highly sloped casemate, internal space was very cramped. The driver, gunner and loader were all placed on the left side, in a row. The only escape hatch there was a small trap below the loader, barely accessible by the two others. Due to the main gun being positioned on the far right of the hull, the loader had to work in an awkward position, which was not practical and obliged him to reach under or across the gun and into the recoil path of the gun in order to access the safety lock or the ammunition, whereas the commander, installed in a niche at the rear, was cutoff from the others.
Vision was generally poor, there were twin periscopes of the driver in the front plate (it was later discovered they formed a shot trap), the main slf ZF sight for the gunner, a periscopic sight for the machine-gun, another for the loader, plus the SF14Z scissors periscope for the commander. The vehicle was literally blind on the right side, which was especially problematic since protection there was minimal. Attempts to correct this with a fully traversing periscope (Starr) for the commander never took place.
Tooling stowage was external and comprised a jack, jack wooden block and wire cutter stowed on the right track guard and wrecking bar on the left. 8 spare track links were often attached on the rear deck, while 6 others and two towing cables were fastened on the rear back plate. Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer crossing a village next to loaded horses/mules, KBZ Army Group South, Ukraine
The first series was equipped with horizontal mufflers and standard twelve hole idler wheels. They also featured a narrow main gun mantlet and flat plate side armor skirts hooked on welded brackets. Also, on the earliest vehicles, both fuel tanks were filled via the same fuel port, located on the left side. This was among the first things corrected, but the main problem was the Hetzer was critically nose heavy (which is why it never received a muzzle brake). Fixes during production
– Modified exhausts with a vertically oriented tube and flame arrester (replacing the muffler)
– Wider mantlet for the main gun (to give slightly more traverse), but lighter
– Improved elevation/traverse mechanisms
– Inwards angled side skirt corners (to avoid snagging vegetation)
– Better filler port
– Gratings over the air intake openings (to avoid vegetation being sucked into the engine compartment)
– Mechanical pump (instead of electrical)
– Riveted road wheels instead of boltened (and later welded).
– Strengthened leaf spring suspension packs (9 mm thick leaf bands)
– Improved heating arrangements in the fighting compartment (winter batteries)
– Double arm mount for the commander’s own observation telescope, hatch in two pieces
– Better ammo storage (for five more rounds)
– Hand grips welded on the ceiling of the fighting compartment over the driver’s seat
– Better final drive assemblies
– New simplified idler wheel with 10, 6 or 4 drilled lightening holes.
The Starr was characterized by a rigid mount for the main gun. It was tailored for simplified mass-production, and therefore the gun recoil system was entirely eliminated. The recoil had to be absorbed by the chassis and suspensions. Aiming was entirely performed by the same transmission, but coupled to a new Tatra 8 cylinder diesel engine in development. Also, in order to cope with poor vision, the commander received a rotating periscope. Ultimately 10 were built, but later seven were converted back as standard Hetzers after the war because the Starr tubes had worn out. The Jagdpanzer 38 Starr was also meant to receive later a longer L/70 gun, but it came too late to see action.
This final, transitional version had a wider hull, better side protection (50 mm/1.97 in), same rigid gun mount as the Starr, but with the L/70 gun, and the new 8-cyl Tatra engine. It was an even simpler version of the Starr and another step towards the planned E 10. At least 10,000 were expected to have been produced by BMM before the fall of 1945.
The German army needed more flame-throwing tanks for their December 1944 winter offensive in Ardennes, Operation Watch on the Rhine and the Operation North Wind in Rhineland-Palatinate, Alsace and Lorraine. Twenty Jagdpanzer 38(t) tank hunter chassis were fitted with a 14 mm Flammenwerfer flamethrower gun, instead of its normal 7.5cm PaK 39 anti-tank gun. A tube was installed on the front of the flamethrower to make the vehicle look like the standard Jagdpanzer 38(t) in an effort to confuse the enemy.
A light recovery vehicle created especially for the Hetzer and light vehicles of its class. Between 64 and 106 (even 120) were converted until the end of the war (chassis numbers 321001-323000-323001), equipped with jack handbars, winch, steel cables, wooden support planks and a rear hydraulic leg for a better grip. Its only armament was a single 7.92 mm (0.31 in) Rheinmetall MG 34 or 42 mounted on the front arm.
Panzer 38(t) variant the Bergepanzer 38(t) with dozer blade deployed
The standard command variant. Nothing really special except for a 30W FuG 8 radio set and extra whip antennas. It was still armed the same way as regular Hetzers, making it even more cramped inside. Jagdpanzer 38(t) of 8th SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer, Hungary, 1944 – Credits: Bundesarchiv.
Bergepanzer 38(t) mit 30 mm MK 103 autocannon anti-aircraft gun
A number of Bergepanzer 38(t) light armoured recovery vehicles were converted into anti-aircraft flakpanzers. They were fitted with a 30 mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MK 103 autocannon. The letters MK are an abbreviation for the word ‘Maschinenkanone’.
In the background you can see a Bergepanzer 38(t) mit 30 mm MK 103 autocannon anti-aircraft gun with its gun raised.
This weapon was originally designed to be mounted in German combat aircraft and intended to have a dual purpose as an anti-tank and air-to-air fighting weapon. This gun was also used on the five prototype Flakpanzer IV “Kugelblitz. If necessary the gun could also be used in a ground support roll against enemy troops and vehicles. A Bergepanzer 38(t) mit 30 mm MK 103 autocannon anti-aircraft gun
Other experimental variants
The most daring propositions were a model of assault gun with a 105 mm (4.13 in) StuH 42 or a 120 mm (4.72 in) mortar for infantry support. Another “long” version was given the 7.5 cm KwK 42 L/70 gun from the Panther. There was also an AA variant with a 20 mm (0.79 in) KwK 38 Flak turret. The war ended before any of these were put into production. Waffentraeger Krupp-Ardelt: 88 mm (3.46 in) PaK 43 tank hunter which borrowed the suspension and roadwheels from the Hetzer. One real size mockup built (July 1944). Production was expected to start in October, but the program cancelled. 12.8 cm Waffentraeger 38(d): Was meant to use the lengthened and strengthened Panzer 38(d) chassis. Vollkettenaufklarer 38(t) (Kätzchen): A reconnaissance APC/IFV heavily tested, but never produced. Several prototypes of the regular model armed with 1 or 2 2cm Flak 38 guns and several of the Kätzchen APC were built and tested in late 1944. Flakpanzer 38(t) Kugelblitz: A proposition to mount the twin Flak turret from the Panzer IV Kugelblitz on the Jagdpanzer 38(t) chassis. Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) mit 7.5cm KwK L/48 (Pzkpfw IV) Turm: A reamed Panzer 38(t) (reinforced and stretched out) armed with the Panzer IV turret. 7.5 cm Stu.Kan. auf Pz.Kpfw. 38(t): Tank hunter prototype (one photo), possibly used on the Eastern front (Panzer Tracts No. 7-2)
The Hetzer in action
It was originally planned to test the vehicle as early as April 1944, but delays ensured the first batch of Jagdpanzer 38(t)s reached the ordnance depot in May. They were tested by Wa Prüf 2 and joined training groups in the summer, until July. The first 45 entered service with the Heeres Panzerjäger-Abteilung 731 on 4-13 July 1944 (Army Group North, Eastern Front, later Mitte). One of the first engagement occurred in Warsaw in August 1944, during the famous uprising. At least one was captured, renamed and restored by Partisans, but never used (“Chwat”).
Other units that received it were the 741st (September), 561st (January 1945) and 744th (February). The 741st was eventually split in two, one half being shipped to the Western Front for operation Wacht am Rhein. They were organically attached to infantry divisions and issued to Jäger, Kavalerie and Grenadiers corps within the infantry, rather than independent units. By late 1944, each company was given 14 Hetzers, but, after February 1945, this number fell to 10.
In the Ardennes, no less than 18 companies participated in the offensive (295 in all). On 30 December, only 131 were reported operational. Other independent units also received Hetzers instead of other, more powerful, tank hunters, mostly due to production delays, namely the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division, the Abteilung Jüteborg and Schliesen, FHH PZd and PZGd, even the StuG Brigade 266. There was also plans to deliver these to Allies, but while Romania never received a single one, Hungary got 75, which arrived by train between December 1944 and January 1945. They fought in support of Heeresgruppe Sud.
An interesting experiment began with the the constitution of the mixed independent Pz.Jagd.Brigade 104 as a hunter-killer unit on the Eastern Front, but it was short lived. The tank hunters were scattered around in order to plug holes in depleted units all along the Eastern Front. By March 1945, only 359 Hetzers were reported operational, out of 529 still in the registry.
From German reports, kill/loss ratios were excellent. Early on, one of the first units engaged claimed 20 kills with no loss. Another unit, also on the Eastern front, reported 57 kills without losses, engaging IS-2s at 800 m (880 yd) and more. It was also reported that the whole unit reached its objective, 160 km (100 mi) from its base, without a single breakdown en route. Crews were also delighted by the frontal protection and remote “Rundumsfeuer” machine gun.
Little known, however, were the Hetzers deployed in Northern Italy. Four companies operated 56 Hetzers there in 1945. At the same date, they reported only 37 operational Panzerjagers, while only 137 were still enlisted on the Western front. This was, noticeably, one of the highest operational percentage of all German tanks units. Later in the war, however, officer mismanagement of the Hetzer and poor training took their toll on units. Abandoned Hetzer inspected by US troops, Belgium, winter 1944-45.
Generally speaking, the Hetzer was a good generic tank hunter. It was well armed and well protected from the front, presenting a small silhouette and narrow target. It could be concealed quite easily and was difficult to spot even after firing and, crucially, was also very reliable. However, it had shortcomings too, that were only partially compensated by its great availability. From 1944 and until the end of the war, it became the most current German tank hunter, not counting the heavier StuG III. In October 1944, Wa Prüf 1’s report on penetration values showed that it could be defeated by the Cromwell’s and Churchill’s 75 mm (2.95 in) gun from up to 2500 to 3600 m (1.5-2 mi) from the sides and rear. However, it could be penetrated by the late M4 76(W) Sherman’s M1A1 gun from 800 m (880 yd) from the front and from closer than 100 m (110 yd) through the cast mantlet. But it could defeat most versions of the M4, Cromwell and Churchill at any angle from as much as 1,700-1,800 m (1900-2000 yd).
The Hetzer was also slow and completely blind from the right side, which was a liability in urban combat. Many were captured this way and it was never really corrected. Hetzer stuck at a barricade, Warsaw Uprising, August 1944.
Soviet Army capture the factories
When the Red Army liberated Czechoslovakia they conducted a stock take of what was in production at the Škoda factories at the time they came under ‘new management’. A report was filed on the possibility of completing the vehicles found at Škoda factories. The auditor found 1,200 unfinished Jagdpanzer 38(t) tank-destroyers “G-13” chassis. It was worked out that 150 of them could be finished from the parts available. The remaining 1,050 vehicles were 45%-60% percent completed and had only 78 main guns available between them. This report showed that production of the Hetzer chassis was outstripping the manufacturing capacity to build the main gun in sufficient quantities.
After the war, Switzerland obtained from Czechoslovakia no less than 158 post-war built Praga ST-II/III, and, after extensive modifications, they were renamed G13. Differences included the muzzle brake fitted on the main gun, loader and commander positions swapped, rotating MG optics (commander’s cupola) and external MG mount on the rear deck. About two thirds received a Swiss Saurer diesel engine in 1952-53 and the vehicles were maintained in service until 1970. After being phased out, most were purchased by museums and private collectors, mostly converted/painted back as German Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzers. At least four are in running conditions today.
The Czech Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzers (several dozens were captured in and around Budapest in 1945) were designated ST-1, for Stihac Tanku or “Tank Hunter”. 249 were pressed into service. There was also a school driver version designated ST-III/CVP (50 vehicles), the Praga VT-III armored recovery vehicle and the PM-1 flamethrower tank. 50 existing Hetzers were to be modified with a flame thrower turret, but the program was cancelled.
During the Prague uprising 5th-9th May 1945 freedom fighters captured this German Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer. It did not have a gun fitted but in its place it was armed with a German anti-tank Panzerfaust. (photo capture taken from the film called ‘Květnová revoluce v Praze 1945’ held in the Národní filmový archive)
Romanian Mareșal, 1943.
Jagdpanzer 38(t), the first command model built with Fgst.nr.321001 radio.
Jagdpanzer 38(t) “Chwat” (Daredevil) captured by Polish insurgents. An early production tank, Warsaw, August 1944.
Hungarian early type Jagdpanzer 38(t), 1944.
Early type Jagdpanzer 38(t) “Black 233”, western front, one of the earliest captured by the Allies.
Hungarian Jagdpanzer 38(t), winter 1944-45.
Hungarian Hetzer, 1944.
Hungarian Hetzer, 1945.
Unknown unit, Bohemia, spring 1945.
Jagdpanzer 38(t) of the 11th SS Panzerdivision “Nordland”, winter 1944-45.
Jagdpanzer 38(t) with the spotted ambush camouflage, Germany, April-May 1945.
Czech Hetzer, in service by May 1945 with the Russian Liberation Army (Русская освободительная армия)
Hungarian Jagdpanzer 38(t) “Mokus” tank destroyer, Lake Balaton battle, 1945.
Hetzer captured by the Russian army, Czechoslovakia, 1945.
Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer of an unknown Panzerjäger unit in Italy, 1945
Hetzer captured by Czech insurgents, Prague, May 1945.
Bulgarian Jagdpanzer 38(t), March 1945.
Unknown unit, ambush camouflage, Germany, April-May 1945
Flammpanzer 38(t), 352nd Panzer-Flamm-Kompanie, Army Group G, Belgium, December 1944.
Jagdpanzer 38(t) Starr (1945). Being rather disappointing, the six built of this much simplified versions were converted back as regular Hetzers.
Panzerjäger 38(t) mit 75 mm L/70.
Swiss G13 in 1960, notice the spare roadwheel should be on the other side. For identification only.
Another, more common type of Aufklärungspanzer mit 7,5 cm KwK-37 L/23.
Rare Jagdpanzer 38(t) mit 7,5 cm KwK-37 L/23, Battle of the Bulge, winter 1944-1945.
Vollkettenaufklärer 38(t) prototype.
Was it called the ‘Hetzer’ during WW2?
It is often stated that first use of the name Hetzer was in a letter from Heinz Guderian to Hitler. In it he stated that the name had spontaneously arisen from the crews manning the vehicles. This is what most historians base their naming on in their works, and state that the vehicle was never identified as such in official German Military documents. That last part is NOT true. Look at this wartime report dated April 1945 the word Hetzer is used.
In the eighth line down you will see the entry Jg.Pz 38 t Hetzer. It is strange why this SS Officer listed one Jg.Pz.38t in short term repair as a “Hetzer”, but later listed ten Jagdpanzer 38(t) SPGs as just Jg.Pz.38t and did not include the name. Seven of those ten are shown as operational, one in short term repair and one in long term repair. (Source German Archives)
In a monthly HWA report on German weapons in early 1944 it was called StuG n.A. mit 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 auf Fgst Pz.Kpf. Wg 38(t) (StuG n.A. = Sturmgeschütz neuer Art – assault gun new version). The German term ‘neuer Art’ is exclusively used during design, it was not used for a production vehicles. It does not get called the usual Jagdpanzer 38 mit 7.5 cm Pak 39 L/48 auf (Sd.Kfz.138/2) until November 44.
Monthly HWA reports on German weapons in March 1944 and November 1944. (Steven Zaloga)
To summarise, the Jagdpanzer 38(t) was not officially called the Hetzer during WW2. It is believed that the crews used this nickname for this anti-tank self-propelled gun during the war. Although most official wartime documents do not use the word Hetzer, as can be seen in the first of the two documents, a few did.
Did the Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer have a muzzle brake?
The answer is yes, no, then yes. A muzzle brake is designed to increase the life expectancy of a gun barrel by direction some of the explosive force of the shell gasses side ways rather than just forward. The wooden mock up of the prototype was fitted with a muzzle brake. The early production Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer’s were fitted with a muzzle brake but these were removed by crews and later production vehicles did not have them fitted. It was found they produced too much dust and smoke which gave away their ambush position. This was often fatal. The post war Swiss G-13 version had a muzzle brake fitted. Early production Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer with muzzle brake.
The G-13 name
G-13 – It is just the internal manufacturer’s code name for the Jagdpanzer 38(t) in the Skoda Factory. A WW2 wartime Skoda Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer was called a G-13 in the factory and on all internal documentation.
G = tank destroyer, 1 = light, 3 = model i.e number 3.
G-11 was Panzerjaeger I,
G-12 was Marder III.
Postwar – the 75 mm PaK 40 with a muzzel brake was used instead of the 75mm PaK 39 on Jagdpanzer 38 (t). The Skoda Factory did not have access to PaK 39 guns and used the PaK 40. In the Swiss Army this tank destroyer was known by the factory code G-13 rather than the Jagdpanzer 38(t) or Hetzer name.
A ST-I tank destroyer, practically a Czech post-war production Hetzer, in running condition at an exhibition at Lešany, Czech Republic. Swiss G13, Steel Parade, 2006. The G13 was kept in service right into the 1970s.
Video about German assault guns
Jagdpanzer 38(t) specifications
Dimensions (L W H)
4.83m (without gun) x 2.63m x 1.87 m (15’10” x 8’7.5″ x 6’1″ ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready
15.75 metric tonnes (34,722 lbs)
75 mm (2.95 in) PaK 39 L/48, 41 rounds
7.92 mm (0.31 in) MG 34, 1,200 rounds
USA (1963) – Self Propelled Howitzer – 7,700+ built
NATO’s universal mobile howitzer
The M109 was, is and will be probably for years still, the most prolific self-propelled howitzer outside the Soviet Union. Although its first drawings and specifications dates back from 1959, it was upgraded to such extent that it is still today in service, upgraded time and again and integrating the best technologies each era had to offer. It was sold to about 40 countries worldwide, including several NATO’s members. Its best equivalent in popularity was the Soviet 2S1-2S3 family. It also left a durable imprint on the genre, a standard upon which other SPHs were compared in the Western bloc. A veteran of Vietnam, it saw action in the Yom Kippur War, Iran-Iraq war, the gulf war and invasion of Iraq until 2014.
Origins of the program
Self-propelled howitzers have been in use with the US Army in abundant types during ww2. The best-known was the M7 “Priest”. But alongside, self-propelled heavy howitzer in the 155 mm to 203 mm range were also built in small quantities. Their main problem was their complete lack of protection. In the 1950s a program geared towards the modernization of the type was launched. The M109 became the medium variant of a common chassis to be adopted for all self-propelled artillery types and calibers.
Ultimately the light version M108 Howitzer was built and tested in the Vietnam War, but failed to impress and was discarded. Meanwhile, the XM109 was tested and improved, leading to the model developed by the Ground System Division of United Defense LP. The first production model standardized as the M109 was accepted in 1963, and since more than 7,700 had been delivered and improved through the years.
The name “Paladin” corresponds to the actual version in service in the US (and previous reference upgrade program), M109A5+ or A6. The regular army designation always has been officially “M109 self-propelled howitzer”. In medieval times, the Paladin was a noble bodyguard (originally Charlemagne’s fabled twelve peers) later revived in the Arthurian cycle.
Design of the M109
The hull was entirely custom-built but shared many components with the M108, while both shared these with the M113. It is of prismatic shape at the front, but boxy with side and rear flat plates. The driver is located to the front left, have its own sliding hatch and three vision blocks (central IR one). The engine is located to the front and therefore plays as a buffer in case of a direct line of sight hit for the crew at the rear. The fighting compartment is right below the turret which represent 3/5 of the total length of the vehicle. The turret itself which provides the howitzer a full 360° has a rounded front section, but is boxy in shape all around.
Protection and crew
Armour is made of reinforced Rolled 5083 aluminum alloy (like the M113) assembled by Welding. Its thickness varies from 1.25″/75° (32 mm) on the upper and lower front, but also sides, rear, top and floor of the hull and same on the turret (angled 22° front and sides). The crew of six comprised the section chief, driver, gunner, assistant gunner and two ammunition handlers. In operation, the gunner aims the cannon traverse only while the assistant gunner aims the elevation (quadrant). This crew was reduced to only four on the M109A5 due to some automation which only the gunner and ammunition loader. NBC protection was individual up to the M109A4 variant where it became collective with sealed hatches and overpressure. Air climates were also introduced early on.
The main gun is an M126 155 mm howitzer L/39 caliber with breech interrupted screw and separate loading, bagged charge. It is fitted with both a double-baffled muzzle brake and gas chamber bore evacuator (which changed in type and performance over time) to reduce recoil. Maximal elevation for the gun is a good 75° (later improved). It goes down to a -3° depression with a hydraulic and manual backup system. Maximum fire rate is 6 rpm and Sustained 3 rpm (that too was improved with the M109A5). Max traverse speed was 11°/sec. and max elevation speed was 7°/sec. Open breech of the howitzer
The effective firing range was 18 km in the standard configuration (11 mi), but was improved with the arrival of the long barrel and enhanced ammunitions like the RAP: 30 km (19 mi). Some of the ammo improvements of the canceled Crusader program may pass in even greater range self-propelled guided ammunitions in the near future. Crucially, the howitzer was upgraded to the long barrel M126A1 (A1), M185 (A2/A3/A4), and eventually M284 (A5/A6) howitzer. Due to their size and separate propellants, only 28 rounds were carried, of the HE type, stored inside the walls of the hulls. For this reason, a mobile supply carrier was designed, the M992 FAASV.
Secondary armament comprises a cal.50 (12.7 mm) Browning M2HB installed on a pintle arm welded to the base of the commander’s cupola. It was supplied by 500 rounds in boxes. In alternative a Mk.19 Mod.3 40 mm Automatic Grenade Launcher, a 7.62 mm M60 light MG, an M240 machine gun or L4 Light machine gun could use the same pintle mount.
The M109 engine was originally a General Motors diesel 8V71T 8 cylinder in vee, 2 cycle, supercharged. It gave a net horsepower of 345hp @2300rpm and gross HP of 405hp @2300rpm and net torque of 895 [email protected] It was coupled with an Allison XTG-411-2A transmission with 4 ranges forward, 2 reverse, and mechanical steering wheel (clutch-brake 1st, 2nd, 1st reverse; geared steer 3, 4, 2nd reverse) and multiple discs brakes. Later it was upgraded to a Detroit Diesel 8V71T which developed 450 hp (335.56 kW) for a Power/weight of 18.7 hp/t. Spanish Marines M109A5 landing, exercise Bright Star 2001
The hull rests on seven roadwheels per side, of the stamped standard model of the M113, like the drive sprockets and idlers. These are suspended by torsion-bars, while two additional shock absorbers took place in addition at the front and rear, on the first and last of the roadwheels. Tracks were of the T136/137 type, with 79 center guide, double pin, steel with detachable rubber pad links, 15″ in width (38 cm), with a 6″ (6 cm) pitch, and a full contact length of 156″ (3,96 m).
Operational range is about 216 mi (350 km) and top speed 35 mph (56 km/h).
Field performances tests shown that the M109 could climb a max grade of 60%, cross a trench 1.80 m wide, climb a 53 cm high obstacle, of ford 1.10 m deep of water without preparation. It was made amphibious but necessitated flotation screens and extensive preparation.
The first original version produced in 1963 by the Cadillac Motor Car and Allison Divisions of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp. It has the first M126 howitzer type (short barrel) on an M127 Howitzer Mount. It also had stabilization spades on each corner of the hull rear.
The main difference was the long barrel M126A1 howitzer to provide a far greater effective range. It shares however the same M127 mount and ammunition (still 28). For export solely an improved variant was designed on the M109A1 basis, with the M109A1B designation. It was one ton heavier (24 vs 23 tonnes).
Integrates 27 Reliability, Availability, and Maintainability (RAM) mid-life improvements. The most important were the replacement of the Howitzer by the M185 cannon and the M178 gun mount. other major improvements were the panoramic telescope ballistic protection, the counterbalanced travel lock, and optional M140 alignment device. Ammo stowage was raised from 28 to 36 rounds.
This is the designation for the retroactive upgrade of the M109A1/A1B to the M109A2 standard.
Emphasis was put on protection with the NBC/RAM programme (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical and Reliability Availability, Maintainability). Including air purifiers and heaters were installed as well as the Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear. The traverse mechanism goes to hydraulic rather than electric with a manual override. An additional hydraulic filter was also added. The Engine starter was also improved, allowing an emergency start.
The A5 is the last cold war version of the M109, with a new M182 mount and 155 mm M284 39 cal. cannon for an effective max range of 23,5 km in standard, but 30 km with Rocket Assisted Projectiles (RAP Rounds). The main engine was also upgraded to a Detroit 440hp diesel. The A5+ was introduced in the 1990s with a wide range of improvements, notably electronics and more modern FCS (by BAE Systems), aimed at export. This was also proposed as a conversion for regular M109A5.
M109A6 Paladin (1992)
The modern version of the M109, manufactured by BMY Combat Systems and United Defense L.P. This one includes add-on armor, improved M284 cannon and M182A1 mount, safer internal ammo storage arrangement (and three more rounds), plus engine and suspension upgrades. For the first time, an inertial navigation system was introduced whereas the gun received sensors to detect the main gun alignment, improved wind and temperature sensors but also a fully automated laying system. There is also an encrypted digital communication system, with counter ECM (electronic warfare) system, grid location and data transmitted to the battery FDC. The Paladin is able to stop and fire within 30 seconds with the same accuracy as before but largely improved when properly set up. Survivability as a whole is much improved on a tactical level. BAE Paladin Integrated Management M109A7 upgrade (2013)
Due to the cancellation of new programs like the Crusader and Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon, the former M109A6 Paladin Integrated Management (PIM) was reactivated and extended to a full-blown modernization. A commonality of components with the Bradley IFV such as the engine, transmission, and tracks was part of this upgrade for costs-savings in production and maintenance personnel. The on-board power systems are completely overhauled with a much faster electric drive system for the turret traverse, better automatic rammer (1 rpm, max 4 rpm) and better accuracy overall.
There is also an additional power for future upgrades with a 600-volt on-board system. It is also 35 tonnes (4,5 tonne heavier) but the engine improvements meant it can travel 38 mph (61 km/h) and is more maneuverable, even than a Bradley. By 2013 after testing of prototypes, production was approved with a procurement of 580 M109A7 and M992A3 ammunition support vehicles. The FY 2014 budget called for $340.8 million ($14.4 million per vehicle) The test phase is not yet even closed. The full-rate production decision is therefore planned for February 2017. BAE started a low-rate delivery April 2015.
Swiss M109 KAWEST
This is the Name for the Swiss 224 M109A1 fully upgraded ((lit. Kampfwertsteigerung = upgrade of combat capabilities). Ruag created a Swiss-designed L47 155 mm gun which had an increased firing range of up to 36 km. It was given the Bison inertial navigation and positioning system, a new gun-laying system and increased ammunition stowage, a new electrical system, a fault-finding diagnostic system. The crew was reduced to 6 whereas the rate of fire is about 3-round bursts within 15 seconds or one rpm in saturation, sustained fire. Gears and engine were improved as well as the day and night operations capabilities. A better fire suppression system was installed for crew protection along with upgraded NEMP and EMP systems. In Swiss service, they are known as the Panzerhaubitze 79/95 and PzHb 88/95.
The M109L52 (2002) is a joint Dutch-German upgrade programme for their respective M109s. This version integrates the PzH 2000 main gun and its MTLS ammunition (35 rounds) for an extended operational firing range and automated loading system. Therefore, providing a 9–10 rds/min rate of fire.
The K55/K55A1 is the South Korean version, produced locally under license by Samsung Techwin since the 1980s. It is based on the A2 but integrates local improvements such as the NBC protection, automatic fire extinguishing system, and modified ammunition reception module to be used with the K56 automated supply vehicle. The K55A1 appeared more recently with FCS improvements such as the Samsung Thales modern digital ballistic computer and FCS and multifunctional data display/controllers, Gas well as a modern GPS inertial navigation/positioning systems aand target acquisition system, plus wireless datalink equipment among others. Later on, many improvements of the K9 Thunder SPG were passed onto the K55A1. ROKS M109A2 in an exhibition – 2011 Songshan Air Force Base camp opening event.
-Austria received 80 A2 later upgraded to the A5Ö standard.
-Belgium received 64 A4BE and 127 A2 (upgraded to the -A4BE standard the remainder now decommissioned or sold to Brazil)
-Denmark ordered 12 A2/A3 later upgraded to M109 A3DK standard.
-Germany had 570 A3GE A1/A2 (phased out 2007) replaced by the PzH 2000.
-Greece ordered 51 M109A1B, but also 84 M109A2, 50 M109A3GEA1, 223 A3GEA2 and 12 A5 still in service today.
-Italy ordered 221 M109A2 later updated as the M109EL with an Italian made 155 mm/39 calibre barrel
-Netherlands had 126 A2/90 now phased or replaced by the PzH 2000
-Norway ordered 14 M109A3GNM
-Portugal ordered six M109A2 (1981) now used for training and 18 A5 (2002) including former A2 upgraded.
-Spain ordered six M109A2 for the Spanish Marines and have 96 M109A5 for the Army.
-The British Army replaced its 140+ M109s (some sold to Austria) with the AS-90.
-Switzerland as seen above ordered 224A1 upgraded to M109 KAWEST from 1995.
The U.S. Army was without surprise the main customer for this tank, although today it counts only around for 929 upgraded M109A3-A6 and A7 on the grand total produced. The U.S. Crusader and the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon programs were both abandoned by the Congress and therefore the Paladin remains the main type in use for the U.S. and it is assumed will still be in the foreseeable future.
Outside the US, Chile has 48 vehicles, among which twenty-four modernized ex-Swiss vehicles (KAWEST), plus twelve A3 and 12 A5+ Paladin; and Peru acquired 12 M109A1, while Brazil purchased 40 M109A3 formerly Belgian and 36 surplus ex-US M109A5 in the process to be upgraded to the A5+ Paladin configuration.
Canada purchased 76 M109 from 1967. They were phased out in 2005. All the vehicles had been modernized to the M109A4B+ standard in the 1980s and used mostly by the 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group in Germany.
-Iran had 390 M109A1 from the time of the Shah (before 1979). No information about their service readiness.
-Iraq purchased (for the new Army) 24 A5
-Israel purchased 600 A5 in all.
-Jordan received 235 A2 and 121 A2-90 from Netherlands
-Kuwait had five M109A1B
-Oman had 15 M109A0 in service
-Lebanon purchased 12 M103A3 and also had 22 TBD
-Turkey: Had some M109s in service, never modernized. Probably phased out by now.
-Saudi Arabia purchased 60 A2s currently upgraded to A5s, 36 A5 and 300 A6
-The UAE had 40 M109A1 from Switzerland.
-Djibouti had 10 M109A1 in service
-Egypt purchased 400 M109A2 and 201 M109A5
-Ethiopia purchased 17 M109A1
-Libya operated some M109s, without much precision.
-Morocco still operates 44 M109A1B, 78 M109A2, 22 M109A3, 40 M-109L47, 4 M109A4 and 60 M109A5 (total 248)
-Tunisia received 19 or 20 M109A2
-Pakistan purchased 150+A2 now upgraded to M109A5 standard and 115 A5.
-Taiwan operates 225 A2/A5
-Thailand purchased 20 A5
-South Korea (Republic of Korea) purchased the A5 under license, 1,040 K55/K55A1 had been produced.
The M109 in action
The list of wars and military operation includes the Vietnam war (1965-73), the Yom Kippur War (1973), the Iran-Iraq War (1980-89), the Western Sahara War (Morocco vs Polisario 1975-91), the Gulf War (1991 in service with many Coalition nations), the Iraq War (2002-2014) and the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen (2015). This score is not close.
Detroit Diesel 8V71T 450 hp (335.56 kW) P/w 18.7 hp/t
7 Torsion bars, 4 shocks absorbers
56 km/h (35 mph)
350 km (216 mi)
155 mm howitzer L/39, 1x M2HB HMG
32 mm overall (1.25 in)
M109A7 at the Yuma Proving Ground, courtesy from Mark Holloway
M109, early production, US Army Vietnam, 1965 or later.
M109 MERDC, late 1970s.
Spanish M109A1, of the Regimiento Artilleria de campana numero 11.
British M109A2, 2nd gulf war, 2003.
American M109A3, 1991 (1st) Gulf War.
M109A3 of the national guard
Canadian M109A4 – CFB Valcartier, Quebec, Canada gate guardian repainted with a fictional camouflage and markings.
M109A5 of the Moroccan army
German Bundeswehr M109A5D
Israeli Defence Forces M109A5 Doher
Swiss Panzerhaubitze M109 88-95 (ex.A1) Kampfwertsteigerung (KAWEST) modernized by Ruag from 1995.
M109A6 BAE PIM in evaluation. The illustration will be soon updated, showing the proper hull.
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