Categories
WW2 American Prototypes

Chrysler’s Improved Suspension M4A4

USA (1942)
Medium Tank – Blueprints Only

The Medium Tank M4A4 Sherman was an improved variant of the M4A3. The goal of the tank was to increase the speed of production of the M4 by using a new multibank engine and with a hull made from 5 pieces instead of seven. The longer and more complex engine would mean an increased length of track on the ground for improved performance of the M4A4 on soft ground, yet despite this, the M4A4 was not adopted by the US Army for use overseas. Early in the development of the M4A4, consideration was given to making us of the longer hull to improve the suspension. This led to the idea of using the ‘Christie’-style suspension from the T4 Medium Tank on this new Sherman. Whilst the M4A4 was built in large numbers and saw extensive service during World War 2 and later, the idea of using this ‘big-wheel’ suspension never left the drawing board.

M4A4 Sherman with the Vertical Volute Suspension System (VVSS) which Chrysler were investigating the replacement of with an improved big-wheel form. Photo: Mark Nash

Development

The design of the M4A4 began in February 1942. This new Sherman was going to be more mobile than the M4A3 by using the 435 hp Chrysler A57 multibank petrol engine. The selection of what was actually 5 engines fitted together created a crowded space within the engine bay, which necessitated a slightly longer hull than the M4A3. This was considered a tradeoff that could add a large number of tank engines into the supply chain which would aid in meeting their production targets. Further, the hull of the M4A4 was simplified, as it was made in fewer parts than the M4A3 (5 instead of 7), and featured a 3-piece final drive housing on the front instead of the single-piece final drive housing on the M4A3. This would improve the speed of repairs and maintenance on the tank although, initially, the complex engine arrangement had been unreliable.

Lengthening the hull by 11 inches (279 mm) in order to accommodate the engine also meant that the suspension would have to be lengthened. The M4A3 had used three pairs of volute spring suspension (Vertically Volute Suspension System – VVSS) and these could be spread out more along the slightly longer sides of the M4A4 or a new suspension system could be considered instead. This prompted a very short study by Chrysler, the design agent for the M4A4, to try and improve the performance of the tank by way of an improved suspension system. The system to be investigated was a modified version of that trialled on the T4 Medium Tank.

Rather than refit the three VVSS units, spaced out along the side, the idea was now to use five large road wheels connected on horizontal crank arms. Springing for the wheels was delivered by means of vertical coil springs mounted on the outside of the lower hull. This has been described variously online as being a ‘Christie Sherman’ or ‘Christie suspension’ but it really is not. The Christie patent for his system had already been sold off by then as well as licensed off to countries like Great Britain and the Soviet Union. One of the dominant features of Christie’s suspension design was the suspension springs operated within a double-wall cavity along each side of the tank. This system was adopted and adapted for use in tanks such as the British A.13 and Soviet BT-5 and remained in use on some tanks through to the end of World War 2. The British Comet, for example, was the last British tank to use a version of this system. This was not the case for this M4A4. Here, the springs would be mounted externally.

Christie, by February 1942, was almost a dirty word in US armor circles and had no formal involvement with the US Army. His last official contact had been with the Ordnance Department in March 1939 and ended when he had stormed out of a meeting in a tantrum when his demand for large orders for his tanks was rejected. He had stomped off saying he would go and see President Roosevelt and with that had ended any prospect of formal consulting work.

Consequently, attributing his name to this design would be incorrect. If there is any doubt on the matter, the somewhat awful book ‘Steel Steeds Christie’ published in 1985 by his son Edward and which makes numerous fallacious claims, makes no claim to this design. The T4 suspension design was certainly based on the work of Christie, but the first conceptualized drawings for a sprung suspension-arm suspension for the M4, prepared by the Ordnance Office in February 1942, had already departed from this arrangement.

T4

The T4 Medium Tank, built by Rock Island Arsenal in 1935 and 1936, weighed just 13.5 tons (12.2 tonnes). Different versions of the T4 were trialed between 1935 and 1940 when it was declared obsolete, but the key feature of the design was the four large road wheels on each side. The suspension of the T4 was certainly based on the suspension designs from Christie, but it did not use Christie’s patents. The track for the T4 was also a short-pitch type track 12 inches (305 mm) wide.

Medium Tank T4 showing the 4 large road wheel design with no return rollers. Source: Hunnicutt

The T4 weighed just 13.5 tons (12.2 tonnes), whereas the M4A4 would weigh 34.9 tonnes (31.6 tonnes), more than double the weight of the T4, so using the same suspension required changes. The T4 used just 4 wheels on each side, which would be inadequate for the extra weight of the M4. Thanks to the longer hull of the M4A4 though, 5 of these large-diameter wheels could be fitted on each side. The second change came about after the initial drawings from the Ordnance Board. Those drawings had shown the five, closely positioned wheels, each mounted on an individual arm with a corresponding spring cylinder angled forwards. To meet the increased weight of the M4, these springs had to be changed too. The solution here was to adopt heavier coil springs and to mount these vertically along the outside of the lower hull of the tank under the sponsons.


First plans for a T4 Medium tank-style suspension on the M4 Sherman, circa February 1942. Note the suspension springs are angled forwards rather than vertical. Source: Hunnicutt

Tracks

The adoption of the T4 style wheels was also met with the choice of a wider version of the T4 track. This single-pin track was 18.5 inches (470 mm) wide, wider than the standard M4A4 track and the original T4 track, and used a center guide to prevent lateral slippage. With 93 track links per side (compared to 85 on the T4) and the larger, heavier wheel, this new M4A4 was significantly heavier than the original volute-suspension M4A4 by 3,080 pounds (1,397 kg).

The volute-suspension M4A4 used either the T48 or T51 83-link 16.56 inch (421 mm) wide track with a ground contact length of 160 inches (4,064 mm), which was substantially longer than the M4A3 at 147 inches (3,734 mm). Using this T4 style suspension, the track length on the ground was only fractionally longer than that of the M4A3, at just 148 inches (3,759 mm), yet despite this shorter length of track in contact with the ground than the volute-suspensioned M4A4, the wider track made up for this and kept ground pressure to just 14 psi (96.5 kPa).

Front view of the Chrysler sprung swing-arm suspension M4A4 shows the width of the external springs on the sides of the outer lower hull (left), and with the additional width of the spring highlighted in pink (right). Source: Hunnicutt and Author respectively

With the new spring system fitted to the outside of the lower hull, this meant a lot of space was taken up under the sponson on each side. Consequently, the tracks and wheels would be further out than they would be if it had retained the VVSS system. This would have posed some additional issues regarding the transportation of the tank due to its increased width, about 450-470 mm wider than the M4A3 due to the projections of the track and the lack of space in which to add grousers to the inside of the track.

With the new spring system fitted to the outside of the lower hull, this meant a lot of space was taken up under the sponson on each side. Consequently, the tracks and wheels would be further out than they would be if it had retained the VVSS system. This would have posed some additional issues regarding the transportation of the tank due to its increased width, about 450-470 mm wider than the M4A3 due to the projections of the track and the lack of space in which to add grousers to the inside of the track.

M4A4 with VVSS (left) compared to M4A4 with T4 Style Suspension (right) showing the additional width of the M4A4 (not to scale). Source: Hunnicutt
M4A4 with VVSS (top) compared to M4A4 with T4 Style Suspension (bottom) (not to scale). Source: Hunnicutt

One final note of difference between the suspension systems on the M4A4 are the return rollers. Easily overlooked, the VVSS system used a small return roller angled back from the suspension bogie which served to hold the track off from fouling on the top of the bogies. No such rollers were drawn on the T4 suspension units to support the track. The angle of the track, as it descended from the front sprocket to the rear idler, would likely contact the top of the last roadwheel but other than that it was unsupported .

The final product. Five large diameter T4-style road wheels and vertical coil spring suspension on the M4A4. Note that the mantlet is misdrawn and should be further back, towards the turret front. Source: Hunnicutt

Conclusion

Despite the fact that the T4-style suspension was found by engineers at Chrysler to be workable, it was not pursued. The volute system was not ideal but it was simple and reliable. In the short-term, the volute-spring system was retained, although work on improved suspension for the M4 continued. No versions of the Chrysler vertical coiled spring suspension M4 were ever built. Despite 7,499 M4A4s being built, it only saw limited service with the US Army anyway, restricted mainly to training duties. It did, however, find extensive use overseas particularly with the British, where it was known as the Sherman V.



Illustration of Chrysler’s improved suspension M4A4. Illustration by Andrei Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions 6.06 m x 2.62 m (hull, 3.07 m to 3.09 m wide over tracks) x 2.74 m
Total weight, battle ready 72,780 pounds (36.29 US tons) (33 tonnes)
Crew 5 (commander, driver, co-driver, gunner and loader)
Propulsion 435 hp Chrysler A57 multibank petrol engine
Speed (road) 35 mph (56 km/h)
Armament M3 75 mm gun in M34 mounting
.50 calibre M2 AA machine gun
2 x .30 calibre M1919A4 machine guns
Armor 1.5 inches (38.1 mm) – 3 inches (76.2 mm) – 107.95mm

Sources

Armor Magazine, November-December 1991. Christie’s last hurrah.
Christie, E. (1985). Steel Steeds Christie. Sunflower University Press, USA
Gabel, C. (1992). The US Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941. Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington D.C., USA
Hunnicutt, R. (1977). Sherman – A History of the American Medium Tank. Presidio Press, USA
Icks, R. (1969). The Fighting Tanks 1916-1933. We Inc. USA


Categories
Egyptian armor

M.13/40 in Egyptian Service

Kingdom of Egypt (1948)
Light Tank – Unknown Number Used

In 1940, when the M13/40 was manufactured in Italy, it was mainly meant to fight British tanks in the Western Desert of Libya and Egypt. Armed with just the 47 mm L/32 main gun, the tank was adequate for 1940, but had little potential for keeping up with the advances in enemy tanks. The gun was inadequate for dealing with the heavy armor of the British A12 Matilda II and, later, the American-supplied M4 Shermans. Nonetheless, the tank remained in service with various parties in Yugoslavia to Northern Italy until the end of the war in 1945. The troublesome climate of the post-war, especially in the Middle East with the creation of the state of Israel, meant that even outdated tanks such as the M.13/40 would continue to see service.

Founded on 12th July 1939, Negba (Hebrew נגבה), is the location of a Kibbutz near Qiriat Gal in what is now South-Central Israel. It is the southernmost of several ‘protected’ settlements, known as ‘tower and stockade’ settlements in the area. The Kibbutz was to become a focal point for the Egyptian attack on the brand new nation in May 1948. With the announcement of the Independent State of Israel on 14th May 1948, neighboring Arab countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Syria (all unified under Egyptian command) attacked.

Directions of the attack on Israel, May 1948. Photo: Witte

Preliminary

The Egyptian forces attacked on the 15th May 1948 with a combined infantry and mechanized force of around 6,000 men, with an unknown number of tanks and armored vehicles. The direction of the attack was up what is now known as the Gaza strip on the Egyptian left flank and a second assault across the Negev desert to Be’er Sheeva. The Israeli forces were sparsely equipped with a variety of mainly small arms bought, salvaged, stolen, or donated from a variety of sources but had made preparations for a possible attack including setting up some minefields, something which had continued apace during the rest of May.

The May invasion had started well for Egypt but would stall due to poor coordination of the various allied forces involved and determined Israeli resistance. By the end of June 1948, despite the Egyptian forces having covered a lot of ground, they were not past the line of settlements, including Negba at the north of the Negev and any push on towards Jerusalem would have to get past these settlements.

The newly created Israeli Defence Force (IDF) had counterattacked on the night of the 8th July in Operation An-Far with the goal of recapturing the Iraq Suweidan police fort about 2 miles southeast of Negba. That Israeli force, the Negev 7th Brigade under Uzi Nakissm supported by additional platoons of troops, had been fought off by the Egyptian 1st Battalion at the fort. A second Israeli force consisting of a company from the 53rd Battalion and a platoon from the 54th Battalion coming from Negba took a small position at Idbis north of Negba and halted the Egyptian encirclement. Egyptian counterattacks by the 2nd Battalion then came on 9th and 10th July to try and retake this position, but they failed.

The Israeli 51st ‘Givati’ Battalion then attacked the Egyptians from the North, pushing them out of the village of Tel al-Safi. With their encirclement of Negba prevented, the only logical form of attack left open to try and take the settlement would be a more direct assault. So, on 12th July, the Egyptians attacked once more, with the goal of taking the settlement and driving the Israeli forces out of the area.

The Assault

The Egyptian 4th Brigade was to form the spearhead of the assault of Negba on the 12th July 1948. Attacks by the 6th and 2nd Battalions (4th Bgd.) were used as diversions to pull Israeli forces away from Negba by attacking Julius and Ibdis with the main force, whilst 9th Battalion under the command of Lt.Col. Rahmani would attack the settlement itself. With the fighting over Ibdis and Giv’ati to the north of Negba, the settlement had become a key location forming the corner in the Israeli defensive line.

At the time of the attack by Egyptian forces, the Negba Kibbutz was defended by about 70 soldiers (probably from the 54th Battalion IDF) and a small number of irregular troops, armed mainly with light weapons. The only ‘heavy’ weapons to protect from tanks were a pair of 3” mortars and a couple of PIAT anti-tank weapons.

The Egyptian attack began at dawn 12th July, with movements by Egyptian infantry trying to cross the largely flat ground around Negba to approach the settlement. Despite a bombardment of the settlement from Egyptian guns lasting about 5 hours, the troops had not got closer than 50 m from the edge of the compound by 11am. The placement of minefields around the Kibbutz had prevented the Egyptians from deploying their armored vehicles to make a decisive impact and, by nightfall, the Egyptian troops withdrew. The minefields and defenders had fought off the Egyptian assault and there were several Egyptian vehicles lost, including 4 ‘Bren-gun carriers’ and a single M.13/40 tank.

The Egyptian M13/40 crippled by a mine on 12th July 1948, pictured that day. Gun still fitted at this time. Photo: Negba Kibbutz.

The Tank

The M13/40 tank the defenders found themselves looking at on 12th July 1948 was built by Fiat Ansaldo between 1940 and 1943 in Italy and was originally equipped with an Italian 47 mm L/32 cannon. This vehicle, though, was different. A whole new turret front had been fabricated, with a new flat slab of armor added over the existing front and a new built-up mouth for the gun cradle to sit in. To achieve this work, it appears that the turret had to be removed, and, remarkably, video footage, albeit briefly, shows the turret being refitted by Egyptian forces. Although the video is undated, it is presumably shot between May and June 1948 during preparations by the Egyptian 9th Battalion for that attack.

Still from video footage of Egyptian forces prior to the July attack at Negbi. Photo: AFOX911 on Youtube

The Gun Cunundrum

The gun, unfortunately, cannot be identified. Photographic evidence confirms that it was not the original Italian 47 mm L/32 gun and the reminiscences of Mr. Negbi described the gun as a “37 mm 2 pounder”. This suggests that it was either a salvaged 37mm gun from something like an old M3 Stuart or M22 Locust light tank, or a 2-Pounder gun from something like the British A12 Matilda II. All of these vehicles would have been available to the Egyptians in refurbishing this vehicle, as large stocks of equipment and tank parts were remaining in Egypt after the war, including, obviously, the old Italian M13 tank itself.

The most likely gun used would be the 37 mm Tank Gun M6 as used on the M22 Locust, several of which were also used by the Egyptians in the Negba area during the 1948 campaign. Mr. Negbi reminisces that, during the battle of the 12th, two M13/40’s were used along with several other tanks, which included two British Matilda’s, although no evidence of their use during or afterwards can be ascertained to confirm or deny this. The 37 mm gun would have been inferior to the Italian 47 mm piece, as it lacked an effective High Explosive shell (HE). However, 37 mm ammunition was in supply, unlike the Italian gun (47 mm) for which not many shells were probably available. This too explains the logic behind the rearming. Better to rearm with a gun which although not optimal, is available, rather than a gun for which you cannot find ammunition.

There is also the question of the gun mantlet which was definitely not from the M.13/40 or from the M22 Locust. It seems more like the mantlet from a German Panzer III or Panzer II, parts from which were also potentially available to the Egyptians during the refurbishment of this tank.

No Other Modifications

No other modifications are known, but it is also likely that the two hull machine-guns fitted to the M13/40 when it was in Italian use were also removed or changed. Unfortunately, the only photos available of this tank either obscure the hull machine-gun position (front right on the hull) or are after it has been removed. Post-removal would suggest that the original cover for the mounting had been retained rather than blanked over and welded, leaving a question mark over what, if any, secondary armament was used.

The Egyptian M13/40 after the fighting on 12th July 1948. Pictured the day after the battle, the gun has been removed. The man of the left (shirtless) is Oded Negbi. Photo: Negba Kibbutz and Oded Negbi.

It is unlikely that any re-engining took place, which would mean it would have retained the original Italian Fiat SPA engine, probably the 125 hp diesel.

The mine damage to the tank was crippling. The open side door and lack of burning suggest that the crew escaped, but the vehicle was not repairable. At least one entire suspension unit on the right-hand side of the vehicle had been smashed and the tracks broken. The tank was recovered back to the Kibbutz where it was photographed, stripped of armament and tracks.

The M13/40 after recovery to the Kibbutz at Negba sporting a slogan painted in Hebrew reading “מות לפולש” (mawet la-polesh) meaning “Death to Intruders”. Photo: Negba Kibbutz

Destination Unknown

The M13 was recovered from the fields and remained at Negba for about 3 days before it was hauled away on an army truck, presumably to be taken away for scrap. Although other vehicles of that era and conflict have survived, including an M22 on display at Negba, this very unusual M13/40 has not. No trace of it can be found and it does not appear as a monument or in the IDF collection at Latrun. It is presumed to have been scrapped.



Speculative illustration of the Egyptian M13/40 with an M6 37 mm gun and a Panzer II turret front, produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet and modified by Stan Lucian.

Carro Armato M.13/40 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.70m x 2.20m x 2.30 m
(15’5″ x 7’2″ x 7’6″ ft.inches)
Total weight, battle ready 13.5 tons
Crew 4 (commander, driver, machine-gunner/radioman, loader)
Propulsion Fiat SPA 8T V8 diesel, 125 hp, 8.92 hp/ton
Suspension Leaf spring bogies
Maximum speed (road) 32 km/h (20 mph)
Operational range 200 km (120 mi)
Armament Believed to be 37mm Tank Gun M6
Armor From 25 to 42 mm (0.98-1.65 in)
Total Used At Least 1

Acknowledgments

In the production of this article, the author would like to acknowledge the assistance of Ilan and Oded Negbi.

Sources

Personal correspondence with Oded Negbi by the author
Zionism and Israel Encyclopedic Dictionary
Gamal Abdel Nasser. (2004). Sam Witte. Rosen Publishing Group
1948: A history of the first Arab-Israeli War. (2009). Benny Morris. Yale University Press


Categories
WW2 German Tank Destroyers

Sd.Kfz.186 Jagdtiger

Nazi Germany (1943-45)
Tank Destroyer – 74 Built

The Jagdtiger was the heaviest armored vehicle to see service in World War Two, yet paradoxically, the vehicle has remained somewhat enigmatic with confusion over its development, production and role. The design process started out with a demand for a heavy assault gun back in 1942 when the war was still in Germany’s favor and the army needed a heavily armored and armed vehicle to smash enemy fortifications. However, by the time the Jagdtiger, based on the Tiger II tank, came along two years later, the original need for the vehicle had vanished and it was put to work as a heavy tank destroyer instead. Despite its huge size, impressive armor and powerful main gun, the Jagdtiger failed to live up to expectations.

Chassis No. 305004, one of 11 Jagdtigers built with the Porsche suspension system. This vehicle is now part of the collection at The Tank Museum, Bovington. Photo: The Tank Museum

Tank Destroyer or Assault Gun

The majority of people looking at the Jagdtiger (English: ‘Hunting Tiger’) would conclude that the use of the vehicle, the ‘hunting’ part of its name and the shape of it would undoubtedly make it a tank destroyer. Nonetheless, it was actually originally conceived as an assault gun to support the infantry. The combination of heavy armor and a powerful cannon equally adept at penetrating enemy strong points, delivering high explosive, and defeating enemy armored vehicles was the priority, with the speed seen as less important. The range of fire of the Jagdtiger’s 12.8 cm gun could classify the vehicle as a self-propelled gun (indirect fire capability had been an original requirement but was subsequently dropped), and the confusion over name and role resulted in an argument within the German military over who controlled them. If the vehicle was designated as a Sturmgeschütz (Eng. Assault Gun), it would belong to the artillery but, if it was designated as a Panzerjäger (Eng. Tank Destroyer), it would belong to the tank destroyers. The StuG. argument was bolstered by Hitler and the Inspector-General of the Panzer Troops in late March 1944. On 13th July 1944, the squabble over the name was seemingly put to rest by Heinz Guderian, Chief of the Army General Staff (who was also the General of Artillery), when he listed the vehicle as “Panzerjäger with 12.8cm Pak. L/55 on Tiger II chassis” or ‘Jagdtiger’.

The Call For a 12.8 cm Gun

As far back as spring 1942, the German Army General Staff were requesting a 12.8 cm gun mounted on a self-propelled chassis as a ‘heavy assault gun’ capable of both supporting the infantry against armored targets (such as tanks and bunkers) as well as unarmored ones. By May 1942, Hitler was ordering a rifled anti-tank gun of that caliber and, in a letter from Wa Pruef 4 (German design office for artillery) to Friedrich Krupp of Essen on 2nd February 1943, the 12.8 cm Jagdpanzer concept was born. The letter set out the idea of mounting of a 12.8 cm Stu.K. (Sturm Kanone – Assault gun) on a modified Tiger H3. The ‘Tiger H3’ concerned was the Tiger II, which was not named as such until March 1943, following the abandonment of the the VK45.02(H) project, which was known at the time as Tiger II.

The requirements for the modifications meant moving the engine forwards on the chassis with the firm of Henschel und Sohn of Kassel responsible for that part of the project. The 12.8 cm gun in question was at the time intended to be taken, along with the gun gear such as brake and recuperator, completely unchanged from the Pz.Kpfw.VIII Maus – the 12.8 cm Kw.K. L/55 (Kw.K. – Kampfwagen Kanone – Fighting vehicle gun). Strong emphasis was also placed on the removal of the muzzle brake as this allowed the use of Treibspiegel (Sabot) shells for heavy anti-armor work. Developed by Krupp as the Treibspiegel-Geschoss mit H-Kern for the 12.8 cm gun on the Maus, these were high-velocity shells with a sub-calibre core made from an 8.8 cm Pz.Gr.40. Travelling at about 1,260 m/s, they were estimated to be able to penetrate 245 mm of armor at 30 degrees from 1,000 metres away. Although this shell was not developed to the point of service and issue for the Jagdtiger, the result was that the 12.8 cm gun could not have a muzzle brake for this would have adversely affected the sabot coming off the core as it left the barrel. Not using a brake, however, meant a lot more recoil energy needed to be dealt with on the mountings for the gun.

From Early Work to the Prototype

By the end of March 1943, the chassis destined for this 12.8 cm gun was going to be either from the Panther or Tiger II. A mockup was prepared on the hull of a Panther, but this was quickly discarded as being unsuitable. Drawings from Henschel for the alternative design on a Tiger II chassis were therefore to be ready by June 1943 and, initially, Dr. Erwin Aders (design lead at Henschel) was considering armor for the design to be up to 200 mm thick on the front and up to 100 mm on the sides, although this was to be subject to change in order to keep the weight to 70-tonnes or less.

Rival Tigerjäger Designs

On 12th April 1943, Henschel presented two designs for the vehicle which was being referred to as the Tigerjäger. The first design (Design A) disregarded the plan to move the engine to the front and kept the engine at the back, but even so, the hull still had to be lengthened by 300 mm. The frontal armor for this vehicle is described by Spielberger, Jentz, and Doyle (2007) as being 150 mm at 40 degrees and 200 mm thick on the 60 degree sloping part. The side armor had been reduced though, from the 100 mm desired in March to 80 mm in order to keep the weight down.

The width of the fighting compartment for the tank had been reduced too by 40 mm, as it would otherwise be too large to be shipped by rail. With an agreement on 14th April on the new design of the gun and the adoption of two-piece ammunition which simplified stowage, the whole gun and mounting could be moved 200 mm further back on the hull thus improving the center of gravity and taking off a lot of the load on the front wheels. Reducing the rail profile and keeping the heavy armor meant the movement of the gun was slightly restricted and reduced the depression available by 1 degree (from -8 to -7). A final modification was the lowering of the driver’s seat by 100 mm which lowered the plate over his head. This cover was designed to be a large plate encompassing both of the forward crew hatches (driver and radio operator) and was removable by a series of set-screws attaching it to the roof plate of the lower hull, allowing for the transmission to be removed. “This design choice was in response to lessons learned on the Tiger I and VK45.02(H) projects”. Neither of these had a removable cover and extracting the transmission for repairs involved first lifting the turret out of the hull! The Tiger II had a removable cover, though the turret had to be turned to allow full access. The cover did not solve the problems for this Tigerjäger design as even though there was no turret,the overhang of the gun prevented transmission removal; it therefore required the gun to be withdrawn from the casemate to do this task, no small job.

The second design (Design B) for a Tigerjäger followed the original requirement for the engine moved into the front but had significant drawbacks, not least that the vehicle was too large to ship by rail. The desired -8 gun depression could also not be achieved because with the engine and ancillaries in front of the casemate, it raised the hull roof. The gun would also have impeded maintenance of the engine whilst offering no substantial advantages over Design A. Design B, despite being the initial design demanded, was dropped. The Jagdtiger would follow the layout of Tigerjäger Design A.

The 12.8 cm Panzerjäger

By 5th May 1943, the vehicle, now being referred to as the ‘12.8 cm Panzerjäger’, was determined to weigh 75 tonnes. It was to have the field of motion for the 12.8 cm gun widened from 15 degrees each way to 18 degrees, but still wanting +15 to -8 for elevation. Based on the Tiger II, the armor was this new vehicle determined to be 200 mm thick on the front of the body, 80mm on the sides and back, and 30 mm on the roof. This roof thickness was an obvious compromise considering the Tiger I and Tiger II were to have 40 mm thick rooves to protect from plunging shell fire and aircraft attack. The 12.8 cm Panzerjäger dimensions were roughly fixed too: about 10 m long, 3.59 m wide and 3.47 m high. Fitted with the same 800 mm wide tracks as the Tiger II, this vehicle had a longer ground-contact length of 4.635 m resulting in a ground pressure of just 1.01 kg/cm2. Based upon these dimensions and the decided layout, a wooden mockup was ordered, although the design of the gun was not going to be finished by Krupp until 1st July 1943 and design changes were still taking place.

Henschel, to simplify production, had requested that the hulls be made separately to the casemate, but this was rejected as it made fire and waterproofing harder, and a rectangular hatch (700 mm x 600 mm) was added in the rear of the casemate for removal of the gun. The requirements set in May had slipped by June that year when Wa Pruef 6 agreed to allow just 10 degrees of traverse each side and -7.5 degrees of depression.

Around May 1943, Henschel had determined that as a result of design changes, the weight had been brought down to 70 tonnes complete (the hull alone weighing 43-tonnes) with 200 mm thick frontal armor, 80 mm on the sides and rear, and a casemate roof now 40 mm thick. Drawings for this vehicle were to be finished and submitted to Wa Pruef 6 by 15th June with the expectation that a prototype would be finished in December.

The wooden mockup of the vehicle referred to as the ‘12.8 cm Tiger-Jaeger’ was ready in September, as it was inspected on 28th September by Colonel Crohn (Wa Pruef 6) and Major Weiche (Inspector-General Armoured Troops), who recommended the elimination of aiming spot lamps, firing ports and the gunner’s hatch. Other changes included the enlargement of the commander’s hatch and rearrangement of the periscopes. The relatively small changes to the roof were added to a decision to increase the upper front plate from 200 mm to 250 mm and to make the hull roof 40 mm thick.

Wooden mockup of the 12.8 cm Panzerjäger. The presence of the aiming spot lamp still on the roof indicates this photo was taken probably no later than 28th September 1943. Source: Spielberger, Jentz, and Doyle

The amended and full-size wooden mockup was then shown off to Hitler on 20th October 1943 at the troop training centre at Ayrs, East Prussia, identified as ‘heavy Panzerjäger with 12.8 cm L/55 on Tiger II chassis.’

Full-size wooden mockup of the ‘12.8cm Panzerjäger’ shown off to Hitler on 20th October 1943. Of note are the small patches on the upper-left of the casemate perhaps indicating the location of the firing ports eliminated after 28th September 1943. In the background is a wooden mockup of a Jagdpanther and in the front of the picture is an Italian P.26/40 with the periscopes missing. Source: Spielberger, Jentz, and Doyle

Production was approved for this 12.8 cm Panzerjäger and the first production vehicle was ready on 6th April 1944.

Layout and Crew

Having considered both the Panther and Tiger hulls for the mount for the 12.8 cm gun, the vehicle selected for use was the Tiger II which was, at the time, still on the drawing board at Henschel. In order to fit the gun onto the chassis of the Tiger II, the chassis had to be lengthened by 260 mm and on top of this hull was placed a large flat-sided casmate for housing the main gun and four of the crew. The engine remained at the back and the transmission at the front, as on the Tiger II, and the hull crew positions were also retained. Inside this giant casemate would fit the no-less enormous 12.8 cm gun breech. In essence, this was the layout of the Jagdtiger, a box with a gun in the front of it sat on top of a Tiger II chassis.

The Jagdtiger had a crew of six men. The crew in the hull retained their role and positions from the Tiger II, with the driver located in the front left and the radio operator in the front right. This radio operator also had control over the secondary armament, a machine gun located in a mount in the glacis to his front. In the casemate were the remaining 4 crew. This crew consisted of a commander (front right), the gunner (front left), and two loaders located in the rear of the casemate. By 1945, with severe pressures on training caused by the war, some tank crews were even sent directly to the Nibelungen works to help with the production of the tanks they were to crew, both as a means to help familiarise them with the vehicles but also to help with production.

Production

Just as with Henschel, where the bodies of the Tiger and Tiger II were made by Krupp and then shipped to them for finishing and fitting into a fighting tank, the same is true of the Jagdtiger. The Nibelungen works did the construction, fitting, and assembly of components including the gun, but the basic armored hull was made at a different site, namely the Eisenwerke Oberdonau (Oberdonau Iron Works) in Linz, modern-day Austria.

The first prototype vehicle was assembled in Workshop VIII at the Nibelungen plant in Autumn 1943 but was fitted with a trial superstructure, Porsche suspension, and no armament. The hole in the glacis for the machine gun mount was blanked off and the vehicle was used for running trials. The second prototype was not finished until the new year and both prototypes (305001 with Porsche suspension and 305002 with Henschel suspension) were then delivered to the Army Ordnance Office for testing in February 1944.

Prototype Jagdtiger with Porsche suspension, Autumn 1943 at the Nibelungen plant. Source: Winninger

Despite the delivery of 15 hulls from Eisenwerke Oberdonau in April, 12 more in May, and 10 more in June 1944, production of further vehicles did not begin until June 1944, with just a single vehicle complete as production problems, including the preparation of machinery and rails inside the plant, were being resolved. Firstly, the Nibelungen works had to make changes to the production line in order to accomodate the fact that after the first batch of vehicles (10)* fitted with Porsche suspension had been finished, all future vehicles were going to have Henschel suspension. That was not the only production issue either. Eisenwerke Oberdonau had some production problems of their own which then caused knock-on problems for the Nibelungen works, not least of which affected quality. Vehicle 3005005, a Porsche suspension Jagdtiger, had such defects with the construction of the armor at the front that it was unfit for service and relegated to homeland use. The protracted development of the gun and mount had caused problems too which now became apparent. The Nibelungen works had to grind off up to 40 mm of steel from the inside walls of the casemate in places to allow the gun to traverse fully, and the cradle for the gun was a problem too. It was being made larger than it was designed to be and thus fouling on the front plate. This meant it had to be moved forward slightly with the outcome that it now fouled on the hull roof, restricting depression to just 6.5 degrees. With little option but to approve this 0.5 degree loss of depression, Wa Pruef 6 agreed to the changes but wanted them fixed as production went forward.

*Including the prototype this means 11 Jagdtigers were built with Porsche suspension: chassis numbers 305001, 305003-305012

Drilling out the holes for the suspension and the boring mills in Workshop V at the Nibelungen plant. Source: Wittinger

Other changes of a minor nature were made internally to the gun elevation mechanism, gun bridge, ammunition racks, and gunner’s seat. Externally, throughout production only five things were changed of consequence: the omission of sheet-metal shields over the exhausts (July 1944); the addition of a barrel brace (gun crutch) (August 1944); the addition of Zimmerit (from September 1944); the fitting of external hooks on the casemate sides for spare track links (December 1944); and the addition of ‘mushrooms’ (Pilzen) on the upper edges of the side and rear plates which were mountings for attaching a small crane.

Following a 12th October 1944 discussion with Hitler, it was planned to produce just 150 of these vehicles after which production would be switched over to the Panther. The planned 150 was broken down to an estimated rate of 30 Jagdtigers per month, a figure based on the availability of the 12.8 cm gun barrels, although 50 vehicles per month were demanded of the plant at Nibelungen which was building them.

Thirty guns a month would mean a complete production run of 5 months, and fifty vehicles a month would have reduced this to just 3 months worth of production. By 25th October 1944, with delays in the production of the Jagdtiger not meeting the numbers demanded, Hitler ordered that 53 12.8 cm anti tank guns from the Jagdtiger program should be mounted on captured Russian or French carriages to fulfill the needs of the army in the short-term.

The original order for 150 Jagdtigers was increased on 3rd January 1945 by Hitler, who demanded the continuation of production even though the production of the 12.8 cm gun barrels was a significant bottleneck in production. By the end of 1944, just 49 Jagdtigers plus the two prototypes had been finished, well behind the original schedule. Production was therefore scheduled to run through April 1945 with another 100 Jagdtigers planned, after which production would switch to the Tiger II instead. The Jagdtiger was not to be terminated however; production would simply switch to the firm of Jung in Jungenthal instead, with the first 5 planned to be ready in May 1945, 15 in June, and then 25 per month through to the end of the year.

On 25th February 1945, ‘extreme measures’ were ordered by Hitler to increase production of the Jagdtiger, which included the temporary expedient of fitting an 8.8 cm gun (the 8.8 cm KwK. Pak. 43/3) in lieu of the 12.8 cm piece if there were insufficient 12.8 cm guns available. During this period, by way of context, production of the Tiger II which had started in September 1943 was supposed to be reaching 50 vehicles a month from April through June 1944 (150 vehicles), but only 53 vehicles were completed during that period. By February 1945, when the ‘extreme measures’ were ordered to produce the Jagdtiger, production of the Tiger II was supposed to be 150 units a month but had only managed 42.

Vehicle number 54 during construction at the Nibelungen Works. Source: Schneider

Neither the rate of 30 per month (gun production) or 50 per month (vehicle production) were ever actually met, with monthly production in the region of 20 or fewer each month due to shortages of materials and labor combined with the effects of Allied bombing.

By the end of February 1945, just 74 vehicles (chassis number 305001 to 305075*) were completed. Along with the original prototype vehicle, this meant that production reached just 50% of the original requirement.

*See Below

A Jagdtiger hull damaged during a bombing raid on the Nibelungen works on 16th October 1944 affording a unique look inside. Source: Frohlich and Schneider respectively

Chassis Numbers

The official production number of Jagdtigers is usually quoted as running from serial number 305001 to 305075, meaning a total production of 74 vehicles. Chamberlain and Doyle (1997), state that chassis numbers went from 305001 to 305077 which would mean 76 vehicles. Winninger (2013) provides a production table from the factory showing serial 305075 was a March production serial number and that March production was to run from 305075 to 305081, with seven vehicles listed as delivered. April production lists serial number 305082 to 305088, another 7 vehicles, and then 305089 to 305098 (10 vehicles), with just 3 delivered. Some of these were supposed to be fitted with the 8.8 cm gun under Sonderkraftfahrzeug number Sd.Kfz.185 and some were built but not accepted, meaning the exact number of 12.8 cm armed Jagdtiger produced cannot be accurately determined.

Armor

The Jagdtiger, as can be expected of an assault gun, had the bulk of its armor at the front, with armor 250 mm thick on the front of the casemate, 150 mm thick on the glacis, and 100 mm thick on the lower front. The forward part of the hull had a 50 mm thick roof, although the rest of the roof over the casemate and engine deck was 40 mm thick. Of note here is that the roof of the casemate was not welded into place like the roof of the Tiger or Tiger II, but was actually bolted onto the superstructure.

Jagdtiger with the casemate roof unbolted and removed showing the enormous size of the breech for the 12.8 cm gun. Source: Spielberger

The lower hull sides were 80 mm thick and so were the upper hull sides, but these were also sloped inwards at 25 degrees affording the crew inside a good deal of protection from enemy fire as long as they remained facing the enemy or at an oblique angle.

Armour thicknesses for the Jagdtiger. Source: Jentz and Doyle

Even the rear of the Jagdtiger had 80 mm thick plates including the pair of large gas-tight doors at the back. The thinnest parts of the armor were under the sponsons over the tracks which were just 25 mm thick, and under the engine which was also 25 mm thick. The forward part of the lower hull was 40 mm thick providing good protection for the crew from mines. One final note on the armor is that was it not face-hardened, but rolled homogenous plate.

Manufacturing scheme for the Jagdtiger showing the massive casemate front armor to good effect. Source: Frohlich

Gun, Ammunition, and Performance

In February 1943, the letter from Wa Pruef 4 made it clear that the 12.8 cm gun for the vehicle was to be the same type as the one for the Pz.Kpfw. Maus: a 12.8 cm Kw.K. L/55 with the same gun gear and no muzzle brake. The elevation limits demanded were +15 to -8 degrees with a traversing field of 15 degrees each side. A design of this 12.8 cm gun was therefore requested to be ready by 10th March 1943, and after Krupp handed in the design for the 12.8 cm Stu.K on 28th April 1943, Henschel submitted its own FK-based design which moved the pivot point of the gun 120 mm further back. This moving of the gun’s pivot point allowed a depression of -7.5 degrees to where the gun met the roof, which despite a desire to lower it by 100 mm, could only be lowered by 50 mm instead.

Alone, this gun weighed 5,500 kg, with the cradle adding a further 1,000 kg. The reason for the delay in designing the mounting seems to stem from these issues over gun balance, as the designers at Henschel wanted the gun mounted further back in order to improve weight distribution,and as a result, a model of the gun was not ready from Krupp until 1st July that year. Development of the 12.8 cm gun though was slow, and the first 12.8 cm gun was not ready until the middle of August 1944. When first shown, the gun was mounted on a captured Soviet 152 mm M37 433(r) mount and later on a captured French 155 mm GBF-T cannon 419(f). It should be borne in mind too that the gun was not specifically designed for the Jagdtiger, the firm of Krupp had originally started developing this gun before the Jagdtiger was even planned.

On 15th May 1942 Hitler had expanded development of a 12.8 cm gun to include Rheinmetall-Borsig of Düsseldorf, and Skoda-Werke Pilsen and Aktiengesellschaft (A.G.) to assist Krupp in order to get the gun into production as soon as possible.

First firing trials of a 12.8 cm gun with Armor Piercing ammunition took place at Meppen in October 1943.

Even with their assistance, the work was slow. Rheinmetall’s design for the 12.8 cm gun reached the stage of several prototypes but was not approved, while the design from Skoda-Werke never left the drawing board. As such, only the Krupp 12.8 cm gun (made by Krupp at the Bertawerke in Breslau and at the Krupp plant in Essen) was ever mounted in the Jagdtiger and only about 160 of these guns were ever made.

12.8 cm Pak. 44 (Pak.80) L/55 Source: Frohlich

Despite some commentary on the internet to the contrary, this 12.8 cm had nothing to do with the entirely different 12.8 cm Flak 40 anti-aircraft gun which ended up being mounted on the two VK30.01(H) Tiger chassis, popularly know as Sturer Emil. What is more, the antiaircraft 12.8 cm was a two-piece barrel design, whereas the Pak. 12.8 cm was a single-piece barrel. Moreover, the ammunition for the anti-aircraft gun was unitary, whereas on this 12.8 cm it was to be a two-piece design to save internal space.

Once finished, this new Krupp gun was designated the 12.8 cm Pak. 44 L/55 (Pak – Panzerabwehrkanone) and later redesignated as the 12.8 cm Pak. 80. This gun was big and heavy; the barrel alone weighed 2.2 tonnes and was 7.02 metres long (rifling extended for 6.61 m of this) meaning that two barrel supports were needed for when the vehicle was travelling, one on the front glacis of the tank and a second internally within the casemate.

Despite the delay in development and delivery of this gun, Colonel Crohn wrote to Krupp on 24th September 1943 suggesting an improvement to the firepower before the first 12.8 cm L/55 was even finished. This new gun suggested was a 12.8 cm Kw.K. L/70 which could fit into the original and unmodified Krupp-mount for the L/55. Krupp replied to that idea on 21st October 1943, stating that it had completed a drawing of this plan and that with the 12.8 cm L/70 fitted, the centre-of-gravity of the vehicle was seriously affected, making it significantly nose-heavy and causing the gun to overhang the front by about 4.9 m. The solution offered by Krupp to this problem was to suggest an alternative scheme with the casemate moved once more to the rear with the engine-forwards, just like the Tigerjäger Design B. The idea for this longer 12.8 cm gun was then discontinued and the focus returned to the 12.8 cm L/55 instead.

The ‘extreme measures’ ordered by Hitler on 25th February 1945 to increase Jagdtiger production had included the possibility of substituting an 8.8 cm gun in lieu of the 12.8 cm piece to increase the speed of production. The fitting, or otherwise of this gun has been subject to a lot of confusion but it never entered service and in the end, these measures proved unproductive.

The original specifications called for a gun with a range of up to 21 km but a weight of less than 6.5 tonnes. This requirement would indicate that the gun for the Jagdtiger (an assault gun) was for use as artillery indirect-fire as much as it was for direct-fire. Traverse for the gun was limited to 10 degrees left and 10 degrees right with elevation ranging from -7 to +10 degrees. Direct-fire sighting from the telescopes ranged the gun for targets up to 4 km for the Panzergranate 43 Armor Piercing High Explosive (APCBC-HE) shell and 8 km for the Sp.Gr. L/50 high explosive shell.

Despite the original consideration of a special high-velocity anti-armor shell with a sub-caliber core, no such shell was deployed on the Jagdtiger. These shells known as Treibspiegel-Geschoss mit H-Kern used the 8.8 cm Pz.Gr.40 as the armor piercing core of the shell and were being developed for the Maus program at the time the gun was selected for modification into the Jagdtiger program. With the arrival of the Pz.Gr.43 and the significant increase it brought in terms of penetrating armor, the experimental and expensive idea for these sub-calibre rounds was effectively redundant. They have been included in the following table for the purposes of reference only.

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Looking at the performance data from the various sources for the performance of the Pz.Gr.39 and Pz.Gr.43 provides a great deal of confusion, and not just in modern scholarship. A British intelligence report from 1944 quoting figures from a captured German document provided identical performance for the Pz.Gr.43 to that usually quoted in modern literature for the Pz.Gr.39. Contemporary documents from Germany also show a Pz.Gr.39 as Capped (APC) and not Ballistic Capped (APCBC) with those figures. What is unusual about the British intelligence document is that it quotes both the Pz.39 and the Pz.Gr.43 together, whereas other sources usually reference just the Pz.Gr.39 and omit Pz.Gr.43 performance. The question therefore is which is right and which is wrong. A table (below) is provided for comparison.

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Secondary armament for the Jagdtiger consisted of a single MG.34 mounted in the front-right of the hull. For this machine gun, 1,500 rounds of ammunition were carried.

Stowage of ammunition inside the casemate of the Jagdtiger. Source: Schneider

The huge gun left little space for ammunition stowage. Ammunition was stored in the floor and side walls of the casemate and, even using two-piece ammunition, the Jagdtiger could carry just 40 rounds of ammunition. It is not known how many 8.8 cm rounds could have been carried for the vehicles (if any) which were fitted with that caliber gun, although it may not have been many more, as the 8.8 cm ammunition was single piece, which would have made stowage harder and less efficient. One final note on 12.8 cm armament is that at some point another gun between the 12.8 cm L/55 and the L/70 was contemplated. This was also a 12.8 cm gun but had a barrel length of L/66. It was not just the gun which changed either; the entire structure was lower by about 20 cm because of adjustments to the mounts for the gun. With the L/66, the gun projected 4.4 m from the front of the tank but still provided an elevation range of +15 to -7.5.

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Modified Jagdtiger with 12.8 cm L/66. Source: Hoffschmidt and Tantum

Sadly there is no information about this proposed modification, but based on the discussion over improving the performance of the L/55, it would likely date to the end of 1943, although some unverified information suggests it was considered as late as November 1944. One additional feature other than the gun and lower casemate is the large box-structure at the back over the engine deck. Unfortunately only this side view is available, so the shape of this box is debatable. From the drawing, it does appear that the engine deck may be slightly shorter than on the production Jagdtiger, although this may simply be a mistake on the drawing as the dimensions are primarily concerned with the front end and not the back.

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Optics

There is no point in having either a large gun or an effective shell if you cannot get the gun on target and get the shell to hit said target, and with a rate of fire of just 3 rounds per minute, the Jagdtiger was significantly slower to fire than other tanks, meaning it was all the more important that what was fired hit the target. One problem was the lack of a turret, which hindered all-round observation, and as a result, the Jagdtiger was fitted with a rotating hatch for the commander on the front right of the casemate with a periscope integrated into it. In front of this periscope was a rectangular flap within the hatch which could be opened separately. Through that hatch-within-a-hatch, the commander could insert a stereoscopic rangefinder. The commander was also provided with a single fixed periscope facing to the right.

Commander’s hatch on the front-right corner of the Jagdtiger with a fixed periscope and also a secondary hatch for the stereoscopic rangefinder. Source: Schneider

The gunner of the Jagdtiger, who was sat in the front left, did not have a roof hatch, but instead, had a large curved sliding cover through which a Winkelzielfernrohr (WZF) 2/1 10x magnification aiming telescope projected out. Behind this cover, on the roof, was a further periscope in a rotating mount and two more fixed periscopes pointed diagonally backwards from the rear corner at each side of the casemate.

Roof of the Jagdtiger facing backwards. The commander’s hatch appears bottom left of the image and the sliding cover for the gunner’s aiming telescope is bottom right. The circular hole directly behind the gunner’s telescope cover is a port for the Nahverteidigungswaffe (close defence weapon) Source: Schneider

In February 1943, it was decided that optics for the main gun were to consist of an Sfl.Z.F.5 and Rbl.F36 sight for both direct and indirect fire. Using the WZF 2/1 angled periscope, the vehicle could deliver accurate fire out to 4km with the Pz.Gr.43 and 8km with the Spr.Gr. L/5.0, although the original plan for indirect fire had been dropped along the way. The Jagdtiger was now just a direct-fire vehicle. Production vehicles were fitted with the Sfl.14Z and WZF 217 sights for the primary armament. Test firings of the 12.8cm gun showed the accuracy to be excellent with the Pz.Gr.43 achieving hits within 50% of the width and height of the target between 46cm and 86cm of the centre at 1000m, and between 90 cm and 118 cm at 2000 m. This was slightly worse for the standard AP shell with an accuracy of 128 cm to 134 cm of the centre of the target at 2000 m.

Arrangement of the gunner’s stereoscopic rangefinder. Note that the breech is incorrectly shown opening downwards rather than to the left. Source: Source: Spielberger, Jentz, and Doyle

Running Gear

Other than extending the hull, the suspension and running gear of the Jagdtiger was essentially unchanged from the Tiger II. It consisted of full width torsion bars for each of the nine wheel stations fitted with 800 mm diameter steel wheels running over 80 mm wide tracks with 95 links per side and a ground clearance of 460 mm.

One curiosity for many is that two early Jagdtigers (hulls 1 and 4) were fitted with the Porsche running gear from the Elefant for the purposes of evaluation after Dr. Porsche had convinced Hitler of the benefits of his suspension in January 1944. Consisting of four wheel-units made from a pair of 700 mm diameter steel road wheels on each side, the Porsche system offered a production advantage over the Henschel running gear. Porsche promised than it took a third less time to produce than Henschel’s system, reduced the hull construction time as well as machining time, required less maintenance, and could actually be completely replaced in the field without removing other parts and without the use of a jack.

Two base Jagdtiger hulls showing the obvious differences between the amount of machining required on each hull. The Porsche-suspension hull (left) clearly requiring less cutting than the Henschel-suspension hull (right). Source: Frohlich

Despite the use of Porsche suspension, the system still used torsion bars – 1,077 mm long bars – but these were mounted longitudinally rather than transversely across the hull, and had pairs of wheels connected on a bogie attached to the bar. This reduced the number of bars to just 4 with two pairs of wheels on each bar, and in so doing, saved about 1,200 kg in weight, 450 man-hours of work time, gained 100 mm more ground clearance, and saved RM 404,000 (Reichsmarks) in cost. Much more importantly though, the use of this suspension freed up space inside the vehicle, an entire cubic metre extra in fact.

Jagdtiger chassis number 305001 fitted with the Porsche running gear seen in Spring 1944. Source: Source: Spielberger, Jentz, and Doyle

However, this Porsche system was not adopted and only ten of the chassis were ever fitted with this system. The promise it held for improvements were simply not borne out by trials held in May 1944, and it failed to live up to the desired performance. In particular, it resulted in a lot of shaking on a hard road when driven at 14-15 km/h. Initially, this was blamed on the Type Gg 24/800/300 tracks, and as a result, these were switched for the Type Kgs 64/640/130 tracks from the Elefant, but to no avail. With testing behind it having proven unsuccessful, the Porsche system was abandoned and the Henschel system was retained instead. As a result, by September 1944, only production of the Henschel suspension Jagdtigers was underway.

Pictured in March 1945 near Morsbronn, this Jagdtiger is one of the 10 fitted with the Porsche running gear. Source: Schneider

The transmission for the Jagdtiger was the same standard gearbox as on the Tiger II, a Maybach eight-speed OLVAR OG40-1216B (made by Adlerwerke of Frankfurt and Zahnradfabrik of Friedrichshafen) connected to the same Maybach HL 230 P30 TRM as fitted to the Tiger II and Panther. This engine was simply underpowered for a vehicle of the bulk of the Tiger II, let alone this even heavier Jagdtiger. One option which was still at the planning stage by the end of the war was the replacement of that Maybach engine with a 16-cylinder X engine made by Simmering-Pauker.

800 hp 36.8 litre Simmering-Pauker X-16 engine with Mann und Hummel air filter. Source: Frohlich

Delivering up to 800 horsepower*, this 36.5 litre* engine would have provided a significant performance boost for the Jagdtiger, and for that matter, potentially for the Tiger II and Panther as well. The engine had the added advantage that it was more compact than the HL230 and well suited to the tight confines of a tank’s engine bay. The most noticeable change adding this engine to the Jagdtiger would have made would have been seen at the back with the exhaust near to the top of the back plate. The engine was never fitted and how far along plans were to incorporate it into production is unknown.

*some sources provide data for the X16 engine as 36.5 litre producing up to 760 hp and there is also an 18 cylinder version although data on both is often contradictory.

Simmering-Pauker X-16 engine as shown fitted in a Jagdtiger. Source: Frohlich

Paintwork

From the end of 1944 onwards, the exteriors of Jagdtigers produced at Nibelungen were painted in a red anti-corrosion primer which was then painted over in varying quality with dark yellow and green. The interiors which had previously been painted an ivory colour were left in the red primer colour instead to save time. Camouflage was left to units to apply in the field once they had received their vehicles.

Combat

The first user of the Jagdtiger was supposed to be 3rd Company Panzerjäger Training Abteilung 130, which was scheduled to receive 14 vehicles in March 1944, with two assigned to company staff and the three platoons receiving four each. Due to delays in production, that plan did not materialize and instead, the first user became Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 653 (s.Pz. Jg.Abt. 653), which had previously been operating the Elefant. By the end of November 1944, this unit had received 16 Jagdtigers.

1st Company s.Pz.Jg.Abt.653 took 14 Jagdtigers to the Western Front in December 1944 for the planned offensive in the Ardennes. Back on 3rd November 1944, these 14 Jagdtigers had been earmarked to form part of 3rd Company s.SS.Pz.Abt.501, but this was revoked by Hitler the next day. As it was, the 14 Jagdtigers were sent, but due to rail transportation issues resulting from Allied bombing, only 6 Jagdtigers managed to get to a staging area behind the lines at Blankenheim and took no part in the offensive. On 23rd December 1944, they were withdrawn as the entire s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 was being redeployed in order to take part in Operation Nordwind (Eng: Northwind).

On New Years Eve 1944, three Jagdtigers of s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 under the command of Commander Major Fromme and subordinated to the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division ‘Gotz von Berlichingen’, 1st Army of Army Group G, took part in the operation. This unit saw sporadic action against American forces in the Schwenningen-Chiemsee area of Southern Germany but the successes were minor and after just a few days the unit was disbanded. At around this time, s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 had a listed strength of just six Jagdtigers on 4th January 1945. By 9th January 1945, s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 was down to just two Jagdtigers in operational condition in the area of Boppard, where there was a repair depot, albeit without cranes. Of note on maintenance is that in the period from 30th December 1944 to 26th April 1945, s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 had a peak of 41 Jagdtigers with a peak operational readiness of 38 out of 41 on 15th March 1945 and its lowest operational readiness on 22nd March with just 2 out of 33 Jagdtigers operational.

Two Jagdtigers of s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 took part in combat near to an enemy bunker line adjacent to the German town of Auenheim on 17th January 1945. Attached to XIV SS Army Corps, they were used for fire support for an infantry attack. The next day, they were in action again against American forces and the German report on their action showed that their accuracy at 1,000 m against the enemy bunker was excellent, and after just two shots, the armored cupola of the bunker was burning. When the Americans counterattacked with tanks, one Sherman was hit and knocked out by means of a high explosive shell. In total, these two Jagdtigers fired 56 shells (46 HE and 10 Anti-tank) and suffered no losses to enemy fire. The unit did lose at least one Jagdtiger in this period though; it was later captured by US forces after having been abandoned in working order.

The fate of many Jagdtigers was to break down or run out of fuel and be destroyed by the crew; others fell victim to the total air-superiority enjoyed by the Allies towards the end of the war. This Porsche-suspension vehicle belonging to s.Pz.Abt.653 was destroyed by the crew setting off a charge internally which, in turn, detonated the ammunition completely destroying the vehicle. Source: Culler

On 5th February 1945, s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 had 22 Jagdtigers ready for action and a further 19 under repair when it supported the left flank of First Army of Army Group G in action in the region of the Drusenheimer Forest near to the French/German border. Whatever tactical successes the unit may have had however were at odds with the totally hopeless strategic position, and on 5th May 1945, the remaining Jagdtigers of s.Pz.Jg.Abt. 653 surrendered to Allied forces near Amstetten, where Soviet and American forces had met. One Jagdtiger surrendered here was subsequently taken back to the Soviet Union and remains in the collection at Kubinka.

The other user of the Jagdtiger was s.Pz.Abt.512, formed 11th February 1945 at Paderborn from the remnants of s.Pz.Abt.424 (formerly s.Pz.Abt.501) and with troops from s.Pz.Abt.511. Forty-two Jagdtigers were destined for this unit consisting of 10 for each of three companies (30), one for each of the company commanders (3), and one for each platoon commander (9), and it was expected to be fully operational by the beginning of March 1945.

1st company s.Pzj. Abt. 512 under the command of Oberleutnant Ernst had only half its nominal complement of 12 Jagdtigers when it engaged US forces at the Remagen bridgehead. These six tanks first retreated to the area of Siegen and then on through the Ludenscheid-Hagen area to the Ergste region, and then once more to relieve German forces at Unna.

2nd Company, under the Command of Oberleutnant Carius, was shipped by rail to the area of Siegburg where it fought alongside LIII Panzer Corps. Two vehicles were lost and 2nd Company retreated along the Sieg when two more were lost to enemy air attacks. There were two further losses in combat around Siegen and Weidenau to mechanical failure.

On 11th April 1945, 2nd Company, which had only been cleared for combat on 30th March, was involved in the defence of Unna against the 1st and 9th US Armies advancing on Paderborn. The five Jagdtigers of the unit stood no chance of halting the American advance. 2nd Company was at a strength of just 7 Jagdtigers by the time of its surrender on 15th April. The 1st and 3rd Companies of s.Pzj. Abt. 512 fared no better and surrendered on 16th April at Iserlohn. In its short existence the unit had achieved relatively little, although 1st Company was credited with the destruction of 16 enemy tanks in the region south of Unna alone, meaning in one way that these vehicles were eclipsing their Allied rivals, albeit too little and far too late for Germany.

Jagdtiger knocked out by fighter-bombers near to St.Andreasberg, Harz mountain region 16th April 1945.

Nine Jagdtigers of s.Pz.Jg.Abt.512 remained in Austria though and were put to use by the 6th SS Panzer Army. On 9th May 1945, they engaged Soviet tank forces and destroyed several enemy tanks before they abandoned their last two serviceable vehicles and retreated towards the Americans to surrender to them rather than the Soviets. An unknown number of Jagdtigers were also used in the region of the Harz Mountains at the end of the war.

Conclusion

The fate of many Jagdtigers was simply to be abandoned or blown up by their own crews. Maintenance was a huge issue as the already overstressed components intended for the Tiger II were stretched yet further with the additional 10 tonnes from this vehicle. A lack of spare parts, a lack of maintenance equipment such a heavy recovery vehicles, cranes, and specialist tools combined with inexperienced crews (especially drivers) meant that the Jagdtiger never reached its potential on the battlefield. The value of the vehicle is also questionable. Big, heavy, and labor intensive, the Jagdtiger cost the equivalent of two Panzer IVs to construct and on the battlefield they failed to provide a return on this enormous investment worthy of their cost. The consideration of bigger guns like the L/70 when the L/55 was sufficient for the work at hand, the changing between suspension types at the start of production, and the rush to get the Jagdtiger into service stand in contrast to what it achieved. The largest and heaviest tank to see service in WW2 simply failed to perform. The expectations placed upon it as some kind of panacea to fundamental failings in German military strategy, where bigger and heavier tanks with bigger and more powerful guns could stem the tide of Allied armor attacking Germany from both sides, were misplaced. Worse still, the resources it consumed were actually counterproductive to Germany’s war aims. Nonetheless, the Jagdtiger remains a powerful symbol of both the technical advances and also the limits on German industry in a wartime economy.

Surviving vehicles

Jagdtiger #305004 fitted with Porsche suspension – The Tank Museum, Bovington, UK
Jagdtiger #305020 fitted with Henschel suspension – Fort Benning, Georgia, USA
Jagdtiger #305083 fitted with Henschel suspension – Kubinka Tank Museum, Kubinka



Jagdtiger in a ‘Dunkelgelb’ scheme.


Jagdtiger in a 3-tone camoflauge scheme


Jagdtiger 331 of 3rd Kompanie, Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653, Germany, March 1945


Jagdtiger 102, Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653, Germany, March 1945

These illustrations were produced by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-w-h) 10.654 x (including gun) x 3.625 x 2.945 meters
Total weight, battle ready 72.5 tonnes (Porsche suspension) 73.5 tonnes (Henschel suspension)
Crew 6 (Driver, Radio operator/hull machine gunner, Commander, Gunner, 2 Loaders)
Propulsion Maybach HL230 P30 TRM 700hp Petrol engine
Suspensions Double torsion bars and interleaved wheels
Speed (late model) 38 km/h (road)
Armament 12.8 cm PaK 44 L/55 -7° to +15° elevation, traverse 10° R and 10° L
Armor Glacis: 150mm at 50 deg.
Hull Front (Lower): 100mm at 50 deg.
Hull Front (Roof): 50mm
Hull Sides (Lower) 80mm (vertical)
Hull Sides (Upper & Casemate): 80mm at 25 deg.
Hull Rear 80mm at 30 deg.
Casemate (Roof): 40mm
Casemate (Front): 250mm at 15 deg.
Casemate (Rear) 80mm at 5 deg
Engine Deck: 40mm
Floor (Front): 40mm
Floor (Rear): 25mm
Built 74
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Video

Surrender of s.Pz.Jg.Abt.512 to US troops at Iserlohn April 1945

Sources

British Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee. (1945). BIOS report 1343: German Steel Armour Piercing Projectiles and Theory of Penetration. Technical Information and Documents Unit, London.
Chamberlain, P., Doyle, H. (1993). Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two. Arms and Armour Press.
Culer, B. (1989). Tiger in Action. Squadron/Signal Publications, TX, USA
Datenblätter für Heeres Waffen Fahrzeuge Gerät W127. (1976).
Duske, H., Greenland,T., Schulz, F. (1996). Nuts and Bolts Vol.1: Jagdtiger
Frohlich, M. (2015). Schwere Panzer der Wehrmacht. Motorbuch Verlag, Germany
General Inspector of the General of the Panzertruppen. (26th June 1944). Notes.
Hoffschmidt, E., Tantum, W. (1988). German Tank and Antitank  World War II, WE Inc., CT, USA
Jentz, T., Doyle, H. (1997). Panzer Tracts No.9: Jagdpanzer. Darlington Productions, MD, USA
Jentz, T., Doyle, H. (2008). Panzer Tracts No.6-3: Schwere Panzerkampfwagen Maus and E100. Darlington Productions, MD, USA
Jentz, T., Doyle, H. (1997). Tiger Tanks: VK 45.02 to Tiger II. Schiffer Military history, PA, USA
Lilienthalgesellschaft für Luftfahrtforschung. (1943). Die Vorgänge beim Beschuß von Panzerplatten, 166, Berlin, Germany
Schneider, W. (1986). Rarities of the Tiger family: Elephant, Jagdtiger, Sturmtiger. Schiffer Publishing, PA, USA
Spielberger, W., Doyle, H., Jentz, T. (2007). Heavy Jagdpanzer: Development, Production, Operations. Schiffer Military History, PA, USA
US Army. (1950). Project 47: German Tank Losses. Historical Division European Command. US Army.
US Navy. (September 1945). Technical Report 485-45 – German Powder Composition and Internal Ballistics for Guns. US Naval Technical Mission in Europe Report.
War Office. (25th October 1944). 12.8cm A.Tk. Gun Pak.44 on Pz.Jag. Tiger (Pz.Kpfw. Tiger B Chassis) Sd.Kfz.186 JAGDTIGER. Appendix D War Office Technical Intelligence Summary, No.149 1944.
War Office. (25th April 1945). Technical Intelligence Summary Report 174 Appendix C.
War Office. (9th August 1945). Technical Intelligence Summary Report 183 Appendix B.
Winninger, M. (2013). OKH Toy Factory. History Facts Publishing


Tanks Encyclopedia Magazine, #3

Tanks Encyclopedia Magazine, #3

The third issue covers WW1 armored vehicles — Hotchkiss Htk46 and Schneider CA and CD in Italian Service. WW2 section contains two splendid stories of the US and German ‘Heavy Armor’ — T29 Heavy Tank and Jagdtiger.

Our Archive section covers the history of early requirements for the Soviet heavy (large) tank. Worth mentioning, that the article is based on documents never published before.

It also contains a modeling article on how to create a terrain for diorama. And the last article from our colleagues and friends from Plane Encyclopedia covers the story of Northrop’s Early LRI Contenders — N-126 Delta Scorpion, N-144 and N-149!

All the articles are well researched by our excellent team of writers and are accompanied by beautiful illustrations and photos. If you love tanks, this is the magazine for you!
Buy this magazine on Amazon!


Categories
WW1 Italian Armor

Schneider CA and CD in Italian Service

Kingdom of Italy (1917-43)
Medium Tank – 12 Used

As the belligerents dug into defensive positions to cover themselves from machine-gun fire and artillery, they deployed wire to protect themselves and ensnare enemy troops. Whether it was the Western Front or, as Italy knew it, the North Eastern front, the result was the same, a brutal stalemate with relatively little movement from each side and very high casualty rates. Great Britain, France, and Italy were all brought to the same conclusion at around the same time. A vehicle capable of crossing the shell shattered ground and wire obstacles with armor to protect itself from enemy machine-gun fire was going to be needed.

Schneider CA number 212 as supplied to Italy. Source: Pignato

The Italians, for their part, whilst having their own developments underway, dispatched a team of their own experts led by Major Bennicelli (an artillery officer) to see the vehicles developed by their allies, Great Britain and France, following their use of tanks in 1917 and to report back.

Examination of the Schneider

A thorough examination of the French CA Schneider was conducted as part of this study in February 1917. The Schneider CA was an unusual vehicle, weighing 13 tonnes and classed by the mission as a Medium Tank. Six meters long, 2 meters wide and 2.25 meters high, it was powered by just a 60hp petrol engine and protected by just 11mm of armor plate. Offensively, it carried a short 75  mm gun in the right-hand side and two Hotchkiss 8 mm machine-guns. Ammunition supply was 90 rounds for the main gun and 2400 rounds for the machine-guns. All this was to fit along with the 5 crewmen, making it a cramped and uncomfortable vehicle.

The novelty of a track run machine meant that the experts reported the means by which a track laying machine worked as well as the basic elements of the structure such as it being constructed based on two longitudinal beams and suspension by means of large springs. Examining the motor, it was reported to use a dry-plate clutch with a 3-speed gearbox connected to a transverse shaft carrying two opposing gears for driving the driving sprockets of the tank. To steer, the driver used a combination of the clutch and brake to vary drive from one track to another. As one track slows or stops, the other, still moving, turns the tank in the direction of the slower track. The driving arrangements were poorly arranged though, and the interior cramped. On the plus side, the use by the French of a multi-colored camouflage scheme was excellent and Major Bennicelli was impressed that the French also painted their artillery this way.

Schneider CA number ‘212’ during Italian trials still in the original French camouflage scheme, but having difficulty crossing a standard trench. Source: Pignato

Obstacle crossing was a primary area of concern for the designs. In examining the Renault ‘Tipo Leggero (Light tank) – the Renault model FT, in comparison to the Schneider machine, Major Bennicelli made the following points. Standard trenches, which any design would have to negotiate, were up to 1.7 or 1.8 metres wide and vehicles should be able to negotiate steep slopes. The Schneider vehicle could only manage a 55% grade (less than 30 degrees) whereas the lighter Renault FT could manage a 100% grade (45 degree slope). This would be made even worse by the effect of artillery and rain on the ground, rending it very difficult for any machine to cross. Neither vehicle was, in any way, fast. Despite both being technically capable of between 2 and 8 km/h, it was his view that in the terrible ground conditions of the front lines, just 3 km/h could be expected with an operating time of just 6 to 8 hours.

Schneider CA number ‘212’ still in its original French camouflage scheme during Italian testing. Source: Pignato

Despite the excellent use of camouflage though, the Schneider has serious limitations and several changes were recommended. The primary one was the exposed location of the fuel tank at the front. It was too exposed to damage by the enemy and, being petrol-powered, posed a huge risk of fire. Next, it was suggested that a door to exit or enter the vehicle should be added in the side of the machine in addition to the rear door. This would assist crews escaping in the event of fire or breakdown. Two final suggestions were to improve the lot of the drive with an improved type of clutch to make steering easier, and the adoption of a periscope to aid visibility around the machine.

A repainted Schneider CA number ‘212’ seen at Fort Tiburtino, Rome, 1920. Source: Pignato

The Italian Machine

Despite the complaints about the machine being difficult to control and with issues over its performance crossing a trench or on an incline, the Italians obtained a single example from the French for an unknown price in April 1917. Schneider CA chassis number ‘212’ did not feature any of the recommended changes to the design, but it was slightly different to the standard French machine. It lacked any of the additional spaced armor and, for whatever reason, the exhaust fitted to it had come from vehicle serial number ‘101’. It was eventually painted grey and green in replacement of the French camouflage, but only after some initial tests.

Schneider CA number ‘212’ seen outside Bologna in 1937. Source: Pignato

Once in Italian hands, the vehicle was evaluated in the area of the Piave in northern Italy to see how it handled the difficult and mountainous terrain. Given the relatively poor showing of it in France, it is likely that following a similar outcome in Italy the idea of buying any more seemed remote. None the less and perhaps as a result of lack of experience, the High Command deemed the performance satisfactory and decided to buy more anyway. Negotiations, however, did not go as expected and for whatever reason, Italy was not able to secure orders for any more machines or a licence to build their own in Italy. The vehicle was not scrapped and it was transferred to the Departmental Headquarters for the nascent Tank Regiment in Bologna.

The vehicle remained there, presumably for display and teaching, until about 1936, when it was supposed to be transferred to a museum, although a photograph shows it still outside at that location in 1937. It was still a running vehicle at the time as it received registration number ‘R.E.1053’. No trace of the vehicle remains and it is assumed to have either been repurposed for use as a tractor or for training during WW2.

Tactical Employment of Tanks by the French

Major Bennicelli’s visit had not provided Italy with a successful or useful tank design in the form of the Schneider. It did have some success with the Renault, but more importantly, he also gathered evidence as to the tactical use of tanks by the French. In reporting on French tank organization, Major Bennicelli wrote that the vehicles of the Schneider type were divided into ‘Groups’, each of which was comprised of 4 batteries of 4 tanks, totaling 16 tanks each. Four such groups were organized with each of these larger groups having a dedicated supply section attached.

In combat, tanks were to be used to accompany the infantry, destroying machine-guns, with the infantry following to clear out enemy trenches. As a result, it was necessary that the tanks would have to be incorporated into infantry units. To promote smooth tactical coordination between tank and infantry, it was expected that the two branches would exercise together for months. There would also have to be some kind of provision for supporting and countering air power. It was absolutely essential that neither tanks nor infantry became separated from one another as neither could advance without assistance from the other. Tanks, he felt, should be used making the most of natural covers like dusk or fog and expressly so during a surprise attack. The tank could act as a mobile shield for up to 3 men at a time, but, as the enemy would concentrated artillery fire on the vehicles, the bulk of the troops should stay away from the tanks following as the second wave to seize the primary trench line. All of this information about the use of tanks would influence how Italy would eventually develop its own strategy for using tanks too.

Schneider CD artillery tractor with the new cabin at the front. Source: Francois Vauvillier

Back in Use For a New War

By the time WW2 had started, Italy was still unprepared for a protracted war against modern professional armies. It was, amongst other issues, seriously short of a variety of equipment, including tractors for towing medium and heavy artillery.
As a result, the Italian Army was supplied with at least 11 examples of the Schneider CD by the Germans from captured French stocks. The Schneider CD was the same basic vehicle as the CA tank but with a different and unprotected superstructure creating a driving cabin at the front. Able to tow loads of up to 5.4 tonnes, albeit slowly, the CD was an ideal addition to artillery units, and these 11 captured examples were officially registered into Italian Army inventory on March 12th 1942 with registration numbers ‘11155’ to ‘11165’ (both inclusive). None of the 11 vehicles used by Italy are known to have survived to this day.



Illustration of the Italian Schneider CA produced by Tank Enyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Specifications

Dimensions (L x W x H) 6.32m x 2.30m x 2.05m
(20ft 9in x 7ft 6in x 6ft 9in)
Total weight, battle ready 13.6 tons
Crew 6
Propulsion Schneider 4 cyl petrol, 60 hp (45 Kw)
Speed 8 km/h (5 mph)
Range on/off road 80/30 km (50/19 mi)
Main Armament 1x Schneider 75 mm (2.95 in) blockhaus gun
Secondary Armament 2x Hotchkiss M1914 8 mm (0.31 in) machine guns
Armor 11 mm + 5.5 mm spaced (0.43+0.21 in)
Total Used 12

Sources

Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Nicola Pignato & Filippo Cappellano
Italie1939-45.com
La meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Italiano, Ceva and Curami


Tanks Encyclopedia Magazine, #3

Tanks Encyclopedia Magazine, #3

The third issue covers WW1 armored vehicles — Hotchkiss Htk46 and Schneider CA and CD in Italian Service. WW2 section contains two splendid stories of the US and German ‘Heavy Armor’ — T29 Heavy Tank and Jagdtiger.

Our Archive section covers the history of early requirements for the Soviet heavy (large) tank. Worth mentioning, that the article is based on documents never published before.

It also contains a modeling article on how to create a terrain for diorama. And the last article from our colleagues and friends from Plane Encyclopedia covers the story of Northrop’s Early LRI Contenders — N-126 Delta Scorpion, N-144 and N-149!

All the articles are well researched by our excellent team of writers and are accompanied by beautiful illustrations and photos. If you love tanks, this is the magazine for you!
Buy this magazine on Amazon!


Categories
Pre-WW1 British armor

Fowler B5 Armoured Road Train

British Empire (1899-1901)
4 Built

The Second Boer War, fought by the British Empire against both the South African Republic and the Orange Free State from October 1899 to May 1902, was an enormous challenge for the British. Despite an enormous military advantage on paper, the British were fighting a war thousands of miles from their main bases of power in the UK and India, across the vast areas of South Africa over difficult terrain and difficult environmental conditions, ranging from the hot weather to the flies. The Boers, on the other hand, were fighting on land they knew well, able to supply themselves with what they needed and well supplied initially with modern German rifles. Highly mobile on horseback, Boer Kommandos were able to conduct highly effective raids on extended British supply lines and outmaneuver the British, who at the start of the war were not well prepared for a long and difficult fight against a well-motivated and skilled opponent. Having started the war poorly under the command of General Redvers Buller, the British soon got round to sending troops and supplies to the war and replaced General Buller with Lord Roberts, who was determined to protect his supply lines. In doing so, he was to produce probably the first armored self-propelled vehicle – nearly a generation before tanks first appeared in World War 1.

The Need

A key concern for Lord Roberts was ensuring that his overland supply routes were secured. There were railway lines, but these were hard to protect due to the distances involved and proved to be an easy target for sabotage, blowing up bridges, etc. Any other supplies had to be moved by animal-drawn wagon-trains and these were slow and extremely vulnerable to disease, attacks by wild animals and Boer bullets. As such, Lord Roberts was left with very long and tenuous supply lines.

Fowler traction engine hauling 4 unarmored wagons. Source: The Engineer

The Solution

In spring 1900, a solution presented itself – mechanical haulage of supplies. Supplies could be moved by means of steam-traction engines which required only fuel and water, and could haul much more useful loads without reliance on fixed and exposed railway lines. Of course, a traction engine in its own right is not bulletproof and neither is the driver, so the answer was obvious – clad a traction engine in armor plate.

To this end, Lord Roberts ordered 6 armored traction engines, each of which came with 3 specially designed armored wagons. Unarmored wagons could, of course, be towed as well if the supplies were not vulnerable, such as building materials or hay, but vulnerable cargo like ammunition and men could be carried behind the bulletproof plates. On top of this excellent utility, the engine was also sufficiently powerful to haul a pair of 6″ guns along with their stores, ammunition and crew. All told, a total load of 60-tons (61 tonnes) could be towed by a single-engine, a load made up by guns and wagons, whether armored or otherwise. Six such engines meant that Lord Roberts would have, at least theoretically, the ability to move around 360 tonnes of men and arms wherever he liked protected from Boer bullets.

The Designer

The engines for the vehicle came from the Leeds-based firm of Messrs. Fowler and Co. Ltd. but the person responsible for the design of the armor and of the carriages is not known for certain. Some unarmored but ‘special purpose’ wagons for South Africa were designed by the carriage works at Woolwich Arsenal, so it is possible that they were involved in that part of the work. One person certainly involved was Captain Nugent of the Royal Engineers. While attached to the War Office, his role was key in getting the project made, but whether or not he designed the actual disbursement of the armor and fittings, he was definitely responsible for the leather strips between the plates which stopped them from rattling. This might seem like a small thing but it does illustrate the closeness of his involvement in the project. The periodical ‘The Daily Graphic’ of May 1900 gives credit for the idea to Lord Roberts and the design to Cpt. Nugent. One name not involved in the design who was around at the time was Rookes Crompton. Crompton was working for Lord Roberts on the problems of moving supplies and guns involving traction engines and was even made a Colonel as a result of his actions in South Africa.

Investigations show that he was in South Africa with his electrical engineering unit at the time of these vehicles being made but, being an expert in road traction, he would certainly have taken an interest in these vehicles and would have known about them. He was also back in Britain before the last ones were sent, so he would also have the opportunity to examine them. Nonetheless, and despite some claims to the contrary (notably, Crompton himself never claimed that he assisted the project), he had no direct involvement in the design, although it is not to say that it might not have influenced his own later work on his Emplacement Destroyers in WW1.

Two views of the engine clad in armor showing the awkward position of the armored cab at the rear, but also the hold in the rear (bottom left below the door) where the winching cable would be spooled out. Source: The Engineer

The Engine

The traction engines for this task were manufactured by the firm of John Fowler and Co. Ltd., of Leeds, England, and were the ‘Super Lion’ model. Each Super-Lion weighed 17.5-tons (17.8 tonnes) and was fitted with a pair of rear wheels 7′ (2.13 m) high and 24″ (610 mm) wide.

Protection for these engines was provided by 4.5-tons (4.6 tonnes) of Cammell Laird and Co.’s 5/16″ (7.94 mm) thick bullet-proof armor plating formed into a large box-shape covering the whole of the engine. Other plates, for the bottom of the driving cab and the roof, were made from ¼” (6.35 mm) thick armor plate and the whole affair was fastened together by means of bolts and rivets. Messrs. Cammell Laird and Co. rated the vertical armor as providing protection against both the British Lee-Metford and the German Mauser rifles at a range of just 20 yards (18 m). Given the ranges at which many of the Boer ambushes were often taking place from over 200 yards (182 m) away, such protection could be seen as excessive and producing undue weight. As little as ¼” (6.35 mm) would probably have sufficed.

Despite the weight of the armor, however, these engines could still manage between 2 and 6 mph (3 to 10 km/h) on a good firm surface. For reference, without the armor, the engine was capable of up to 8 mph (13 km/h) in top gear with an operating range of 10-17 miles (16 to 27 km). The steam boiler, by virtue of its copper fire-box, was efficient and could burn whatever fuel might be available, such as wood, coke, coal or even dried dung. Its range was limited only by how much water and fuel it could carry. When using coal, the machine burned 7 cwt. (356 kg) of coal for every 30 miles (42 km) traveled.

Fully laden with armor, this vehicle was intended to weigh in at 17.5-tons (17.8 tonnes) with a 60-ton (61.0 tonnes) towing capacity, but was overweight at 22-tons (22.4 tonnes). As such, the load capacity was reduced to around 55 – 56 tonnes.

Layout

The design of the armor was somewhat crude, consisting of large flat plates bolted or riveted together on a vehicle not designed for such a thing. The drawbacks of weight were obvious but less apparent was the effect on the driver. Stood or sat at the back, behind the boiler, the driver hads, even under ordinary circumstances, a severely restricted view ahead. The armored cab afforded protection but it also further restricted his view and, standing on either side, he would only be able to see along each side of the engine through a small rectangular window. Additional windows were provided in the sides of the cab extensions and one in the rear of each as well, but nonetheless, the already poor visibility got substantially worse. The ordinary steering position for the driver was at the rear right and so, to see along the left side of the boiler, a mirror was fitted on the left-hand side of the cab so he did not have to move to see ahead.

The Wagons

The armored engine was only one part of the ‘road train’, the other were the carriages. These were not simply some wooden carriages clad in armor either. They were designed-for-purpose. Each carriage was mounted on 4 wheels, 2 small ones at the front, and a pair of larger wheels at the back. The sides of each carriage sloped gently out at the base before sloping back in again at an estimated 20° angle (from the vertical) towards the top. This sloping created angled sides which would help with deflecting bullets and allowed for men and stores behind the armor to be protected.

The armored wagon showing the angled sides and how they could be folded down to protect the stores carried inside. Source: The Engineer

The roof of the carriage was open, which allowed fresh air for the men. If the stores carried were vulnerable to fire, like ammunition, the sides could actually fold down to provide an armored roof. Loopholes in the sides and front of the wagons allowed for the men inside to fire their rifles out without having to expose themselves, meaning these carriages could also be used as a static blockhouse if required. No loopholes were provided in the rear.

This was not the end of the utility of the carriages either. Not only could they carry stores and/or men, they could also carry a field gun. The engine still had the ability to tow a gun, but with the use of a pair of angle-iron ramps at the back and opening the large rear doors, a 6″ howitzer or 4.7″ field gun could be hauled inside, although the 4.7″ gun would have the barrel sticking out due to its length.

Rear of one of the armored wagons for the road train showing the 4-part doors and method of loading a field gun into the back. The framework roof provided rigidity and ventilation and could be covered with a tarpaulin to keep off the rain and sun if required. Source: The Engineer

Production and Trials

Despite 6 engines being ordered, just 4 were built and fitted with armor, numbers 8894, 8895, 8898 and 8899 (note that 8896 and 8897 are missing from this sequence). Engine 8894 and 8895 were built in May and June 1900, respectively, and tested in the Leeds area prior to being sent out to South Africa.

Trials held in Leeds on 16th May 1900 were not well regarded. It was reported by observers from the trade press that this engine (presumably 8894, as 8895 was not finished until June per company records) entered a soft ploughed field with a slight slope towing its wagons and gun. Going downhill, it all worked fine, but on the way back it was unable to traverse the slope, tearing it up.

Fowler B5 Armoured Road Train undergoing road trails in or around Leeds, May or June 1901. Source: Hills

This was a significant problem and reflected very poorly on the off-road ability of the machine but was somewhat unfair as the engine did resolve the problem. To do so, it simply ditched the wagons and gun, drove up the slope and then used its powerful winching drum pulling a steel cable through the back. In doing so, the engine hauled up all of the loads up the hill, albeit incurring a delay.
Despite the relatively poor showing of the engines, 8894 and 8895 were sent out to South Africa in July to August 1900. The remaining two engines (8898 and 8899), were both finished in October and were sent out to December 1901.

Use

Despite the potential for hauling heavy supplies immune from Boer bullets, the engines saw little or no actual use as armored vehicles. Instead, these four engines (two more engines were delivered later unarmored) were stripped of their armor plating and put to use as ordinary traction engines in the service of the Imperial Military Railway (IMR). Had they been employed across the large open areas of the veldt (South African grassland), they would no doubt have provided a valuable addition to the supply situation during the war. The war continued into May 1902 but, by the time these engines had arrived, the problems of supply were being resolved. The Boers ability to operate was progressively diminished, albeit at a huge cost in terms of the numbers of men sent by Britain to tie them down.

Conclusion

The armored road train certainly had flaws, as it was slow and it was not good at climbing slopes, as illustrated by its trials in May 1901. What it did have, however, was the ability to move men and goods behind armor. Protected from Boer attacks, these could have been used to provide the supplies needed to pursue a lengthy and difficult war across wide-open areas. The end of the war, the problems with the engines, and perhaps the novelty of them as a new weapon of war meant that they never had the opportunity to be tested and evaluated properly in action.

There were other armored vehicles before and after the Fowler B5 running up to the start of World War I in 1914, yet no army was properly equipped with armored vehicles to haul men or guns at the start of the Great War.



Illustration of the B5 Armoured Road Train produced by Bernard Baker, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 19 9″ (6.05 m) long x 7′ 11 ½” (2.43 m) wide, 12′ 1 ½” (3.70 m) high (to top of chimney) 10′ 11 ½” (3.34 m) wheelbase
Weight 17.5 tons / 17.8 tonnes (unarmoured), 22-tons / 22.4 tonnes (armoured)
Crew 1 (driver) (possibly a stoker as well)
Armour 5/16″ (7.94 mm) on vertical plates, ¼” (6.35 mm) on other plates – proof against the British Lee-Metford Rifle and the German Mauser Rifle used by the Boers at 20 yards (18 m)
Propulsion 180 psi. (1,241 Kilopascals) boiler, 10 nhp (10 hp), composite spring-mounted type (copper firebox) producing 70/80 continuous Indicated Horse Power (I.H.P.) with 115/125 max. I.H.P. for short periods. Belt hp ranges from 30 to 48 (max.)
Speed 8 mph (13 km/h, unarmoured), 2 to 6 mph (3 to 10 km/h, armoured)

Sources

Hills, A. (2019). Col. R.E.B.Crompton. Pioneers of Armour Vol.2. FWD Publishing, USA
The Daily Graphic’ 18th May 1900
The Engineer 18th May 1900
The Electrical Journal Vol.34, 18th January 1901, 19th April 1901
Layriz, O. (1900). Mechanical traction in war for road transport. MArston and Co. London, UK
Nowers, J. (1994). Steam traction in the Royal Engineers. North Kent Books, Rochester, UK

Col. R.E.B. Crompton (Pioneers of Armour)

Col. R.E.B. Crompton (Pioneers of Armour)


By Andrew Hills
The foundations and principles of modern armoured warfare did not appear out of a vacuum, and nor did the machines of WW1 and WW2. Their development was full of false starts, failed ideas, and missed opportunities. Rookes Evelyn Bell Crompton was a pioneer in electrical engineering and road haulage who, by the turn of the century found himself in South Africa during the Boer War. Later, in WW1 his early work with the Landships Committee on tracked vehicles sought to break the stalemate of trench warfare. Although his tank designs never saw combat the work he started was carried on by other pioneers and helped to usher in a dawn of armoured and mechanised warfare. Buy this book on Amazon!


Categories
El Salvador Armor

M3A1 Stuart in El Salvadoran Service

El Salvador El Salvador (1944)
Light Tank – 6 Used

Sandwiched between the Pacific on its south, Guatemala to the west and Honduras to the east, the nation of El Salvador is tiny. In 1969, this nation consisted of about 3.4 million people living on 21,000 square kilometers – slightly smaller than the US State of New Jersey. The history of this nation at the end of the 20th Century was a bloody one.

El Salvadoran M3 Stuart parading through San Salvador with a captured Honduran flag. Source: Spencer

El Salvador’s military was a small affair too (~4,500 men in 1969 with an additional 25,000 nominal reserves), mainly armed with secondhand American military equipment supplied after WW2. In July 1969, El Salvador had a brief border war with Honduras, in which the Salvadoran army’s armored force was found to be seriously outdated. Primarily consisting of a handful of elderly M3 Stuart light tanks, the firepower was insufficient to support the soldiers and the armor too thin to protect against anti-tank weapons deployed by the Hondurans, such as American supplied recoilless rifles. The armor that did indeed prove successful for El Salvador was not these relics of a bygone age, but actually hastily improvised armored trucks.

El Salvador, under dictator General Maximiliano Martinez, had been sympathetic to dictators like Mussolini and Hitler. However, following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, they joined with the United States in declaring war against the Axis. By 1942, El Salvador was a member of the Allies and, starting in 1942, the US Military was supplying arms to Central America to assist with internal security, including El Salvador. In early 1944, the United States supplied 8 (US records indicate 6) surplus M3A1 Stuart Light Tanks to Gen. Martinez’s regime. These were all allocated to the Cavalry Regiment replacing the obsolete Italian CV.3/33 Light Tanks which had been operated since 1938. Just a few months after the Stuart tanks arrived, these new vehicles were used in a coup by the Army to force Martinez from power and into exile.

According to Captain Johnson’s (1986) research on the subject of arms supplied by the USA to El Salvador, there were no tanks supplied post-WW2 by the United States. Neighboring Guatemala was supplied with ten M3 Stuart light tanks in 1947, following the signing of the Rio Treaty (Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance) and some speculation has been that, as Guatemala was friendly with El Salvador, some of those vehicles might have been supplied. This appears to be incorrect and Capt. Johnson’s research confirms this. This meant that the only tanks known to be in El Salvador by the end of WW2 and some time thereafter were those 6 or 8 Stuarts delivered in 1944, a situation which remained until 1969.

El Salvadoran M3 in the captured Honduran town of Nueva Ocotepeque. Source: Spencer

Football

The Hundred Hours War or ‘Football’ War, as it is sometimes known, took place at a time of pre-existing tensions between El Salvador and Honduras, coinciding with rioting which took place during a 1970 World Cup Qualification match. The background to this conflict was an ongoing border dispute between Honduras and El Salvador made worse by agrarian reforms in Honduras in the late 1960s. These had resulted in the expulsion of some of 300,000 Salvadoran laborers and farmers (making up about 15% of the entire Honduran population) and the appropriation of property owned by them in Honduras which raised tensions between the nations. Thousands of Salvadorans are believed to have been killed, raped, or dispossessed from their land during this time. The increased repression of Salvadorans in Honduras at the time of the 1970 World Cup qualifiers was just more petrol on this fire.

The ‘football’ element to the war was a good media line coined by journalists for trying to explain these complex animosities between the two nations made all the more unclear by an undelineated border between the countries. Nonetheless, both states felt that they were the aggrieved parties in the war. On 14th July 1969, troops from El Salvador attacked neighboring Honduras.

The war ended after a ceasefire imposed by the Organization of American States with a negotiated peace on 18th July (took effect on 20th July) – hence the conflict sometimes being called the ‘100-hour war’. The name ‘Football War’ (and, unfortunately, some later publications catering to the American market referring to it as ‘The Soccer War’) has led to some people speculating that the war was related to an actual football game or riot, but it was not. The football element was merely symptomatic of problems caused by agrarian reforms in Honduras and some lazy journalism.

Salvadoran M3 on a trailer in the captured Honduran town of Nueva Ocotepeque. It is likely this vehicle simply ran out of fuel. Source: Spencer

Attack

The invasion of Honduras took the form of a coordinated aerial attack on the main Honduran airport and a three-pronged land force: The Northern Theatre (Teatro de Operaciones del Norte – TON), The Chalatenago Theatre (Teatro de Operaciones Nororiental – TONO), and The Eastern Theater (Teatro de Operaciones Oriente – TOO).

Disputed territorial boundary shown as dashed line between the countries. Source: CIA – President’s Daily Briefing 16th July 1969.

The Northern Theatre force (TON), under the command of Colonel Mario de Jesus Velasquez, consisted of lightly armored improvised vehicles known as Rayos. Accompanied by infantry, the force was to advance north-northwest towards Honduras’ second city, San Pedro Sula, before swinging south to the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.

The Eastern Theatre force (TOO), under the command of General Segundo Martinez, attacked eastwards along the Pan-American Highway with the intention of then swinging north to the capital. The theatre of action encompassed the areas of La Unión and Morazán was composed of the bulk of the Salvadoran armor, the M3 Stuart light tanks, mechanized units, and artillery support.

The third force (TONO), was a 300 strong unit under the command of Lt. Col. Manuel Antonio Nunez working between these primary thrusts preventing Honduran force concentration.

The plan was, therefore, a simple one. Protecting their own border and a two-pronged pincer movement on the Honduran capital.

The objective was similarly simple, either seize the capital and/or force Honduran President Oswaldo Arellano to abdicate in what was supposed to be a 72-hour campaign.

Success was rapid initially, with the element of surprise on the side of the Salvadorans and the aerial attack having temporarily crippled the Honduran air force. Having attacked on the afternoon of 14th July 1969, by the end of the next day, Salvadoran forces had pushed over 8 kilometers inside Honduras. Within a day or so, the Honduran troops were withdrawing and trying to organize a defense at a hill called El Quebrachal in the Northern Theater. To take this defensive position, Salvadoran forces attacked with infantry supported by two M3A1 tanks. Both vehicles were put out of action by Honduran 57 mm Recoilless rifles and 3.5” bazookas. The Salvadoran infantry finished the assault though, pushing the Hondurans back.

A second battle took place in the Northern Theatre, at another hill which was being used as defence. Known as Chicotera, it was defended by Honduran troops guarding the east of the strategic town of Nueva Ocotepeque. Again, Salvadoran forces attacked supported by at least one M3A1 tank, although it ran out of fuel and had to be abandoned. Soon after, though, they had occupied Nueva Ocotepeque.

Salvadoran M3 Stuart tank rolls through the streets of Nueva Ocotepeque. Source: El Mundo

The attacks in the North were successful, but the performance of the tanks had been poor. In the Eastern Theater, the Salvadoran armor was made up of improvised armored trucks known as ‘Rayos’. In coordination with bulldozers being used as makeshift tanks, the Salvadoran 11th Battalion took control of the town of El Amatillo, an advance of about 5 km by the end of day one. A counterattack supported by aircraft launched by the Hondurans the next day was repulsed, but a second attack by the Salvadoran forces against Nacaome failed and the war in the East ground to a halt.

El Salvadoran soldiers during the Hundred Hours War. Source: Associated Press

The Salvadoran attack soon stalled however, as the main armored force started to meet increased resistance. The Honduran air force started bombing locations in El Salvador and, on the ground, Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras, was under threat by Salvadoran forces. The result was a movement by the Organization of American States (OAS) to sue for peace. The infuriated Salvadorans took some convincing, but with possible sanctions being imposed on them, they agreed, and eventually withdrew on 2nd August 1969, bringing the war to a nominal end, although tensions remained for several years. Even today, some tensions still remain over issues from this war which are unresolved.

Preserved M3A1 at Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ in San Salvador in 2008. Source: FAVAustinTX on Flickr

Conclusion

El Salvador might have lost the first round qualifier in the football to Honduras but it won the rematch and a third decisive game too, qualifying to the Football World Cup for the first time in its history. Not only that, but it had proved that it was not going to be pushed around or tolerate the mistreatment of Salvadorans across the border in Honduras. The war though, like so many, was a pointless one, stoked by inflamed nationalistic rhetoric in the domestic media on both sides. Thousands of people were killed and even more people were dispossessed, and both economies suffered. El Salvador had learned a valuable lesson though – its armor force was obsolete. The force which had done well was a lightly armored improvised one, this was to shape Salvadoran thinking for a generation in terms of lightly armoured and mobile vehicles, although the tank role was eventually replaced with the French AML 60/90 armored cars. The M3 Stuarts which were left were eventually relegated to display purposes, having fought in one of the most obscure wars of the Twentieth Century.

Older image of the M3A1 at Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ with a different camouflage pattern. Source: Flickr

It is not known how many of the original eight M3A1 Stuart light tanks El Salvador lost during the war with Honduras, but at least two are reported to have been knocked out. At least three still survive, one at the Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ and two as gate guardians at Ciudad Arce base of the Regimiento de Caballería (Cavalry Regiment). Both vehicles outside this military base are painted in a three tone green, grey and tan scheme, although all of the wheels and suspension components are painted white. The tank at the Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada ‘Cuartel El Zapote’ is painted in a daring three tone, dark grey, brown, and bright green with the lower hull sides, wheels, and suspension components all painted black. Older images show that is has been repainted at least twice since it was at the museum and previously sported a darker green with tan and black splotches, although the lower hull and suspension parts were still black. One final note with the Stuarts in El Salvador is that, during the troubles of the 1980’s, there was some planning done about how to modernise them but quite what this entailed is unknown. The plan was reportedly nixed by US military advisers but what these plans had in store for these tanks will perhaps be known one day.

Gate Guardian of the Regimiento de Caballería, Arce, El Salvador. Source: Himura Kingy via Flickr


El Salvadoran M3A1 Stuart. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Specifications

Dimensions 4.33 m x 2.23 m x 2.35 m
14ft 2in x 7ft 4in x 7ft 9in
Total weight, battle ready 14.7 tons
Crew 4
Propulsion Continental 7 cylinder petrol
250 hp – air cooled
Speed 58 km/h (36 mph) road
29 km/h (18 mph) off-road
Range 120 km at medium speed (74.5 mi)
Armament 37 mm (1.45 in) M5 or M6
3 to 5 cal.30 (7.62 mm) M1919 machine guns
Armor From 13 to 51 mm (0.52-2 in)

Sources

Scheina, R. (2003). Latin America’s Wars Volume II – The Age of the Professional Soldier.
Spencer, D. (1995). Armored Fighting Vehicles of El Salvador. Museum Ordnance Special Number 7.
Cornejo, I. (14th July 2017). Hoy inicia congreso sobre guerra El Salvador-Honduras.
Memorandum from the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs to President Nixon. 9th July 1969
Montes, J. (2001). Mexican and Central American Armor. Darlington Productions.
SIPRI Import/Export Register 1950-1980 El Salvador
Johnson, L. (1986). Security Assistance to Central America: Assessment of US Involvement in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. US Air Force Institute of Technology.
Central Intelligence Agency – President’s Daily Briefing 16th July 1969.
US War Department. (31st December 1946). Lend-Lease Shipments World War II. US War Department, Washington D.C.


Categories
Coldwar American Prototypes Luxembourg Tanks

Eischen’s Main Battle Tank

USA/Luxembourg (1962)
MBT – None built

In 1962, the Cold War was at a peak, with the two great power blocks of the Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact and the United States/NATO facing off across Central Europe. By the 1960s, the Soviets had made significant strides forward in their armored vehicles and possessed both a numerical and, in many regards, a technical advantage over the NATO forces seeking to safeguard Europe.

The US was still maintaining large stocks of obsolete weapons including many from WW2 and had, by the late 1950s, realized the need for a new light tank. That program eventually led to the M551 Sheridan. When the first prototype of that vehicle was published in the summer of 1962, it appears to have spurred some further thought about a replacement or supplemental main battle tank for the US, one suitable for the perceived battlefields of Europe from 1965 to 1975. The US Armor Association issued a design competition one month after the appearance of the M551 for exactly this purpose, to design a new tank.

The designer, Sgt. Gustave L. Eischen. Source: Armor Magazine

One of the men who answered the call and submitted a design was Gustave L. Eischen. Eischen is described by the Magazine of the US Armor Association only as being from Luxemburg, with no other details. In the photo above, his uniform and cap badge appear to indicate that he was a member of the Army of Luxembourg and his rank is given as a Sergeant. The Army of Luxembourg at the time was contributing a brigade-sized force to NATO in Europe, with little prospect of beginning its own tank production.

In a newspaper article in Luxembourg published on 7th December 1962, it states that Eischen, a soldier for 8 years and a mechanic in the Luxembourg Air Force, resigned to pursue other opportunities.

Eischen’s unusual tank of 1962 showing the distinctive shape of the front and rear and the rear-turret mounted missiles. Source: Armor Magazine

Date

Eischen submitted a sketch and a model and claimed to have been working on his idea for several months prior to the competition being announced, meaning it would date to around January or February 1962 at the earliest. He had to submit it by the deadline of August 1962, so it is clearly not later than this latter date.

Technical details

The design, at first glance, is quite unusual, with four sets of tracks and a steeply angled front and rear in what could be thought of as two half-tanks joined together. This is because the design was to use a pair of air-cooled engines and two drivers, one in each half. Mounted on top of the four two-roadwheel track units, the height of the tank could be varied hydropneumatically.

Having one driver at each end allowed for the vehicle to be driven at high speed safely in either direction without having to turn around. Along with the variable height of the suspension, this would allow a good deal of off-road mobility and a range “triple that of the M60 by virtue of the several ‘special’ fuel cells arranged around the vehicle.

The shape had one more critical advantage too. It allowed for extremely good visibility from the turret both fore and aft and for the vehicle to be equally fightable in each direction.

At just 6 meters long and 3 meters wide, the vehicle would have been almost exactly the same size as the WW2-era M24 Chaffee, albeit slightly heavier at between 24 and 32 US tons (21.8 tonnes to 29 tonnes) depending on the armor thickness selected.

Side view of Eischen’s tank showing the pair of track units on each side and the diamond-shaped hull. Source: Armor Magazine

Armament

The armament was to consist of either a conventional 75 mm or 90 mm gun, which would provide excellent general-purpose firepower against vehicles and infantry support. For contact with heavier tanks, against which the gun would not be adequate, it was supplemented by a pack of ‘self-homing’ [guided anti-tank] missiles. In order to keep the silhouette as small as possible, Eischen took the unusual step of simply placing the gun and missiles at opposite ends of the turret, facing in different directions. Thus, should a heavier target need to be attacked, the gun would have to be fully rotated to fire the missile. On the drawing submitted, a machine gun, fitted to what is assumed to be the commander’s cupola on the turret roof, is also shown.

Armor

Given the low weight – less than 30 tonnes – even at its heaviest, protection would be modest. The M24 Chaffee, a comparative-sized vehicle, had conventional welded steel armor up to 38 mm thick in places. Given the additional weight of the missiles, additional driver’s station and second engine, the Eischen tank would unlikely have been able to mount armor much thicker than the M24 Chaffee. The mention of ‘special’ fuel cells though could imply that Eischen was considering the careful placement of these fuel cells to increase protection for the vehicle, but whatever details he might have provided were not included in the article concluding the competition.

Epilogue

Eischen appears to have got nowhere with his design. It won second place in the Armor competition in 1962, behind the articulated tank concept of the Forsyth brothers. His military career did not pan out either, but a lingering trace of him exists in a patent for a self-supporting element used in the manufacture of prefabricated houses filed in 1971 in Germany. There his home town is given as that of Ettelbruck in Luxembourg.

Conclusion

Eischen’s design featured the significant novelty for 1962 as hydropneumatic suspension for 4 separate track units. The two-driver idea was not particularly new as many armored cars had featured a second (backward) driver before this for the same reason, the ability to withdraw at speed. The armament offered little in the way of novelty too, a conventional 75 mm gun was by 1962 a hopeless concept for anything other than the lightest of armored targets. Even consideration of a 90 mm gun would likely have been of little use against modern Soviet tanks which is why he had added missiles. It is the missiles which are the most interesting novelty of the design as they faced backward, an unusual yet simple solution to a complex problem of mounting a missile battery on a tank.



Illustration of Eischen’s Main Battle Tank produced by Andrei Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W) 6 x 3 meters
Total weight, battle-ready 21.8 tonnes – 29 tonnes)
Crew 4 (front driver, rear driver, commander, gunner)
Propulsion x2, unknown type
Armament: 75 mm or 90 mm gun supplemented with anti-tank guided missiles, machine gun

Sources

Armor Magazine. (July-August 1962). Tank Design Contest.
Armor Magazine. (January-February 1963). The Winning Tank Designs.
Carter, D. (2015). Forging the Shield: The US Army in Europe 1951-1962. Center of Military History, US Army, Washington DC
d’Letzeburger Land 7th December 1962 ‘Ideen machen sich bezahlt Gusty Eischens Spielzeug-Panzer’
German Patent DE2135276 ‘Selbsttragendes, plattenariges wandelment’ filed 15th July 1971, granted 25th January 1973


Categories
WW2 Italian Prototypes

Ansaldo Light Tank Prototype 1931

Italy Kingdom of Italy (1929-30) Light Tank – 1 Built

Following tests in 1930 with a new and improved light tank to replace the interim CV.29, changes had to be made to the vehicle to improve mobility. Ansaldo had made the prototype in 1930 copying the general arrangement of the CV.29, which was, in turn, a copy of the Carden Loyd Mark VI light tank. The 1930 vehicle had improved armor by virtue of a proper roof plate and better suspension than the CV.29, but it was still not acceptable. The armament was light, just a single Fiat Model 1914 water-cooled 6.5 mm machine-gun, and whilst that would be changed later, the priority was to achieve better mobility by focusing on the suspension system.

The 1930 Light Tank Prototype was modified and from the few available photographs and records on the project, the evolution from CV.29 to CV.3 Series vehicles can be traced directly through this 1930 vehicle modified into the 1931 model.

Ansaldo 1931 Light Tank Prototype

Trial and Development

With the lessons from the trials of the CV.29 and the 1930 Ansaldo Light Tank Prototype available, the evolution of the CV.3 had moved significantly in just a couple of years. The 1930 trials of the Light Tank had been promising, and new trials were ordered for 1931. Giuseppe Rossini, the engineering brains behind the designs at Ansaldo, took this knowledge and experience and replaced the suspension on the 1930 vehicle. It is not clear whether the suspension was changed from the 1930 vehicle to the 1931 vehicle first and then was copied over onto the Ansaldo Light Tractor (for hauling field guns) or vice versa, or indeed if it was done simultaneously, but regardless, the old suspension was gone and a new, improved system fitted.

Layout

As this 1931 vehicle was simply the 1930 vehicle with modifications, it retained the all-welded upper bodywork with bolting and riveting kept to the lower sections. The armament remained weak however, as it retained the same single Fiat model 1914 6.5 mm water-cooled machine-gun mounted behind a large, curved mounting on the front left. This would still be operated by the commander/gunner with the driver sitting on the front right. Movement for the machine-gun was acceptable as it was able to move 20 degrees in each direction horizontally and could be elevated between -12 and +18 degrees, thus permitting a wide field of fire. An estimated 3,800 rounds could have been carried, but as it was a prototype, this is not definitive and is merely an estimate based on the loadout of the CV.3/33 when it was eventually finished.

The engine was at the back and the transmission at the front with the drive shaft running between the two men. The body of the vehicle was mostly welded armor between 8 and 14mm thick with some bolts used to attach sections together. Notably, the vertical front plate on the nose of the vehicle was bolted together and used two vertical reinforcing pieces. On the glacis, above this nose, was a single, wide hatch used for accessing and also for cooling the transmission.

The internal layout of either the 1930 or 1931 version of the prototype tank. The interior layout remained unchanged from the 1930 to 1931 versions with the commander/gunner on the left and the driver on the right. The chequered floor plate gives an idea of the attention to detail which went into the design. Source: Pignato

On the casemate itself was a wide rectangular hatch on the front right for the driver in addition to a large rectangular hatch on the right of the driver for vision. Another two square hatches were provided in the back of the casemate directly behind the driver and gunner respectively. The roof was a single large metal panel attached by two simple hinges at the back of the casemate, being large and awkward to open and close.

At the rear, the engine bay had a flat roof, and ventilation for the engine was provided by means of large louvred grilles on each side of the engine compartment. On the roof of the engine compartment, there were more ventilation louvres. One unusual feature is the addition of ventilation grooves into the cover for the muffler on the exhaust from each side, presumably there to help keep the exhaust cool or assist in air flow.

Ansaldo Light Tank Prototype of 1931. The framework on the rear deck is a folding mount for a machine gun. Source: Pignato

Mobility and Suspension

The suspension was changed from 3 pairs of wheels to the better known 2-1-1-2 arrangement in which the fore and aft pairs of wheels were mounted on a bogie and the central individual wheels mounted on a dog-leg shaped arm. The horizontal supporting bar for the suspension components was retained, although it was shorter and slightly reshaped. The rear idler mount was also changed from a simple bar holding it in place to an integrated mounting holding a small wheel to keep the track from excessive flexing during high-speed movement and especially from being buckled upwards during reversing. As with all of the previous vehicles, the slightly triangular box behind the sprocket was retained and hand tools for the tank were kept in it.

1931 Ansaldo Light Tank prototype during testing in the mountains. The roof has been removed for an unknown purpose. This image provides an excellent view of the flat engine deck of this machine. The tiny silhouette of the machine is also apparent. Source: Private collection and Pignato respectively

The power source for the vehicle is not known for certain, although it is possible, albeit unlikely, that it was still using the same 2.9-litre Ford Model T petrol engine as was being used in the CV.29. That engine produced just 20-22 hp for a vehicle over a tonne lighter. Performance for the 1931 Prototype is not known but had it been using this Ford engine it would have been totally unsatisfactory mobility wise, meaning it is far more likely to have had the same Fiat CV3-type 4 cylinder petrol engine as was later adopted for the production vehicles. That 2.745-litre engine received various improvements and modifications to improve the power output. As the production engine in the formally adopted CV.3/33 delivered 43 hp, it is a reasonable assumption to place the engine output for the 1930 prototype at or about 43hp. In this case, this would have enabled to the tank to manage about 40km/h on a road and about 14 km/h off-road.

Conclusion

The 1931 Prototype with the improved suspension was still not perfect but was superior to its earlier (1930) form and significantly better in every regard than the CV.29 which had been made as an interim tank whilst this new tank was developed. The Fiat model 1914 water-cooled 6.5 mm machine-gun was still not ideal, but that was to be a relatively simple thing to change. The design for the new tank had been set. Able to be transported by truck and capable of good mobility even in mountainous terrain, it was all that had been asked for and, save for the use of a turret, was an ideal light tank. The new suspension was still not perfect but had been sufficiently improved over the rigid 1930 system to form the basis for a new production tank for the army.

The design was thus selected for mass production with a few minor changes and standardized as the Carro Veloce 33 (CV.33). This vehicle, throughout a life of modifications and variants, would be Italy’s most widely produced armored vehicle of WW2.



Illustration of the Ansaldo Light Tank Prototype 1931 produced by Andrei Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 3.17 x 1.4 x 1.28 meters
Total weight, battle ready 3.2 tonnes
Crew 2 (driver, commander/machine-gunner)
Propulsion 40-43hp Fiat CV.3 petrol
Top speed 40km/h road, 14 km/h off-road
Armament: x1 Fiat Model 1914 Water-Cooled 6.5 mm Machine-Gun
Armor 8 – 14 mm
Total Production 1

Sources

Italie1939-45.com
Pignato, N, Cappellano, F. (2002). Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento Dell’Esercito Italiano V.2. Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito
Curami, L., Ceva, A. (1994). La Meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Italiano. Arte Della Stampa


Categories
Pre-WW1 British armor

Mann’s Armoured Steam Cart

British Empire (1901-02)
None Built

At the turn of the 20th century, the British Empire was vast, and it had been embroiled in a long conflict in South Africa. This was happening at the same time as perhaps the greatest industrialization era ever known moving from an age of propulsion by animal power or the wind, to one of machines. Steam-power was still king and the first armored vehicles were starting to appear, although they were not quick to be adopted. Motor transports reliant on internal combustion engines were still relatively crude, heavy, and slow affairs as the technology for that type of propulsion was yet to reach maturity. This was the era of men such as Mr. Frederick Simms and his 1901/1902 War Car, and the armored Fowler steam-road-train ordered in 1900 for service in South Africa. It is perhaps the armoring of the Fowler steam engine which is the closest analogy and possible inspiration for Mann’s Armoured Steam Cart, even though the delivery of the design was different. Incongruous as it may sound today, in 1900-1902, the idea of a steam-powered traction armor carrying armor and weapons was a viable military idea, as proven by the Fowler engine, and Mann’s idea went one crucial step further – he proposed mounting a heavy cannon on his.

Simms’ War Car. Source: Engineering Times, June 1902

Inspiration?

In 1900, Lord Roberts, who was managing the British war effort in South Africa against the Boers, was having serious problems with his supply lines. The only mechanical transport available to Lord Roberts as an alternative to the vulnerable animal-drawn carts were railway lines, but these were also subject to attack and sabotage. Horse and bullock-drawn supplies could go places where the railways could not, but were much more vulnerable to attack by the enemy, and pests, and also required fodder. Boers could and did, with relative ease, raid and otherwise harass the wagon trains and interrupt supplies.

The solution for moving supplies to his forces over the huge open areas of the South African landscape was to add mechanical traction to his supply system, something not reliant upon fodder, not vulnerable to animal disease and, with the addition of armor, immune to the Boer bullets as well. Not only this, but the added advantage of being able to haul very heavy guns as well was a significant military advantage.

The result was an order for 6 engines from the firm of John Fowler and Co. Ltd. of Leeds. This firm produced a series of steam traction engines known as the ‘Lion’ series, ranging from the 7 hp ‘Little Lion’ up to the 10 hp Super Lion. Capable of towing up to 60-tons (61 tonnes), these 17.5-ton (17.8 tonne) Super-Lion engines were clad in armor up to 8 mm thick, rendering them proof against both British and German (the Boers used the German Mauser) ammunition at point blank range. The vehicle were slow, just 2 to 6 mph (3 to 10 km/h), but were limited in range only by the amount of water they could carry, as they could burn anything from coal, to wood, and even dried dung. Towing an equally protected train of armored carriages behind it, the Fowler engine rendered Boer ambushes of the supply lines effectively obsolete overnight. Or, rather, it would have done so if the war was not already winding down by the time they arrived. These otherwise very promising vehicles arrived too late to make any difference in the war and simply ended up having the armor taken off them and used for general traction duties instead. What they did achieve though was a very significant amount of publicity at the time and expanded the interest in armored vehicles. A rival steam traction-engine maker, Mann’s Patent Steam Cart and Wagon Company Ltd., from the same city (Leeds) as Fowler, could not have been unaware of this vehicle.

Fowler armored road-train during testing in Britain before being sent to South Africa 1900-1901. The engine is armored and it is hauling three armored carriages and a field gun. Source: Author

Mann’s Company

Originally formed in 1894 in Leeds by a pair of mechanical engineers, James Mann and Sidney Chatsworth, the firm was originally known as ‘Mann and Chatsworth’, before being reformed and renamed in 1899. The reason for this was the development of an agricultural cart powered by a small steam boiler. Mann then left Chatsworth in 1898 to pursue the exploitation of this design on his own, initially forming J.H. Mann and Co. and then Mann’s Patent Steam Cart and Wagon Company in October 1899, having been capitalised with ‎£25,000. A new plant was built and was operating by the end of 1901 producing his patent trucks.

British Patent GB21085 filed November 1900 (left) and US Patent US682262(A) filed February 1901 by Mann for his steam cart (right)
Mann’s Patent Steam Cart and Wagon Company’s new works at Leeds, as depicted in July 1901. The plant covered 4 acres (1.62 hectares) Source: Automotor

The firm was soon producing this very successful light steam traction engine adapted for a variety of uses, both agricultural and commercial. Even so, while it did not compete with the size or power of Fowler’s designs, Mann’s steam cart was smaller and more affordable, making it more practical for everyday use. As such, the vehicle found itself used for a variety of special roles and one of those was for field artillery.

The Field Artillery Version

The artillery version of Mann’s patent steam vehicle first appeared in a patent application, dated 27th April 1901, innocuously titled ‘Improvements in or in connection with the Mounting and Transport of Field Artillery’. It had a very clear goal. The intention was to replace the horse and limber team, which at the time was the standard method of moving a field gun around and had gone virtually unchanged in two hundred years, in the same vein as the Fowler. The idea was to use mechanical traction to replace vulnerable animals and, in doing so, present a smaller target to the enemy (than a long line of animals) and protect the vehicle and gun crew with armor.

Where the Mann vehicle differed substantially from the Fowler was that the Fowler was literally an armored traction engine, an engine to be used for its original purpose (heavy haulage) and clad in armor. The only armament on the Fowler engine was the crew’s personal small arms as it towed a gun and wagons with troops who could also use their weapons. The Mann went a step beyond this and was to mount the actual gun on the vehicle itself, producing direct haulage and a self-propelled field gun with armor protection.

Protection

No armor thicknesses were specified in Mann’s patent, as the design is not for armor but for the use of his vehicle as a platform for a gun. Nonetheless, he describes the shield for the gun and crew as being of:

“a suitable shape… fitted to the gun, turntable or carriage, so as to cover the gunners, and the motor and its attendants from a direct hit in front of the gun”

This was later expanded in description to clarify that the armor shield should be attached to the barrel, which was a poor choice for mounting considering that the gun was already mounted on a pedestal on the back. What this might mean in reality is almost certainly just that the idea was to provide bullet-level protection along the lines of a normal gun shield, albeit larger and curved. If the Fowler’s armor is anything to go by as a metric on which to assess how much armor this vehicle would have, then this would be around 8 mm thick.

A Mann’s steam lorry showing the novel flatbed. Source: The Engineer May 1901 and Automotor Journal, June 1901

Layout

The area between the side plates was intended to be able to be used for ammunition storage for the gun, but it is important to note that Mann did not add any armor to the vehicle itself, just to the gun. Other than the addition of ammunition stowage and obviously the pedestal for the gun and shield, the vehicle was little-changed from the original patent. The only significant change was the addition of a supporting gun tail attached to the rear axle on each side. This would be lowered or raised by means of a screw thread controlled by a large handwheel on the platform on which the operator sat.

The driver sat in the same position as he would normally in the front cab of the vehicle, with the boiler alongside his legs and the funnel at the front. Steering, just like the normal vehicle, took place at the front and was controlled by chains pulling to the left or right to guide the front wheels. This arrangement was very conventional for the time and would otherwise suggest that the vehicle would usually drive forwards. In battle, however, one particular problem with towing guns behind a vehicle or horse team was that the gun was always facing away from the direction of travel. Bringing the gun into action compelled the crew to brave enemy fire until they could unlimber and swing the gun around.. Mann’s design resolved this problem as his vehicle could be driven ‘backwards’ just as easily as it could go forwards, enabling it to drive with the gun and shield ahead of it facing the enemy. This is likely the reason why there was no other armor on the machine, as the very large shield over the gun served to protect the whole vehicle behind it.

Mann’s field artillery carrying steam cart from patent GB8654 April 1901.

With just two gears, it had a top speed in bottom gear of 5 mph (8 km/h), and in top gear up to a potentially bone-rattling 21 mph (34 km/h) on a good smooth road. Power was provided from a steam boiler with a pressure ranging from 18 psi (0.12 MPa) up to 20 psi (0.14 MPa), as the design of the short-type boiler and large firebox were progressively improved in the first decade of the 20th Century.

In 1905, the engine was described as producing a 7” (177.8 mm) stroke with a 4” (101.6 mm) high pressure cylinder and a 61” (1,549.4 mm) low pressure cylinder producing the same tractive power as a team of 6 good horses. Power from the boiler was delivered through a two-speed box to the rear wheels (3’6” to 4’ diameter / 1,041 mm to 1,219 mm and 5” / 127 mm wide) driven not by chains, as was common in that era, but by direct gearing. This was all available for the cost (in 1905) of £425, the equivalent of just over £50,000 in 2018 values.

Mann’s boiler shop at his Leeds factory circa 1905. Source: Road Locomotive Society

Conclusion

Unlike the Fowler armored engine, this design from Mann did not receive any contracts, even though his trucks otherwise sold very well. No further development of the idea was carried out and the design forgotten.

Mann’s Patent Steam Cart and Wagon Company was bought out in February 1929 by Atkinson Walker Wagons Ltd. of Preston and the new company changed name to Mann’s Steam and Motor Wagon Company, a sign in the shift from steam to internal combustion engines. Just a year later, in 1930, this firm was sold off to the firm of Scammell in London. The design was, especially for the first few years of the 20th Century, a good one. A large gun on a rotating platform protected by a large shield and all mounted together. Mann’s vehicle offered an interesting balance between speed and safety. While not being as fast as a galloping horse team, the steam engine could sustain its pace over long marches and boasted better suitability for the increasingly dangerous battlefields of the early 20th century.



Illustration of Mann’s Armoured Steam Cart produced by Andrei Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon campaign.

 

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W) 22’ 3” x 6′ 3″ (6.78 x 1.01 meters)
Weight 5 tons (5.08 tonnes) unladen
Crew Driver + gun crew
Speed 5 mph (8.0 km/h) bottom gear, 21 mph (33.8 km/h) top gear on good road
Armament Army field gun, small arms.
Armor 8mm, bulletproof

Source

The Automotor and Horseless Vehicle Journal, October 1899, New Companies Registered
The Automotor and Horseless Vehicle Journal, June 1901, Liverpool self-propelled traffic association third trials of motor vehicles for heavy traffic
The Automotor and Horseless Vehicle Journal, July 1901, The Mann Steam Wagons,
Commercial Motor, 8/9/1905, The Mann Steam Tractors, Carts and Wagons
Commercial Motor, 28/9/1905, The Mann Steam Tractors, Carts and Wagons
Commercial Motor, 26/3/1908, Mann’s Patent Steam Cart and Wagon Co. Ltd.
Commercial Motor, 22/6/1905, Motors and Tractors at the Royal Show
Engineering Times, Volume 7 , January to June 1902
Hills, A. (2019). Pioneers of Armour Vol.2: Rookes Crompton. FWD Publishing, USA
Pease, J. (2005). The History of Mann’s Patent Steam Cart and Wagon Company, Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne, UK
Road Locomotive Society. (1972). Mann’s Patent Steam Cart and Wagon Co. Ltd. catalogue. Reprint No.5 Road Locomotive Society, Cambridge, UK
US Patent 682262(A) Filed by James Hutchinson Mann – Steam-Vehicle for Common Roads, filed 18/2/1901, granted 10/9/1901.
British Patent GB13236 filed by James Hutchinson Mann – Improvements in or in connection with Road Traction Engines and Draught Road Vehicles adapted to be used therewith, filed 14/6/1898, granted 29/4/1899
British Patent GB8654 filed by James Hutchinson Mann – Improvements in or in connection with the Mounting and Transport of Field Artillery, filed 27th April 1901, granted 3rd April 1902
The Engineer, 31/5/1901 The Liverpool Heavy Motor Car Trials
The Engineer, 7/6/1901 The Liverpool Heavy Motor Car Trials
A Brief History of Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon Co.

Categories
WW2 Italian AT Weapon

65mm L.17 Mountain Gun

Italy ww2 Kingdom of Italy (1902-1945)
Mountain Gun/Anti-tank Gun – 1,146 Built

Fighting in mountains poses some unique problems for an army. Most crucial amongst these problems is firepower. How do you bring firepower into areas which may only be accessible by rope line? This question is the basis of the mountain gun, a compact weapon able to deliver shells against an enemy force and which can be broken down for transport in multiple loads.

65mm L.17 Model 1913 Mountain gun. Source: Italian Ministry of Defence

Development

Work on a gun to meet the extreme needs of fighting in mountainous terrain began in Italy as far back as 1902 at the Turin Arsenal. This was to be the first gun developed and built completely within Italy for the modern army. The barrel was all steel and, unlike older guns which had to roll back to cope with recoil, this gun had a built-in recoil mechanism. The breech was an interrupted screw type breech.

This design was at the cutting edge of technology when it was conceived and first outlined back in 1902. However, by the time it actually received production orders in 1911, it was still a good gun but not the most modern piece available. Its largest flaw was the lack of elevation, just +20 degrees, meaning that for firing at high elevations troops would have to back the gun onto a ramp. This expedient measure meant that this gun was also envisioned as serving an anti-aircraft role too, though its effectiveness in this role even in WW1 is dubious at best.

Design

The requirements for a mountain gun include that it can be broken down for movement. The 65/17 had a steel barrel on a steel frame with a single fixed tail and carried on wooden spoked wheels with a steel rim. It could be broken into at least 5 (some say 6 pieces – probably due to the optional shield for the gun) for transport by pack mule. In this way, the gun could be towed on a wheeled trailer or pack carried. Ammunition was also pack carried being moved in wooden crates, 2 shells to a box. The gun was light enough to be towed by pack mule, small tracked tractors like the Fiat OCI 708M, motorised tricycles, or even by the soldiers themselves.

Service in Word War 1

Production, like development, was slow. Orders placed in 1911 for this 1902 designed gun were not delivered until 1913. By May 1915, when Italy entered WW1, just 212 guns had been produced. By the end of the fighting in November 1918 a further 685 had been made by both the Turin Arsenal and Naples Army Arsenal, but due to wartime losses the total inventory remaining at the end of WW1 was just 523 guns.

Post WW1

By 1920, the gun was obviously out of date. Despite its good points, the 65 mm gun was insufficient for the needs of the Army and it was replaced by adopting the Skoda 70 mm L13 mountain gun. The Italians had captured large numbers of these guns as Preda Bellica (P.B.). The 65/17 did not disappear from service because of this replacement.

In 1925, an experimental version was trialed with rubber tyres instead of the older wooden and steel ones. The gun shield was smaller and a small limber was available too. In 1926, it was officially reassigned to Infantry units from mountain troops at a rate of 3 guns per regiment and later at 4 guns per regiment.

The colonial troubles in what is now Libya were the next war for the 65/17. Several batteries of guns were sent to fight the insurgency there and, for the first time, the gun was carried on a wheeled vehicle, a Fiat 15ter truck. The gun had already been mounted on tracked vehicles, such as the Fiat 2000, and considered for other vehicles, but this was the first ‘portee’ mounting.
The gun also saw combat in the next Italian war, the war in Ethiopia, and in the Spanish Civil War.

During the Spanish Civil War, in 1936, Italian forces brought with them some 343 guns, some of which were issued to Spanish Nationalist forces. It was during this war that the 65/17 saw its first use as a anti-tank weapon. The relatively weak armor of enemy tanks, like the Soviet supplied T-26, meant that, even with the relatively low muzzle velocity and lack of dedicated anti-tank ammunition, the 65/17 was still an effective anti-tank gun.

Those 343 guns constituted more than half of the available 65/17 guns in Italian inventory but, just as it had been replaced in 1920 for mountain work by the Skoda 70/13, it was replaced in 1935 in infantry use by the Ansaldo 47 mm L32 cannon.

Remaining 65/17 guns were reissued to Guardia alla Frontiera (GaF) and Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale (MVSN) units and some were even fitted to fixed fortifications. Ammunition was available in large numbers so the guns would always have some use. So much so, in fact, that, despite official replacement and because of losses (either from combat or simple wear and tear) in the Ethiopian and Spanish campaigns, production was actually resumed in 1937, producing 249 new guns.

Despite this reissue and replacement, by 1940 when Italy entered WW2, some regiments were still equipped with this gun.

65/17 dug into a well protected pit in North Africa. This example has the large gun shield fitted. Source: unknown
Captured Morris CS8 with 65/17 fitted in use by Italian forces in Tunisia. Source: Riccio

World War 2

Immediately prior to the Italian entry into WW2, the 65/17 was still in front line infantry service. Some guns had the old wooden wheels with steel rims replaced in 1939 with wheels made from Elekton (Magnesium) fitting with rubber tyres as a weight saving and mobility enhancing measure. By April 1940, just before the declaration of War by Mussolini, there were 700 65/17 guns of various states of repair and upgrade in service with Italian forces. There was still a shortage of anti-tank ammunition however.

As the guns and ammunition (albeit not AT ammunition) was plentiful, it is no surprise that it saw extensive use in WW2 on all of the fronts on which Italy fought. In North Africa, the gun was mounted on Fiat 634 trucks as well as on captured British Morris CS8 trucks forming ‘batterie volanti’ (flying batteries). Mounted on a truck bed, these guns were far more useful than on their old carriages, as they could rotate a full 360 degrees. A total of 28 guns were mounted in this way in 7 batteries of 4.

65/17 gun belonging to the Spezia airborne division in Tunisia being towed by the Guzzi Trialice. Source: Riccio

In Tunisia, the guns saw service with the Spezia airborne division, where they were towed by the Guzzi Trialce (motor-tricycle) formed into 2 batteries of 4 guns. By December 1942, just 444 guns were left in service with the Italians, including those in fixed fortifications. The gun was still in service after the September 1943 armistice too with all parties from partisans to the Germans using them and eight guns being surrendered to the Free French forces in Corsica.

Partisans in a staged photo using a 65/17 with shield in April 1945. Source: Riccio

Ammunition

The 65/17 used a 65mm x 172R round, approximately 4.23 kg in weight. Originally only high explosive ammunition was available for the gun, but was later supplemented with a shrapnel shell and canister shell.

In 1936, an armor piercing (AP) shell (4.23 kg) was produced for the gun but was always in short supply. The gun, despite being completely out of date by 1942, was still in common use and a shaped charge ‘EP’ (effetto pronto – rapid effect) shell was developed which was capable of penetrating up to 120 mm of armor. The range was limited to 6.5 km for HE and 500 meters for AP shells. The rate of fire was between 6 and 12 rounds per minute.

65 mm shells for the 65/17. Left to right: High Explosive, Armor Piercing, EP ‘Effetto Pronto’ (hollow charge), and EPS ‘Effetto Pronto Speciale’ (hollow charge). Source: US Military Intelligence

Conclusion

The 65/17 saw service from 1913 until at least 1945 on all fronts. It fulfilled the role of a mountain gun, infantry gun, tank gun, anti-aircraft gun, anti-tank gun and even a dirigible mounted gun. Ironically the gun was designed for use in terrain and saw its most famous work while mounted expediently onto vehicles for fighting in the mostly flat deserts of North Africa.



Illustration of the 65mm L.17 Mountain Gun produced by Andrie Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications

Calibre 65mm
Lenght 3.57m overall, barrel 1.15m
Width 1m
Height 1.25m
Weight 556kg
Elevation -7 (also given as -10) to +20
Traverse (on normal mount) 8 degrees
Muzzle velocity 320-355m/s
Range 6.5km (HE), 0.5km (AT)
Ammunition HE, Shrapnel, Canister, AP, EP, EPS
Anti-Armor performance 76mm to 120mm

Sources

Italie1939-45.com
Italian Artillery of WWII, Ralph Riccio
Iron Arm: The Mechanization of Mussolini’s Army, 1920-1940, John Sweet
Gli Autoveicoli da Combattimento Dell’Esercito Italiano V.2, Pignato and Cappellano
TM 9-1985-6 and TO 39B-1A-8 “Italian and French Explosive Ordnance” US Military March 1953
Light Fieldguns, Franz Kosar
Italian Armoured Vehicles of World War Two, Nicola Pignato
La Meccanizzazione dell’Esercito Italiano, Ceva and Curami
motoguzzi.com