German tactics Soviet tactics

The Soviet 21st Tank Brigade’s Assault On Kalinin

October 17th to October 20th, 1941

The Brigade of Heroes

One of the most discussed counterattacks ever conducted by the Red Army, the 21st Tank Brigade’s assault on the City of Kalinin (the modern day city of Tver, [Russia]), has gone down in Russian history as one of the defining moments of the ‘Great Patriotic War’.
However, even Russian sources fail to truly capture the scope of the battle, and the bravery of the men who conducted themselves in battle against a numerically superior German fighting force.
On the 17th of October 1941, the 21st Tank Brigade, unsupported by other units, air power or even artillery, succeeded in quickly advancing to the city of Kalinin and nearly captured the city. However, the unit suffered a tremendous loss of life, including two men who had previously been awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union distinction for their actions.

The greater Battle for Moscow

On the 22nd of June 1941, the Wehrmacht, along with their allies, invaded the USSR in Operation Barbarossa. From June to October, the Wehrmacht had advanced almost 1000 kilometers and destroyed nearly 15,000 tanks of the Red Army. Not only this, they had killed or captured nearly 3,000,000 Red Army soldiers and overrun the Soviet heartlands of Belarus, Ukraine and most of eastern Russia.
Operation Barbarossa was the German codename for the invasion of the USSR and, on the 2nd of October 1941, after the destruction of the Smolensk pocket, the order was given by Hitler to begin Operation Typhoon.
Operation Typhoon was the advance to Moscow. Early victories included the encirclement at Vyazma and the capture of Orel and Bryansk. These victories were swift and left open the road to Moscow.
The next major city the Germans had to take was Kalinin. This lay to the north-west of Moscow and was only 170 kilometers away from the capital. The city was taken with little resistance on October 13th/14th 1941.
The capture of the city left the highway to Moscow dangerously exposed. It was therefore decided by the Soviet High Command that the city should be re-taken.


Kalinin has been an important town since the 1300s and is the capital for the Kalinin Oblast. Originally called Novgorodian, it was named Tver in the 1300s. It was then renamed Kalinin in 1931 to honor communist party member Mikhail Kalinin. In 1991, the city was renamed Tver.

An annotated German aerial map of Kalinin. 1 is the eastern airfield, 2 is the western airfield, 3 is Kalinin station, 4 is the entrance to the Volokolamansk Highway, and 5 is the Turginovskoye highway. Source:
The geography of the city is divided up by three rivers. The Volga river flows from west to east, with the majority of the city on the southern bank of the river. The Tversta river then splits the northern bank into two quarters. On the south bank the Tmaka river splits the southern bank into unequal quarters.
The city centre is made up of historical palaces and other typical Russian brick buildings of the 1700s, with the rest of the city being made up of wooden buildings and small to medium brick buildings, which is very typical of Russian towns and cities.

A typical building in central Kalinin. This photograph was taken after the assault on the city. Source: From the author’s collection
The city had two airfields. One aerodrome (an airfield without a runway allowing planes to take off from any direction) lay on the south eastern corner of the city. The second airfield with a concrete runway was situated to the north west of the city.

A typical outer Kalinin street. This photograph was likely taken to the north west, near the airfield. This photograph was taken in December, after the assault on Kalinin. Source: From the author’s collection

Prelude to Battle

On the 12th of October 1941, the 21 Tank Brigade was ordered to defend the city of Kalinin.
The commander of the brigade was Colonel Nikolai Stepanovich Skvortsov, and the deputy commander was Alexander Sergeevich Sergeyev. The brigade was formed from the Military school at Vladimir, situated to the east of Moscow.
The Brigade received tanks on the 5th of October, and was issued fresh T-34 tanks delivered from Factory 183 (KhPZ: Kharkov Locomotive and Tractor Works) and from Factory 112 (Krasnoye Sormovo). The brigade was listed as fielding 10 x T-34 tanks equipped with 76mm guns (delivered from Kharkov), 7 x T-34s with 76mm guns (delivered from Krasnoye Sormovo), 10 x T-34s equipped with the ZiS-4 57mm gun (also from Kharkov), two additional T-34s with 76mm guns equipped with flame throwers in the hull (also from Kharkov), 2 x HT-26s, 5 x BT-2 Tanks, 15 x BT-5s and BT-7s, 10 x T-60s, and 4 x ZiS-30 tank destroyers.
It should be noted that tanks from Krasnoye Sormovo (112) are only listed by one source, however, this source ( is by far the most detailed with their breakdown of the 21st Tank Brigade.
The 21st Tank Brigade was organised into three battalions, which primarily consisted of the 21st Tank Regiment, along with some other units. The first battalion comprised all of the T-34s that were issued to the unit. The second battalion was issued the light tanks, including the ZiS-30s. The unit is thought to have been the first to receive the T-60 tank from factory No.37.
A third battalion was a Motorized Rifle Battalion. This unit is thought to have been made up of 700 men, with an Anti-Tank company, an 82mm mortar company (12 mortars), along with a submachine gun platoon, sapper platoon, and the commander’s platoon.
The unit was unique amongst the Red Army by being mostly made up of veterans. Due to the unit being put together from the Tank School in Vladimir, experienced tank men were therefore available. Unfortunately, due to the severe losses earlier in the war, many more veterans had been killed in action. The tank commanders were generally experienced tankers who had fought in conflicts such as the 1939 Khalkhin-Gol battles, the Winter War, and the early stages of the ‘Great Patriotic War’ (WWII).


The order to attack was given to the 21st Tank Brigade from Lieutenant General Rokossovsky. His order read: “Immediately move to the offensive in the direction of Pushkino, Ivantsevo, Kalinin with the aim of blowing the flank and rear of the enemy to assist our troops in the destruction of the Kalinin group of troops.”
This was reinforced by orders from General K. Zhukov: “… to take possession of Turginovo, in the future the combined detachment to advance in the direction of Ilinskoe, Tsvetkovo, Negotino with the task of destroying the enemy grouping in the Kalinin region.”
This assault on Kalinin was unsupported by other units or aircraft, and the entire task of liberating the city was put onto the shoulders of the 21st Tank Brigade. This was an impossible task, and the order was given because the Soviet High Command had little actual knowledge of the full strength of the German forces at Kalinin and thought that the bulk of German forces in the area were further north.
The 21st Tank Brigade was made up of three battalions; however, the first two were re-organized into three fighting groups for the assault on Kalinin. The first group was commanded by Mikhail Pavlovich Agibalov, the second group by Mikhail Alekseevich Lukin, and the third group by Iosif Isaakovich Makovsky.

Group 1

The first group was commanded by Captain Mikhail Pavlovich Agibalov. Agibalov was an experienced soldier, and had risen through the ranks of the Red Army after joining in 1932. His combat experience included the war with Japan in 1939, and the Winter War with Finland in 1939. For his service in the Khalkhin-Gol battles, he was awarded the Order of Lenin (the USSR’s highest award), and was also awarded the title ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’.

Captain Mikhail Pavlovich Agibalov in 1940. Source:
The assault of Kalinin was devised as a two-pronged assault. From the staging area at Turginovo, group one and group two would move west to capture Pushkino, then move north along the Volokolamansk highway to enter Kalinin on the eastern side of the city, and attack the airfield and the main station.
This would also involve the destruction of the forward command post of German forces in the area stationed at Pushkino. Once at Kalinin, the groups would split, with the first attacking the airfield, then moving into the city to help with its liberation. The second group was to move into the city centre and capture the station, them move into central city up to the Tver river.
The tanks of the first group were painted with white numbers on their hulls to help with friendly tank identification. Numbers 1, 3, 4 and 6 have been found, with M.P. Agibalov’s tank being number “1”.

Group 2

The second group was commanded by Major Mikhail Alekseevich Lukin. Lukin, just like Agibalov, was a veteran soldier. During the Khalkhin-Gol battles, he successfully led a raid that resulted in a large Japanese supply dump being totally destroyed, along with a large number of trucks and vehicles. He was also awarded the title ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ and the Order of Lenin.

Major Mikhail Alekseevich Lukin in 1940. Source:
Lukin was made commander of the 21st Tank Regiment of the 21st Tank Brigade, and therefore was in overall control of the battle. The second group was to also advance for the Volokolamansk highway, but to enter the highway south of Pushkino at Panigino. Here it would advance north at speed, linking with group 1, and attack Kalinin.
Lukin commanded a T-34 with a ZiS-4 57mm gun. This machine was painted with a white number ‘20’ onto the hull sides of his machine. His second-in-command of the 2nd group was equipped with a T-34/76 with a white number ‘21’ painted onto the right hull side, right turret side, and on the rear of the turret. It is thought that there might have been tanks numbered 20 to 25 in this group.

Group 3

The third group was commanded by Senior Lieutenant Iosif Isaakovich Makovsky. Makovsky was as well decorated as his comrades. He had received the title ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ and an Order of Lenin for his actions during the Winter War.

Senior Lieutenant Iosif Isaakovich Makovsky post war. Source:
The third group was to move directly north along the Turginovskoye highway and enter the city at a similar location to the first and second groups, as the two main roads almost linked up at Kalinin.
The Turginovskoye highway entered Kalinin to the east of the airfield, and the third group could either go south of the field into the micro-district of Yuzhny, or move further north to enter the city north of the station. Here they would link up with the first and second groups to capture more key objectives in the city itself. The plan was made flexible to allow for different tanks to attack different areas if one group suffered heavy losses.
The third group appears to have not adopted the numbering system on their tanks. However, no definitive pictures have surfaced of their tanks, therefore it is possible that tanks numbering from ‘31’ exist. The third group was also called the ‘Makovsky Shock Group’.
There is also some photographic evidence that some tanks from all three groups were not painted with any numbers at all.

Support from the Motorised Battalion

While the main attack was happening, the third battalion was to advance up the Turginovskoye highway and assist in occupying the villages to the south of Kalinin. It is thought that they were originally going to enter the city after it was recaptured, however, the course of events meant that this never happened.
In total, 27 T-34s and 8 T-60 tanks were available for the battle. These tanks were divided into their respective groups and prepared for the attack. In theory, this could mean there were 9 T-34s per group, two groups equipping 3 T-60s with a third with 2 T-60s. It is unknown at present how many tanks were in each group.

The attack plan for the 21st Tank Brigade. The blue line is the path of the first group. The yellow line is the break off path of group 2 and the red line is the path of group 3. Source: Created by the author

German Forces

Facing the Soviets were elements of the 1st Panzer Division, which had been ordered to move north to help in the Leningrad sector; and the 36th Motorised Division, plus a mixture of other German units.
In Kalinin itself was the German 660th Assault Gun Battery, which was resting there. Roughly 10,000 troops were stationed in the newly captured city. It is known that a day prior, on the 16th of October, two Panzer Battalions were stationed in the city, however, the exact battalions are unknown.

A Sturmgeschütz III Ausf.C of the 660th Assault Gun Battery, likely on the streets of Kalinin. Source: Author’s collection.
The 660th Assault Gun Battery was formed before the Battle of France, and received their first six Sturmgeschutz III Ausf.As just before the invasion of France. It is thought that the 660th would go on to receive StuG III Ausf B’s and C’s in 1940 and 1941.
The 660th Assault Gun Battery is known to have fielded a number of Sd.Kfz 252’s, which were the ammunition carrier variant of the Sd.Kfz 250 half track. There was a handful of these machines used in Russia.

A StuG III Ausf A used by the 660th Assault Gun Battery.
The 36th Motorised Division is known to have deployed 105mm heavy guns in the village of Troyanovo, to the south of Kalinin, and the trucks carrying personnel engaged by the Soviets were also likely from this division.
This force of Germans was not prepared or expecting a Soviet counterattack so shortly after taking Kalinin. However, fortifications had been made to the train station, and the airfield at Kalinin was already requisitioned by the Luftwaffe, which had Ju-52 transport aircraft parked about the field.

A Ju-52 3M g4e German transport plane flies into the aerodrome at Kalinin. Ominously, the plane flies over a Soviet 57mm Gun, similar to those fielded in 10 T-34s by the 21st Tank Brigade. Source: Author’s private collection.
Unfortunately, the German records of the Soviet counterattack are lacking greatly, with only a small combat report from the 36th Motorised Division mentioning the attack. Therefore, the only documentation to refer is that of Soviet origin. The Soviet documentation seems to be largely accurate, albeit with some typical wartime embellishment.

T-34 Tanks of the 21st Tank Brigade

The 21st Tank Brigade was issued factory-fresh T-34 tanks from Kharkov, Krasnoye Sormovo, and T-60s from Factory Number 37. The T-34s were a diverse mix of machines. Tanks equipped with the 76.2mm guns were examples of the last production Factory 183 (KhPZ) tanks. Some machines were issued hardpoints for mounting external fuel tanks, although most were not.
All tanks were issued the newly-implemented driver’s hatch with two forward-facing periscopes protected by armored lids. The tow hooks were also the newly-implemented ‘hook’ type, dispensing with the older ‘pin’ type. The turrets issued to these tanks were a mixture of cast turrets and the ‘simplified 8-bolt type welded’ turrets.

One of the T-34s from the 21st Tank Brigade. ‘4’ was lost on the Volokolamansk highway near the airfield. Notice the V type track, the simplified turret, the updated driver’s hatch, and the new tow hooks. The hull sides do not have hard points for fuel tanks, and there is a single jack block on the rear hull side. Source: Old Ebay listing.
Tanks were issued with a mixture of track types. The standard 550mm wide track was common, although several tanks were issued with the ‘V type’ (alternatively known as ‘A type’) track. The commonly thought of as the ‘waffle’ patterned 500mm wide track had not yet been introduced.
Approximately ten T-34s were issued with ZiS-4 57mm guns. These specially designed anti-tank weapons were installed onto a standard T-34, and the only two known examples are known to not have had hardpoints for external fuel tanks.

A T-34 with a ZiS-4 57mm gun. This is the machine of Maj. Gen Lukin.

‘6’ of the 21st Tank Brigade.
Two such T-34s with 57mm guns that are known today were issued as tank number ‘20’, commanded by Lukin, and a second machine was commanded by Sergey Mikhailovich Kireev, who was in the first group. This tank is thought to have been painted with the number ‘2’, however, the damage is too severe to properly tell based on the known photographic evidence.

Prelude to Battle

The unit had received its tanks from Kharkov fully replenished with ammunition and fuel, and the brigade arrived at Kursky Station in Moscow on the 14th of October 1941. On the 13th of October 1941 the Brigade was attached to the 16th Army on the western front, and upon arrival to the front on the 17th of October, the brigade was reassigned to the 30th Army.
From Kursky the unit was ordered to move into Klin Station, and from here it was to move to Kalinin. However, the Brigade was forced to unload at Zavidovo and Reshetnikovo due to the capture of Kalinin station.
After unloading, the Tank Brigade moved towards the village of Turginovo, capturing the village with the loss of one tank due to an accident on crossing a pontoon bridge. The commander of this tank was Issac Okrane, and his crew was killed in the accident.

The advance north by group one and two

On the morning of the 17th of October 1941, the attack began. From the village of Turginovo, the first and second group advanced west then north. Group one moved to capture the village of Panigino. Here, the main highway from Volokolamansk to Kalinin lay ahead.
The attack was signaled by three red flares fired into the air, and immediately after beginning the assault, the Soviet tank crews of group two struck upon luck. A large column of German trucks and personnel carriers was advancing north towards Kalinin that had not noticed the Soviet tanks joining the rear of the column. Lukin ordered his unit to not open fire until they were discovered or until the time was right.
The same luck could not be said for the first group. The column of tanks advanced towards Pushkino, and were due to break through to the highway at the village of Emelyantsevo. At this village, they were spotted, and German anti-tank guns opened fire.
The lead tank of the advanced guard was commanded by Lieutenant Kireev (thought to be Sergey Mikhailovich Kireev), but his tank was hit and exploded, killing the crew. It is thought his tank was number ‘2’.

What is likely tank ‘2’ commanded by S.M. Kireev. Source: Author’s collection
The second tank in the forward column was tank ‘3’ commanded by S.Kh. Gorobets. This tank would later become very famous in this battle for ramming a Panzer III and escaping the battle unharmed. At this time though, it engaged and dealt with the Germans, leading the first group to the Volokolamansk highway and linking with group two.

The weather was varied, and it would appear that the snow thawed briefly for one or two days, likely the 18th and 19th of October, allowing for some snow free photographs. Here, what is believed to be ‘2’ of Kireev in the village of Emelyantsevo. Source: As taken from World War 2 Bodong Blog.
The next major village north was Pushkino. This was being temporarily used as a headquarters for local German forces. As the column passed through the village the order to attack was given, and the Soviet tanks swiftly gained the advantage, destroying many German vehicles and it is reported that many German soldiers were routed. The village was taken and the headquarters was destroyed. The groups advanced north, taking Kvakshino before hitting the village of Troyanovo.
By this time, the news had spread that the Soviets were advancing up the highway, and Ju-87 dive bombers were dispatched to engage the tanks. The column was attacked from the air, however reports conflict on whether any tanks were lost due to bombing.

A bomb left unexploded on the Volokolamansk Highway. Source: Author’s collection
Troyanovo was more heavily defended by the German forces, and the two groups faced a heavy wall of German anti-tank fire. It is known that 105mm guns of the 611 Heavy Artillery Platoon engaged the Soviet force here. In this village, the tank of Maj. M. Lukin became disabled. The reports are unclear on whether his vehicle simply broke down or was shot at. Whatever the case, the left track broke and the vehicle ended up in a ditch to the left of the road, stuck in the river Kamenka.

Lukin’s T-34 on the 18th of October 1941. Notice the broken left track links. Source: An old EBay listing
It was later claimed by his crew that Lukin single handily covered the escape of his crew, operating the 57mm gun of his tank to cover the withdrawal of his crew. He was killed in his tank and no damage is observable on the tank from photographic evidence other than the broken track.

Lukin’s T-34 a week or so after the assault. Snow has fallen again. Source:
The groups moved on towards Kalinin, now under the command of the leader of the first group, Captain Mikhail Pavlovich Agibalov. The column broke through to the village of Naprudnoe, 16 kilometres from Kalinin. It was here that Agibalov was also killed.
The combat report tells a similar story to Lukin’s. Agibalov’s tank drove off the highway to the right. Here, he disabled a German fuel truck that blew up. His tank, now off the road and isolated, took heavy fire. The main gun of his tank was seen to have stopped firing, although the machine guns were still active. It is claimed that his crew bailed out and, to cover them, Agibalov stayed in the tank. The accounts of M.Ya. Maistrovsky claim that, after the machine gun fell silent, he was found in his tank with his pistol drawn, apparently having taken his own life.

Mikhail Pavlovich Agibalov’s T-34 on the 17th of October 1941. The combat report clearly states the gun was hit, and it can be clearly seen that the gun mantlet has been dislodged. Notice the number 1 on the hull side and also that the Germans have already painted a captured tank number on the rear left side. Source: Author’s collection

Group one and two in Kalinin

Upon reaching Kalinin, the first and second groups attacked the Kalinin airfield and the train station, which was also being engaged by group three. The group that attacked the Kalinin Station was commanded by Senior Lieutenant Iosif Isaakovich Makovsky (deputy commander of the 21st Tank Brigade), who was in command of the third group, and received help from the remnants the other two groups.

An annotated map of the eastern approaches to Kalinin. Source:
The airfield is thought to have been attacked mainly by the first group. This group had a bit more success than the ones attacking the station. One tank commanded by Senior Political Instructor G. M. Gnyry drove up theVolokolamansk highway with the main group of tanks, he destroyed some vehicles on the highway. He then broke into the Kalinin airfield on the right of the Volokolamansk highway inside the city limits. Here, supported externally by other tanks, he successfully engaged enemy aircraft in the field, approximately 50 aircraft were parked there.
It is said that his tank was number ‘31’, however, this would have put him in group three (if the numbering system theory is correct). If this is correct, indeed, it was therefore likely his machine came from the south of the airfield and then entered to Volokolamansk highway.
One of the tanks supporting him was commanded by Sergeant S. E. Rybakov. His tank drove into the micro-district of Yuzhny (the modern name for this location) and supported Gnyry. This is the southern road that connects the two highways south of the airfield. He was surrounded and captured by enemy forces. He later escaped.
Gnyry was not as lucky. Some reports claim that his tank was lost when aircraft that had managed to escape from the field attacked his vehicle, although he could also have been attacked by German AA guns positioned about the airfield. His tank was disabled and he was forced to abandon it.
This airfield at Kalinin was attacked by tanks of the first group and the third group. The airfield was situated to the east of the city. A second airfield was situated to the west of the city. This airfield was not attacked.
At the eastern airfield, at least 16 aircraft are known to have been shot at or ran over by Gnyry.

One of the aircraft attacked by Gnyry. Source:

The same Ju-52 as from above. The engines have been removed, likely as the machine was to be cannibalized after the damage it sustained from the T-34 of Gynry. Source: Author’s private collection.
While the T-34 tanks of the first group were attacking the airfield at Kalinin, the unit was unexpectedly engaged by German assault guns of the 660th Assault Gun Battery. During this engagement, Tank number ‘4’ engaged a Sturmgeschütz III Ausf A. The StuG III was commanded by Lieutenant Tachinsky, and the T-34 was thought to be commanded by Lieutenant D. G. Lutsenko. Lutsenko, after sustaining damage to the gun barrel, rammed at speed the StuG of Tachinsky. This caused the StuG to ride up, and sit on top of the T-34.

An aerial map showing the assumed direction of the 660th Assault Gun Battery’s counter-attack on the T-34s of the 21st Tank Brigade. Source:
The ramming took place on the Volokolamansk highway itself, and this allowed for the withdrawal of the remaining T-34s. After the T-34 rammed the StuG, the Soviet tanks apparently made their escape, although number ‘4’ stayed in its position with the crew refusing to escape the tank. The crew was forcibly removed from the tank by Germans using crowbars. Some sources claim the commander was shot, although there are no contemporary sources for this.

Tank number ‘4’ shortly after ramming the StuG III Ausf A. Source:

Lutsenko being dragged out of the turret of the tank. Source:

Tank number ‘4’ and the StuG about three days to a week after the incident. This particular incident was very popular to photograph. Source: Author’s Collection.

The location where tank number ‘4’ rammed the StuG. Identification was made to this location by the surrounding buildings after the tank was moved to the roadside. Source:
Elements of the first group are known to have assisted in the attack the central position of Kalinin. This was commanded by Staff Sergeant Stepan Khristoforovich Gorobets who commanded the third tank in the first group. His tank was painted with a white number ‘3’, but because his tank was not knocked out and later photographed by the Germans, it is unknown if his tank was a ‘57mm’ or a ‘76mm’ gunned tank (alternate sources claim it either way).

Staff Sergeant Stepan Khristoforovich Gorobets was very much idolised after the Kalinin battles. He was killed in combat in early 1942. Source:
It is known that 8 tanks entered the city past the airfield into the suburbs. As some of the tanks headed towards the station, tank number ‘3’ of the first group, commanded by Staff Sergeant S. Kh. Gorobets drove with haste westwards past the station. He then took the tank north, crossing the railway lines far to the west of the action, then he turned north, almost making it to the Tver river. His tank then turned east, and with speed he drove the entire length of Kalinin. Along the way, he disabled guns and tanks, and successfully rammed a Panzer III. Here he exited the city on the eastern side unscathed.

The path of tank number ‘3’ though Kalinin. Source:
Other tanks were less successful, with 7 machines being lost with their crews fighting in Kalinin itself. Most of the crews that made it into the city were lost fighting at the station. One of the confirmed tanks to be lost next to the station is tank number ‘21’. It is known to have fallen into a ditch somewhere around the station, but its exact location has not yet been ascertained.

Tank number ‘21’ likely around the Station. Source: Old Ebay listing

Tank number ‘21’ was an interesting machine, with the numbers “21” painted on the turret rear, and then on the hull and turret right side, no identification numbers appear to have been painted on the left side of the vehicle. Source: Marcel Polak.

Tank number ‘21’ again. Notice the jack block on the rear right side. Source: Author’s private collection.
Shpak’s tank is known to have driven to the station, and it is thought that his machine was destroyed. Other crews killed in Kalinin were those of Vorobyov and Maleev.
The attack was eventually broken off and the tanks of the first and second groups were forced to make their escape back down the Volokolamansk highway, and even back down the Turginovskoye highway, the road that the third group advanced up. It is unknown in what time frame the escape was made.

Tank number ‘6’ was lost on the Volokolamansk Highway. It is thought that this machine was lost on a farm about 1km south of Kalinin. Source: Author’s private collection

Tank number ‘6’ again on the 17th of October. Notice the snow that is very light. Source: Author’s private collection

Attack by Group 3

While the first and second groups advanced up the Volokolamansk highway, the third group advanced with haste up the Turginovskoye highway. Commanded by Iosif Isaakovich Makovsky, the group seems to have met little resistance until the village of Pokrovskoe. Here there was heavy resistance. Nonetheless, the group defeated the Germans and continued north to enter Kalinin.
Once in Kalinin the third group attempted to attack the main train station. It is known that some tanks assisted in the destruction of the airfield between the Volokolamansk and Turginovskoe highways. It is unknown from what direction the third group attacked the station, but it was likely from the north east as the Turginovskoe highway crosses the east-west railway lines.

The paths of group 1,2 and 3. From this aerial view it can be seen that the 21st Tank Brigade was attempting to envelop the station. Source:
The train station was never successfully recaptured, as the location had been heavily fortified by the Germans. The third group is assumed to have received help from the remnants of the first and second groups, as some of their vehicles are known to have been lost near the station. Here the third group advanced no further.
Many tanks were lost, and the remnants of the third group were forced to withdraw back down the Turginovskoye highway.


When it became clear that the battle was swinging in favor of the German units, Regimental Commander G. I. Zakalyukin organized and conducted the withdrawal of Soviet forces from the Kalinin area down the Turginovskoye highway. They set up positions at the village of Grishkino. Here the 21st Tank Brigade’s Motorised Rifle Battalion with light tank support was available to assist.

A T-34 with no obvious numbers that was lost near to tank number ‘6’ on the Volokolamansk Highway. This machine is slightly different to other tanks in the 21st Tank Brigade by having exterior fuel tanks. Other than this it is identical to other 21st Tank Brigade tanks. Source: Author’s private collection
Here, over the next two days, major fighting broke out between advancing German units and the Soviets who had survived the assault on Kalinin. Makovsky himself was seriously injured on the 19th of October. At that time, he had taken command of the motorized unit.

A T-34 lost on the Turginovskoye highway. Again, this machine has no numbers, but evidence suggests that not every machine was equipped with painted numbers. Source: Author’s private collection

The recently discovered ’24’, likely from the 21st Tank Brigade. This machine shared technical features with that of ’21’, lost in Kalinin itself. As the turret graffiti suggests, the tank was lost on October 25th 1941, which means that this tank survived the assault, and was lost on the defensive. Source: Francis Pulham Collection.
The entire area was recaptured by the Germans, and fighting involving the 21st Tank Brigade in this sector ended on the 19th of October 1941. Troyanovo, where Maj. Gen Lukin’s body was, was likely recaptured on the 17th of October; but fighting continued around to the east. Lukin’s body remained in the tank, and German soldiers looted the Order of Lenin that he had received during the Khalkin Gol battles in 1939.

Tank number ‘20’ after heavy snow. Source: T-34 The Complete Encyclopedia, M. Kolomiets.
His body was recovered by four boys from the village of Troyanovo, and buried in a small wooded area. His body was later reburied in Kalinin in 1942.
In total, the brigade lost 21 x T-34 tanks, 3 x BT tanks, and a single T-60 tank. The combat records of the 21st Tank Brigade list enemy casualties as 38 tanks, 200 motor vehicles, 82 motorcycles, 70 guns and mortars, 12 fuel trucks, and a large number of soldiers.
The 21st Tank Brigade continued to fight over the winter months, but it was later brought into reserve on the 5th January 1942.

The Traveling Palace in Kalinin was used by the Germans as the grave site for their fallen comrades. All of these graves belong to the men the 21st Tank Brigade killed. Source: Author’s private collection
Kalinin was recaptured during the massive Soviet counterattack in December 1941. During the German occupation, war graves were erected outside of the main church in Kalinin. The two airfields had been requisitioned from the Soviets. Much of the city was destroyed, and Kalinin was the first major city liberated from the Germans.
Kalinin gave the name to the Soviet Kalinin front, which was active from the 17th of October 1941 until the middle of 1943 when the German forces were pushed far away from Moscow.


From the outset, the cards were stacked against the men of the 21st Tank Brigade. Many people have made the case that the Soviet Union needlessly lost two experienced tank commanders and ‘Heroes of the Soviet Union’.
The attack, however, did tie down units that otherwise could have been used further afield. It is also true that the units attacked were severely shaken by the incident. It is quite possible that by sheer numbers, this was one of the most successful Soviet counterattacks conducted to date at that point of the war.
For the first time in the ‘Great Patriotic War’, a coherent brigade assault had been conducted where experienced tank crews assaulted German positions. Not only did they destroy more vehicles than were lost, but they also effectively exploited weak areas, and used teamwork to take out the enemy.
It should not be forgotten, however, that the primary objective was never completed. Soviet High Command had not correctly briefed the crews on the size of the force at Kalinin, and underestimated the numbers of troops here. Not only this, but the attack was conducted with minimal infantry support.
Some sources claim that tank riders were present on a hand full of vehicles at Pushkino, but there is no contemporary evidence for this.
It can also be stated that the T-34s with 57mm guns were not used in an effective role. The 57mm gun was specially designed for tank hunting, and during this battle, the Soviet crews mostly fought guns and trucks, far more suited to a low caliber heavy round such as the 76.2mm round of the F-34 guns of regular T-34s.
The assault was ultimately a failure with regards to its original objective, although schools have been named after members of the 21st Tank Brigade, and statues erected in their honor. It was not so much a physical victory, but it was certainly a victory for morale and of legends.

Private conversations with Pavel Olegovich Varfolomeyev (Russian Army from 1999-2001 and past resident of Tver)
AT weapons WW2 Swedish AT Weapons

37mm Bofors Anti-Tank Gun

Sweden (1935)
Anti-tank gun

The origins to the 37mm Bofors come from 1921 when the Bofors company put together a prototype anti-tank gun for trails. By using Krupp designs, they worked upon producing an Anti-Tank gun in several calibers (37mm, 47mm, 75mm), however, they didn’t get much interest and the project was shelved.
In 1931 the Royal Swedish Arms Commission then issued a directive for a 37mm anti-tank gun that could deliver a 700g projectile at 800 m/s. Bofors experimented with the design and concluded that the gun would have to weigh 800kg to be effective enough. This was soon negated when Harald Jentzen, Swedish Arms Chief of Ordnance, and his team came up with a new perforated muzzle brake. Bofors applied the brake to the gun and managed to produce a prototype in 1932 weighing only 370kg.

The initial trials were promising, the gun could penetrate 20mm of RHA at 1000 meters at 30 degrees. It could also be broken down into 11 separate pieces allowing for transportation by pack mules, sledges or even the gun crew themselves. The barrel was the heaviest piece at 43kg with the other pieces typically being 30kg. The only drawback the trials revealed was the slow rate of fire but this was soon solved by adding a special tensioning rack to the actuator spring and thereby allow the gun to become semi-automatic (i.e. the breach opened and ejected the shell casing after firing).
The final design was a monobloc barrel on a split tail carriage with metal framed rubber wheels mounted on suspension to allow towing by vehicles and protected by a 5mm thick shield with a lower folding plate. The required time for the gun to be brought into action was no more than 30 seconds. The product was put into development in 1934.
Like its British cousin, the QF 2 Pounder AT gun, it was also employed as the main tank gun in various designs like the Finnish Vickers 6 ton, the Polish 7TP and Swedish Stridsvagn L-60.

A Finnish produced Bofors. Notice the straight lined gun shield.

Active Service

The first Bofors to be brought into service was in the Netherlands, which bought 12 in 1935 and soon after many other countries in Europe bought it and the license, including Poland, Finland, Britain, and Denmark.
The Netherlands took the first 12 and then ordered another 24 and put them all on their armored cars. The Swedish produced Landsverk L180s and L181s and the home produced M39 Pantserwagen. A handful of M39s were deployed against the German invasion in 1940 and engaged in skirmishes with the invaders. They were later used by the Germans in France and on the Leningrad Front.
Spanish Republicans seem to have bought between 20-30 Bofors during the Civil War to help boost their anti-tank capability. This was the first combat action of the Bofors and it acquitted itself very well against the mixed Nationalist armored forces of Panzer Is, T-26s and CV.33s.
Poland bought 300 guns, designated wz.36, from Sweden from 1936 to 1939. They also acquired the license to build the gun in Poland, of which over a 1,000 were built by the SMPzA (Stowarzyszenie Mechaników Polskich z Ameryki) company. When the Germans invaded in September 1939, the Poles had more than 1,200 guns on their lists. They were used to great effect against the invading German panzers, especially at the Battle of Mokra, where the gun accounted for dozens of German tanks and thus helped secure a Polish victory.
SMPzA also produced a turreted model, designated wz.37, which was placed on the 7TP JW and the 9TP and 10TP prototypes. The 7TP JW equipped the 1st and 2nd Light Tank Battalions and were mobilized at the outbreak of war. These units were used as a mobile reserve, helping to bolster the defenses of the Polish units and covering the withdrawal to other positions. They did perform well against their German counterparts but were not in any number to influence the outcome of the war. During the Piotrków assault, the 2nd Light Tank Battalion claimed several German tanks for only the loss of two of theirs but overall the assault failed and the tanks were pulled back. Most of the tanks were either destroyed or scuttled by the time of the Warsaw Defence and the remaining 22 tanks (out of original 108) were formed into two companies and used as a shoring up and counter attacking unit. By the end of the war, only around 40 remained.
Finland was the country that cemented the reputation of the Bofors guns. After trials, the Bofors was accepted as the new standard anti-tank gun of the Finnish military in October 1938. The license was bought and two factories were set up with an initial order of 156 guns. Fifty more were ordered from Sweden between 1938 and 1939. However, because of problems with setting up the factories and delivering, Finland only had 98 guns when the Soviet Union invaded in November 1939 (this was very far from the number originally envisioned of 2 guns per battalion). Finland acquired another 124 (some coming from Sweden, the rest being produced in Finland) during the course of the conflict but lost 60 in the war. However, the gun performed very well against the Soviet tanks, especially the lighter armored T-26s and BTs. When Finland joined Germany in the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 (called the ‘Continuation War’ in Finland) the Bofors was starting to struggle against the newer Soviet tanks and was soon being replaced by more powerful guns. Finland kept them in service though as infantry support guns until 1986 thanks to its portability, high rate of fire and good high explosive round.
Denmark adopted the Bofors in 1937 and acquired the license to produce their own version; the 37mm Fodfolkskanon m1937. One was deployed against the German invasion in April 1940 where it performed bravely, disabling 3 tanks before its crew was incapacitated.
Romania bought 556 former Polish guns from their new German Allies at the end of 1940. Most of these saw service with Romanian units during Operation Barbarossa where they were soon relegated to infantry support guns in the face of superior Soviet Armour like the T-34 and KV-1. Most were lost during the Romanian retreat in 1943.
Sweden didn’t adopt the gun until 1937, as the 37 mm Infanterikanon m/34 and the 37 mm Pansarvärnskanon m/38, as their main anti-tank weapon and equipped every infantry battalion with a 2 gun anti-tank platoon. They also donated and sold over 100 guns to Finland during the Winter War (7 guns were brought by the Svenska frivilligkåren, Swedish Volunteer Corps when they arrived in early 1940). They also acquired 13 Finnish made Bofors in late 1940, which they designated 37 mm pansarvärnskanon m/38 F. They also employed it as a tank gun, 37 mm Kanon m/38 Stridsvagn, which became the standard armament for the Stridsvagn L-60S\III and S\V light tanks and the Stridsvagn m/41.
The United Kingdom also used the Bofors thanks to an acquisition by the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan Government from Sweden. After Dunkirk, the British were lacking their main anti-tank gun, the 2 Pounder, and the British mainland stripped many from their operational units abroad (including those in the Western Desert). To make up for this shortfall, the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan Government offered up their Bofors to the Desert Forces, where they became Ordnance Q.F. 37 mm Mk 1, and were mainly employed by 3rd and 106th Royal Horse Artillery Regiments. They were mainly deployed ’portee’ by British trucks and were very effective throughout the Desert campaign.
The Soviet Union also utilized captured versions of the Bofors, thanks to their invasion of Poland. Most of them were taken into depots in the rear of the Soviet lines only to be ’dusted’ off and brought into frontline use due to the heavy losses in the early stages of Operation Barbarossa.

Illustration of the Bofors 37 mm by David Bocquelet

The sole Danish Bofors that saw action during the Invasion of Denmark, 9th of April 1940, two of the crew were later killed.
British Bofors of the 3rd RHA on parade in 1941.


When the 37mm Bofors first graced the world scene in the mid-30s, it was one of the best anti-tank guns in existence. It could penetrate the armor of almost any tank currently in service. It was also designed for motorization, which allowed it to be better utilized by motorized units rather than some of its contemporaries. However, it could still be towed by horse (the Finnish often employed a one-horse limber for their guns) and in dire circumstances, it could be pulled/pushed by pure manpower. The unofficial longest range record for taking out a tank with this gun occurred during the Battle of Taipale in 1940 when the 7th AT-detachment destroyed a T-37A that was crossing over the ice of Lake Ladoga at a range of 1,700 meters.
It was well loved by those who used it, thanks to its high rate of fire and good ammunition. Even once it had become obsolete as an anti-tank gun in late 1941/early 1942, it still performed very well as an Infantry support gun being used to great effect against defensive positions and infantry formations.


Caliber: 37mm
Barrel length: 45 Cal. or 1 736 mm (incl. muzzle brake)
Weight in firing position: 370 kg
Height of barrel in firing position: 625 mm
Gun height: 1 030 mm
Width: 1 090 mm
Traverse: 26°
Elevation: – 10° , + 25°
Max. ROF: 30 r.p.m.
Practical ROF: 12 r.p.m.
Muzzle velocity: 830 m/s
Max. range: 4.5 km
Max. practical range vs. tank: 0.9 km
Max. practical range vs. inf.position:1.5 km
The Finnish Army manual gives the following statistics for the penetration values of the 37mm Bofors (all against 60-degree angle):-
300 metres = 40mm penetration
500 metres = 33mm penetration
1000 metres = 18mm penetration

An anti-tank platoon crossing Lake Kiiskisenjärvi in August 1941. Photo: SA Kuva

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Finland at War: The Winter War 1939-40 – Vesa Nenye, Peter Munter & Toni Wirtanen
British and American Artillery of World War Two – Ian V Hogg

Tech WW2 British Funnies WW2 US Other Vehicles

Canal Defence Light (CDL) Tanks

United Kingdom/USA (1942)
Infantry Support Tank

At the time of its conception, the Canal Defence Light, or CDL, was a Top Secret project. This ‘Secret Weapon’ was based around the use of a powerful Carbon-Arc lamp and would be used to illuminate enemy positions in night attacks as well as disorient the enemy troops.
A number of vehicles were converted to CDLs, such as the Matilda II, the Churchill, and the M3 Lee. In keeping with the highly secret nature of the project, Americans designated vehicles carrying the CDL as “T10 Shop Tractors.” In fact, the designation “Canal Defence Light” was intended as a code name to draw as little attention to the project as possible.


Looking at the CDL tanks, one would be forgiven for thinking that they were one of the famous ‘Hobart’s Funnies.’ but in fact, the man credited with the creation of the Canal Defence Light was Albert Victor Marcel Mitzakis. Mitzakis designed the contraption with Oscar De Thoren, a naval commander who, like Mitzakis, had served in the First World War. De Thoren had long championed the idea of armored searchlights for use in night attacks and the project continued under the supervision of the venerable British Major General, J. F. C. “Boney” Fuller. Fuller was a noted Military historian and strategist, credited as one the earliest theorists of modern armored warfare. With Major General Fuller’s backing, and even the financial support of the Second Duke of Westminster, Hugh Grosvenor, the first CDL prototype was demonstrated to the French Military in 1934. The French were not keen, thinking the system was too fragile.
The British War Office had refused to test the device until January 1937 when Fuller contacted Cyril Deverell, the newly appointed Chief of the Imperial General Staff (C.I.G.S.). Three systems were demonstrated on Salisbury Plain in January and February 1937. Following the demonstration which took place on Salisbury Plain, three more of the devices were ordered for tests. There were delays, however, and the War Office took over the project in 1940. Tests finally began and orders were placed for 300 devices that could be mounted to tanks. A prototype was soon constructed using a spare Matilda II hull. A number of Churchills and even Valentines were also supplied for the tests.
The turrets were manufactured at the Vulcan Foundry Locomotive Works in Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire. Components were also produced at the Southern Railway workshops in Ashford, Kent. The Ministry of Supply delivered the Matilda hulls. The turrets were identified by Type, eg. Type A, B & C. The Ministry of Supply also established an assembly and training site known as the CDL School at Lowther Castle, near Penrith, Cumbria.

American Tests

The CDL was demonstrated to United States officials in 1942. Generals Eisenhower and Clark were present for the demonstrations. The American’s became intrigued by the CDL, and decided to develop their own version of the device. Designers chose the then outdated and plentiful M3 Lee Medium tank as a mount for the light.
For the purposes of extreme secrecy, production stages were split between three locations. The Arc-Lamps being provided by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the American Locomotive Company, New York, worked on modifying the M3 Lee to accept the CDL turret and the Pressed Steel Car Company, New Jersey, constructed the turret as “Coastal Defence Turrets.” Finally, the components were united at the Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois. 497 Canal Defence Light equipped tanks had been produced by 1944.
Crews were trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and in the huge Arizona/California maneuver area. Crews training with the vehicles – codename “Leaflet – went under the codename “Cassock.” Six Battalions were formed and would later join British CDL tank regiments, covertly stationed in Wales.
American crews came to call the CDL Tanks “Gizmos”. Tests would later begin to mount the CDL on the newer M4 Sherman chassis, developing their own unique turret for it, which will be explored in a subsequent section.

Let There Be Light

The Carbon-Arc searchlight would produce a light as bright as 13 Million candle-power (12.8 million candela). Arc-Lamps produce light via an arc of electricity suspended in air between two carbon electrodes. To ignite the lamp, the rods are touched together, forming an arc, and then slowly drawn apart, maintaining an arc. The carbon in the rods vaporizes, and the vapor produced is extremely luminous, which produces the bright light. This light is then focussed by a large concave mirror.

Using a series of mirrors to reflect it, the intensely bright beam of light passes through a very small vertical slit on the left of the turret face. The slit was 24 inches (61cm) tall, and 2 inches (5.1cm) wide and had a built in shutter that would open and close two times per second, giving the light a flickering effect. The theory was that this would dazzle enemy troops, but also had the added bonus of protecting the lamp from small-arms fire. Another tool to dazzle troops was the ability to attach an amber or blue filter to the lamp. Coupled with the flashing, this would increase the dazzling effect and could still illuminate targets areas effectively. The system also allows for the use of an infra-red illumination bulb so that IR vision systems can see at night. The field covered by the beam was a 34 x 340 yards (31 x 311 m) area at a range of 1000 yards (910 m). The lamp could also elevate and depress 10 degrees.

“…a source of light placed at the focus of a parabolic-elliptical mirror reflector [made from aluminium] is thrown by this reflector near the back of the turret which directs the directs the beam forwardly again to focus at or about an aperture in the wall of the turret through which the light beam is to be projected…”

An excerpt from Mitzakis’ patent application.

The device was housed in a special one-man cylindrical turret that was squared off on the left, and rounded on the right. The turret could not rotate 360 degrees as the cabling would snag so could only rotate 180 degrees left or 180 degrees right but not all the way around. The turret featured 65 mm of armor (2.5 in). The operator inside, listed in the vehicle design as “observer”, was positioned on the left side of the turret, partitioned off from the lamp system. The commander was issued with a pair of Asbestos gloves which were used when the carbon electrodes that power the light burned out and needed changing. He also had the role of operation the tank’s only weapon, a BESA 7.92 mm (0.31 in) machine gun, which was positioned on the left of the beam slit in a ball mount. The device was also designed to be employed on small naval vessels.

CDL Tanks

Matilda II

The faithful “Queen of the Desert,” the Matilda II, was now a largely considered outdated and outclassed in the European theatre, and as such there was a surplus of these vehicles. The Matilda II was the first tank to be equipped with the CDL Arc-Lamp turret, identified as the Type B turret. The Matildas were as reliable as ever with reasonable armor, however they were still extremely slow, especially compared to the more modern tanks entering service. As such, the Matilda hull gave way to that of the M3 Grant, which could at least keep up with the majority of Allied vehicles as well as sharing a lot of component parts with other Allied vehicles, making supply easier.
Another variant of the Matilda came out of this project, the Matilda Crane. This involved a Matilda using a specially designed crane attachment, that could lift off the CDL or standard turret as required. This allowed an easy conversion, meaning that the subject Matilda could be used as a gun tank, or a CDL tank.


The Churchill is the rarest of the CDLs, with no pictorial records whatsoever, barring a cartoon from a newspaper. The 35th Tank Brigade, as well as being issued with Matildas, were also issued with Churchills, forming the 152nd Royal Armored Corps. It is unclear whether these Churchills were ever equipped with the CDL. The turret ring for the Churchill was only 52″ (1321mm) compared to 54″ (1373mm) on the Matilda and the later M3 Grant. The turrets, therefore, were not interchangeable from Matilda or M3 CDLs. Armor on the turret was also increased to 85mm.
There is a written record for the existence of the Churchill CDL in the form of a report by a member of the 86th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, stating that he witnessed Churchills equipped with CDLs deployed on the 9th February 1945 near Kranenburg, Germany.
An excerpt from his report:
“A Churchill tank carrying a searchlight took up position at the rear of our position and at night floodlit the area, pointing its beam over the town. They turned night into day and our gunners working on the guns were silhouetted against the night sky.”

M3 Lee

In the long run, the M3 Grant was always the intended mount for the Canal Defence Light. It was quicker, able to keep up with its compatriots, and retained its 75mm tank gun allowing it to defend itself much more effectively. Like the Matilda, the M3 Grant was largely considered obsolete, so there was quite a surplus of the tanks.
The CDL replaced the secondary armament turret atop the M3. The M3s, originally, were also fitted with the Type B turret of the Matilda. Later, the turret was changed to the Type D. This welded up some of the ports and openings, but also saw the addition of a dummy gun next to the beam slit to give it the appearance of a normal gun tank. The Americans also tested the M3, known as the Lee in their service, as a CDL tank. The tanks used were mostly of the M3A1 type with the cast super-structure. The turret was mostly identical to the British pattern, the major differences being a ball mount for a Browning M1919 .30 Cal. as opposed to the British BESA.


M4 Sherman

After the M3 CDL, the M4A1 Sherman was the next logical choice for a variant. The turret used for the M4 was much different than the British original, designated the Type E. It consisted of a large round cylinder, that featured two shuttered slits in the front, for two Arc-Lamps. The lamps were powered by a 20-kilowatt generator, driven by a power takeoff from the tank’s engine. The commander/operator sat in the middle of the lamps, in a central sectioned off compartment. In the middle of the two beam slits, there was a ball mount for a Browning M1919 .30 Cal. machine gun. There was a hatch in the middle of the turret roof for the commander. A few were also trialed using the M4A4 (Sherman V) hull. The use of the M4 did not get past prototype stages, however.

The Prototype M4 CDL

Matilda CDL of the 49th RTR
Matilda CDL of the 49th RTR – 35th Tank Brigade, north-eastern France, September 1944.

Churchill CDL, western Rhine bank, December 1944.

M3 Lee/Grant CDL, other wise known as a “Gizmo”.

Medium Tank M4A1 CDL prototype.
All illustrations are by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet


As it would happen, the Canal Defence Lights saw extremely limited action and did not operate in their intended roles. Due to the secret nature of the CDL project, very few armored commanders were actually aware of its existence. As such, they were often forgotten and not drawn into strategic plans. The operational plan for the CDLs was that the tanks would line up 100 yards apart, crossing their beams at 300 yards (274.3 meters). This would create triangles of darkness for attacking troops to move forward in while illuminating and blinding enemy positions.
The first CDL equipped unit was the 11th Royal Tank Regiment, formed early in 1941. The regiment was based at Brougham Hall, Cumberland. They trained at Lowther Castle near Penrith at the specially established ‘CDL School’, set up by the Ministry of Supply. The Regiment was supplied with both Matilda and Churchill hulls, with a total of 300 vehicles. British CDL equipped units stationed in the United Kingdom could later be found as part of the British 79th Armored Division and 35th Tank Brigade, they were joined by the American 9th Armored Group. This group trained in their M3 CDLs at Camp Bouse, Arizona, before being stationed in the United Kingdom. They were then stationed in Wales, in the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire where they would also train.

A Grant CDL testing its beam at Lowther Castle
In June 1942, the battalion left the UK, bound for Egypt. Equipped with 58 CDLs, they came under the command of the 1st Tank Brigade. The 11th RTR set up their own ‘CDL School’ here, where they trained the 42nd Battalion from December 1942 to January 1943. In 1943, Major E.R. Hunt of the 49th RTR was detailed in late 1943 to lay on a special demonstration for the Prime Minister and op Generals. Major Hunt recalled the following experience:

“I was detailed to lay on a special demonstration with 6 CDL tanks for him (Churchill). A stand was erected on a bleak hillside in the training area at Penrith and in due course, the great man arrived accompanied by others. I controlled the various maneuvers of the tanks by wireless from the stands, ending the demo with the CDLs advancing towards the spectators with their lights on halting just 50 yards in front of them. The lights were switched off and I awaited further instructions. After a brief interval, the Brigadier (Lipscomb of the 35th Tank Brigade) rushed up to me and ordered me to switch on the lights as Mr. Churchill was just leaving. I immediately ordered the 6 CDL tanks to switch on: 6 beams each of 13 million candlepower came on to illuminate the great man quietly relieving himself against a bush! I immediately had the lights extinguished!”

Back in the UK at Lowther, two more tank battalions had converted to CDL units. These were the 49th Battalion, RTR, and 155th Battalion, Royal Armoured Corps, and were equipped with Matilda CDLs. The third battalion to arrive was the 152nd Regiment, RAC, who were equipped with Churchill CDLs. The 79th Armored Division was the first Canal Defence Light force to see deployment in Europe in August 1944, the other units were retained in the UK. Rather than let the remaining crews sit idle, they were assigned to other roles, such as mine clearance or assigned to regular tank units.
In November 1944, Canal Defense Lights of the 357th Searchlight Battery, Royal Artillery provided light for the mine-clearing flail tanks clearing a path for Allied armor and infantry during in Operation Clipper. This was one of the CDLs first uses in the field.

An M3 CDl on the Bank of the Rhine, 1945. The device is concealed under a tarp. Photo: Panzerserra Bunker
The Canal Defence Lights only real action, however, was at the hands of United States forces during the Battle of Remagen, specifically at the Ludendorff Bridge where they assisted in its defense after the Allies captured it. The CDLs were 13 M3 “Gizmos,”, from the 738th Tank Battalion. The tanks were perfect for the task, as they were sufficiently armored to stand up to the defensive fire coming for the German controlled East Bank of the Rhine. Standard searchlights would have been destroyed in seconds but the CDLs were successfully used to illuminate every angle to deter surprise attacks. This included being shone into the Rhine itself (fitting the vehicle’s name), which helped reveal German frogmen trying to sabotage the bridge. After the action, without the need to defend against incoming fire, captured German spotlights took over the role.
After the action, a captured German officer reported in questioning:
“We wondered what those lights were as we got the hell shot out of us as we tried to destroy the bridge…”
British M3 Grant CDLs were used as their forces crossed the Rhine at Rees. The CDLs drew heavy fire with one of the tanks being knocked out. More were used to cover British and US forces as they crossed the Elbe River Laurenburg and Bleckede.
Some Canal Defence Lights were ordered for the Pacific Campaign in 1945 by the US 10th Army for the attack on Okinawa, but the invasion was over by the time the vehicles arrived. Some British M3 CDLs did make it to India under the 43rd RTR and were stationed here for the planned invasion of Malaya in February 1946, the war with Japan came to an end before this of course. The CDLs did see a form of action however, by assisting the Calcutta Police in the riots of 1946 with great success.

Surviving CDLs

To no surprise, CDL survivors are rare today. There are only two on public display in the world. A Matilda CDL can be found in The Tank Museum, Bovington, England and an M3 Grant CDL can be found at the Cavalry Tank Museum, Ahmednagar in India.

The Matilda CDL as it sits today in The Tank Museum, Bovington, England. Photo: Author’s Photo

The surviving M3 Grant CDL at the Cavalary Tank Museum, Ahmednagar, India.

An article by Mark Nash with research assistance from Andrew Hills

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Mitzakis Patent application: Improvements Relating to Light Projection and Viewing Equipment for Turrets of Tanks and Other Vehicles or Ships. Patent Number: 17725/50.
David Fletcher, Vanguard of Victory: The 79th Armoured Division, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office
Pen & Sword, Churchill’s Secret Weapons: The Story of Hobart’s Funnies, Patrick Delaforce
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #7: Churchill Infantry Tank 1941-51
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #8: Matilda Infantry Tank 1938-45
Osprey Publishing, New Vanguard #113: M3 Lee/Grant Medium Tank 1941–45
Patton’s Desert Training Area by Lynch, Kennedy, and Wooley (READ HERE)
Panzerserra Bunker
The CDL on The Tank Museum’s website

articles German tech

Schmalturm Turret

This turret had been associated with the planned Panther II. For a while it was thought to have been designed solely for it. The new turret was actually developed independently and was considered as an upgrade for both the ageing Panzer IV which was in its Ausf. J model at the time, and the Ausf. F of the fearsome Panther.
The Schmalturm (English: ‘narrow turret’) takes its root from the armaments manufacturer Rheinmetall. After their attempt failed somewhat, the project moved to Daimler-Benz in February 1944. This is where the name “Schmalturm” was born.
It followed specific design requirements, these were:
– Elimination of the shot trap under the mantlet
– An increase of protection while keeping the weight of the turret as low as possible.
– A decrease in the overall size of the turret, while still leaving the crew room to work efficiently.
– Addition of a stereoscopic rangefinder (The lack of this was one of the reasons Rheinmetall’s wasn’t approved).
– The replacement of the MG34 machine gun with the newer MG42. Make it easy for conversion into a command tank version (Befehlpanzerausführung).
– Make it compatible with possible IR device installation.
– It should Keep the standard Panther turret ring diameter (1650mm).
– Finally, Make the whole thing easier, faster and cheaper to produce.

Daimler-Benz’s Schmalturm

turret close up
Daimler-Benz’s prototype of the Turret, off-tank. (Photo –
The turret granted increased armor protection in the shape of a 150mm conical mantlet leading to the 120mm front plate. The turret sides were 80mm thick outwardly angled to increase the effective protection. Despite the increased armor and narrower shape of the turm, the internal volume of the structure remained the same.

Armament Modifications

The KwK 44/1 in a special mount used for firing tests. Source:-
The Schmalturm turret was designed to carry a derivative of the deadly 7.5cm Kw.K.42 L/70 tank gun. In order to accommodate this powerful cannon, modifications had to be made to the recoil system. Škoda of Pilsen, Protektorat Böhmen und Mähren (English: ‘Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia’) (German-occupied Czechoslovakia) with assistance from Krupp managed to create a new version of the canon with a more compact recoil system mounted on top of the gun. This was designated as the 7.5cm Kw.K.44/1 L/70. This allowed the gun to have +20/-8 elevation/depression. The usual muzzle brake was also removed from the barrel.

Panzers Considered for Upgrades

Panther Ausf. G and F

The Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf. G of the Panther were the test beds for the ‘Versuchs-Schmalturm’ (English: ‘experimental narrow turret’). The production version was to be named Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf.F and include several other changes. The tank needed little in the way of modification to accommodate the new turret. Several Ausf. Fs hulls and turrets were under construction near the end of the Second World War and at least one Panther Ausf. F hull mounting an Ausf G turret was known to be completed and see service defending Berlin in 1945.

Panzerkampfwagen Panther with 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71

A diagram of the possible inclusion of the 88mm cannon, note just how little space is left in the turret. (Source –
A further planned development of the turret, designed by Krupp in 1944, was the inclusion of the 88mm L/71 cannon, thus creating the Panzerkampfwagen Panther with 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71. The project was later taken over by Daimler-Benz in early 1945.
In Krupp’s design, in order to mount this larger gun, the trunnions of 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71 the was moved forward and protected by a bulbous housing, in front of which was the conical mantlet. Additionally, the trunnions on the 8,8cm Kw.K.43 L/71´s gun carriage were moved 350mm rearwards or the gun itself was moved 350mm forwards depending on how it is interpreted. This upgrade, however, would have necessitated the enlargement of the turret ring by 10cm.

Panzer IV mit Schmalturm

Pz IV Schmalturm
It is very unlikely that this mating would’ve been a success. The already overloaded Panzer IV Ausf. J chassis would have never been able to carry the added 7,5tons of the turm. The vehicle was already at its limit with 80mm frontal armour and 7,5cm L/48 main-gun, a weight which caused bending frontal springs and forced an enormous tension on the final drives. Also, the Ausf. J had no electrical turret traverse and used a simple mechanic turret traverse with a gearing for the gunner.
Early in September 1943 another concept was penned. Wa. Pref. 6 asked Krupp if it would be possible to squeeze the Panthers 7,5cm L/70 in the standard Panzer-IV turret. Krupp’s reply was as simple as “No”. Another order from April 12th 1944 demanded to equip a modernised Panzer-IV chassis with 7,5cm KwK-42 in a modernized turret, but this turret had only 50/30mm of armour and had a weight of 4,5tons.
The Panzer IV mit Schmalturm would’ve been the final and most powerful form of the Panzer IV model of tank, which at the time of the turret’s development was starting to be phased out.
Armed with the L/70 canon, this would have definitely been the case, and it would have improved its chances against tanks such as the T-34/85 and late-war 76mm cannon armed M4s.

Tank Encyclopedia’s own rendition of a Panther Ausf. G mounting the Schmalturm turret.
panther g early proto turret
First Versuchs-Schmalturm on a Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf. G chassis. Note the muzzle brake still on the gun. (Photo – Panzer Tracts)
The same early test bed as above seen from the side. (Photo – Panzer Tracts)
panther g later turret
A second iteration of the Versuchs-Schmalturm mounted of a Pantherkampfwagen Panther Ausf. G chassis. (Photo – Panzer Tracts)

Bovington’s surviving Schmalturm, displaying the damage sustained in live-fire tests. (Photo – Author’s Photo)

Rheinmetall’s schmale Blende

A diagram of Rheinmetall’s schmale Blende. Source:-
Rheinmetall had been tasked with designing the Panther II turret. This new turret was named ‘Turm Panther 2 (schmale Blendenausführung)’ (English: ‘Turret Panther 2 (narrow mantlet variant)’). The cancellation of the Panther 2 project came in May 1943, but Rheinmetall continued their work, with their turret now destined for the original Panther.
Rheinmetall’s progress was sluggish, as 1 year later, they had not yet progressed beyond the drawing stages as evidenced by drawing H-Sk 88517 “Turm – Panther (schmale Blende)” (English: ‘Turret-Panther (narrow mantlet)’).
New requirements were drawn up for a new iteration of the regular Rheinmetall-designed Pantherkampfwagen V Panther turret. An Entfernungsmesser (English: ‘rangefinder’) was to be incorporated into the turret and the gunner’s sight was to be changed to a periscope in the roof. Rheinmetall’s design incorporated the Entfernungsmesser in the turret, but this created a huge hump in the turret roof.
It appears this design, combined with the long time already used with no practical results, prompted Wa. Prüf. 6 to move responsibility for designing a new turret from Rheinmetall to Daimler Benz. It seems about nothing from the Rheinmetall’s Turm – Panther (schmale Blende) design was used by Daimler Benz for their Schmalturm design. By 20 August 1944, the first Versuchs-Schmalturm was mounted on a Panther Ausf. G chassis.


A number of prototype turrets had been produced and tested on and off the Panther Ausf. G. However not a single Panzer IV would ever feel the power of this new armament, even though there were copious amounts Panzer IV hulls, no Schmalturm ever touched its turret ring. None of these projects left the prototype phase, and both the Pz. IV mit Schmalturm and Panther with 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71 never progressed further than pencil lines on paper.
Two of the production turrets were retrieved after the war by the Allies. The Americans took one while the British took the other and used it for ballistic tests. The remains of this turret can be found in the Bovington Tank Museum.

An article by Mark Nash

Links & Resources

Panzer-IV und seine Varianten (Panzer Iv and its variants) Spielberger and Doyle
Panzer Tracts issue No.5-4, Panzerkampfwagen Panther II and Panther Ausfuehrung F
Panzer Tracts issue No.20-1, Paper Panzers
The Author would like to thank Marcus Hock and Herbert Ackermans for additional information.

articles US tech

US work on anti-magnetic coatings

Magnets in the Pacific

Of the major combatants of WW2, only Germany and Japan made any significant use of magnetic anti-tank charges. The Japanese in particular had been making good use of the Model 99 Turtle mine and had inflicted many casualties upon American and Commonwealth troops with them.
From Japan, the Model 99 Turtle mine was the shape of a large tin of shoe polish and held in place by means of four equally spaced magnets around the outside and weighed just over 1.2kg, containing 0.74kg of TNT. Placed against thin points of armor or on a hatch, this mine could penetrate 20mm of steel plate, but with one on top of another this could be increased to 30mm.
Japanese Model 99 Turtle Mine
Japanese Model 99 Turtle Mine
These Japanese mines had been causing casualties for a long time and field extemporised measures, such as the use of piercing aluminium planking were fielded as early as the end of 1943. As aluminium is non-magnetic, the idea was that the mines would hopefully just fall off, and obviously holding the mine further from the vehicle would also reduce their effectiveness.
Stuart flamethrower tank in New Caledonia October 1943 with pierced aluminium matting on the glacis to protect against Japanese magnetic mines
Stuart flamethrower tank in New Caledonia October 1943 with pierced aluminium matting on the glacis to protect against Japanese magnetic mines

A spiky problem

Little work though had been done on an official solution to the problem of these mines until experiments were conducted between the 2nd September 1944 and the 28th March 1945.
One method tested was the use of steel spikes welded to a 1/2 inch (12.7 mm) thick mild steel plate over horizontal surfaces on a M3A3 tank. These spikes were between 6 3/4 inches (171.45 mm) and 5 1/8 inches (130.18 mm) long in rows 4 1/2 inches (114.3 mm) apart. Another sheet of 1/4 thick (6.35 mm) steel installed around the turret and the covering for the air intake was coated with Truscon 260, a type of cement. This cement coating was found to cause the Japanese magnetic mines to slide off onto the spikes. These vertical spikes would hold the mine sufficiently off the armor that the explosion would be ineffective, and no doubt the ability to deter unwanted enemy troops climbing on the tank was not lost on the experimenters either.
The experiments were however discontinued as it was found to be impossible to protect all of the horizontal surfaces. The measures also interfered with the vision from the vehicle, and the weight of the additional protection was considered to be excessive.
M3A3 Stuart tank fitted with spiked armor on horizontal surfaces and the Trucson coating
M3A3 Stuart tank fitted with spiked armor on horizontal surfaces and the Trucson coating.

While this M3A3 Stuart looks menacing with its spikes, it was not a viable solution
While this M3A3 Stuart looks menacing with its spikes, it was not a viable solution.
Australian M3 at Australian Cavalry Museum, Puckapunyal with anti-magnetic mine screen fitted over front.Australian M3 at Australian Cavalry Museum, Puckapunyal with anti-magnetic mine screen fitted over front.
Australian M3 at Australian Cavalry Museum, Puckapunyal with anti-magnetic mine screen fitted over front.Even though US studies ended in March 1945, field extemporised measures had continued with the use of canvas and/or other ‘neutral materials’ being used in some manner to clad at least one US tank in the Pacific theatre by an unnamed unit where it was proven successful in preventing a magnetic mine from adhering. Other measures deployed were welded mesh gratings fitted over the hatches as a method used by both Australian and US forces. The hatches being a particularly vulnerable spot for these mines to prove effective. An August 1945 report documented the efficiency of these mines recorded that in a single engagement in Burma, six US M3A3 light tanks had been attacked with these charges with them being thrown onto the engine compartment or turret, of which five of the vehicles had caught fire.

M4 Sherman of 4th Marine Tank Battalion on Iwo Jima showing mesh grills over the hatches.
M4 Sherman of 4th Marine Tank Battalion on Iwo Jima showing mesh grills over the hatches.
M4 Sherman on 1st Marine Tank Battalion on Okinawa 1945 showing how the aluminium matting could be used to stop magnetic mines from sticking to the hatch. This vehicles also appears to have fabric matting suspended from the sides possibly for the same purpose.
M4 Sherman on 1st Marine Tank Battalion on Okinawa 1945 showing how the aluminium matting could be used to stop magnetic mines from sticking to the hatch. This vehicles also appears to have fabric matting suspended from the sides possibly for the same purpose.

An article by Andrew Hills

Other articles in this series

Part I: Zimmerit in German Use
Part II: Zimmerit in Soviet and German tests
Part III: British work on Zimmerit

Links & Sources

The links and sources can be found in part I of the Zimmerit series

articles British tech

British work on Zimmerit

Something New on the Western Front

Zimmerit had been deployed ostensibly by the Germans as a counter to magnetic mines. Whether Zimmerit actually worked or not is hard to tell, as neither the US, Soviets or British made any notable use of magnetic charges. The British did have the ‘Clam’ magnetic charge from 1939 and by 1946 had supplied some 159,000 examples to the USSR, but there is no information available as to how much use these may have been put to. This rather small device contained just 8 ounces of TNT (227 grams).
The ‘Clam’ Magnetic charge. Mk.I had a metal body and the Mk.II was Bakelite but a smaller charge than this Mk.III version.
The ‘Clam’ Magnetic charge. Mk.I had a metal body and the Mk.II was Bakelite but a smaller charge than this Mk.III version
The British, first encountered Zimmerit in 1944 and like the Soviets before them were intrigued by this textured coating on German tanks and in particular considered it some kind of clever camouflage. Such textured coatings had been previously encountered on items like helmets at least as far back as WW1, so the theory of camouflage by textured coatings was perfectly sound.

The British way

The British however did not have any Zimmerit material for testing at the time but even so conducted their own experiments into textured camouflage. One of these experiments in August 1944 involved the fitting of ribbed rubber material to the outside of the turrets of Cromwell tanks belonging to C Squadron, 2nd Northants. Yeomanry, 11th Armoured Division.
Cromwell tanks of C Squadron, 2nd Northants, Yeomanry, 11th Armoured Division with rubber material glued to turret
Cromwell tanks of C Squadron, 2nd Northants, Yeomanry, 11th Armoured Division with rubber material glued to turret
Cromwell tanks of C Squadron, 2nd Northants, Yeomanry, 11th Armoured Division with rubber material glued to turret
As a camouflage, Zimmerit was drawing attention from Field Marshal Montgomery who expressed the need for improved camouflage. On the 21st February 1945 he remarked that “a satisfactory camouflage is required which will eliminate all shine and reflection from the armour plate. Some form of plaster like the German ‘ZIMMERIT’ should be produced and incorporated in the manufacture of all future tanks”. Stocks of captured German Zimmerit were not available until August 1945 though, and in the meantime further experiments included test applications were carried out. These experiments used a Ram Sexton Self Propelled Gun, a Churchill tank, a Cromwell tank, and the gun shield of a 25 pdr field gun.
Test results for the Ram Sexton
Test results for the Ram Sexton
The Ram Sexton had a coating applied to it made from a chopped straw mix and also from a wood-wool mix to show texture differences, the exact consistency of this material is unclear but it was alcohol based, probably because it would dry and harden more rapidly as the alcohol evaporated. It was applied by means of a roller with the intent to then add ridging from either fingers drawn across the surface or with a special texturing wooden roller. If the mix was off and contained too much alcohol the surface could become shiny or simply crack and flake.
The tests of this paste were carried out in the ETO (European Theatre of Operations) in April 1945 on vehicles of the 256th Armoured Delivery Squadron. This ‘plastic’ type substance was initially applied by means of spraying (application by spraying was found to not suit the later texturing) but also by trowel and took no less than 80 man hours to apply to the Cromwell. Despite the use of alcohol, it took 2 days to dry although it is possible that the mixture was too thick or the application untried, as application on other vehicle was quicker. The most successful mixture tried involved the chopped straw and the images show an extremely well textured surface.
Close-ups of different textures obtained
Close-ups of different textures obtained
The Cromwell required some 5.5cwts (279kg) of this material in order to be fully coated, with care taken not to obstruct the air intakes or exhausts. The Churchill tank required some 6cwts (305kg) of material, took 2.5 days to dry and 95 man hours to apply, whereas the Ram Sexton only required 4cwts (203kg), 51.5 man hours to apply and a day and a half to dry. The 25pdr gun shield needed just 1.5 man hours to apply the 0.5cwts (25kg) required and the overall results were judged to be ‘extremely effective’.

Color photo of the Cromwell with rubber stripes on its turret.

Cromwell with rubber stripes on the turret
Cromwell Mk.IV “Agamemnon” with rubber stripes, 3nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry, 11th Armoured Division, Normandy, 1944.
Patterned camouflaged coating on a Churchill tank

Side-note: Paint and magnetic mines

Churchill tank demonstrating the effectiveness of a textured and painted coating as camouflage.
Churchill tank demonstrating the effectiveness of a textured and painted coating as camouflage.
An additional curious side note is that, over the top of this coating, the vehicles were painted in a two-tone matt black and German yellow-green paint scheme. The Cromwell in particular was impressive, as it could “completely disappear into the background”, especially when fitted with a camouflage hessian net over the suspension units. There is no record made as to British testing this scheme against the standard German magnetic mine; the 3kg Hafthohlladung, although the British were aware of the ‘anti-magnetic charge’ purpose of the material.
The Hafthohlladung mine used three large magnetic feet to adhere to the armor of a vehicle and the shaped charge could pierce 5” inches of armor plate at a 90 degree angle. There was a smaller German magnetic version from the Luftwaffe, known as the Panzerhandmine 3 (P.H.M.3), which had the appearance of a small wine bottle with the base cut off to make room for 6 magnets.
Hofthohlladung mine showing method of useHofthohlladung mine showing method of use
Hafthohlladung mine showing method of use
German Panzerhandmine (P.H.M.) 3
German Panzerhandmine (P.H.M.) 3

The end of the war, the start of the tests

The British study mission into Zimmerit did not manage to confirm that the firm of C.W. Zimmer originated the Zimmerit paste, although it seems highly probable they were. Having liberated 100 tons of the stuff the British had plenty of Zimmerit to finally test out though but it had come too late.
The War in Europe was over before any British trials involving this paste or imitation substance had any effect on the outcome, so the liberated stocks were shipped to Australia, presumably for trials against the Japanese magnetic mines. The War in the Pacific was also finishing so the Australians do not seem to have had any use for this weird substance either and there are no records of what, if anything, was done with their shipment so it seems that all of the effort that went into tracking down the source of the substance and getting hold of some was wasted.
Sherman tank painted half and half with Zimmerit paste
Sherman tank painted half and half with Zimmerit paste
Overall, the British opinion was that a textured coating provided excellent camouflage and that texturing made no difference at all to the anti-magnetic mine benefit. One further thing worth noting though was that when the British tested the substance on a tank by means of a flamethrower than the uncoated vehicle got so hot inside that the ammunition could ignite however the coated vehicle remained at bearable temperatures. This lends more credibility to the Soviet report suggesting some fire or heat protection from the material although the mode of protection is more likely simply by means of insulation than anything else.
The war in Europe and in the Pacific was over before the British or allies could deploy anti-magnetic coatings for either protection from mines or for camouflage. The US were to conduct their own experiments but the only other experimental work which appears to have been done on Zimmerit is by the French who tested a very well patterned application on the hull of a M4A2.

An article by Andrew Hills

Other articles in this series

Part I: Zimmerit in German Use
Part II: Zimmerit in Soviet and German tests
Part IV: US work on anti-magnetic coatings

Links & Sources

The links and sources can be found in part I of the Zimmerit series

articles German tactics Polish tactics

Charge at Krojanty

The Myth of Polish Cavalry Attacking Panzers

The cavalry charge at Krojanty is certainly less known than the myth it contributed to built, still maintained until recent years in some scholarly books and history classes in high schools and colleges. As a subject related to tanks we hope to contribute breaking the neck of this legend once and for all. This is however a tenacious image, born from a journalist confusion, turned into propaganda, and never fully debunked but by some specialist historians. We are left with the tenacious image of brave Polish cavalrymen charging head on, with lances and shining sabres, German Panzers in open field. A symbol of dashing, reckless bravery in face of certain death, sort of desperate last-ditch effort of an army reputedly devoid of tanks or any modern means of warfare. The image was so romantic and dramatic that it fuelled imagination of generations believing the German onslaught on Poland was something of a promenade, facing a supposedly ill-prepared army for modern warfare.


Despite the mechanized nature of ww2, and even ww1, the horse was still, like past centuries, a major asset for the military, through regular cavalry units proceeding with long traditions that will be gradually passed onto mechanized units, and for supplies and artillery that depended on countless workhorses. The Ardennes breed in particular of NW France and Belgium of which tens of thousands were captured by the Germans, still played a major role in towing artillery, a profusion which in some case led to ruthless management and massive losses due to exhaustion.
It was then long before animal protection leagues. They were cheaper, plentiful and more “reliable” than artillery tractors of the time. This was still true in ww2, although motorization has been accepted and integrated en masse. The German Army in the campaign of 1940 still relied on nearly 25,000 horses mostly for supplies (about 500,000 when entering the war).
On the Eastern front alone, in two months, Dec. 1941-Jan. 1942, 179,000 horses died due to exhaustion and cold. On the cavalry side, some units kept the lance and sabre as their main weapons, with the pistol as sidearm, but the norm was the idea of a mounted infantry, that can quickly join point A to B and then dismount and take proper firing positions.
In 1920 the young Red Army created an all-mounted army when attacking Poland, complete with chariot-based machine gun nests, artillery and mortars. In the Interwar, the British were the first to test large scale motorized warfare, resulting in the complete conversion of their cavalry units before 1939. Despite of this, most belligerents still counted a few traditional cavalry units like France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Italy, Japan, China and the USSR.

Cavalry charges in WW1

Although the subject is somewhat far off the usual topic or armoured warfare, Polish Uhlans were not the last to orchestrate charges on the battlefield of ww2. Cavalry already operated en masse during the Great War on all fronts, at least on the opening stages of the conflict when the war was still mobile. In fact in August 22, 1914, the first British shot of the war in France was fired by a cavalryman, Edward Thomas of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards, near Casteau.
Probably the last cavalry charge on the Western front was led by the 20th Deccan Horse, an Indian cavalry unit on July 14th, 1916 on High Wood, part of the battle of the Somme. Many dismounted cavalrymen were found in the trenches and in 1918 with the arrival of the Whippet Tank, there were already early attempts of mechanized cavalry.
At the end of the war, operations became mobile again and former dismounted units were back in action. As in March 30, 1918, when Canadian cavalry charged German positions in the Battle of Moreuil Wood (Lord Strathcona’s Horse). There were very few cavalry vs cavalry clashes, but at least one opposing the 1st Cavalry Brigade and the German 4th Cavalry Division as a prelude of the First Battle of the Marne in September 1914.
The Western Front was only a small part of a bigger picture, a war fought worldwide, from Africa to the middle east, Russia or the Alps among others. In many cases cavalry was still an important asset. Although unfortunate at Gallipoli the Anzacs also fought mounted like the 4th and 12th Australian Light Horse Regiments that sabre charged decisively at Beersheba (Third Battle of Gaza) on 31 October 1917 (google “The Light horsemen” movie, 1987 for the picture).

Tanks and Cavalry at Monchy le Preux, 1918. Cavalry returned on the western front during the allied counter-offensives of the winter 1918
In Russia, the famous Brusilov offensive, mobilized 40 infantry divisions but also 15 cavalry divisions. At the beginning of the war, Nicolas II army could boast that its thirty-six cavalry divisions could be able to pierce through the German Army straight to Berlin. Reality of crossed fire by machine-guns quickly dismissed the idea at the battle of Tannenberg, wiping out scores of Don Cossacks units (some of the finest cavalrymen in the world). In June 1916 in Galicia, as Mackensen’s phalanx was routing Russian Infantry, the situation was reversed by General Poroshenko’s regiments of Don Cossaks, Kinburn Dragoons, and Chernagov Hussars creating havoc in the advancing, confident German infantry. They hacked their way to the rearguards, capturing supplies and machine guns and then rode back again into friendly lines, suffering in the process only 200 casualties. The effect was such for the Germans that Mackensen called off the attack, giving a restbite for the Russians to proceed an orderly retreat.

Extract from Spieleberg’s “War Horse” (2011)

Horse units in WW2

With the advent of the tank, still slow compared to cavalry standard, and despite at a clear disadvantage for reconnaissance because of the emergence of aviation, cavalry units were still enlisted in many countries when the hostilities broke out. They were however in clear minority compared to workhorses, mostly used for supplies, completing the lack of trucks for many infantry units.
WW2 French Cavalry: France could count on half a million horses, and retained in a mixed Light Cavalry Division (DLC) several horse brigades of 1,200 sabers each. They acted for reconnaissance as mounted riflemen, but were soon crushed by the offensive in 1940, and the only true cavalry units fighting for France until 1945 were found rather on the North African theater, squadrons of Moroccan and Algerian spahis, which after Tunisia, also fought in Italy and southern France.
WW2 British Cavalry:
By 1928 most traditional horse units started to be converted into their motorized equivalent. However in WW2 a number of horses were kept for supply and support, especially on the Mediterranean theater of operation. There were two mounted cavalry regiments in Palestine in 1940, and gradually the last units were motorized until late 1941. For the Empire however, still the Transjordan Frontier Force and the Arab Legion operated on horseback. By November 1940 all former twenty Indian cavalry regiments has been motorized, but some traditional units persisted nonetheless, like the Sikh sowars of the Burma Frontier Force that led the last British (and perhaps allied) sabre charge of the war. Led by Captain Arthur Sandeman of the 21st King George V’s Own Horse, this unit encountered Japanese infantry at Toungoo in central Burma and took heavy casualties.
WW2 American Cavalry:
By 1939 the United States Cavalry consisted of two mechanized and twelve horse regiments. Horses has been previously largely used on the Mexican frontier, and Panama canal zone. These wartime units comprised two horse regiments (which acted as portee, essentially a mounted light infantry which fought on foot on the spot), eighteen light tanks and a field artillery regiment. The large scale Louisiana Manoeuvers of 1940 however stressed the need of fully motorized units, while the jeep was introduced and the Armoured Corp created. The debate on the conservation of horse units raged on, until the office of Chief of Cavalry was eliminated in March 1942. The only American cavalry action of the war occurred when the Philippine Scouts (26th Cavalry Regiment) hold the attack of two Japanese armored and two infantry regiments in December 1941, and later repelled a unit of tanks in Binalonan and multiplied hit-and-run delaying actions on the way to Bataan.

US Philippines Scouts and an M3 light Tank, fall 1941. This unit was involved in the last US history cavalry charge.
WW2 German Cavalry: Germany used as much as 2.7 million horses during the war, but maintained however in 1939 a single brigade, that was expanded six cavalry divisions and two corps HQ to fight on the Mountaineous Balkans and Eastern front. It should be noted that these were reinforced considerably by a few battalions of pro-German Don Cossacks fighting partisans in Yugoslavia (about 13,000 strong). A single cavalry division also served with Guderian’s Panzer Group. By mid-1944 it was converted as two brigades and a division and served together with Gustav Harteneck’s Cavalry and the Hungarian cavalry in Belorussia.
Russian Cavalry in action
Russian Cavalry in action
The SS operated 23 paramilitary cavalry regiments in 1941 and there was a Waffen SS cavalry corp formed in 1940 to deal with partisans and guerillas in occupied territories. In 1942-43 this was reformed as the 8th SS cavalry division completed by volksdeutsche, but depleted, it was reformed and reinforced by German Hungarian cavalrymen in December 1943 as the 22nd cav. division (with organic AA and artillery units) and later in 1944 the 33rd SS Cavalry Division which operated for some time. The last cavalry operations of mixed German-Hungarian units occurred in the Lake Balaton offensive.
WW2 Hungarian Cavalry:
The Hungarians indeed mustered two traditional horse-mounted cavalry brigades at the beginning of the war and in 1941 participated in a “mad dash” from Galicia to the Donetz Basin. It was reorganized as the 1st Cavalry Division which took part in the defence of Warsaw in 1944 (part of Von Harteneck’s Cavalry Corps) whereas a second division briefly served from August on.
Hungarian Hussars in Poland
Hungarian Hussars in Poland
WW2 Romanian Cavalry:
Romania also deployed 6 cavalry brigades (later division) on the eastern front, the largest contingent among axis allies. Some received a motorized regiment, and the 7th Cavalry Division was fully motorized. They served at Stalingrad (three lost), and Crimea (two partly rescued).
WW2 Italian Cavalry:
Another German’s ally, Italy, had traditional mounted regiments available for the North African campaign, squadrons of savari and spahis from Libya. There were also no less than 16 squadrons of Cavalleria Coloniale in East Africa. Two brigades charged and captured Kassala on July 4, 1940. On the eastern front, Mussolini sent the CSIR, a mobile force of 60,900 men and 4,600 horses to Ukraine. The 3rd cavalry division comprised two traditional units, the saber-wielding Savoia Cavalleria and Lancieri di Novara. Probably one of the most celebrated action occurred on August 24, 1942, when the Savoia Cavalleria charged the Red Army near Izbushensky and managed to repel two Soviet battalions while covering the retreat of the Italian Army.
The Savoia Cavalleria at Isbuscenskij, August, 24, 1942, one of the last and most famous cavalry charges of WW2.
USSR: Soviet Cavalry and Cavalry Mechanized Groups
The Soviets initially had prevention against cavalry, despite an early and extensive use in 1919-20 (1st Cavalry Army) and the throughout civil war, alongside rare armoured cars. All units were disbanded as mechanization was thought to replace these. The Soviet Army however could count on a total about 21 million horses in 1941, of which 11 millions were lost in 1941-42 and these were never really replenished. 3.5 millions horses were used by the Red Army, mostly for supplies. Despite of this, there were no less than 32 divisions and two brigades of cavalry in 1938. At the outbreak of the war and until late 1940 these were completely reorganized, disbanded or integrated into mechanized and tank corps.

Mongolian Cavalry at Khalkin Gol in 1939
However, these were revived, surprisingly after the setbacks of the Polish invasion and debacle in Finland. In the summer of 1941, four Cavalry Corps commands and thirteen Cavalry Divisions were available. These must have been reinforced by organic motorized units of tanks, trucks and artillery, but in reality were horse and foot only units, poorly commanded.
They were quickly brushed away and as winter came, was left was reorganized into small light cavalry divisions. Most charges were poorly executed and resulted in very high casualties, but had better success when coordinated with organic mechanized infantry units and anti-aircraft artillery. These late winter cavalry Corps were massively engaged in the fall of 1941 and early 1942, but as poor tactics remains, what left of the 41 cavalry divisions was disbanded, short of horses.
In the fall of 1942 Stalin pressed the creation of Cavalry mechanized group (CMG), which integrated tanks and infantry, but the latter was mounted instead of being carried by trucks. On this account, 26 divisions were available in the end of 1943, mostly equipped with light tanks and 5,700 men each. On the tactical level, they were kept 12–15 kilometers behind the front line, waiting for the tanks to create a breakthrough and then catch on as soon as the situation was stabilized. However mechanization, either through lend-lease or local mass production soon rendered obsolete these mixed units and cavalry units were gradually used for auxiliary offensive tasks when all-terrain mobility was required.

Soviet Cavalry, part of a CMG, 1944
These were frequently used to complete the encirclement and mopping up of routing and scattered retreating units. By 1945, seven cavalry corps has been reconstituted, each being allocated to a tank army. In the great offensive of June 1944 CMGs were deployed in areas where all-tanks units were not required or found impassable terrain. In late 1944 many of these units however were found devoid of tanks, only equipped with horse-towed 76 mm guns as antitank means.
Interestingly enough, one of the last cavalry action of the war involved a mixed units of four Mongolian cavalry divisions, one Soviet cavalry division, and five mechanized brigades with heavy tanks under orders of General Issa Pliyev which operated in Mandchuria in August 1945, crossing the Gobi desert and aiming to Peking.

WW2 Polish Cavalry

Rooted in Medieval mounted knights, and immortalized with the XVIth century Winged Hussars of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The latter distinguished themselves either against the Cossacks or the Ottomans from 1577 to 1683 (Battle of Vienna). The fame was revived in the Napoleonic era, and Polish Cavalry was recreated with Poland being re-established as a sovereign Nation in 1918.
At that time the cavalry was a hotch-potch of different uniforms, equipment and tactics, some elements coming from Germany, while others had Austro-Hungarian origins. 14 cavalry regiments were formed in late January 1919, and six cavalry brigades after March. Trained in both cavalry tactics and in trench warfare, they were the most professional troops available when the Polish-Bolshevik War broke out.

Polish Cavalry in 1939, with antitank guns
In addition, every infantry brigade received a recon squadron of light cavalry. They were equipped with sabres, lances, pistols and cavalry shortened rifles. They proved their metal in the Battle of Warsaw and later the Battle of the Niemen, while the most important cavalry battle occurred near the village of Komarowo near Zamość, when the polish Cavalry clashed and routed the feared and massive Russian 1st Cavalry Army, almost surrounded. By numbers involved alone, the Battle of Komarów is considered nowadays as the greatest cavalry battle of the 20th century.

Polish Cavalry during maneuvers of the Army in late 1930’s.
In the interwar, cavalry units participated in various military exercises and new tactical developments in accordance to the arrival of tanks, including fast deployment of mixed mounted detachments using anti-tank rifles like the wz. 35 (Karabin przeciwpancerny wzór 35). Although small in caliber (7.92 mm) the very long barrel ensured a 1,275 m/s (4,180 ft/s) muzzle velocity. There was a 4-cartridge magazine, but instead of hardcore bullets, these were full metal jacket bullet weighing 14.579 g and the kinetic energy was 11,850 J, allowing to pierce through 15 mm of armour at 300 meters. About 3500 were built from 1935, conveyed to all frontline units in secrecy. After the war, many were captured by the Germans which pressed it into service as the Panzerbüchse 35(p), and about 800 were later given to the Italians as the Fucile Controcarro 35(P).

Polish cavalry in Sochaczew in 1939
In 1939 the Polish cavalry counted for 10% of the Army, and it has been reorganized into 11 cavalry brigades, each with 3-4 cavalry regiments with organic artillery, armoured unit and infantry battalion. On the tactical level, these units were considered as a mobile reserve and served as a mounted/mobile infantry that can quickly move to any point of operation and then dismount to operate, with a variety of armaments, including machine guns, rifles and anti-tank rifles, even mortars. Organically these units also received the support of 75 mm guns, tankettes, 37mm AT guns, and 40mm AA guns. The lance was more or less dropped at that point, but the traditional Szabla wz. 1934 sabre was retained. At multiple occasions they proved valuable for filling the gaps in the front and covering friendly units withdrawal.
In all these operations, the Polish Army fought at least fifteen major actions, and countless skirmishes in which the Polish cavalry units fought dismounted, but fifteen confirmed cavalry charges during the war. Most of them were successful. The first one, with sabres and lanced occurred on september 1, 1939, during the Battle of Krojanty (see later). The second one, the same day, involved the 19th Volhynian Uhlan Regiment (by lance) which fall in Mokra on some elements of the German 4th Panzer Division, routing these in panic. The Battle of Janów (same day) saw the first cavalry vs cavalry clash as the 11th Legions Uhlan Regiment encountered a German cavalry reconnaissance squadron. Both units withdrew after a short engagement. Another clash of the same order occurred the following day, this time with the 1st squadron of the 19th Volhynian Uhlan Regiment (Battle of Borowa Góra), routing the German cavalry unit.
On September 11, round Osuchowo the 1st squadron of the 20th Uhlan Regiment of King Jan III Sobieski pierced through German infantry line on the process of surrounding the unit. In the night of the 11-12 of September, a charge from 4th squadron of the 11th Legions Uhlan Regiment helped recapture the village of Kałuszyn. On September 13 at Mińsk Mazowiecki however, the 1st squadron of the 2nd Regiment of Grochow Uhlans failed to pierce through the German lines and was repelled. However the same day at Maliszewo the 1st squadron of the 27th Uhlan Regiment retook the village and made many prisoners in the process. On September 15 in Brochów some elements of the 17th Greater Poland Uhlan Regiment charged and later fought on foot (taking cover under enemy fire) German infantry positions.
On September 19 the Battle of Wólka Węglowa saw the ulk of the 14th Regiment of Jazlowiec Uhlans did a recon, and after reinforcement of the 9th Regiment of Lesser Poland Uhlans charged and open the way for retreating troops (Battle of Bzura) towards Warsaw and Modlin. The operation was repeated in Łomianki. on September 21 at Kamionka Strumiłowa the 3rd squadron of the 1st Mounted Detachment fall on German troops preparing an assault, stopped it, forcing the troops to retreat. At Krasnobród, on September 23 the 1st squadron of the 25th Wielkopolska Uhlan Regiment retook the town after a charge, and despite heavy opposition, defeating also a counter charge by a German cavalry unit (8th Infantry Division), capturing the hilltop, HQ and making about 100 prisoners.
On September 24 at Husynne a reserve squadron of the 14th Regiment of Jazlowiec Uhlans renforced by mixed units including mounted police charged and routed Soviet infantry on the advance, before being stopped by a tank force. The last charge of this campaign occurred on September 26 at Morańce when the 27th Uhlan Regiment twice charged an entrenched German infantry battalion in the village of Morańce. Although repelled with heavy casualties the Germans sent out a soldier with a white flag and after a parley the Germans withdrew.

Map of the event at Krojanty, 1st September 1939

The Krojanty charge

Probably the most famous of these cavalry charges, this event was abundantly covered as a cavalry vs tank clash -which never happened in any way.
It took place on the evening of September 1, 1939, near the Pomeranian village of Krojanty. The clash was part of the larger Battle of Tuchola Forest and its fame came after reporters arrived at the scene, seeing the remains of the charge. Polish infantry was then following the Prussian Eastern Railway to railroad about 7 kilometres from the town of Chojnice. At 5 am, elements of German 76th Infantry Regiment, 20th Motorised Division attacked. Just before, Polish Cavalry intercepted German infantry en route to Dantzig, screening their advance and slowing it. At 8 am, Polish Border Guard clashed with German advance and retreated to the river Brda. Covering the action were the 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment, which was later the center of this event.
An opportunity presented itself as a group of German infantry were found resting in a clearing in the Tuchola Forest (near the railroad crossroads of Chojnice – Runowo Pomorskie line). After report, Colonel Kazimierz Mastalerz decided to order Eugeniusz Świeściak commanding the 1st squadron to suprise charge at 19h pm with the two squadrons while the two other motorized vehicles (TK tankettes) were held in reserve, as a backup. The surprise was total, German troops were found totally unprepared and quickly routed, fleeing in terror. The Polish Cavalry then occupied the clearing. But the rest was short, as German armored reconnaissance vehicles (pat of Aufklärungs-Abteilung 20) appeared from the forest road and quickly deployed, opening a withering fire of Mg.34s and 20 mm autocannons out on the open. The Polish cavalry was cut to pieces, dispersed, most galloping for cover behind a nearby hillock. In this second clash, Commander Świeściak was killed, as well as a third of both squadrons. The action was however successful as halting the German advance, allowing the Polish 1st Rifle battalion and National Defence battalion Czersk to orderly retreat. Without the intervention of General Guderian, the 20th Motorised Infantry Division has considered a tactical retreat which was likely to happen, fearing other attacks. He also added in his memoirs “the panic of the first day of war was overcome quickly”.

Aftermath and creation of the myth

The following day, the 18th Pomeranian Uhlans Regiment was decorated by General Grzmot-Skotnicki with his own Virtuti Militari, the highest award for valor. At the same time, German war correspondents arrived at the scene of the battlefield, together with two Italian journalists. In the meantime, tanks had arrived on the scene and were stationary, so the picture showing both tanks and corpses of Polish horses and cavalrymen scattered around with broken lances and sabres. Without many indications, one journalist, Indro Montanelli, sent home a dramatic depiction of brave Polish lancers charging German tanks.
The story could have been denied, but German propaganda machine quickly found a way to exploit it, creating a myth that was used to show (in Die Wehrmacht, published on 13 September) that the Poles had gravely underestimated German weapons. It went as far as pretending Polish propaganda suggested that German armored vehicles were still part training vehicles, and had only flimsy sheet metal inherited from Versailles Treaty limitations. The myth however endured as after the end of the War, Soviet propaganda made it and example of stupidity of pre-war Polish commanders careless of their soldiers. The myth perdured still in the 1990s, as shown by many generalist publications about WW2.

One of the numerous illustrated work trying to depict the imagined Polish lancers charge against tanks
But the Poles were certainly not deprived of antitank weapons: These mixed units of cavalry and mechanized cavalry counted antitank rifles like the standard karabin przeciwpancerny wz.35, seen on the back of many cavalrymen. In addition these units were supplied with heavier antitank weapons: Some TKS tankettes were given the Polish 20 mm autocannon FK-A Wz.38, which proved its deadly efficiency, in particular in the hands of men like Orlik. Light antitank guns were also towed by horses like the 37 mm Bofors wz.36 which was able to penetrate 26 mm of armour at 600 m at 30 degrees. It could disable Panzer IIIs when used on the right spot.

WW2 cavalry tactics

In the battle of Krojanty the charge was put to good use again infantry resting, of a motorized units comprising mostly trucks and field guns, nothing really threatening for a cavalry. That explained why it was so efficient. In case of an encounter, even with armoured reconnaissance vehicles which were certainly less well protected and armed than tanks, cavalry retreated best as it could, avoiding direct combat.
There is a famous photograph supposed to show the aftermath of the Charge at Krojanty. However, this photo shows helmets gathered at a POW camp and the helmet style does not match the one used by the Polish cavalry. (Narodowe Archivum Cyfrowe)
In the battle of Mokra, mounted infantry rode over behind the attacking German armor with tankettes throwing smoke grenades to cover the approach. They did repel the German support infantry, forcing part of the German armored regiment to continue their advance without infantry support. In most cases, cavalry was seen as a way to transport quickly on the most forbidding terrains and in relative quietness compared to tanks, units that can operate with the same armaments and tactics as regular infantry, with machine guns, mortars, grenades, and anti-tank rifles. But tactically these units generally operated on the rearguard of the armoured “fist” of divisions, so behind the tanks, on the following “soft belly” of accompanying support infantry that was to take care of the units crushed and scattered by the initial armoured breakthrough.
Could cavalry would have been successful against tanks ?
Although the case never really presented itself, a specialized cavalry corps with men all equipped with special shaped-charge or phosphorus and sticky grenades, anti-tank rifles, armor-piercing rifled grenades, and perhaps even towed 37 mm guns could have been lethal if deployed quickly on the right spot to take on tanks in the flanks, or ambushing an armoured column.
We certainly can imagine dashing cavalrymen jumping from their horses to the last tanks of a column, climbing over it, opening the hatch to throw a grenade of molotov cocktail, and therefore disabling tanks up in the tank column. But it was without any thoughts of commanders busy scanning the horizon from their cupola, having both intercom and radio contact with each others. The fact was horses were big, conspicuous and not protected targets.
Combined rapid fire and shrapnells would have been absolutely devastating in an orderly, jam-packed frontal cavalry charge in any case, and it seems ludicrous to think any commanders, even the least imaginative and least informed, could even consider taking on such tanks with lances and sabres.
One of the great advantages of cavalry, especially when combined with modern, motorized support, was heir ability to cross impassable terrains for tanks, like rocky, forested areas, favouring close screening of enemy columns and waiting for the right timing to operate skirmishing tactics with great effects;

Polish Uhlan with an wz. 35 anti-tank rifle.

A Russian cavalryman passing by a disabled Panzer III, probably around Stalingrad, winter 1942/43.
To close this chapter, it must be said that experts believed that smaller and less well-documented cavalry charges occurred later on in World War II and as late as the 1970s in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Mozambique (Portuguese Cavalry) until 1974. During Operation Enduring Freedom, Operational Detachment Alpha 595 teams were covertly inserted into Afghanistan (October 19, 2001) using horses due to the mountainous terrain. There is also a permanent, active military cavalry unit in India today, the 61st Cavalry. The Western Chinese PLA sector also uses a cavalry and train regularly. However, it is horse cavalry still relevant today?

Links & Resources

The Krojanty charge on wikipedia
Creation of a myth – the Krojanty charge
The Krojanty myth on
Polish Cavarly in WW2
Soviet Cavalry Mechanized groups in WW2
Cavarly in WW2
Cavalry in WW1
ww2 cav in
Video – cinematographical reconstitution of the Savoia Cavalleria charge

articles German tech Soviet tech

Zimmerit in Soviet and German tests

An unusual substance

The Soviets first encountered Zimmerit late in 1943 on Tiger tanks and Panzer IVs. Examining 5 Tiger and 15 Panzer IVs, the Soviets found that the Tigers were covered across the glacis, lower plate, hull sides, turret sides and even the track guards with this grey substance. Measuring it though they found it to be just 2-4mm thick. Of the 15 Panzer IVs captured with Zimmerit, two also had this material on the armored screens mounted on their turrets as well.
A well ‘zimmeritted’ Panzer IV on the Eastern Front, with Zimmerit on the hull and Schurzen as well as the turret screens
A well ‘zimmeritted’ Panzer IV on the Eastern Front, with Zimmerit on the hull and Schurzen as well as the turret screens
The Soviets were initially confused as to the purpose and make-up of the material, but quickly established that it would neither burn nor dissolve (although it would get softer in hot water). Far from thinking it to be a fire hazard, the Soviets initially suspected Zimmerit was some form of protection from incendiary bottles or camouflage, two things the British also considered later.
German records indicated that Zimmerit consisted of 40% Barium Sulphate, 25% Polyvinyl Acetate, 15% Ochre pigment, 10% Zinc Sulphide,
10% Sawdust. The Soviets examining both burned and unburned samples of Zimmerit in April 1944 (the samples provided to them from the front were rather small) found the material to have a melting point of 1100C and to consist of:

  • 53% Barite (Barite is another name for Barium Sulphate)
  • 16-17% Quartz
  • 27% Organic material
  • ~3% unidentified

The Soviet scientists did not receive very much Zimmerit to test but from what little they did have they made two assumptions. One was that the ridges may serve to concentrate the liquid and or heat from flammable liquids. This may melt the coating to extinguish the fire. The other one was that Zimmerit was some kind of winter camouflage due to the greyish color of the material.
Other vehicles found by the Soviets with it included the Panzer S35 and Panzer 38H, both of which were notable enough to be documented with at least one sent to Kubinka for trials, testing, or display.

Former German Army Panzer 38H(f) on show at the Kubinka testing ground in 1945, sporting a coat of either Zimmeritt or Cement
Former German Army Panzer S35 in Soviet hands, date unknown. Reportedly captured in Summer 1944 with a coating of either Zimmerit or Cement.
Former German Army Panzer S35 in Soviet hands, date unknown. Reportedly captured in Summer 1944 with a coating of either Zimmerit or Cement.
Whatever else they may have thought of it though the Soviets do not seem to have been either concerned or impressed by the material. It is possible they did some further testing with it, they probably had more pressing issues to deal with.

Panzer S35 (Captured SOMUA S35) testing Zimmerit
Panzer 38H(f) (Captured Hotchkiss H39) testing zimmerit
Germany 1945, this Panther Ausf A has suffered a significant fire resulting from enemy fire which has scorched off the Zimmerit coating from the hull and turret side.
Germany 1945, this Panther Ausf.A has suffered a significant fire resulting from enemy fire which has scorched off the Zimmerit coating from the hull and turret side.

Was it flammable?

One note of particular interest was the unusual application of Zimmerit to a couple of T-34s. In November 1944, the Germans conducted some limited trials of Zimmerit to test the veracity of the ‘flammability’ rumors. Two captured Soviet T-34 tanks were used for the tests.
T-34 number 1 had Zimmerit applied by the manufacturer, consisting of multiple layers which were properly hardened by means of a blowtorch. T-34 number 2 has just a single layer of Zimmerit applied by range staff in a single layer and left unhardened.
Tank number 2 was then left for 4 days and was completely cold (just 5 Celsius) before the armor was heated with a blow lamp and a welding torch for a period thirty seconds, which resulted in 3-4 seconds of small flames and a slight afterglow. The flames were probably a result of burning off of some of the residue which had not evaporated due to the cold weather, as it was reported that the smell of solvent could still be felt at this time.
The vehicle was left for another 2 days, after which it was heated by means of a camp fire made inside the vehicle. This raised its temperature to about 35 Celsius, and then the vehicle was again blowtorched.This time there were about 20 seconds of small flames and a slight afterglow. It is surmised that the preheating to 35 degrees released all the remaining solvents which were the cause of the flames.
This solvent flammability was found again during testing of ‘wet’, freshly applied, undried Zimmerit. Immediately after application, it was found to burn easily across the whole tank, but was also easily extinguished with just sand. The solvent in wet Zimmerit was, of course, flammable, so this is not a surprising result. Despite these tests and the resultant burning, it was found that the intermediate layer of Zimmerit still did not burn.
After these very elementary tests were finished, some firing trials were carried out on these vehicles with a variety of shells from both the 7.5cm PaK40 and the leFH18, at a range of 250 metres:

  • 7.5 cm Pzgr. 39, dud, no tracer (the shell is listed as being defective)
  • 7.5 cm Pzgr. 39, unmodified
  • 7.5 cm Pzgr. APC M61 Projectile with HE and tracer
  • 7.5 cm Pzgr. 38 Hl/C (?)
  • 7,5 cm PzGr 34
  • FH Gr. Phosphorus

At no time, from any of the impacts on either vehicle, did the Zimmerit catch fire. It was chipped off at the point of impact though and the overall conclusion of the testers was that Zimmerit was not the cause of fires in German tanks.
These German tests therefore sadly do not confirm the Soviet theory about how Zimmerit worked. The camouflaging element was essentially forgotten and the Soviets were winning anyway so wasting time on Zimmerit would have been nothing but a distraction for the Soviets. Despite the results of the tests proving Zimmerit wasn’t flammable, the Germans too dropped it.

An article by Andrew Hills

Other articles in this series

Part I: Zimmerit in German Use
Part III: British work on Zimmerit
Part IV: US work on anti-magnetic coatings

Links & Sources

The links and sources can be found in part I of the Zimmerit series

articles German tech

Zimmerit in German use


Probably one of the more unusual elements of German tanks of WW2 is the substance known as ‘Zimmerit’. This unusual material which many tank enthusiasts and modellers have heard of but do not really know much about is as interesting as it is complicated.
The substance known as Zimmerit is referred to as a non-magnetic coating designed to prevent magnetic mines from adhering to the armor of the tank. Zimmerit first appears in 1943. The DB and Alkett factories started applying it from about November 1943 and an order from the German High Command, OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres), dated the 29th December 1943, called for Zimmerit to be applied to tanks, albeit not on the turrets or track guards. A British wartime report from 1945 later confirmed that development of Zimmerit had begun in 1943 as a counter to Russian infantry assault teams using mines held in place by magnets against German tanks.
Tiger II at Bovington showing its hull and turret Zimmerit.
Tiger II at Bovington showing its hull and turret Zimmerit.

Application and composition

The original order was just to cover the hull of the tank. This is logical as the hull would be the easiest part to reach for enemy infantry armed with magnetic charges. In practice however, it was often applied all over parts of the vehicle, including track guards and turrets, in a wide variety of patterns often varying on a single vehicle.
Examples of different Zimmerit patterns
Examples of different Zimmerit patterns
Examples of different Zimmerit patterns
Different styles of Zimmerit application on the back of the turret of a Panther. Note that neither the cupola nor the roof are coated with Zimmerit. Different styles of Zimmerit application on the back of the turret of a Panther. Note that neither the cupola nor the roof are coated with Zimmerit.
Different styles of Zimmerit application on the back of the turret of a Panther. Note that neither the cupola nor the roof are coated with Zimmerit.
The actual substance was a mixture of materials almost certainly developed by the firm of C.W. Zimmer AG, Berlin (a well known manufacturer of paints) and is a mix of:

  • 40% Barium Sulphate: BaSO4, non-flammable non-water soluble, melting point 1345 C Refractive index 1.64. Main use is in paints and dyes
  • 25% Polyvinyl Acetate: C4H6O2, unbonded it is flammable at 104.4 C. Main use is in adhesives and paints (possible ‘Mowlith 20’ sold to the firm C.W.Zimmer in July 1943 by the firm of I.G. Farbenindustrie A.G. Hochst, Germany. Mowlith 20 was a 50% Benzene mixture)
  • 15% Ochre pigment: such as Goethite (FeO(OH)) and Limonite (Iron 3 Oxide, Fe2O3) is basically Iron Oxide, non-flammable non-water soluble. Main use is in paints and dyes. This ingredient is responsible for the natural yellow colour of unpainted Zimmerit.
  • 10% Zinc Sulphide: ZnS, melting (sublimation) point: 1185 C, non-flammable non-water soluble. Used extensively in infra-red optical materials
  • 10% Sawdust: Cellulose fibers, flammable but once bonded will char creating a thermal barrier.

Unusual application of Zimmerit to side ‘Schurzen’ on these PanthersUnusual application of Zimmerit to side ‘Schurzen’ on these Panthers
Unusual application of Zimmerit to side ‘Schurzen’ on these Panthers
An unusual Panzer IV with Zimmerit covering its Schurzen side plates
An unusual Panzer IV with Zimmerit covering its Schurzen side plates
The paste itself had an unpleasant smell of acetone, but was easy to handle and put onto the vehicle, requiring no preparation of the bare metal surface beforehand. In practice though, a non-corrosive primer was usually applied over the metal surface before the Zimmerit.
This mixture was pasted onto the surface of the vehicle in two applications. The first layer was to be 5mm thick and left to dry for 24 hours, marked out in squares with a metal trowel. A second coat was then applied over this and marked with a metal comb, in order to create a criss-cross pattern to improve adhesion to the first layer. The entire coating was then dried and hardened with a blowtorch. It took less than an hour with a blowtorch to evaporate off the solvents used in the paste and leave it dry, but the whole application, texturing and drying process took a couple of days per vehicle. Even if it were not blowtorch dried, the paste dried out anyway and reached normal hardness within eight days.
Applied correctly, this mixture created a rough hard raised textured surface. It provided not only a poor contact surface for mines, but the texturing also gave a good camouflage finish. Even a small distance between the magnet and the vehicle body reduces the effectiveness of a magnet. This combined with the irregular surface concerned and movement over terrain, was probably quite effective as protection against magnetic weapons.
Factory application of Zimmerit on a PantherFactory application of Zimmerit on a Panther
Factory application of Zimmerit on a Panther

The British investigate

In August 1945, a British team was investigating Zimmerit as a possible means of protection against the Japanese use of magnetic mines in the Pacific. Information had started to be gathered on the substance soon after it was discovered on captured and knocked out enemy vehicles, with samples scraped off and sent for analysis in 1944. Further to the intelligence work on captured samples of Zimmerit, German POW’s had also revealed some of the use of the substance, but it was not until the 14th August 1945 that the British team managed to get some substantive information on the development of Zimmerit and where it came from. That was the day that the British team finally got to the Henschel works in Kassel in Germany. Here the team interviewed the Director of Production about Zimmerit. He recounted that the paste itself was supplied to the Henschel works in drums directly from Chemische Werke Zimmer in Berlin (although other plants were also involved in the manufacture) and had the consistency of soft putty.
Detailed photo of the Saukopfblende gun mantlet from a Jagdpanzer IV showing Zimmerit
Detailed photo of the Saukopfblende gun mantlet from a Jagdpanzer IV showing Zimmerit
The Director of Production revealed that he had thought the order to discontinue the application of Zimmerit was due to the development by the enemy of better anti-tank weapons, rather than because of any safety, production or effectiveness concerns. The order in question had been issued by the OKH on the 9th September 1944 following rumors of Zimmerit causing fires or being flammable. Later German tests would show this to be completely false, but, in either case, there was a significant quantity of Zimmerit left at the Henschel works and the British liberated some 100 tons of it from there. Zimmerit was officially discontinued for factory application from the 9th of September 1944, however, there must have been quantities shipped out to units, as it was not ordered discontinued for field application (which would include foreign maintenance depots and even factories) until the 7th of October.
Panzer IV Ausf H of 26th Pz.Division Italy 1944 with locally applied Zimmerit coating
Panzer IV Ausf H of 26th Pz.Division Italy 1944 with locally applied Zimmerit coating

In use

It is possible that many vehicles got rushed through the application process. As a result some may only have received a single layer of the material due to the constraints on production, or supply. It’s also likely that many vehicles were partially through the process in the factory when the order to discontinue came in. Even at the factories, given the novelty of the material and quality control issues, it is also likely that many vehicles did not get a sufficiently thick two-layer coating. A thin single coating would dry faster so would have aided in speeding factory production. It’s also quite likely that tankers may have imitated Zimmerit on their vehicles using cement.
German soldier spray painting camouflage paint over Zimmerit
German soldier spray painting camouflage paint over Zimmerit
Once applied though, Zimmerit was surprisingly durable. Many vehicles have been dug up after having been buried for decades in rivers or swamps and still retain traces of it. Even battle damage didn’t blast it off the surface, as a shell would only cause localized loss of the material.
Battle damaged Tiger showing resilience of material to combat damage
Battle damaged Tiger showing resilience of material to combat damage
Despite the stated purpose of Zimmerit for protecting against magnetic mines, it’s not clear that it actually worked. Neither the British, Russians, nor the Americans made any notable use of magnetic mines to counter German tanks. Whether or not it actually worked for the stated purpose, it was certainly effective as camouflage and this may serve to explain why so many variations of it exist on a variety of vehicles.

An article by Andrew Hills

Equipment known to have had Zimmerit applied (click link for photo)

Elefant Pz.Kpfw.III N Pz.Kpfw.IV H
Pz.Kpfw.IV J Sd.Kfz.251/8 Ausf.D Wirbelwind
Ostwind Sturmhaubitze 42 Pz.IV L/70
Jagdpanzer IV Sturmgeschütz III G Sturmgeschütz IV
Panzersturmmörser ‘Sturmtiger’ Pz.Kpfw. Panther D Pz.Kpfw. Panther A
Pz.Kpfw. Panther G Bergepanther Tiger II – Henschel
Pz.Kpfw. Tiger Ausf. E Jagdpanther Sd.Kfz.166 ‘Brummbar’
Jagdtiger Tiger II – Porsche  T-34
Churchill Mk.IV Sherman M4A2

Equipment known to have had Zimmerit-like material applied (click link for photo)

Ram Sexton Cromwell 25Pdr gun
Panzer 38H(f) Panzer S35(f)

Other articles in this series

Part II: Zimmerit in Soviet and German tests
Part III: British work on Zimmerit
Part IV: US work on anti-magnetic coatings


OKH Order 29th December 1943
WW2 Infantry Anti-tank Tactics, Gordon Rottman, Osprey Elite Series No.124
21 Army Group AFV Technical Report # 26, Amended
British “Zimmerit”, by Jeffrey D. McKaughan, Museum Ordnance July 1995
Mr. Churchill’s Tank, The British Infantry Tank Mk. IV, Schiffer, 1999
ZIMMERIT; Production and Application Methods, Donald Spalding, AFV NEWS, January – April 1983 issue
Imperial War Museum IMG B9098
‘Rubber Zimmerit?’, Bob Eburne, Military Modelling, Vol.29, No.11, October 1999
“Zimmerit” Anti-Magnetic Plaster for AFVs, British Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee report, Major J.W. Thompson and Mr. C.E. Hollis, July 1945
‘Protection of Jap Tanks Against Sticky Grenades’, Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 25, May 20, 1943.
Zimmerit, Mike Gibb
MUN3435, Imperial War Museum, London
Stuart; A History of the US Light Tank, R.P. Hunnicutt, Presidio Press
Century Tracks No.1, Les sherman Francais de la liberation 1943-1945, Claude Gillono,
Waffen Revue Issue 27
Waffenamt Prüfwesen (WaPrüf) dated 19th November 1944
On Zimmerit, Archive Awareness, 7th August 2013
CAMD RF 38-11369-419, Field Report of substance scraped off German tanks
CAMD RF 38-11355-2219, Laboratory analysis of material submitted for testing Zimmerit, Retrieved from
Battle Experiences Against the Japanese,HQ European Theater of Operations, US Army 1st May 1945
US Military Intelligence Bulletin, 3rd May 1945, Panzerhandmine 3
Stuart Macrae’s “Toy Box”
‘Supplies to the USSR despatched between 1st October 1941 and 31st March 1946’, Russia (British Empire War Assistance) HC Deb 16 April 1946 vol 421 cc2513-9
ТРОфЕИНАЯ БРОНЕТАНКОВАЯ ТЕХНИКА ВЕРМАХТА (Captured Vehicles of the Wehrmacht) 2007
Memorandum on British Armour No.2, Camouflage, dated 21st February 1945
The US M3 Medium Series in Australia, Paul Handel, 2001
Australian Military Modelling Society, M3 Medium Tank by Al Bowie
The Sherman Gallery
Panzer IV: The Panzerkampfwagen IV Medium Tank, 1939-1945 by Kevin Hjermstad
26th Panzer Division in Italy 19433-1945, Daniele Guglielmi
Germany’s Tiger Tanks, D.W. to Tiger I, Thomas Jenzt

articles British tactics German tactics Soviet tactics US tactics

Effectiveness of Tactical Air Strikes in World War II – “Tank busting”

The Hawks with Stump Claws

Literature, movies and video games have contributed to the formation and spreading of historical misconceptions and generated a distorted view on tactical air strikes, not so much to the way they were conducted, but rather their effectiveness in eliminating armored, moving targets. In order to better understand the core issue at hand, combat reports, military studies and their respective evaluations allow an insight into the efficiency of destroying AFVs (Tanks in particular) from the Air.The pilots of every nation partaking in the battles of WW2 (particularly in the ETO, European Theater of Operations) grossly exaggerated the effects and accuracy of their sorties. This paved the way for an inflated view, commonly accepted and still present today. It is noteworthy that certain combat performances varied (faction wide), which made the successes of airstrikes situational, influenced by factors such as sub-optimal weather conditions or air superiority.
The main problem for Close Air Support pilots when engaging enemy armor were the inadequacies of the weaponry mounted on their airplanes, especially their low accuracy. Ergo, strikes would result in the tanks being partially destroyed or superficially damaged (occasionally blown off the road) and, after successful retrieval, sent back to the repair shops. Multiple pilots would sometimes engage the same target (every so often, an already destroyed or burned out vehicle), leading to an even greater disparity between actual losses and claimed tank “kills”. Identifying targets would cause another problem, e.g. the pilot’s ability to distinguish between tanks and APCs.

ETO, Normandy 1944

The Allies possessed air supremacy, coupled with a substantial ammunition, fuel and overall logistical advantage. Airbases were plentiful and accessible, the enemy concentrated in a relatively confined area. The main workhorses of the CAS squadrons were the American Thunderbolt and the British Typhoon.
P-47 Thunderbolt of the 404th Fighter Group in flight over Belgium, March 1945
P-47 Thunderbolt of the 404th Fighter Group in flight over Belgium, March 1945
The P-47 was a robust fighter with a solid high altitude performance dedicated for heavy bomber escort duty. It went through a long list of improvements with later versions being up-armoured and geared up for close air support.
The Hawker Typhoon was initially developed as a high altitude interceptor and as a replacement for the Hawker Hurricane, but several flaws caused the RAF to employ it as a fighter bomber. Armed with four 20mm Hispano cannons (which could only do serious damage to the engine compartment of a tank) it could carry two 500 lbs (227 kg) or 1000 lbs (454 kg) bombs or alternatively, eight unguided type RP-3 rockets.
These recoilless projectiles consisted of a propellant filled steel tube with an armour piercing (or high explosive) shell screwed into the warhead. Four fins stabilized the rocket’s trajectory. The range and armor piercing capabilities were sufficient for anti-armor duties, but a trial conducted by the RAF under best possible conditions revealed the low precision of unguided rockets: In two attack runs, four Typhoons fired all of their 64 rockets on a stationary, pre-painted Panther and only three managed to hit the marked tank.
A Hawker Typhoon armed with rockets and 20 mm cannons
A Hawker Typhoon armed with rockets and 20 mm cannons 

All bark, no bite

In August 1944, the RAF claimed to have destroyed 135 tanks in the Goodwood area (Battle for Caen). In order to analyze the weapons and tactics employed and to evaluate the damage that was done on given targets, a small team of researchers was usually dispatched to the corresponding battleground, a common practice in most armies of that time. The British “Office of Research and Analysis” conclusion was eye-opening and contradicted the RAF pilots’ over enthusiastic display: Of the 300 examined vehicles, only 10 were actually hit and damaged by the Typhoon’s RP-3 rockets.
Mortain is another candidate of such over-claiming, between the 7th and 10th August, the 2nd Tactical Air Force of the 9th USAAF claimed to have destroyed 120-140 tanks, yet of the 46 Axis tanks lost, only 9 of them could be attributed to aircraft. In fact, in the entire Normandy campaign, the Germans lost no more than 100 tanks to Allied sorties. 13 Tiger tanks were affected, however seven of them lost to massive high altitude bombing on the 18th of July and only 6 of the German heavy tanks could be attributed to the low altitude air raids of the Allied pilots.
A salvo of RP-3 rockets, as seen from the gun camera of a Hawker Typhon, heads towards some German petrol wagons
A salvo of RP-3 rockets, as seen from the gun camera of a Hawker Typhon, heads towards some German petrol wagons
Another noteworthy case would be Falaise: The tactical and operational conditions in the pocket constrained the German units to “forced march” during daytime. This, along with optimal weather conditions, amplified the RAF’s and USAAF’s chances of success, which resulted merely in a minimal increase of destroyed tanks. In retrospect, traversing open fields did not necessarily result in a high tank loss ratio.
Ironically, low altitude attacks could become very dangerous for the attacking aircraft, especially if the strafed tank formations were protected by a serious amount of Flak/AA guns. The 2nd Tactical Air Force lost 829 aircraft and the 9th Fleet lost 897 throughout the whole Normandy campaign, the majority of the casualties being close support fighter-bombers.
Field Marshall Rommel contributed to a further solidification of these myths. In one of his memoirs, he stated:
“ For the first and most serious danger which now threatened us -was from the air. This being so, we could no longer rest our defence on the motorised forces used in a mobile role, since these forces were too vulnerable to air attack. We had instead to try to resist the enemy in field positions which had to be constructed for defence against the most modern weapons of war”
His personal experience may have clouded his view. On the 17th July 1944 a low attacking plane strafed his limousine and injured Rommel near Sainte-Foy-de-Montgommery.

The Luftwaffe

The Luftwaffe’s tactical capabilities were initially rather limited. The infamous Junkers Ju 87 dive bomber, easily recognizable by its inverted gull wings, was suitable for this task. The final version, the Ju-87G, dubbed the Kanonenvogel (“Cannon bird”), carried twin 37 mm cannons (BK 3,7).
A Ju-87G and a HS-129, the German dedicated tank busters
The Henschel Hs 129 B1 and B2, twin engine aircraft marked an attempt to create a dedicated tank buster, mounted with a 75mm board cannon. The results were unsatisfactory. Paired with the Henschel’s and Ju87’s particularly high vulnerability to AA fire, the Luftwaffe switched to the”Jabo” (“Jagdbomber”, fighter bomber) version of the FW190 single seat, single engine fighter, the F-8 and FW190 G.
A German FW190 pilot explains how low-altitude attacks against tanks were performed:
“Against the enemy tanks and armoured vehicles we usually made skip-bombing attacks, running at speeds of around 485km/h at between 4 and 10 metres above the ground and releasing the bomb just as the tank disappeared beneath our engine cowling. The 250kg bombs used during these attacks would either skip off the ground and into the tank or else smash straight into the tank.
The bombs were fused with a one-second delay to give us time to get clear before they went off. It was a very accurate form of attack and we used it often against tanks caught in open country.”

The OKH (“Oberkommando des Heeres”, German “Supreme High Command” or “High Command of the Army”) was aware of the notoriously exaggerated claims their combat units would report and applied a correction system (i.e. 30-50% for ground units and usually 50% for the Air Forces). Inflated numbers and errors could result in a misjudgment of enemy forces.
From January 1944 to September 30th 1944, the German Army reported to have destroyed 23,070 AFVs (actual, irrecoverable losses for the RKKA amounted to 23,700 AFVs, 29,009 “evacuated”, during the entirety of 1944, around 18,000 up to September). During the same period, the Luftwaffe claimed to have destroyed 1847 tanks and SPGs. Correcting this figure with the given methodology would lead to 923 destroyed vehicles, a number that may be still over-inflated. Assuming that the Luftwaffe destroyed or damaged 80-100 tanks on a monthly basis (depending on the combat intensity, which peaked in the 2nd and 3rd quarter of ‘44), this would indicate that not more than 4-6% of all tanks on the Eastern Front were destroyed by air strikes.

The VVS at Kursk 1943

The VVS (Военно-воздушные силы, Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily) could rely on the Ilyushin 2 “Sturmovik” for air strikes. A sturdy, single engine, heavily armoured, low wing, two seater (pilot, rear gunner) monoplane, it was dubbed “flying tank” by the troops. Outfitted with two 23mm (or 37mm guns on the Il-2M3) guns, it could carry up to eight RS-82 or four RS 132 rockets. Soviet literature described it as the most effective ground attack plane of World War II. Another option was to outfit the Sturmovik with special designated anti-tank bombs, so called PTABs.
An Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik, Fall 1942, Ukraine
An Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik, Fall 1942, Ukraine
The PTAB (Russian ПТАБ, which stands for Противотанковая Авиабомба, “Antitank Aviation Bomb”) was a hollow charge bomb filled with 1.5 kg of explosives, capable of penetrating up to 70 mm of armour.
The effectiveness of these bombs proved to be limited. West of Belgorod, the Soviet Air Force claimed to have destroyed over 270 tanks of the 3rd Panzer Division on one single day. The 6th Regiment of the 3rd Panzer Division possessed 90 tanks in total (on the 1st of July). Ten days later, on the 11th of July, 41 operational tanks were reported, a difference of 49 tanks. Similar statements appear about the bombing run on the 17th Panzer Division, which had only one tank battalion with 67 tanks committed to the fighting in the Belgorod-Kharkov area (the only unit not assigned to a defensive role). Here, the VVS stated to have destroyed 240 tanks in just a few hours. German combat reports show a larger concern about concentrated AT positions (and minefields), which caused the majority of AFV losses during Operation Citadel. Air strikes were usually described as “a mere nuisance”.
Between the 5th and 14th July, the 2nd Air Army dropped 69,000 PTABs alongside 7448 RS-82 rockets during the defensive phase of the Battle of Kursk. The Soviet Air forces claimed to have disabled 3147 tanks and assault guns in the same period (actual losses amounted to 849 tanks for the whole month of July). If we accept the Soviet numbers this would still indicate that PTABs had to be dropped in large clusters to cause any significant damage.
A carpet of PTAB bombs launched from a Sturmovik.

Further Examples of “overclaiming”

At Kursk, the Soviet 1st Tank Army lost 648 tanks with 82 breakdowns. German aircraft destroyed only 11 of their tanks.
In the Ardennes offensive, the Germans lost 101 tanks from the 16th December of 1944 to the 16th January of 1945, (39 were abandoned), of these only 6 to Allied sorties.
Consequently, given reports and combat analysis indicate that air strikes were responsible for 2-7% of all tank losses during WWII. It should be pointed out that the Western Allies were probably the most successful at this task. However, it must be also stressed out that the effectiveness of such attacks depended on the circumstances and quantity of planes involved in the respective size of the front. To illustrate the dimensions, it is wise to compare the amount of aircraft available for ground support in proportion to the area and enemy units it had to cover and engage.
During Operation Barbarossa, the Luftwaffe had at its disposal one airplane for every 2500 enemies. Each German plane had to cover an area of 500km² (195 sqmi). In Normandy, the Allied Expeditionary Air Force could field one plane for every 100 enemy soldiers. On average, there was one Allied aircraft for every 1km² (0,39 sqmi).


It should be emphasized that during WWII, tactical air-ground support was still in its infancy. Hitting small, well armored or shifting targets tended to be a difficult task, especially if the attacking plane had only a brink amount of time to aim at the target. Even today for helicopters or “tank busting” aircraft (A10, Su-24, F-16, AH-64, Hind), it can be relatively difficult, despite the availability of guided weapon systems.
World War II aircraft could only carry a limited amount of air to ground bombs or missiles and on sustained fire, the main guns were prone to overheating. Machine guns had trouble penetrating more than 10 mm of top armor. On the other hand, autocannons proved to be rather unreliable, further increasing the plane’s weight, impacting flight characteristics.
Generally speaking, the true nature of tactical, close support aircraft was primarily recon, attacking stationary targets and the ability to wreak havoc on the rear echelons and supply lines. The disruptive effect would ultimately influence the unit’s behavior (forcing it to abandon offensives or to maneuver through woods), decision making, tactics and morale. After all, it was the destruction of bridges and railroads that had the biggest impact on the German Army in France, adding substantially to the already disastrous logistical situation and pre-existing shortages of fuel.
An article by Stiltzkin


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