One of the most recognizable tanks of the Third Reich was the Panzerkampfwagen V “Panther”. Created as a replacement for the medium Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks and as a “response” to the Soviet KV and T-34, the Panther was a formidable opponent on the battlefield. A powerful and rapid-firing gun, good aiming devices for the crew, and strong frontal armor made the vehicle excellent in both defensive and offensive operations. Panthers captured by the Red Army were highly valued. During the war, Soviet troops captured a significant number of serviceable or damaged, but recoverable Pz.Kpfw.Vs, and even combat units of the Red Army were created on their basis. The option of rearming them with “domestic” guns was also considered, however, the T-V-85 appeared too late, and the end of the war left it no chance of appearing in reality.
The Medium Cat of the Wehrmacht
The first considerations for a new medium tank which could replace the Panzer III and Panzer IV appeared in 1938, with the VK20 project series, a fully tracked vehicle weighing ~20 tonnes. Design proposals by Daimler Benz, Krupp, and MAN ensued, but soon, these designs were abandoned and Krupp dropped out of the competition entirely. The requirements increased to a vehicle weighing 30 tonnes as a reaction to the encounters with the Soviet T-34 and KV-1 tanks.
At the insistence of General Heinz Guderian, a special tank commission was created to assess the T-34. Among the features of the Soviet tank considered most significant were the sloping armor, which gave much improved shot deflection and also increased the effective armor thickness against penetration that could be achieved with thinner plates, the wide tracks, which improved mobility over soft ground; and the 76 mm gun, which had good armor penetration and also fired an effective high-explosive round. All this outclassed the existing models of the German Panzer III and IV. Daimler-Benz (DB), which had designed the successful Panzer III and StuG III, and Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg AG (MAN) were given the task of designing a new 30- to 35-tonne tank, designated VK 30, by April 1942.
MAN’s design won the competition, despite DB’s one having several advantages and having the admiration of the Reich’s Ministers for Armaments and Munitions, Fritz Todd and his successor, Albert Speer. One of the principal reasons given for this decision was that the MAN design used an existing turret designed by Rheinmetall-Borsig, while the DB design would have required a brand new turret and engine to be designed and produced, delaying the mass production of the vehicle.
The initial production target was 250 tanks per month at the MAN plant at Nuremberg. The first production Panther tanks were designated Panther Ausf.D, not Ausf.A. Later production targets were increased to 600 per month in January 1943. Despite determined efforts, this figure was never reached due to disruption by Allied bombing, and manufacturing and resource bottlenecks. Production in 1943 averaged 148 tanks per month. In 1944, it averaged 315 a month, with 3,777 built throughout the year. Monthly production peaked at 380 in July 1944. Production ended around the end of March 1945, with at least 6,000 built in total. A Panther tank cost 117,100 Reichsmark (~US$60 mln in 2022) to produce.
Panther in Soviet Use
By the middle of 1943, the Red Army already had experience in operating the PzKpfw.38 (t), PzKpfw.II, PzKpfw.III, and PzKpfw.IV, as well as self-propelled guns based on them. However, the use of Pz.Kpfw.V was a very difficult task, requiring appropriate training of crews and the availability of a repair base. Soviet tankers, lacking necessary experience in operating such complex and foreign equipment, often disabled Panthers after driving 15–20 km, and then could not repair them due to the lack of necessary spare parts, tools, and the experience in repairing such vehicles.
The headquarters of the 4th Guards Tank Army reported to the GBTU of the Red Army:
“These tanks (Pz.Kpfw.V) are difficult to operate and repair. There are no spare parts for them, which leaves no chance for their maintenance.
To fuel the tanks, it is necessary to provide for an uninterrupted supply of high-quality aviation gasoline. In addition, there are big problems with ammunition for the German 75 mm tank gun mod. 1942 (Kw.K. 42), since the ammunition from the gun mod. 1940 (Kw.K.40) is unsuitable for the Panther tank.
We believe that a German tank of the Pz.Kpfw. IV type is more suitable for carrying out offensive operations, as it has a simpler layout, is easy to operate and repair, and is also widely used in the German army.”
However, since the Pz.Kpfw.V was armed with a gun with excellent ballistic characteristics, it had the ability to fight enemy armored vehicles at distances exceeding the effective firing range of Soviet 76 and 85 mm tank guns, which partially compensated for the complexity of its combat operation. In addition, the excellent, by the standards of that time, radio and aiming devices made the Panther a good command vehicle.
In the first half of 1944, the GBTU KA considered the use of serviceable captured Panthers as tank destroyers. In March 1944, a “Short Guide of Using the Captured T-V (‘Pantera’) Tank” was released.
In January 1944, by order of the Deputy Commander of the 3rd Guards Tank Army, Major General Solovyov, one platoon of the most experienced repair engineers was created in the 41st and 148th Separate Repair and Restoration Battalions, which were later involved in the repair and maintenance of the captured Panthers. The 991st Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment (46th Army of the 3rd Ukrainian Front) had 16 SU-76Ms and 3 Panthers, which were used as command vehicles. In spring 1945, in addition to heavy ISU-152 self-propelled guns and several captured Hummels and Nashorns, there were 5 Pz.Kpfw.V and one Pz.Kpfw.IV in use in the unit.
It is worth noting that the drivers of the Pz.Kpfw.V had to choose their route very carefully. In places where the light SU-76M passed freely, the heavy Panther could get stuck. Overcoming water barriers was also a major issue. Not all bridges could sustain a tank weighing 45 tonnes, and after fording a river, there were almost always difficulties in getting the Pz.Kpfw.V onto a steep bank.
On 28th November 1944, the Artillery Committee at the Main Artillery Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of the USSR (AK GAU) issued tactical and technical requirements No. 2820 “For the installation of domestic weapons in the turrets of captured German tanks T-IV, T-V, T-VI and the Royal Tiger” (due to the lack of a full-scale model of the Pz.Kpfw.VI Tiger II turret, the study of the change of armament on this tank with a domestic gun was not carried out), including the adaptation of these turrets as stationary firing structures. Simply put, OKB-43 needed to take the turrets from captured tanks, replace the German guns with Soviet ones, along with sights, and further adapt them for installation on armored vehicles.
In January 1945, GSOKB (рус. Государственное Союзное Особое Конструкторское бюро – State Union Special Design Bureau) No. 43 at the NKV (рус. Народный Комиссариат Вооружения СССР – Ministry of Armaments of the USSR) presented a project for installing the latest 100 mm D-10T tank gun, which in the future would become the main armament of the T-54 medium tank, with the Soviet TSh-17 sight, in the turret of the T-VI tank (how “trophy” “Tigers” were designated in the USSR) while retaining its gun mantlet. This conversion process was estimated at 90 hours of work. The conversion provided for the installation of a shell casing removal system, which simplified the work of the turret crew.
Another conversion that had to take place at that time was replacing the German 7.5 cm KwK 42 gun on the Pz.Kpfw.V Panther tank with the 85 mm Soviet one. Not many details are known about this project. The whole process of gun replacement was estimated at 120 hours of work. More than that, it is highly likely that the vehicle could also gain new Soviet sights and 7.62 mm machine guns instead of German Maschinengewehr 34 (MG 34).
T-IV-76 with F-34
T-IV-76 with ZiS-5
Gouging and milling
Forging, pressing and bending works
Fitter and assemblyman hours, 5 people per team
Head of Special Design Bureau (OKB-43) – Salin;
Senior technologist – Petrov;
January 3, 1945
New gun: ZiS-S-53
The exact model of the 85 mm gun is not mentioned in any of the known documents. Fortunately, it can easily be deduced. Firstly, a new gun was not an option, as in this case, rearming the Panthers would not fulfill the tasks set of a cheap and easily-made conversion. Secondly, the new gun should not have differed significantly from the 7.5 cm KwK 42 and allow the Panther to continue to perform as usual, without any impact on its mobility and other specifications. Hence, two main candidates appear: the 85 mm D-5T and the 85 mm ZiS-S-53.
85 mm D-5T
0.164 kg TNT
0.048 kg charge
(0.07392 kg TNT eq.)
0.66 kg TNT
142 mm pen
145 mm pen
194 mm pen
Parameters of penetration are given for 0 m and 0°.
85 mm D-5T parameters. (source — ZA DB, Pablo Escobar’s gun table)
The history of the 85 mm D-5T gun dates back to May 1943, when the Design Bureau of Plant No. 9 reworked the design of the U-12 gun and offered its own version of the 85 mm tank gun. The new product received the D-5T (or D-5T-85) index and differed from the U-12 by a semi-automatic breech mechanism borrowed from the ZIS-5 gun, as well as some recoil brake and recoil system assemblies. The tight layout of the gun and the short length of its rollback allowed it to be installed in the turret of any existing heavy tank without altering the turret. The gun compared favorably to the S-18 and S-31, with a small recoil length and breech mass, but had a large number of small details and parts, which required precise processing.
Four tanks were tested together (two IS and two KV-1S tanks), armed with S-31 and D-5T guns. Trials demonstrated the great operational advantages of the D-5T gun, which was adopted by the Soviet Army. At the same time, Plant No. 9 was preparing for the mass production of new guns. The peculiarities of the D-5T resulted in difficulties in production for the plant. The plan for the production of 85 mm tank guns for the KV-85 and IS-85 was hardly fulfilled by Plant No. 9, but its capacity was clearly not enough for another gun order for the T-34-85. Factories No. 8 and No. 13 involved in the production could not build this new gun, as they were unprepared for such a complex device. From 1st March 1944, the production of the 85 mm tank gun D-5T ceased.
85 mm ZiS-S-53
0.164 kg TNT
0.048 kg charge
(0.07392 kg TNT eq.)
0.66 kg TNT
142 mm pen
145 mm pen
194 mm pen
Parameters of penetration are given for 0 m and 0°.
85 mm ZiS-S-53 ammunition parameters. Note they were almost identical to D-5T’s. (source — ZA DB, Pablo Escobar’s gun table)
Fulfilling the order of the NKVD (rus. for ‘People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs’) to create an 85 mm cannon for the T-34, TsAKB, alongside plant No. 92, quickly carried out complex design work and, by 10th December 1943, two 85 mm artillery systems, the S-50 and the S-53, were tested at the TSLKB firing range.
The S-50 gun (developed by V. Meshchaninov, L. Boglevsky, and V. Tyurin), which had improved ballistics (the initial velocity of the BB projectile was 920 m/s), was not so successful.
The S-53 differed from other similar guns in its simple design and reliability. It was created by the group consisting of I. Ivanov, G. Shabirov, and G. Sergeev. The recoil brake and the recoil system were moved under the base of the breechlock, which made it possible to reduce the height of the firing line and increase the distance between the breech section and the rear wall of the turret. The metal usage coefficient (the ratio of the mass of a part to the standard metal consumption for that part) in the S-53 was very high, and its cost was lower than those of the F-34 and the D-5T. Within 2 months, all the necessary design and technological documentation was prepared for the production of the gun, and on 5th February 1944, the gun went into mass production.
Considering all the factors, the ZiS-S-53 seems to have been the most optimal choice for rearming captured German Panthers. It had a simple design, compact size, and was rather reliable. Moreover, in spring 1945, a version with stabilizer was developed, the ZiS-S-54, which could possibly have been installed later.
Project Description – Comparison with the Panther Ausf.G
The Soviet military command liked the proposal to instal the Soviet ZiS-S-53 gun, which had proven itself on T-34-85 medium tanks, in the turret of the German Panther tank. Its breech took the same amount of space as the German KwK 42, despite the larger caliber.
75 mm KwK 42 L/70
17 g charge
(28.9 TNT eq.)
725 g TNT
187 mm pen
226 mm pen
Parameters of penetration are given for 0 m and 0°.
The 75 mm KwK 42’s ammunition parameters (source — ZA DB, Pablo Escobar’s gun table)
APHEBC – Armor-Piercing High Explosive with Ballistic Cap;
APCR – Armour-Piercing Composite Rigid
HE – High Explosive
All in all, the new Soviet gun was significantly worse than the German original in penetration and shell flight speed. On the other hand, the ZiS-S-53 was adopted by the Soviet Army in 1944, almost a year before T-V-85 was developed, hence its mass production was well organized by then, and soldiers were used to it.
Like the T-VI-100 project, the T-V-85 would most likely have had similar changes. The German 7.92 mm MG 34 would have been replaced by the Soviet 7.62 mm DT and the TSh-17 sights (later used on the IS-2 and IS-3 Soviet tanks) would replace the original TFZ-12A sights. It can be assumed that the machine gun in the hull would also have been replaced by a DT, although there is no documentary substantiation of this hypothesis.
Unlike in the T-VI-100, the space inside the T-V-85’s turret would have remained almost the same as on the Panther. As a result, elevation arcs would have been nearly identical (-8°/+18° in the frontal part and -4°/+18° in the rear).
However, just like for the T-VI-100 proposal, many other problems would remain unresolved on the T-V-85. There were no considerations on replacing the transmission, engine, and other hull components with Soviet ones, which means that repairing the tanks would have been problematic. Obviously, had the T-V-85 been converted from Panthers, in field use, all the challenges associated in using captured German vehicles by the Red Army would have been preserved, to the great displeasure of crews and mechanics.
The Fate and Prospects of the Project
In general, the project was judged positively and was approved by the High Command, but things did not move beyond the project documentation. By spring 1945, the need for such projects had disappeared due to the proximity of the end of the war in Europe.
The Panther itself was outdated by 1945 when compared to the newest medium tanks of that time, the Soviet T-44/T-54, the British Cromwell, Comet, and Centurion, or the American M26 Pershing. Its armor could no longer “surprise” anyone, but almost 50 tonnes of mass was a serious drawback. All this indicates that had the T-V-85 been conceived, it would have hardly been able to perform well, even as a tank destroyer.
It seems, however, that there was another possible option for using the developments on the project, selling a “modified” version to third countries. However, the logic behind this seems flawed, as for most of these, especially those that never operated such a medium tank before, the “Panther”, even with a 85 mm gun (even with stabilizer and newest post-war ammunition), would probably not have been needed. Germany itself was not allowed to have its own army for some years. For the emerging Soviet Bloc countries, such as Czechoslovakia, Hungary, or Poland, especially those bordering what would become NATO, the T-V-85 might have been a good temporary stopgap for their weakened armies until Soviet supplies of T-34-85s, T-54s, etc. would have become the norm. It is important to keep in mind that plans including Operation Unthinkable, a British invasion of East Germany, were actively developed, and tremendously dangerous for the weakened and war-torn USSR and its satellites at that time. The first frontlines of a hypothetical Third World War would surely have been in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, it is doubtful that rearming an outdated, and difficult to maintain captured tank type was easier and more useful for the aforementioned countries than waiting for the mass-produced T-34 or T-54.
The T-V-85 tank project, like many of its counterparts, belongs to the category of “the war ended too soon”. Although this was a fairly reasonable alternative to the simple disposal of captured vehicles, serious improvements were still required for its full-fledged and practical implementation, especially to the hull.
T-V-85 specifications table
Length: 8.86 m
Length (without gun): 6.866 m
Width: 3.42 m
Height: 2.917 m
Total weight, battle ready
5 men (commander, gunner, loader, radio operator, and driver)
Water-cooled, gasoline Maybach HL 230 P30 V12 motor producing 600 hp at 2500 rpm
coupled to a ZF A.K.7/200 transmission
46 km/h (28.6 mph)
On road: 200 km
Cross-country: 100 km
85 mm ZiS-S-53
-8°/+18° (frontal part), -4°/+18° (rear part)
2 x 7.62 mm DT
85 mm (55°) upper frontal
65 mm (55°) lower frontal
50 mm (29°) upper side
40 (vertically flat) lower side
40 mm (30°) rear
40-15 mm (horizontally flat) roof
17 mm (horizontally flat) engine deck
30 mm (horizontally flat) frontward belly
17 mm (horizontally flat) rearward belly
17 mm (horizontally flat) pannier
110 mm (10°) frontal
45 mm (25°) side and rear
30 mm roof
0, blueprints only;
Special author’s thanks to his colleagues: Andrej Sinyukovich and Pablo Escobar.
United States of America (1935-1938)
Light Tank – 237 Built (M2A2), 73 Built (M2A3)
Introduction: “Imitation is the Best Form of Flattery”
By 1935, the light tanks of the United States armed forces were beginning to resemble what would later become the iconic M3/M5 “Stuart” series of tanks that saw extensive service during the Second World War. Introduced in 1935, the Infantry’s M2A1 light tank had many similarities to the Cavalry’s M1 “Combat Car” of 1934 and its variants, as they had been designed concurrently. The hull and running gear, consisting of a front drive sprocket, raised rear idler, and a pair of vertical volute spring suspension (VVSS) bogies per side, were visually nearly identical between the two. The vehicles were also armed only with machine guns. Where the vehicles differed was in their turrets. The M2A1 featured a rounded turret that tapered inward towards the mantlet, whereas the M1 had a flatter, wider turret. The M2A1 also had a dedicated commander’s cupola.
The M2 Light Tank: Rapid Modernization
Before the M1 Combat Car and M2 Light Tank models were approved for production, attempts to effectively mechanize the armed forces of the US had been a struggle. Funding was relatively scarce, as the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression. This also coincided with past debates within the Army on how truly effective armor could be in future conflicts. The National Defense Act of 1920 had restructured, regulated, and disseminated the military, as well as its ability to procure new weapons systems. A clear example of this regulation was the designation of the Calvary’s aforementioned M1 Combat Car, as the Act denied the branch the ability to operate “tanks” by name.
Many previous designs had been largely prototypical, or had an extremely limited production run. By the 1930s, the tank reserves of the US Army consisted mostly of either outdated models, or overly ambitious dead-end designs. Outmoded tanks such as the Mark VIII Heavy (practically of World War I vintage) were still in service in 1932.
In the spring of 1933, George Dern, the Secretary of War, decreed that development of new light tanks and combat cars should commence. Of the parameters put forth, importance was placed on a maximum weight of roughly 6.8 metric tonnes, or 7.5 US tons. Previous designs such as the Combat Car T4E1 had proven to be mobile, utilizing Christie-type suspension and a controlled differential, but they were heavier, with a weight of 8.1 tonnes or 9 US tons. The Combat Car T4E1 also ended up being almost twice as expensive as subsequent designs.
On 23 April, 1934, Combat Car T5 and Light Tank T2 were demonstrated at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Both vehicles had been designed and built by Rock Island Arsenal, and as such, they shared many similarities. They were not, however, without their differences. Combat Car T5 featured VVSS bogies, and oddly enough, it initially had two open-top turrets, which would not be retained. Combat Car T5 would eventually be accepted for service as Combat Car M1. On the other hand, Light Tank T2 utilized semi-elliptical leaf spring bogies, reminiscent to those found on the British-designed Vickers 6-ton. The tracks and the turret also differed from the production model M2A1.
Following the trials, it was found that the dated leaf spring type suspension of the T2 was less robust, less flexible, and provided a worse ride than the VVSS system. The T2 pilot would be modified to accept the new tracks and running gear. At some point, a Hispano-Suiza 20 mm autocannon and a cupola were added to the unique turret, but neither the armament nor the turret would appear on any future tanks. Following the modifications, T2 was redesignated T2E1. It was accepted for service and standardized as Light Tank M2A1 in 1935.
From M2A1 to M2A2: Why Two Turrets?
Excluding the T2E1, only 9 additional M2A1 tanks would be produced before production was shifted to the revised model, the M2A2. The most obvious change from the M2A1 to the M2A2 was the layout of the armament. The M2A2 sported two turrets instead of one. The twin-turret layout was put on trial with the experimental Light Tank T2E2. Much as Light Tank T2 had adopted the VVSS system from Combat Car T5, the idea behind the twin turrets was also adapted from the T5. The tank was accepted for service not long after the M2A1 had itself been approved. As the two variants were compared throughout trials, the twin-turret M2A2 was preferred. The tank was slated for mass production in 1936.
The design choice to mount two separate turrets can be explained through a few different means. Firstly, the driveshaft of the M2 series of tanks ran through the entire crew compartment, from the rear-mounted engine to the front-mounted transmission. It was mounted rather high, because the crankshaft of the radial engine was in the center of the tall powerplant. Due to this, the turret crew would likely be straddling and maneuvering around this obstacle while attempting to operate the single larger turret. Placing two smaller turrets side by side placed the crew on either side of the driveshaft, removing it as an obstacle.
Another reason for the multi-turret setup could have been the perceived benefit of dividing the labor, so to speak. Having two turrets meant that the machine guns could be brought to bear on different targets at the same time, and turret crew members could engage threats individually.
The practice of placing multiple turrets on tanks was far from unheard of in the interwar period, in fact, it was arguably an iconic signifier of the era. While the larger tanks of the period are often associated with multi-turreted layouts, smaller multi-turret designs also existed. Interwar tanks, such as the Char 2C and Vickers Medium Mark III, had two and three turrets, respectively. The British A1E1 Independent and Soviet T-35A boasted five turrets. Most notably, the Vickers 6-ton, a popular export model, had a twin-turret variant. Naturally, some of the foreign licensed models of the 6-ton, such as the Soviet T-26 and Polish 7TP Type A, had tandem turrets too.
In practice, the multi-turreted design philosophy proved to have its flaws. The additional weight often strained the drivetrains of the era and thus reduced reliability and maneuverability. The reduced performance often also translated into limited armor thickness, in order to avoid additionally overstressing drivetrain components. The separation of the crew also led to communication issues. Finally, the turrets simply took up space. The traverse for both of the turrets on the M2A2 was limited to roughly 180º each, and the turret housing the M2HB Browning .50 caliber (12.7 mm) main armament could not come to bear on any targets to the right of the vehicle.
Design of the M2A2: Foundations of Success
Turrets: “Night after Night”
The turrets of the M2A2 were not identical. The larger commander’s turret housed the .50 caliber M2HB machine gun in an M9 mount, and the gunner’s turret housed a .30 caliber M1919 (A3 or A4) machine gun in an M12E1 mount. Some sources state that the commander’s turret could also house a .30 caliber M1919A4 in an M9A1 mount, and the gunner’s turret could equip a .30 caliber variant of the M2HB in a M14 mount. For ease of identification within this article, the commander’s turret will be referred to as mounting the .50 caliber M2HB, and the gunner’s turret the .30 caliber M1919.
The commander’s turret shared many features with the original M2A1 turret. It had a dedicated vision cupola as well as a similar shape and gun mantlet. The M1919 .30 caliber gunner’s turret also had a small raised portion above the turret front to aid in vision. Both turrets had dedicated single piece hatches atop them, and a plethora of vision/pistol ports could be found on all sides of both turrets. The twin turret layout of the M2A2 led to it being given the nickname “Mae West”, allegedly in reference to the movie actress’ busty figure.
There were early and late variants of the turrets. Early variants of both turrets were rounded at the rear, forming a teardrop shape tapering in towards the front.
The later turret pairs were angular, composed of flat, vertical plates. The larger turret had eight sides, the smaller had seven. All M2A2 tanks that used the later turrets also had revised angular engine covers. At the front of the turrets, different mantlets could be found. The mantlet for the M2 .50 caliber was a curved rectangular plate, while the mantlet for the M1919A3 .30 caliber was an oblong rounded piece, situated diagonally. Both mantlets appear to have allowed their armaments to be aimed horizontally independently of the turret. This is known as an armament’s “azimuth” within its mount, and it was a feature on many interwar tanks. In simpler terms, the mantlets acted as ball mounts on the turret face.
Both variants of the turrets were of riveted construction. Traverse was accomplished manually by means of a hand crank. Both turrets could rotate slightly more than 180º. The larger turret ring was 89.7 cm (35.3 in.) in diameter, the smaller turret ring was 74.9 cm (29.5 in.). The turret mounted machine guns were both given shoulder stocks to aid in stabilization. Armor for both of the turrets and the commander’s cupola was 16 mm (roughly 0.625 in) on all sides. The turret roof armor was 6.4 mm (0.25 in) thick. The gun mantlet armor was also 16 mm thick. This armor would sufficiently protect the turret crew against most small arms fire, but even sustained heavy machine gun fire, let alone dedicated anti-tank weaponry, could likely penetrate the turrets.
Hull: “My Little Chickadee”
The hull of the M2A2 was rather boxy, although certain sections of armor were somewhat sloped. The upper, middle, and lower frontal armor plates were sloped at 17º, 69º, and 21º from vertical, respectively. All frontal armor was uniformly 16 mm (0.625 in) thick. The sloped frontal glacis had a protruding ball mount for the hull gunner. In this bow position, an M1919 machine gun in an M10 or M13 mount (or a .30 caliber M2HB in an M8 mount, according to some sources) could be accepted. Two headlights could be found atop the front fenders, and two utility hooks and a single shackle were located on the lower armor plate.
The upper frontal armor could be completely opened up, through a variety of hinged plates, to allow for easy egress of the vehicle. Even the sides of the frontal hull position could be swung open to allow for superb visibility when not buttoned up. The sloping frontal glacis in front of the driver also had a hinged plate that opened outwards, but the same could not be said for the hull gunner. The vision hatches could be propped up via rods to remain in the open position. To either side of the frontal crew positions were square sponson armor plates, also 16 mm thick.
The side armor of the M2A2 was completely vertical at 13 mm (0.5 in) thick on both the upper and lower plates. The roof and floor armor was 6.4 mm (0.25 in) thick. As with the turrets, this armor was sufficient to protect the crew from small arms and rifle caliber fire, and not much else. It is clear that the M2 series of light tanks fell into the ‘speed is armor’ school of thought. The sides of the tank had mounting points for entrenching equipment and tools. Eventually, additional side brackets would be added.
At the upper rear of the tank, the radial engine was shrouded by vented, semi-circular armor that conformed to the engine. Later tanks had an angular engine shroud. Engine intake air filters and exhausts were located on either side of the shroud. The lower rear plate was slightly angled, with a shackle on either side. Rear armor was 6.4 mm thick.
Drivetrain: “The Heat’s On”
The M2A2 was powered by the Continental R-670 (also referred to as the W-670) installed in the rear. Like other American tank engines of the period, this unit was also known for its usage in aircraft. The 7-cylinder four-stroke radial engine was air cooled. It had a bore of 5.125 inches and stroke of 5.625 inches, resulting in a displacement of 670 cubic inches, hence the name, W-670.
Throughout its manufacture, the M2A2 would be powered by a few different versions of the engine. The R-670-3, R-670-5, and W-670-7 produced 250 net hp at 2,400 rpm and 791 Newton-meters (584 ft lbs) of torque at 1,800 rpm, while the R-670-3C and W-670-8 produced 235 net hp at 2,400 rpm and 800 Nm (590 ft lbs) of torque at 1,800 rpm. With 250 hp and weighing in at 8.527 tonnes (9.55 US tons), the tank had a power-to-weight ratio of 28.86 hp per tonne. This was a substantial amount of power for a light tank of its weight.
M2A2 light tank footage:
The power was sent through the driveshaft to the manual transmission at the front, a unit with 5 forward and 1 reverse speeds. Steering was achieved through a controlled differential, with a mechanical clutch and braking system. The driver would use a combination of pedals, tillers, and a shifter to operate the tank. The powerful engine and light weight translated into a top speed of 72 km/h (45 mph), among other beneficial characteristics, such as the ability to tackle a 61 cm (24 in.) obstacle, and climb up to a 60% (31º) grade. Being a relatively small vehicle, trenches would be a struggle, with only a 120 cm (4 ft.) maximum trench crossing able to be completed. Cruising range was around 190 km (120 miles). Although the tanks were supposedly limited to a 48 km/h (30 mph) top speed, the speed governor was often removed.
Suspension and Running Gear: “Goin’ to Town”
The M2A2 featured many suspension and running gear components that would be carried over to the M3 and M5 series of light tanks. The front-mounted sprocket had a set of 14 teeth on either side. The idler, at the rear, was raised and unsprung. It had six spokes. Between the sprocket and idler were a pair of vertical volute spring suspension (VVSS) bogies. These bogies had two volute springs inside of them, which were connected to two rubber-rimmed road wheels via two connecting arms. The road wheels had five spokes each. The entire VVSS bogie was bolted to the hull externally. For the track’s return run, there were two rubber-rimmed return rollers. One roller was located in front of the rear bogie, and one was behind the forward bogie. The total length of track in contact with the ground was 220 cm (86 in).
The tracks had guides on either side that doubled as track connectors. The tracks themselves were a double pin connection design, and clad with flat rubber pads. Sixty-two track links completed the track run per side. Two track types were utilized for the M2A2, the T16E1, which was reversible with rubber pads on each side, and T16E2, which was nonreversible. Track links were 295 mm (11.6 in) wide and 140 mm (5.5 in) in pitch.
Crew Layout: “Sextette”
The M2A2 had a crew of four: commander, gunner, driver, and hull gunner. The commander was located in the larger .50 caliber turret and doubled as its gunner. The gunner was located in the smaller .30 caliber turret. The hull gunner sat next to the driver and manned the hull machine gun. All gunners were responsible for acquiring targets and reloading their own guns. The driver was in the hull, on the left side of the vehicle.
Armament: “I’m No Angel”
Despite seemingly being lacking in the anti-tank role, the .50 caliber Browning M2 heavy machine gun was certainly able to deal with other lightly armored vehicles of the interwar period. The round’s dimensions were 12.7×99 mm. While M2 machine gun belts were often loaded with a mixture of armor piercing, ball, incendiary, and tracer rounds, the AP rounds could penetrate up to 25.4 mm (1 in) of vertical rolled homogeneous armor at 500 meters. The M2 or “Ma Deuce” operated via a closed bolt and short recoil system, meaning the barrel itself reciprocated slightly to move the bolt backwards and eject spent casings. Rate of fire was between 450-600 rounds per minute. While it was not a dedicated anti-armor weapon, the M2’s rather large cartridge and its ability to fire fully automatic certainly allowed it to defeat thinly armored vehicles, as well as engage infantry and light defensive emplacements.
The .30 caliber M1919 machine gun was less effective in an anti-armor situation, although .30-06 AP rounds were available, as well as standard ball and tracer rounds. The machine gun could fire at 500 rounds per minute on average. The rounds were 7.62×63 mm in metric. Both M1919A3 and M1919A4 variants were mounted according to some sources.
The M2A2 carried 1,625 .50 cal rounds and 4,700 .30 cal rounds within its hull. It carried its ammunition in boxes on either side of the hull. Reloading the armament was the responsibility of the gunner, which likely impacted reload times.
From M2A2 to M2A3: Quality of Life Improvements
A number of changes occurred to improve the design of the M2A2. It was noted that the hull of the M2A2 had a tendency to rock back and forth excessively during maneuvers. The thin armor of the M2A2 was also becoming increasingly inadequate as anti-tank weaponry of the world began to noticeably improve. Modifications of the M2A2 design to address these issues led to the designation M2A3 in 1938. Only 73 units of this penultimate M2 model would be completed before further changes would necessitate the designation of the new model, the M2A4. The M2A3 would retain the twin turret machine gun layout.
The most noticeable differences between the M2A2 and M2A3 were the hull length and space between bogies. The small amount of space between the bogies of the M2A2 was found to cause the excessive rocking of the hull. Therefore, on the M2A3, the bogies were spaced further apart, and the volute springs were lengthened, somewhat improving stability. This led to an increase in ground contact to 246 cm (97 in.), and an increase to 67 track links per side. Despite the increase in size, the M2A3 carried less ammunition than its predecessor, 1,579 .50 cal rounds and 2,730 .30 cal rounds. Further external changes included an increase in the space between turrets, and a revised engine deck, which allowed for easier access to the engine for servicing. In the automotive department, the final drive ratios were changed from 2:1 to 2.41:1, reducing the top speed to 60 km/h (37.5 mph). The M2A3 would be powered by the W-670 series 9 radial engine, now producing up to 250 hp at 2,400 rpm.
Eight M2A3 tanks, designated M2A3E1, were fitted with Guiberson T-1020 radial engines, which were unique in that they were diesel engines as opposed to gasoline-powered. These engines had first been installed on four M2A2 tanks, designated M2A2E1. The intakes for the diesel-powered Guiberson M2 series of tanks differed from their petrol-powered counterparts. The Guiberson engine variants displaced 16.7 L and produced 250 (later reduced to 220) net hp at 2,200 rpm in their tank applications. Tanks with the Guiberson engine are easily identifiable from the rear, as they have longer air intake piping.
The final change to the M2A3 was its armor thickness. Frontal armor was increased to 22 mm (0.875 in) for the upper and lower front plates. Sides and rear were increased to 16 mm (0.625 in). Turret armor was also increased to 22 mm (0.875 in) frontally. Rear floor armor was only 6.4 mm (0.25 in) thick, while the front floor armor was thicker, at 13 cm (roughly 0.5 in). Roof armor was thinner, at only 9.53 mm (0.375 in).
The M2A2 and M2A3 in service: From the American South to the Antarctic South
In Army Service
The M2A2 and M2A3 would be used in a variety of training roles. The tanks had been utilized in the 1939 maneuvers which occurred in Plattsburgh, New York. However, perhaps the most notable use of the vehicles was during the Louisiana Maneuvers, which took place in the fall of 1941. The maneuvers deployed countless mechanized vehicles, including scout cars, half-tracks, and tanks. Around 450,000 men in total were deployed with the ‘Red Army’ and ‘Blue Army’, which were pitted against each other in massive mock-combat scenarios. Due to the massive scale of the training operation, any and all armor that was available was to be utilized. This of course meant that many M2A2 and M2A3 tanks would be involved in the maneuvers.
In addition to the Louisiana Maneuvers, the Arkansas and Carolina maneuvers would also be conducted in 1941. M2A2 and M2A3 tanks would be used in these large-scale operations as well. These scenarios were conducted to provide practical experience, but more importantly to test US doctrine in relation to combined arms warfare and the associated logistics. One event of particular note during the Louisiana Maneuvers was the Blue Army’s ‘capture’ of the defending Red Army’s air force by means of a massive armored flanking maneuver. The 2nd Armored Division took a three-day, 400-mile ride to the west of Louisiana, actually entering Texas before looping around to capture Red Army’s air base. The commanding officer of this daring maneuver was none other than Major General George S. Patton Jr.
M2A2 and M2A3 tanks would be deployed throughout the United States, from Virginia to Hawaii. The tanks were in service with various units and were present for many exercises leading up to the United States’ involvement in World War 2. Of particular note is the use of some 20 combined M2A2 and M2A3 tanks for training by the 40th Armored Regiment, located in Fort Polk, Louisiana. Among the tankers of the 40th was Lafayette Pool, a future tank commander known as the “ace of aces”. Pool and his crew would go on to operate three M4 Shermans, named “In The Mood”, and would be responsible for knocking out an attributed 258 German armored vehicles of various types.
All variants of the M2 Light Tank would be used during the war for use in exercises and to train American tankers, but only the final variant, the M2A4, would see limited service overseas. The machine gun armed vehicles (M2A1, M2A2, and M2A3) were deemed wholly obsolete, with thin armor and limited anti-tank capability.
Interestingly, the M2A2 would be used during a 1939 US Antarctic expedition, known as Admiral Byrd’s Third Expedition. Three tanks were lightened by means of removing their turrets, engine covers, and armored hatches in order to reduce ground pressure in the unforgiving snowy terrain. Tracks were also widened through the recycling of the components that had been removed.
The tanks were intended to be used as utility vehicles, and were reportedly less than stellar in this role. Although they were still used, they unfortunately remained slightly too heavy for the terrain despite the efforts to lighten the vehicles. The air and oil filter components also froze and were destroyed by the climate, but luckily they were found to be unnecessary while operating in the Antarctic. The failure of the clutch system in the most extreme temperatures (-45º to -50º Celsius or -50º to -60º Fahrenheit) was documented. The rest of the drivetrain and running gear was reported to have functioned quite well in the harsh environment. Upon the conclusion of the expedition in 1941, at least one tank, amongst other vehicles, was left behind on Stonington Island, where it can still be seen today.
Prototypes and Testbeds
The M2A2/A3 platform would be used to test and develop multiple running gear and drivetrain layouts.
The last M2A2 to be assembled would be used as a test vehicle. Its armor was increased to 25 mm (roughly 1 in), and it was designated M2A2E2. In August 1938, the tank was modified again at Rock Island. The modifications included a new running gear consisting of new suspension bogies with a single return roller, lowering the height. The hull was lengthened to accomodate a water cooled inline 6 cylinder, 7 liter diesel engine, the GM 6-71 which produced 188 hp. Later American designs would utilize two of these engines working in tandem, including variants of the M3 “Lee”, M4 “Sherman”, and the M10 tank destroyer. The new engine sent power to an automatic transmission, necessitating a new shape for the frontal hull.
With the installation of the GM 6-71 and automatic transmission, the vehicle was designated M2A2E3. Eventually, the suspension was changed again, and a larger idler made contact with the ground. This trailing idler was connected to the rear bogie. The idler assembly was reminiscent of later designs, but it was not the same. The idler was connected via a two piece beam to the rear bogie. It appears that a bracket held the oscillating portion of the idler arm in place.
It would appear that, at some point, the M2A2E3 would be updated with the later trailing idler system found on M2A3E3 and the following M3/M5 series of tanks.
M2A3E2 saw the implementation of the Timken “Electrogear” transmission. The Timken unit functioned through the use of two electric motors, which took up significantly more space in the front hull. Only one unit was tested.
Perhaps the most recognizable feature that would be found on later tanks was the running gear of the M2A3E3. The M2A3E3 had a revised engine deck and lengthened hull similar to the M2A3, but it utilized its extra length in a new way. The VVSS bogies remained close together, but, behind them, a new idler system was put in place. The trailing idler assembly now had its own volute spring and was connected through means of an independent arm, completely separate from the rear bogie. An additional return roller was placed at the rear. This suspension layout clearly was effective in reducing the aforementioned pitching issue, more so than simply spacing the bogies apart, as evidenced by the fact that this layout would be used in the future on all M3 and M5 light tanks and their variants until the end of their production run.
Additional modifications to the M2A3E3 included the installation of the General Motors V-4-223 diesel engine. The V-4-223 was a two stroke engine that produced 250 hp at 1,400 rpm. As the name implied, it was a V-shaped engine with four cylinders, two per bank. The increased weight of the V-4-223 on the rear of the tank is what necessitated the installation of the trailing idler system.
One final modification that would see widespread implementation was the replacement of the sliding gear transmission with a synchronized unit. “Synchro-mesh” manual transmissions are much easier to use (they remove the need to double clutch) and they are quieter, at the conceptual cost of being less robust and taking longer to shift compared to sliding gear designs. Nonetheless, tanks with sliding gear transmissions would be replaced with synchro-mesh units during service.
Future Developments: The M2A4 and the “Stuart”
The M2A4 would be the final iteration of the M2 chassis. It featured a single, two man turret that mounted a dedicated 37 mm anti-tank gun with a coaxial .30 cal machine gun. Two more fixed machine guns were fixed in the hull sides, facing forward. This excessive display would be quickly dropped on the following M3 light tank, its combat value being extremely limited. While the M2A4 would see limited combat use on Guadalcanal with the Marines, the previous variants would remain at home, being relegated to training use.
The M2 series would be replaced by the M3 light tank. The initial M3 and M3A1 designs shared the overall hull shape, drivetrain, and armament of the M2A4, but had thicker armor and an improved suspension featuring the aforementioned trailing idler system. Starting with the M3, the British dubbed the vehicle “Stuart” after Confederate General J. E. B. Stuart of the American Civil War.
Finally, the M3A3 and M5/M5A1 light tank designs were visually quite different from their predecessors. Their all-welded hulls were drastically altered, featuring a large sloping frontal glacis, which increased effective protection. The M5 series did away with the radial engines and transmissions, it utilized a pair of Cadillac V8 engines and automatic transmissions, linked together. Although the design of the M5 was quite different from the M2 series, many aspects of its M2 light tank heritage are still clearly discernible.
The M2A2 and M2A3, while seemingly outdated with their twin turret layouts and armament of only machine guns, were the product of a continuous effort to modernize the armored force of the US Army.
With the M2A2 being approved for mass production, the Army could observe and address tangible problems with their designs. With the drawbacks of the twin turret setup known, and the realization that the .50 caliber M2 heavy machine gun was no longer going to be adequate for anti-tank use, the final variant of the M2 light tank, the M2A4, would return to a single turret. The M2 series of light tanks and the components tested on their chassis would lend an immense amount of their design to the following M3 and later M5 series of light tanks, vehicles which would serve throughout the remainder of the war.
Although they may have been outdated by the outbreak of World War 2, the M2A2 and M2A3 tanks provided a solid chassis and components for future tanks. They were used to modernize American combined arms doctrine, and they trained tank crews who would soon see action overseas. The M2A2 and M2A3 tanks were a useful stepping stone on the path the US Army was taking towards developing what could be considered an effective tank.
United States of America (1942)
Self-Propelled Gun – 2 Mild Steel Prototypes Ordered, 1 Built
With the onset of the Second World War in 1939, the United States began rapidly developing new self-propelled guns to modernize their antiquated ground forces, which were only equipped with towed guns. In early 1941, the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company submitted their proposal for a fully enclosed self-propelled gun based on the chassis of the M3 Stuart Light Tank. This vehicle was designated as the 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T18. Two mild steel prototypes were ordered in 1942, but only one vehicle was completed before the termination of the T18 project.
In 1918, at the end of the First World War, the United States began developing domestic self-propelled guns. These vehicles were inspired by French designs of the time, such as the Canon 155 mm GPF sur affût-chenilles St Chamond, and based on Holt tractors. However, with the end of the war arriving sooner than expected, just a handful of these self-propelled guns were actually produced. These completed vehicles were used as a basis for future mechanized artillery development, but large-scale budget cuts in the early 1920s severely hindered any further experimentation.
American self-propelled gun development remained relatively stagnant for many years, with the United States’ first (and, until World War 2, only) mechanized artillery regiment, the 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery, being established in 1934. They were equipped with vehicle-towed 75 mm Pack Howitzer M1s, far from state-of-the-art. By the time World War 2 began, this was the only battalion of mechanized artillery in the United States Army.
As war began in Europe, a rushed re-militarization effort began in the United States. A single battalion of towed light howitzers would be nowhere near enough firepower for the upcoming global conflict, so field artillery battalions were restructured, and modern designs for future self-propelled guns were pursued. Of course, it takes a not-insignificant amount of time to develop and produce an entirely new vehicle, so an expedient solution was chosen. This resulted in the 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T30, an M3 Half-track mounting a 75 mm Pack Howitzer M1A1. The T30 was rushed into service while development of a proper self-propelled gun continued.
75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T3
An early proposal for a self-propelled gun based on the Combat Car M1 was submitted in 1939. This vehicle, designated 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T3, had a rather interesting design. The turret and upper hull of the Combat Car were removed and a short superstructure was constructed. The T3 HMC featured two guns: a 75 mm howitzer M1A1 in the right side of the superstructure and a .30 caliber machine gun located inside a modified M2A3 Light Tank turret on the top of the superstructure. Curiously, due to the lack of a proper gun mounting, a pair of doors could close around the howitzer to protect the crew. However, the doors had to be opened to traverse the gun, creating an opening in the casemate front. The vehicle’s armor was quite thin, at a maximum of only .625 in (15.9 mm) thick on the front of the machine gun turret and hull. Mobility was similar to the Combat Car M1, although the vehicle accelerated slower due to its increased weight.
The T3 HMC had a crew of three: gunner, loader, and driver. Even with a crew this small, the T3’s interior was still quite cramped. Issues reloading the howitzer and operating the machine gun were made apparent during testing. These poor crew ergonomics led to the T3’s eventual cancellation in 1940. With just a single prototype completed, the T3 Howitzer Motor Carriage was not considered successful. However, lessons learned during its development helped influence future self-propelled gun projects.
In June 1941, after the cancellation of the T3 Howitzer Motor Carriage, guidelines for a new self-propelled gun were created. This new vehicle was to act as a close-support vehicle and would mount either a 75 mm or 105 mm howitzer. It was to be based on the chassis of the M3 ‘Stuart’ Light Tank. Almost immediately, the 105 mm howitzer was dropped as a potential armament. The limited size of the M3 chassis would make operating the gun difficult and the howitzer’s weight would cause the vehicle to be front-heavy. With the 105 mm howitzer off the table, two designs mounting a 75 mm howitzer were proposed and evaluated.
The first, designated 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T17, was based on the chassis of the M1E3 Combat Car. This chassis was chosen because of its sizable internal space. However, rather predictably, the T17 was canceled because it did not use the requested M3 Light Tank chassis. The vehicle never left the drawing board. This left just one capable design; the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company’s proposal, the 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T18.
While it might seem unusual that the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company was contracted to produce an armored fighting vehicle, they had a long history of producing various other goods, including tank parts, for the American military. They produced tank tracks, M5 Light Tank turrets, artillery shells, and 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns, to name just a few. Therefore, it was not completely unexpected for Firestone to attempt to develop an entire armored vehicle by themselves.
In October 1941, a wooden mock-up of the T18’s superstructure was produced by Firestone and fitted to an early M3 Stuart chassis. Suitably impressed and ready to suggest improvements, the Ordinance Committee approved the production of two mild steel pilot vehicles. The first pilot was delivered in May 1942, when testing could finally begin.
The 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T18’s Design
At a Glance
The T18 Howitzer Motor Carriage, from the lower hull down, was identical to a standard early production M3 Stuart. Both tanks shared the same lower hull design, suspension, drivetrain, engine, etc. However, the most striking visual change was the T18’s large cast casemate. The Stuart’s upper hull and turret were removed, replaced by the boxy fighting compartment designed to protect and contain the 75 mm main gun and three crew members.
The T18 was, much like the T3 HMC before it, armed with the 75 mm Pack Howitzer M1A1. The howitzer was fitted to a modified version of the M3 ‘Lee’ Medium Tank’s 75 mm gun mount and located in the front right of the superstructure. Within the vehicle, 42 rounds of 75 mm ammunition could be carried. For the gunner, an M1 periscopic sight was installed on top of the mount. Gun traverse limits were 15° to either side and between 20° to -5° vertically. The M1A1 howitzer could fire an assortment of rounds, including the M48 High-Explosive shell, the M66 High-Explosive Anti-Tank shell, and the M64 White Phosphorus shell. The M66 HEAT shell would have given the T18 HMC a fighting chance in an engagement with enemy armor. However, with a velocity of just 1,000 ft/s (305 m/s), this shell would have been quite hard to aim at any targets beyond close range. The M66 HEAT shell could penetrate a maximum of 3.6 in (91.4 mm) of armor. This gave the T18 HMC’s howitzer similar penetration to the M4 Sherman’s 75 mm M3 gun. The M1A1 howitzer’s maximum rate of fire was about 8 rounds/min, but even a trained T18 crew would probably not have been able to maintain that volume of fire. Limited by the spatial confines of the vehicle, the crew’s achievable rate of fire would probably have been no higher than 6 rounds/min.
To increase the firepower of the T18 HMC, two .30 caliber M1919A4 machine guns were placed in the vehicle’s sponsons. The machine guns were unable to traverse. Therefore, the only way to aim them was by turning the entire vehicle. The machine gun mountings and mounting locations were quite similar to those of the M3 Stuart. A maximum of 4,900 .30 caliber bullets could be carried within the vehicle. With its armament loadout, the T18 HMC could effectively fight as a direct-fire assault gun, neutralizing infantry with its machine guns, demolishing obstacles with high explosives, and even fighting tanks with its HEAT shell.
The T18 was a reasonably well-protected vehicle. While the cast armor of the casemate was flat, it compensated with pure thickness. The front of the casemate was an impressive 2 in (50.8 mm) thick, which would have offered reasonable protection against 37 mm rounds from a distance. The sides and top of the casemate were 1.25 in (31.8 mm) thick and the rear was just 1 in (25.4 mm) thick. As for the lower hull of the T18 HMC, the armor was unchanged from the M3 Stuart the vehicle was based on. The lower side of the T18 was the same thickness as the casemate side, 1 in (25.4 mm). The heavily sloped upper front plate and cast lower front plate offered .625 in (15.9 mm) and 1.75 (44.5 mm) of protection respectively. Finally, the rear armor of the T18 was 1 in (25.4 mm) thick, while the floor armor ranged from .5 in (12.7 mm) thick at the front of the tank to just .375 in (9.53 mm) thick at the back. Overall, this armor layout was reasonably thick for its time, protecting the vehicle against many of its common threats frontally from a distance.
However, this armor profile had a few disadvantages. Despite its thickness, the T18’s casemate armor was completely vertical. While this design decision increased the available space inside the vehicle, it limited the actual protection the armor could offer. Sloped armor can deflect and deform armor-piercing rounds, helping prevent a penetration. Completely flat armor, however, offers no such benefits. Incoming armor-piercing rounds maximize their penetrative effects. Furthermore, the weight of the casemate’s heavy frontal armor placed significant strain on the vehicle’s suspension. When observing pictures of the T18, the overloaded suspension becomes apparent quickly. The vehicle had a noticeable frontal tilt, as the vehicle’s rather forward center of mass placed much more strain on the forward bogie than it did the rear. Similar issues of front-heaviness plagued other uparmored American tanks, such as the Assault Tank M4A3E2 ‘Jumbo’ based on the M4 Sherman chassis.
The T18 HMC mounted the same Continental W-670-9A engine as the M3 Light Tank it was based on. This was a gasoline engine capable of producing 250 net hp at 2,400 rpm. Automotive testing of the T18 HMC was successful, revealing only slight differences in mobility between the T18 and a standard M3 Light. Both vehicles could reach the same top speed of 36 mph (58 kph) and had similar automotive characteristics. However, the slight difference in mobility was due to the T18’s increased weight of 14.88 tons (13.5 tonnes). For comparison, the standard M3 weighed only 14 tons (12.7 tonnes). Because of the weight disparity, the vehicles also had different power-to-weight ratios. The T18’s was 16.8 hp/ton (18.5 hp/tonne), while the Stuart’s was 17.86 hp/ton (19.69 hp/tonne). This difference was quite small and likely caused the T18 to accelerate slightly slower than the M3 Stuart. Regardless, having mobility only slightly worse than a very speedy light tank is still quite impressive and the T18 proved that it would have been able to maneuver around quickly and responsively.
Crew and Ergonomics
The T18 had a crew of just three, consisting of a gunner, driver, and commander/loader. To enter and exit the vehicle, two roof hatches were provided. While the T18 wooden mock-up had only one hatch, a second was added to the pilot at the request of Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Crew conditions inside the vehicle were likely poor. The driver’s only vision source was a single forward-facing periscope, severely limiting his ability to gauge his surroundings while driving. The vehicle did not have any pistol ports to peer through or a commander’s cupola, either. The only other source of precious situational awareness during combat was the gunner’s sight, which could only traverse as far as the gun could. The commander/loader did not have any source of vision at all, a very serious drawback. Understandably, the T18 would have been extremely vulnerable to flanking attacks during combat that it could neither see nor defend against. The vehicle’s lack of a dedicated commander combined with the limited vision of the crew would have resulted in a blind vehicle operated by overworked personnel.
Additionally, ventilation of the main gun was an issue. With no ventilation fans of any type, and a limited internal casemate volume, the vehicle surely would have filled with dangerous fumes when the main gun was fired continually. The only way to ventilate the crew compartment would have been to open the roof hatches, which created another problem. Driving around un-buttoned in the middle of combat is not generally considered to be a good idea, especially in close-quarters fighting. Crews would have been stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either they could try and ignore the gasses created by the howitzer or they could compromise their protection by opening the roof hatches. However, for the long-range indirect fire duties that T18 crews would have invariably found themselves participating in, opening the hatches would have been a much smaller issue. Far from the frontline and in much less imminent danger, opening the hatches to increase crew visibility and casemate ventilation would have been a no-brainer.
While the T18 offered some advantages over its predecessors, including thick frontal armor and the usage of a standardized chassis, the project was doomed from the start. A month before the first pilot vehicle was delivered in May 1942, the Ordinance Department canceled the T18 program. Even without a physical vehicle, it was clear that the T18 had many intrinsic issues that made it unfit for service. The vehicle’s flat armor, front-heaviness, lack of vision, and poor gun traverse limits were cited as the main reasons for vehicle’s rejection. The fate of the prototype following this decision is unknown. A popular theory states that the pilot was kept on display at Aberdeen Proving Ground until it was destroyed in 1947. However, this remains unproven and the current location of the prototype, if it survives, remains a mystery.
The 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T18 was just a single stepping stone in the development of a 75 mm American self-propelled gun. Before the vehicle was even canceled, new development requirements were put forth by the Ordinance Department in December 1941. Reflecting the lessons learned from the T18 program, these requirements requested a self-propelled gun design based on the M5 Light Tank chassis and utilizing sloped frontal armor.
In an attempt to satisfy these conditions, two designs were proposed in April 1942. These were the T41 and T47 Howitzer Motor Carriages. The T41 was an open-topped turretless design on the M5 chassis and the T47 was a proposal mounting a new open-topped turret in place of the M5’s standard turret. The T47 was considered to be the best design and, as a result, the T41 was canceled almost immediately. The T47 was continually improved and developed, resulting in the now-familiar turret with the large barrel flash deflector and direct vision hatches in the front of the hull. This new turret combined with the slightly-modified hull of the M5 Light Tank was standardized in May 1942 as the 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage M8 ‘Scott,’ a vehicle that would see widespread service with the United States as a successful infantry support weapon.
75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage T18 Specifications
Dimensions (L x W x H)
14’10” x 7’4” x 7’1″
4.53 x 2.24 x 2.16 m
14.88 tons (13.50 tonnes)
75 mm M1A1 Pack Howitzer (42 rounds)
2 x .30 caliber M1919A4 Machine Guns (4,900 rounds)
Front: 50.8 mm
Side: 31.8 mm
Rear: 25.4 mm
Top: 31.8 mm
Upper front: 15.9 mm
Lower front: 44.5 mm
Side: 25.4 mm
Rear: 25.4 mm
Engine deck: 12.7 mm
Floor: 12.7 mm to 9.53 mm
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (Late 2000s-Present)
Armored Personnel Carrier – Unknown Number Built
North Korea has, since the 1960s, developed and expanded its military vehicles industry quite considerably. Starting out by locally assembling Soviet vehicles, the country progressively moved onto creating and manufacturing its own vehicles, more and more distinct from original Russian or Chinese inspirations. A key stepstone in this direction was the Cold War-era M1981 light tank, which, while it took inspiration from several Chinese and Soviet designs, was a clear copy or even derivative of none. Though several decades old by this point, a development on the hull of this light tank was first observed by the American Department of Defence in 2009 and given the designation of M2009. Also known as the Chunma-D, this is an armored personnel carrier development of the old light tank – a fairly ironic turn of the affair, as the M1981 itself was based on the chassis of the 323 APC.
The M2009 designation follows the standard naming scheme of the US Department of Defence for North Korean vehicles, referring to the year in which the vehicle was first observed in service. In North Korea, the vehicle appears to be known as the “Chunma-D” or, in other transliterations, “Junma-Lee”, with the meaning being the same. Chunma/Junma stands for racehorse, with Lee or D is a transliteration of the fourth letter of the Korean alphabet.
As pretty much systematic with North Korean vehicles, the development process of the M2009 is a mystery, with awareness of the vehicle coinciding with its appearance in service of the Korean People’s Army during military parades. Nonetheless, one can at least theorize the potential origins of such a vehicle.
The M2009 is a derivative of the M1981 light tank. Though already not state-of-the-art by the late 1970s/early 1980s when it was first introduced, this light tank has become progressively more obsolete over the decades. As the Republic of Korea Army supplemented its M48 Pattons tank with more and more of the K1, outclassing anything fielded by North Korea, the range of targets that could be engaged with hopes of destruction from the M1981’s 85 mm gun decreased accordingly. As such, it has been theorized the M2009 may have been introduced as a way to repurpose the M1981 assembly chain in order to produce a vehicle, in this case an armored personnel carrier, that would remain relevant – at least to an extent, as the M2009 is still far from a reasonably modern vehicle – and be less hopelessly outdated.
The M2009 is directly based upon the hull of the M1981, and maintains many of its components with little to no apparent changes. This is notably the case of the suspension and engine deck. The hull was originally inspired by the one used in the 323 APC, but lengthened. It uses a six road wheels design, with these road wheels being fairly similar in design to those used on the Soviet PT-76, and generally, Eastern Block amphibious tracked vehicles. The tank uses torsion bars suspension. As for the powerplant, its exact model is unknown, with both 320 and 240 hp engines of various origins having been mentioned. The vehicle notably features a couple of hydrojets, similar in design to the PT-76’s, in order to provide improved amphibious capacities. This feature goes all the way back to the 323, which introduced this to a hull based on the Chinese YW531A that moved on water thanks to the motion of its tracks. The only noticeable changes to the engine deck are the introduction of what appears to be a box – stowage of the Igla anti-air missile has been theorized – and changes to the engine cooling, with a single central grille instead of separate ones. The dimensions of the hull are likely about the same as the M1981, however, the new turret likely changes the height and overall length of the vehicle, and as such only the width can be estimated at about 3.10 m.
Where the vehicle differs from the M1981 is in terms of turret and combat compartment, these having been modified to transform the light tank into an armored personnel carrier. That being said, one may question whether these modifications were enough to create a viable vehicle of this type due to several questionable features.
In comparison to the M1981, the M2009 appears to have a slightly heightened combat compartment. This modification was likely introduced to give more space inside for the dismounts. The hull roof, notably, appears to continue to rise slightly upward, with the turret at its highest point, and not be perfectly flat.
The combat and crew compartment of the M2009 are located to the front. The rear engine configuration of the M1981 was retained on the APC, likely due to the additional costs and delays which would be caused by a deeper transformation of the hull. As a result, the infantry compartment appears to be located just under the turret of the M2009. Two firing ports are present on each side of the vehicle, under the turret. Behind these are what appear to be the main point where the dismounts enter and leave the vehicle, a square-shaped side door of fairly diminutive size. The engine compartment is located just behind, suggesting a limited infantry-carrying capacity, likely not exceeding four to six crew members. In front of the turret, hatches for the driver and either another crew member or perhaps a dismount are present.
The infantry accommodations on the M2009 can be described as fairly questionable at best. The vehicle does not feature rear doors, which is already a fairly archaic feature in modern personnel carriers. Rear doors allow for much easier and less risky evacuation of the vehicle, particularly under fire. In comparison, the side doors of the M1981 would typically provide significantly less protection, and exiting the vehicle under fire, in case of an ambush, for example, would be even riskier than on most other APCs. Not only that, but the diminutive size of the doors would also make the evacuation of the vehicle by soldiers in full gear much harder than on a vehicle with large opening rear doors.
The small space allocated for dismounts means the vehicle almost certainly has a lower infantry carrying capacity than the older 323, which also has the advantage of featuring rear doors. In short, in its primary role of carrying infantry, the 2000s Chunma-D proves inferior to the early 1970s 323. The latter has space for ten (according to North Korean sources even twelve) dismounts that can exit the vehicle from the rear, even though the rear door on the 323 has a fairly small size that can already be considered a fairly lackluster feature.
The other obvious change the M2009 has in comparison to the M1981 is the replacement of the 85 mm armed turret by another design. The M2009 features a cylindrical turret with two 14.5 mm KPV machine guns as main armament, as with the 323. However, the turret is of a different design. Though some inspiration was likely taken from the old APC’s turret, the M2009 ones introduces a variety of new features.
Though conical, the turret of the M2009 is of a wider type. It appears to retain a single crewmember, with a command cupola located to the rear of the turret. A large boxy bustle, likely for stowage, is also present.
Though the main armament of the turret remains the same two 14.5 mm KPV machine guns of the 323 – an armament which was quite heavy for an APC in the early 1970s, but of which the power is now more moderate, as more heavily protected armored personnel carriers tend to become the norm – the design also introduces a coaxial 7.62 mm. While it may seem a little redundant, this may allow for fire on less important and lighter targets to consume less ammunition. Another addition in comparison to the 323 turret is an external infrared searchlight, likely linked to the main armament by braces, as is often the case on North Korean vehicles. Also included are smoke dischargers, three on each side of the turret, a feature that started being observed on M1981s from 2015 onward.
Similar, though not identical turret designs to the M2009 have been observed on the M2010, a series of 8×8 and 6×6 wheeled armored personnel carriers based on the BTR-80 and introduced around the same time in the Korean People’s Army.
North Korean Classic: The Igla
North Korean vehicles, for a long time, but especially in recent years, have very often been observed with man-portable anti-aircraft defense systems (MANPADS) stuck onto the vehicles, from the turret of tanks and APCs to even the fixed superstructure of closed or even open-topped self-propelled artillery pieces. Though some of these have been speculated to be only for show, for example, the large Igla battery present on some 323s during a 1992 parade, some may be functional. It ought to be noted that footage of North Korean armored vehicles in training, outside of parade, often shows the vehicles with the missiles omitted.
The M2009 was first seen without an Igla. However, the vehicle always had some sort of rectangular box just rear of the turret, which has been theorized to actually be storage for the Igla missile launcher. The vehicle quickly appeared with an Igla mounted, as early as 2013 and perhaps even earlier. The missile is fixed to the rear of the turret bustle, which raises questions as to its operation, as it likely is hard to access it from the commander cupola, which is located further forward. A single photo tends to suggest a more forward mount is possible though.
Conclusion – A Questionable Armored Personnel Carrier
The M2009 is, as of today, the most recent tracked armored personnel carrier which has been spotted in the ranks of the KPA. However, it could easily be described as a fairly questionable design.
Though the turret of the vehicle is likely more advanced than the old 323, the vehicle itself appears to be a far worse platform when it comes to carrying infantry. With a dismount compartment located just under the turret, the infantry complement of the vehicle is likely very moderate. With the engine to the rear being retained, the only option to exit the vehicle for the infantry appears to be small side doors – a very inefficient exit means, and one which is likely very dangerous if the vehicle were ever to fall victim to an ambush. Though the numbers of M2009 produced are obviously unknown, the vehicle has little chance of ever coming close to replacing the ubiquitous 323 armored personnel carrier – which is likely for the better. While it may fare better than the 323 if given, for example, purely reconnaissance or infantry support tasks, the M2009 appears far worse as an infantry carrying platform, with the improved combat capacities likely far too little to justify the vehicle’s defects, particularly as South Korean infantry fighting vehicles such as the K21 and the small fleet of BMP-3 provide massively superior combat features.
M2009 Chunma-D specifications (estimations)
3.10 m (estimation)
Between the 323 (~15 tonnes) and the M1981 (~20 tonnes)
Unknown (Perhaps a 320 hp 8-cylinders air-cooled diesel engine or a 6-cylinders water-cooled 240 hp diesel engine)
Maximum speed (road)
~60 km/h (estimation from M1981)
Maximum speed (water)
~10 km/h (estimation from M1981)
500 km (estimation from M1981)
Observation suggests 3 (commander, driver, co-driver), perhaps 2 if co-driver is in fact just a dismount
Yugoslav Partisans (1944-1945)
Medium Tank – 5 to 6 T-34 and 65+ T-34-85 Operated
During the Second World War, Yugoslavia was a frontline where all kinds of mostly obsolete armor and rare prototypes were used. In some instances, more advanced and modern tanks also saw service, as was the case with the Soviet T-34-76 and the improved T-34-85 medium tanks. Initially used by the Germans in limited numbers, these tanks would see more extensive action with the Soviets, especially during the liberation of Belgrade. The Partisans also had a chance to operate these vehicles, either captured by the Germans or supplied directly by the Soviets.
Axis Invasion of the Balkans
After Italy’s unsuccessful invasion of Greece, Benito Mussolini was forced to ask his German ally for help. Adolf Hitler agreed to provide assistance, fearing that a possible Allied attack through the Balkans would reach Romania and its vital oil fields. In the path of the German advance towards Greece stood Yugoslavia, whose government initially agreed to join the Axis side. This agreement was short-lived, as the Yugoslav government was overthrown by an anti-Axis pro-Allied military coup at the end of March 1941. Hitler immediately gave an order for the preparation of the invasion of Yugoslavia. The war that began on 6th April 1941, sometimes called April War, was a short one and ended with a Yugoslav defeat and the division of its territory between the Axis powers.
The T-34-76 and the T-34-85 Medium Tanks, the Most Iconic Soviet Tanks
The T-34 became the standard medium tank of the Soviet Red Army during the Second World War. It was produced in two main variants, the T-34 (often labeled the ‘T-34-76’) armed with a 76.2 mm gun (initially the L-11 76.2 mm gun but replaced in 1941 with a F-34 76.2 mm gun) main gun in a two-man turret, while the later T-34-85 was armed with an 85 mm gun (initially a D-5T 85 mm gun in a two-man turret, and quickly replaced by the S-53 and ZiS-53 85 mm gun in a three-man turret).
The T-34 was produced between 1940 and 1944 in some 35 different sub-variants. These variants of the T-34 suffered from a variety of issues.
The early T-34s manufactured before the German invasion of the USSR were well-made tanks with good fittings and quality of life items such as air filters and adequate head and tail lights. The T-34 design however was imperfect, the suspension being a major issue causing internal space issues and structural failures. The early T-34s suffered from gearbox issues due to improper manufacturing, however overall these vehicles were of high quality.
Shortly after the war’s onset, production quotas were increased and manufacturing sped up. Therefore the tank’s quality fell greatly, losing items such as the air filters, tow hooks were simplified, along with the external storage. The number of parts needed to make the T-34 fell, as almost every item within the tank was simplified and often non-essential parts were scrapped. One of the main drawbacks of the T-34, and many other pre-war tank designs, was the two-man turret. This forced the commander to perform too many different tasks, such as being the gunner, giving orders to the rest of the crew, battlefield observation, and using the radio. The initial production T-34s had turret-mounted radios, but due to the overworking of the commander, the radio was moved to the hull for the engineer to use.
As the Great Patriotic War (the Soviet name for WWII) progressed, the T-34s main armaments became weaker and less effective on the battlefield. While the L-11 and F-34 guns were more than capable of dealing with the early German tanks such as the Panzer III, Panzer 38(t), and Panzer IV, the new German ‘heavies’ with armor thicknesses above 100 mm became fearsome counterparts for the T-34s, often requiring combat ranges to close to as little as 50 m. Regardless of these problems, some 35,853 T-34-76 tanks would be built. A precise number is almost impossible to know. One of the reasons for this was the fact that the Soviets added new chassis numbers to rebuild vehicles.
The T-34-85 was the latter version of the famous Soviet T-34 medium tanks. Thanks to a sufficiently large turret ring it was possible to mount a new turret equipped with an 85 mm L/55.2 D-5T or the more common L/54.6 ZIS-S-53 guns. This gun was able to penetrate the frontal armor of the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger at a distance of about 1,000 m. The ammunition load consisted of some 60 rounds.
Most T-34 (except for around 2,000 T-34-76s manufactured at 112 and STZ that used the older M-17F engine that powered the BT tanks with an output of 450 hp) were powered by a V-2-34, 38.8-liter V12 diesel with an output of 500 hp. This propelled the tank to a maximum speed of 55 km/h and a range of 350 km on-road thanks to the 556 liters internal fuel tanks. With additional external fuel drums (the number of used drums varied depending on the period of the war) with 50 liters each, increasing the maximum range to around 550 km.
Between the period 1944 to 1946, some 25,914 would be produced. Other tanks were produced by Communist Bloc countries after the war. For example, some 2,376 were produced by Czechoslovakia from 1950 to 1956 and 685 by Poland from 1951 to 1955. Just above 95,000 (sources vary widely) vehicles of all kinds (medium tanks, self-propelled guns, armored recovery vehicles, etc.) were produced on the T-34 chassis.
First Appearance of the T-34 in Yugoslavia
Following the quick conquest of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia during the April War (6th to 18th April 1941), its territories were divided between the victorious Axis forces. Due to the harsh and brutal occupation by the Axis troops stationed in Yugoslavia, by the second half of 1941, two resistance groups started a rebellion against the occupiers. These proved difficult to defeat, forcing the enemy to send more and more troops and material. In the case of the Germans, they employed whatever they had at hand. These were mostly older or captured enemy equipment. In rarer cases, more modern equipment was also available in limited numbers. During the summer of 1944, the SS Polizei Regiment 10 (English: 10th SS Police Regiment) was transferred from Ukraine to Trieste in Northern Italy. Once there, it was tasked with defending the vital transport lines against the Partisans. This unit would be used in this role up to the end of the war. In its inventory, this unit had around 10 T-34-76 tanks of various types.
The Soviet T-34-76and T-34-85 Tanks in Yugoslavia
During autumn 1944, the Soviet 3rd Ukraine Front was ordered to proceed toward Yugoslavia and help the Partisans to eliminate German forces that were occupying Serbia. This formation was supported by large armored elements, which consisted of 358 T-34-76 and T-34-85 tanks and self-propelled guns. These saw extensive action against the German-held Serbian towns, such as Kruševac, which was liberated on 14th October 1944. Some 50 T-34-76 and 110 T-34-85 tanks were allocated for the liberation of the capital Belgrade. After successfully defeating the Germans in Serbia, the Soviets moved north toward Hungary.
The T-34-76 in Partisan Hands
The German T-34-76 tanks from the 10th SS Police Regiment were employed against the advancing Partisan 4th Army in Spring 1945. The Partisan forces were supported by the First Tank Brigade, which was equipped with British-supplied M3A1/A3 tanks and AEC Mk.II armored cars. While the M3’s 37 mm gun could do little against the armor of the T-34, the Partisans instead used the AEC’s 57 mm gun, which was more effective in dealing with enemy armor. The Partisans also operated at least one 7.5 cm PaK 40 armed Stuart tank which was modified in early 1945.
During the fighting near Ilirska Bistrica at the end of April, one German T-34-76 tank was destroyed by a modified 7.5 cm armed M3 tank. On 30th April 1945, the Partisans liberated Bazovica but were pushed back by German T-34-76 tanks. These were counterattacked with the Partisans’ own armored units. Inside the small town, the Partisan AECs engaged the advancing T-34-76s. One AEC armored car crew fired at least 8 rounds at the leading T-34-76. The German armored unit was eventually shattered and its T-34-76 tanks were either destroyed or captured. Between 5 or 6 tanks were captured by the Partisans, with 3 or 4 being captured at Ilirska Bistrica and 2 more in Bazovica. Those that were fully operational were immediately put back into service. One was even used to enter Trieste at the end of the war. After the war, these were used with the later improved version for some time before being removed from service. One T-34-76 does survive and is now located in Banja Luka.
Creation of the Second Tank Brigade
As previously mentioned, the best trained and equipped Partisan armored formation was the First Tank Brigade. It was organized and equipped by Western standards. While the Partisans provided the Allies with sufficient crews to form an even larger formation, this was never realized. The Allies, for various reasons, did not want to provide additional armored vehicles to the Partisans. On the other hand, the Soviets were quite willing to help but were prevented from doing so by the distance between these two forces at that point. In order to not waste time, the remaining 600 Partisans that were stationed in Italy were transported by air to the Soviet Union by the Soviet Sokolov Group from the Italian city of Bari to Kyiv in Ukraine. Once all were assembled, they were transported to Moscow, before finally reaching their final destination in Tehnicko, a village near Tula.
Additional personnel were recruited in various ways, including people of Yugoslav origin that were being held in Soviet camps. A Partisan delegation was even sent to the Grozny prison camp, where additional manpower was recruited from the German Legionary Units. Interestingly, the Partisan officials that visited this prison were strictly forbidden from recruiting any former Croatian Ustaše soldiers. Yugoslav soldiers that were in service prior to the war and had been schooled in the Soviet Union also joined this unit.
This was the first step in the creation of the unit later known as the Second Tank Brigade. The order for the creation of such a unit to support the Yugoslav Partisans was issued by Stalin himself in order from 7th September 1944. In comparison to the First Tank Brigade, this unit was to be solely organized based on Soviet equipment and training. Initial plans for the Tank Brigade T-34, as this unit was initially designated, included that it had to be formed by 1st November 1944, something which was not achieved.
The organizational structure of this unit was based on the Soviet model. It would have three tank battalions with two (some sources mention three) tank companies each, each with three platoons. The platoon’s strength was 3 tanks with 1 additional for the platoon commander. In addition, the Brigade’s command unit was equipped with 2 tanks. In total, this unit was supplied with 65 T-34/85 tanks and 3 BA-64 armored cars. No further shipment of additional tanks was made by the Soviets during the war. At least one (possibly more) T-34-85 tank would be recovered from abandoned Soviet equipment. These would be salvaged by the Partisans during the winter of 1944/45.
While such a unit in the Soviet Army would have been supported by a mechanized infantry battalion, the Partisan unit did not have this support. Instead, the Partisans were to provide their own units for this role. These would be trained in Yugoslavia. The purpose of the mechanized infantry battalion was to provide the tanks with close infantry support elements. Ideally, the battalion was to be equipped with trucks for transport, but the Partisans lacked these, and the soldiers had to use the tanks themselves for transport. Additional auxiliary units, such as reconnaissance, a medical platoon, and one anti-aircraft company were also used. Similar to the Soviet Army, the Second Tank Brigade also had a political commissar in it.
The unit was officially formed on 6th October 1944. To train the Partisan’s crews, the Soviets had to provide 16 T-34 tanks. Due to the harsh weather, with temperatures reaching -40 °C, the Partisans had trouble adapting to the climate. There were often cases of frostbite and some soldiers had to be sent back to Yugoslavia for medical reasons.
After the completion of crew training, the Brigade was finally fully formed on 8th March 1945 and was temporarily named First Tank Brigade, but this would be shortly changed to Second Tank Brigade. During the same month, the Brigade was slowly relocated to Yugoslavia. It was transported by rail from the Soviet Union through Romania and Bulgaria and finally reached Topčider (Serbia) on 26th March 1945. The following day, it participated in a military parade in the capital of Belgrade. On 28th March, the 1st and 3rd battalions were transferred to the Syrmian Front. Initially, the Brigade was positioned at Erdeviku, where the mechanized infantry battalion was being formed. Elements of the 2nd Battalion were slightly delayed before they too were sent to the front. Its 2nd Tank Company was stationed in Belgrade to provide protection for the city and the Partisan High Command.
The Syrmian Front was a vital German defense line in the area of Srem and Slavonija. The Germans fortified their positions using extensive trench lines, vast minefields, and entrenched firing points. This line was vital for them, as it protected the retreating units from Greece and Yugoslavia. The Partisans were poorly adapted to this kind of combat and had significant issues penetrating enemy defense positions.
On 12th April 1945, the Second Tank Brigade was split to provide firing support for the advancing Partisans. The 1st Battalion was attached to the 1st Proletarian Infantry Division and the 3rd Battalion to the 21st Serbian Infantry Division in the region of Vinkovci. Opposing them were elements of the German 34th Corps supported by Croatian forces. The attack began on the same day, with the Partisans advancing toward Vukovar supported by artillery. The baptism of fire of the Second Tank Brigade started chaotically. Despite having the mechanized infantry battalion as support, possibly due to poor coordination, the two units attacked independently. Due to heavy German and Croatian resistance and poor leadership of the Second Tank Brigade, great losses could not be avoided. The unit lost 8 vehicles, with two badly damaged, five lightly damaged tanks, and one BA-64 armored car completely written off. The mechanized infantry battalion lost a third of its personnel. The commander of this unit forbade the infantry from disembarking from the tanks that carried them until the enemy line was reached. Most were killed before this actually happened and the tanks were left with no infantry support. Despite these heavy losses, the unit managed to reach the city of Vukovar that day.
The following day, under heavy German anti-tank fire, two more tanks were lost. These were taken out by 7.5 cm PaK 40 fire. One of them received a hit between the turret and the upper hull. Although the turret was severely damaged, the tank was not completely destroyed. At this point, the Partisans were forced to abandon damaged tanks regardless of the extent of the damage. The Brigade’s engineers simply lacked the experience and probably even equipment to tow these to safety.
In the meantime, the absent 2nd Tank Battalion advanced toward the front line. It was initially sent to Bosnia to help liberate Brčko. Due to delays in crossing the Drina river, it did not participate in the liberation of its target and instead was ordered to move toward Županja, in Croatia. On 13th April, it came into contact with the retreating enemy. The enemy forces simply began retreating faster than the Partisan’s tank could follow. Finally, the enemies were cornered near the village of Gudinci. Unfortunately for the Partisans, the Germans blew up the bridges, preventing the Partisans from following them. Attempts to build improvised crossing bridges were abandoned after two Partisans soldiers were killed by German fire. Instead, the 2nd Tank Battalion managed to find another crossing. They immediately began attacking the German positions supported by only a single infantry battalion from the 5th Infantry Division. Partisans expected the resistance to be weak and that the enemy would simply retreat, as they had done before. The enemy’s resistance was heavier than expected. While providing firing support for the infantry, two T-34-85 tanks became bogged down in a canal that the Partisans failed to spot in time. One of them had its barrel digging into the ground. The Partisans abandoned the attack but successfully evacuated the two tanks during the night. The following day, another attack was launched. This time, the Partisans attacked the village from a distance with tank fire. After several rounds were fired, the tanks rushed toward the village expecting that their fire had weakened the defenders. When the two lead tanks reached the village, they were instead met with Panzerfaust fire. Both were taken out, with the last tank managing to pull back. Under heavier Partisan pressure, by the end of the day, the enemy was beaten back.
On 16th and 17th April, other elements of the Second Tank Brigade were positioned at Vinkoci, awaiting necessary repairs and the arrival of the 2nd Tank Battalion. In addition, the damaged tanks were finally recovered and gathered there for repairs. On 18th April, the Second Tank Brigade was meant to begin attacking Axis positions near the village of Pleternica. Once again, inadequate leadership and poor assessment of the enemy’s defensive line lead to a failed attack. One tank was taken out, likely hit by a Panzerfaust. The whole unit had to retreat after an Axis counterattack. The Axis counterattack was spearheaded by one Hotchkiss and three FIAT (possibly L6/40s, which was a common German-used tank by this time) tanks. The following day, another attack was launched by the Partisans. This time, they systematically began demolishing houses in order to take away any possible cover from the enemy. The enemy armor was not used against the Partisan tanks, as they really could do little against them. The fighting for this village lasted up to 20th April. While the Partisans finally managed to take it, they failed in their objective to cut off the elite German 7. SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgs-Division “Prinz Eugen” (English: 7th SS Prince EugenVolunteer Mountain Division), which managed to escape. The Brigade lost two more tanks, with one destroyed and the other damaged. Any further breach was not possible, as the T-34-85s came under strong enemy fire. The Brigade was instead pulled back to its starting positions.
On 22nd April, elements from the Second Tank Brigade supported the advance of the 21st Infantry Division in their advance in the area of Brod–Batrina-Novska. This attack was more successful and the enemy was driven off. The pursuit was not possible, as the Germans blew up the bridges over the River Orljava.
After this, the Brigade was positioned in the village of Oriovici. From 23rd April to 4th (or 5th, depending on the source) May, this unit was inactive due to a general lack of spare parts, fuel, and ammunition. The greatest problem was the lack of summer lubricants. The Second Tank Brigade commander simply failed to request these from the Soviets on time. For this reason, the T-34-85 engines often overheated. During this time, the unit’s commanders came under criticism from the Partisan High Command. Due to their poor leadership, the brigade suffered unnecessary losses. In addition, the unit as a whole was rarely used. Instead, smaller groups of tanks were used to support the infantry, which greatly affected their performance. How many tanks were lost by this point is not known precisely. According to the Partisans’ own documentation, dated 25th April 1945, they had 50 fully operational tanks. Croatian documents from the war listed 34 destroyed Partisan tanks during April 1945. Both of these factions had reasons to present figures that may not have been completely true. For the Croatians, by this point, any kind of success could be used for propaganda purposes. The Partisans, on the other hand, may have downplayed their losses to hide the Brigade’s rather poor leadership.
Once the necessary supplies reached the Brigade, the march to the west continued on 4th May. By this point, the enemy resistance was collapsing. The enemy was now desperate, trying to reach the Allies in Italy to avoid surrendering to the Partisans. On 6th May, while crossing a bridge over the Ilova river, the bridge collapsed under the weight of the tank, taking the tank with it. Luckily, the driver survived the fall, and the tank was quickly salvaged from the river but was so badly damaged it could only be repaired after the war. The Partisans simply failed to properly test the bridge’s stability before crossing. On 8th May, as the Brigade was approaching Zagreb, they came under fire and one tank was lost. The city was fully liberated on the following day. On the 10th, elements from this Brigade, supported by the mechanized infantry, attacked enemy positions at Šestina. Once again, the infantry was forbidden from disembarking from the tanks, leading to heavy losses. Finally, with the capture of Zagreb and the larger workshop located in it, the Partisans managed to seize a variety of trucks they provided to the infantry. The tanks entered Ljubljana shortly and they would be sent to Trieste, where they awaited the end of the war.
After the War
After the war, the surviving T-34 tanks would be used as the main fighting force of the newly created Jugoslovenske Narodne Armije (English: Yugoslav People’s Army) for years to come. Despite their obsolescence, they would remain in service up to the early 2000s.
The T-34-76 saw quite limited service with both Partisans and the Germans in the final months of the war. It’s later improved version, T-34-85, was also present in the closing months of the war. Nevertheless, it saw heavy action, albeit mostly in the Soviet’s hand, especially during the liberation of Serbia where the enemy resistance was strong. While the formation of the first Partisans unit equipped with this tank was initiated back in September 1944, the unit did not reach Yugoslavia until March 1945. The Second Tank Brigade would still see some action, but in comparison to the First Tank Brigade, it performed quite poorly. Despite being equipped with the best available tank that was used in Yugoslavia, they were often outperformed by the enemy. This was mostly due to the unit commanders’ poor tactical decisions and general lack of experience. Nevertheless, the T-34-85 contributed to the final liberation of Yugoslavia. It would remain one of the most available tanks in post-war Yugoslavia up to its collapse in the 1990s.
6.68 x 3 x 2.45 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready
5 (driver, radio operator, gunner, loader, and commander)
V-2-34, 38.8-liter V12 diesel 500 hp
Road Speed: 60 km/h
300 km (road), 230 km (off-road)
85 mm ZiS-S-53 gun, with two 7.62 mm DT machine guns
German Reich (1935-1945)
Armored Reconnaissance Car – 339 Built
The German Kfz.13, although an initial success as the first serially produced armored car, lacked armor and any fighting capabilities and was never intended for combat use. This led to the need for a new armored car that would be built on a new standard chassis common to all kinds of other German armored vehicles. The Sd.Kfz.221 was first developed in 1934 and was a completely new design with many modern features at that time. It was meant for frontline service, acting as a reconnaissance vehicle together with radio-equipped vehicles. However, with thin armor and armed with only a machine gun, it could do very little in combat, even in 1939. Therefore, the production of the Sd.Kfz.221 was stopped and emphasis was laid on newer armored cars. In the end, it was still in service around 1943 due to a low supply of reconnaissance vehicles, with many regular 221s converted into radio or command vehicles.
A Brief History of Early German Armored Car Development
Following the end of the First World War, Germany was strictly forbidden from developing new military technologies, including armored vehicles. Surprisingly, the Entente allowed the German Schutzpolizei (Eng. Police force), which had 150,000 armed men in service, to be equipped with 1 armored personnel carrier per 1,000 men. The Germans exploited this exception made by the Entente and developed and built a few new armored cars, such as the Ehrhardt/21. These vehicles were nominally given to and used by the police force, but the army also acquired and operated small numbers. To counter the large extremist groups and organizations which took hold of Germany in the post-war years, the Freikoprs had to be well equipped and trained.
By the late 1920s and early 1930s, great interest was given to the development of new types of armored cars that were to be specially designed and used by the Army. The general lack of funds greatly hampered the development and introduction into the service of such vehicles. For example, while the eight-wheeled ‘ARW’ armored car was promising, having excellent mobility compared to four-wheeled armored cars, due to its price, the German Army simply could not afford it at that time. For this reason, the development of new armored cars focused on four-wheeled chassis. These had to be cheap and easy to be built, without the need for overly specialized tooling. As these were to be used as temporary solutions and for crew training, a simple design was deemed sufficient for the job.
The Kfz.13 Maschinengewehrkraftwagen (Eng. Machine gun vehicle) was Daimler-Benz’s response to the German Army’s request for an easy to build and a cheap open-top armored car. To make the Kfz.13 as cheap as possible, the Adler Standard 6 4×2 Kublesitzer passenger car was used for its base. On top of its chassis was a simple open-top armored body. The armament consisted of a rotating MG 13 machine gun protected by an armored shield. Based on this vehicle, a radio communication version, named Kfz.14, was built. It was basically the same vehicle, but the machine gun was replaced with radio equipment, including a large frame antenna.
The fact that they were not fully protected was not seen as a problem, as this vehicle was never intended to be used in real combat. Nonetheless, due to the general lack of armored vehicles when the war started, both the Kfz.13 and 14 had to be used by the invading German forces. Surprisingly, despite their obsolescence, they were in use with frontline units up to the end of 1941. Some even managed to survive up to the end of the war in May 1945.
During 1934, more extensive work was made to develop dedicated four-wheeled armored vehicles that would be used by the German army in different specialized roles. This would lead to the creation of a successful Leichter Panzerspahwagen series starting with the Sd.Kfz.221.
Initially, the new armored vehicle was designated as the Panzerspähwagen 35 (M.G.) (Eng. reconnaissance armored car). In July 1935, the designation would be slightly changed to Leichter Panzerspähwagen (M.G.) (Eng. light reconnaissance armored car). In contrast to the previous Kfz. 13 and 14 vehicles, which were not intended for combat use, this vehicle was specially designed for it. For this reason, it received the military classification marking and number, Sonderkraftfahrzeug (or Sd.Kfz., Eng. Special purpose vehicle) 221. Given that, in most sources, this vehicle is described simply as Sd.Kfz.221, this article will use the same designation.
The need for a heavy chassis arose in the context of the development of a standard and unitary chassis for Army purposes. The Einheitsfahrgestell I (Eng. standard chassis I) was to have a rear-mounted engine and was to carry an armored superstructure, later intended to be an armored car. Development of the standard chassis ‘I’ began in 1934, when the first design and layout of the vehicle were thought out, with certain factors that needed to be fulfilled.
These requirements were:
Few defects and breakdowns in regular non-combat situations
Able to run on different grades of fuel
Easy to produce and to maintain chassis so lower-skilled workers could work on it too
Running gear had to have limited rolling resistance
Good grade ability
High ground clearance
Good steering with 4 wheel steering
Low weight and ground pressure
However, these requirements turned out to be very difficult to implement, which made it impossible to use any older chassis or spare parts.
The heavy standard chassis ‘I’ differed in many aspects from the other chassis. The rear-mounted engine had the large radiator located in front, while the size of the engine was minimized. The steering wheel was inverted and located on the left side.
The Sd.Kfz.221 based on the Einheitsfahrgestell I was intended as a direct replacement for the obsolete and inadequate Kfz. 13 and 14 armored cars. Wa. Prüf. 6 (Eng. Weapons Ordinance department) gave specific demands for two types of vehicles. The first was a light armored car mounting a single machine gun. Later, during development, an additional requirement for a vehicle with a two-man turret and a 20 mm cannon was issued and would become the Sd.Kfz.222. It was meant to act as a support vehicle for the MG version. The last version was a light armored car with a radio and frame antenna (the Sd.Kfz.223).
Several different factories were involved in the production of the Sd.Kfz.221. The I series was built from 1935 to 1937, with some 14 being assembled by Daimler-Benz, 69 by Schichau, and 60 by Deutsche-Werke. An additional 48 of the II series were built during 1938. The last 150 of the III series were assembled by Weserhütte from June 1939 to August 1940. Despite the original intention for the vehicle to be cheap, the Sd.Kfz.221 was rather expensive and difficult to build.
Chassis and Running Gear
The Sd.Kfz.221 chassis consisted of the rear-mounted engine, central crew compartment, and the front driver position. To have the best possible off-road performance, independent suspension was used on all four wheels. Each of the four wheels was connected to the chassis frame by two unequal bar arms. These were then sprung by two coil springs, which, in turn, were connected to two double-acting shock absorbers. The actual drive to the wheel ran between the two springs.
The dimensions of the pneumatic tires were 210 x 18. From 1938 onwards, the Sd.Kfz.221 wheels were to be equipped with bulletproof inner tubes. These were not actually bullet resistant, but instead did not deflate when hit by enemy fire, and thus the vehicle could drive on for a while.
The Sd.Kfz.221 was powered by a Horch 3.5 liter V-8 water-cooled 75 hp @ 3,600 rpm engine. With a total weight of nearly four tonnes, this armored car was able to reach a maximum speed (on good roads) of 80 km/h. In front of the engine was a 110-liter fuel tank. With this fuel load, the operational range of the Sd.Kfz.221 was 350 km, while cross-country, this was reduced to 200 km. Immediately behind the fuel tanks, a fire-resistant wall was installed.
The Sd.Kfz.221 had a four-wheel drive. For steering, there were two options. The vehicle could either use only the front wheels, or, in special circumstances, the driver could use all four wheels. The later option was to be avoided during fast driving, as it could be potentially dangerous for the crew. The driver was instructed to use four-wheel steering only when the speed of the vehicle was less than 20 km/h.
An armored body was placed on top of the chassis. While protected with only 8 mm of armor at the front and on the sides and 5 mm at the rear, the plates were placed at a high angle to provide additional protection from small-caliber rounds.
The lower part of this armored body was V-shaped and placed at 35° angles. The upper plates had the opposite shape, curving inward as they neared the top and were placed at the same angle. The front plate armor, angled at 36º to 37º, was specially designed to offer the maximum protection possible, but, at the same time, providing the driver with an excellent view. The rear part, where the engine was positioned, was similarly designed to have angled armor plates. All these plates were welded together. Only the front and rear suspension protective plates were bolted to the armored body. The wheels were also protected by four detachable hubs. Various storage boxes and spare wheel holders were placed around the armored body.
On the lower part of the armored body sides were two large hatches. Just above them were the driver’s side vision ports. Each vision port was additionally protected with a metal frame that provided resistance against bullet splash and an armored glass block. The driver was provided with a large single-piece frontal visor. As these proved too expensive to produce, from early 1939, the vision ports were replaced with cast ones.
The top front of the Sd.Kfz.221 was protected with 5 mm of armor. The rear part, behind the turret, was covered with a mesh wire which provided protection against grenades. If needed, it could be open for a third crew to be transported inside the vehicle.
To the rear in the engine compartment, three smaller hatches were provided for the crew to have easy access to the engine. Interestingly, the two hatches located on the engine compartment sides could be remotely opened by the commander. The purpose of them being open was to provide additional cool air to the engine. The large ventilation port was protected by overlapping armor strips. These offered free flow air ventilation but prevented enemy rounds from entering the engine compartment.
Despite increasing the frontal armor to 14.5 mm in 1939, the Sd.Kfz.221 crew were only sufficiently protected from small-caliber bullets. Any kind of anti-tank weapon could easily destroy the vehicle. Given that this was a reconnaissance vehicle not meant to be used directly in combat, speed and mobility were more important than armor.
The small seven-sided turret was just an extended machine gun shield. The turret did not move using a ball bearing race, but instead on four simple rollers which were placed on top of the Sd.Kfz.221’s superstructure. The armored plates of the turret were only 8 mm thick and placed at 10° angles. The turret ring diameter was 1,450 mm.
This turret did not actually fully protect the gunner, whose head was partially exposed. It was common to see the gunners of this vehicle using steel helmets. Half of the turret top was covered with a two-piece anti-grenade screen. The open-top nature of the turret offered the commander excellent all-around visibility, which was important for a reconnaissance vehicle. In case of an engagement with the enemy, two side vision ports were provided for observation. During the introduction of the III series, the additional visors were added to the turret sides.
The Sd.Kfz.221 was only lightly armed, with one pedestal-mounted 7.92 mm MG 13 machine gun. The machine gun mount with the gunner’s seat had simple spring units that allowed them to be raised. For lowering the machine gun, the gunner simply had to use his own body weight. If needed, this mount could be further raised up, protruding out of the small turret. This was done to provide the vehicle with limited anti-aircraft capabilities. This machine gun was belt-fed with an ammunition load of 1,000 rounds. Different sources also mention that the ammunition load consisted of either 1,050, 1,200, or even 2,000 rounds.
The obsolescent MG 13 began to be replaced with a more modern MG 34 in April 1938. Later that year, in June, the belt feed was to be replaced with drum magazines on the MG 34. Despite being replaced by the much-improved machine gun, the older MG 13 was still in use by some units, such as the aufklärungs (Eng. reconnaissance) detachments of the reiter-regiments (Eng. Cavalry units). In either case, the elevation of the machine gun was -30° (or -10°) to +70°, while the traverse was a full 360°.
The crews were supplied with one MP-18 submachine gun. This would later be replaced with an improved MP-38 or 40. Additionally, six hand grenades and a 27 mm signal pistol were carried inside.
The Sd.Kfz.221 had a crew of two, the commander and the driver. The driver was positioned at the front of the vehicle, while the commander was just behind him. Given that the use of radios by this vehicle was rare, the commander’s secondary role was to operate the machine gun. Communication with other vehicles was possible by using either hand or flag signals.
In spite of being a reconnaissance vehicle, the Sd.Kfz.221 was usually not equipped with a radio. From 1941 onwards, some vehicles, possibly in limited numbers, were equipped with short-range radios such as the FuG 3 or 5.
According to the German doctrine, the reconnaissance armored vehicles’ primary goal was to race ahead of the main force. They were to scout for an enemy’s strong and weak points. Once the enemy positions were observed and vital information gathered, the armored cars were to report back. Armor and weapons were mainly for self-defense, and engagements with the enemy were to be avoided when possible.
The Sd.Kfz.221s were used to equip aufklärung (Eng. reconnaissance) detachments of various units, including panzer, motorized, and regular infantry divisions. However, these armored cars were rather rare and could not often be provided in the numbers needed. As an example, an infantry division in 1939 had around 3 armored cars, either the 221 or the 222. Furthermore, a motorized infantry division did not field many armored cars as part of their reconnaissance unit. Only the panzer divisions and their panzer aufklärungs abteilungen (Eng. tank reconnaissance battalions) were heavily in need of armored cars, as they needed a very fast car that was also armored.
In 1939, theoretically, a panzer division fielded 90 armored cars in total. In reality, the number of armored cars varied from each division. As an example, the 5th Light Division fielded 127 armored cars, whilst the 4th Panzer Division only fielded 70. Out of these 90 armored cars, 20 were the Sd.Kfz.221s. All of them were part of the panzer aufklärungs abteilung (note the term Panzer was only applied after 1940). In each reconnaissance battalion, two armored car companies existed at this time, named aufklärungsschwadron (Eng. reconnaissance squadron). Each armored car company had a signal detachment, company HQ, 1 heavy platoon, a company maintenance section, and 2 light platoons. One light platoon consisted of 4 Sd.Kfz.221 and 2 Sd.Kfz.222. The other light platoon consisted of 6 Sd.Kfz.221. A motorized division had, in theory, 30 armored cars and again 1 motorized reconnaissance battalion. The same numbers applied as for the panzer division. This also meant 20 Sd.Kfz.221s had to be present in total in a motorized division.
By 1940, the numbers had not changed. Although present during the invasion of Poland, the Waffen SS or, at this time, Verfügungstruppen der Waffen SS (Eng. Units available of the Waffen SS), only saw minor action. In the invasion of France, they participated in large numbers for the first time. The SSVT (Waffen SS Verfügungstruppen) had a different organization than the regular panzer divisions in both Poland and France. Unlike the regular Wehrmacht divisions, the SS Division of the LAH (Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, 1. SS. Panzer Division), for example, had a light SS armored car platoon within their motorized infantry regiments. This meant 4 additional Sd.Kfz.221s to the 10 from the armored car company within the reconnaissance battalion (SS battalions only had one AC company), 14 Sd.Kfz.221s in total. The regular SS-V (Waffen SS Verfügung) had this additional light AC platoon. This included the Germania SSVT, Der Führer SSVT, and Deutschland SSVT (all part of the 2. SS). This also explains why, in some photos, the Sd.Kfz.221s have the tactical symbol of a regular infantry regiment and not of a reconnaissance unit. The 3. SS Panzer Division did not have this additional light AC platoon.
In 1941, most armored cars were still organized into the panzer aufklärungs abteilungen of panzer divisions. Each battalion had one armored car company, which consisted of a signal detachment, company HQ, 1 heavy platoon, company maintenance section, and 2 light platoons. The light platoons consisted of 8 armored cars, 4 of which were Sd.Kfz.221s. This meant each panzer division theoretically had 8 Sd.Kfz.221s. The same numbers applied to the motorized infantry divisions. By 1941, SS Divisions were full combat divisions, and, therefore, the reconnaissance battalions had the same organization as the Wehrmacht divisions.
In 1942, the Sd.Kfz.221 was removed from all lists and organizations in the panzer and motorized infantry divisions. However, like the Panzer I, it continued to see service as a replacement and spare vehicle.
Number of Sd.Kfz.221s per Division from 1939 to 1941
Type of Division
Number of Sd.Kfz.221s
Motorized Infantry Division
Waffen SS VT (1st, 2nd)
Waffen SS VT (3rd)
Motorized Infantry Division
Waffen SS VT (1st, 2nd)
Waffen SS VT (3rd)
Motorized Infantry Division
Panzer Division/Waffen SS
The Sd.Kfz.221 would see extensive action in almost all fronts where the Germans were involved. Unfortunately, the general use of the German armor cars is often overshadowed by the better-known panzers. The first use of the Sd.Kfz.221 in German hands in a foreign land was during the Anschluss of Austria in 1938 and during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939. As part of Aufklärungs Abteilung 1, several Sd.Kfz.221s participated during the occupation of Memel (Lithuania) in 1939.
Their first combat experience in German hands would be gained during the invasion of Poland. At least 290 Sd.Kfz.221s took part in the invasion as part of either the SSVT or the Wehrmacht. Although they did not encounter many tanks, the Polish AT guns proved to be more than a match for the 221. The German Army, in general, did not have a lot of experience in actual fighting, let alone their reconnaissance units. This resulted in reconnaissance units running into AT guns without any support from tanks or artillery. Furthermore, the coordination between the air force and the ground forces was only in its early stages and still had to be fine-tuned.
During the invasion of Poland, although achieving victory, the German Army lost a large amount of vehicles, especially lightly armored ones, including the Sd.Kfz.221. Before the invasion of France and the Benelux, the Sd.Kfz.221 saw service during the invasion of Denmark and Norway as part of Panzer Abteilung 40 z.b.V. (Eng. Tank Battalion 40 for special purposes).
In May 1940, around 280 Sd.Kfz.221s took part during the invasion of France. Although the coordination within the German forces had improved, the Allied tanks proved to be a new danger for the 221. British and French tanks could destroy entire armored car companies, with the companies which were unable to defend themselves. However, due to much better coordination, the reconnaissance units worked better with the tank regiments and air force and were able to beat back Allied forces. Furthermore, the knowledge and intelligence that the fast and mobile Sd.Kfz.221 and the reconnaissance units in general collected were essential for the German application of the doctrine of mobile warfare.
It is unknown if any 221s were sent to North Africa, as no photos show them there. If any took part, it must have been only in small numbers, possibly 20 to 24 vehicles.
During Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, approximately 210 Sd.Kfz.221s were still in service. The Soviet Union would be the end for the 221, as the harsh climate and mud season were too much even for the decent mobility of the 221. Furthermore, the large numbers of Soviet AT rifles, guns, and tanks contributed to the decreasing number of vehicles that were still operational. This and the discounted production led to the removal of the Sd.Kfz.221 from all organizational tables and it was replaced by the Sd.Kfz.222 in 1942.
Nonetheless, it continued to see service as a replacement and reserve vehicle. Furthermore, Sd.Kfz.221 versions with the 2.8 cm AT gun or an AT rifle were introduced, both of which continued to see service until the Battle of Kursk. Eventually, even these were put out of service due to their increasingly weak armament. However, many of the improvised radio vehicles and command vehicles served within the divisions until the war’s end.
Due to the Sd.Kfz.221 being available in relatively large numbers and obsoleteness, many vehicles were converted and reused in new roles. Some of these vehicles were created to counter the lack of anti-tank power, whilst some units made use of them to replace missing radio vehicles.
Sd.Kfz.221 with Panzerbüchse 39
The Sd.Kfz.221’s armament of only one machine gun proved to be insufficient, so, in 1941, the first attempts were made to increase its firepower. Besides the machine gun, an opening for a 7.92 mm Pz.B.39 anti-tank rifle was added. This anti-tank rifle was introduced in 1940 as a replacement for the older Pz.B.38. Due to the obsolescence of this rifle, few such modifications were made.
Sd.Kfz.221 with 2.8 cm schwere Panzerbüchse 41
From 1942 onwards, most Sdk.Kfz. 221s were to be rearmed with the 2.8 cm schwere Panzerbuchse 41 (Eng. heavy anti-tank rifle), or more simply, sPzB 41. While classified as an anti-tank rifle, it more correctly fitted the role of a light anti-tank gun, given that the gun was placed on a two-wheel mount with split trail legs. Surprisingly, no traverse or elevation mechanisms were used. Instead, the gun operator had to aim the gun using a spade grip to manually change the position of the barrel to fire at the designated target. The gunner grip unit was actually offset to the right from the breech block. An unusual element of this weapon was that it implemented the use of a tapering bore. Basically, the barrel section that connected to the sliding breech block had a diameter of 2.8 cm. Toward the end of the barrel, at the muzzle brake, this diameter was reduced to 2 cm.
Another unusual feature of this weapon was its specifically designed ammunition. Basically, the crew of this gun could choose between the 2.8 cm Pzgr Patr 41 armor-piercing (AP) and Sprgr patr 41 high-explosive (HE) rounds. The AP round consisted of a tungsten core that was placed inside a lead sleeve. It was then placed in a cartridge made of iron that had a magnesium-alloy top. The whole cartridge could easily fit into the chamber. During firing, the front part would be squeezed thanks to small holes in it that would allow the air to escape. Thanks to the magnesium-alloy top, when the target was hit, a bright light was released. This helped the gunner see where he had hit the target. The total weight of this AP round was 131 g. With a muzzle velocity of 1,400 m/s, the armor penetration of these AP rounds was 52 mm at 500 m at a 30° angle. The HE round worked the same way, but the difference was that its casing was built using steel. Both rounds had a meager range of only 800 m.
The front part of the turret was cut, and the gun mount was placed on top of the armored body, slightly in front of the turret. The sPzB 41 trailer was meant to be carried with the vehicle. While not clear how many were converted with this weapon, author D. Nešić (Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Nemačka) mentions that around 34 vehicles were made. In order to protect the operator, the original sPzB 41 two-part gun shield was retained. The MG 34 was retained inside the vehicle, but its ammunition load was decreased to 800 bullets.
It is unknown which divisions carried out these conversions. However, photos reveal that the Kradschützen Abteilung Grossdeutschland (Eng. Motorcycle Battalion Greater Germany) used several of these AT Sd.Kfz.221s. The 11th Panzer Division also used several during the Battle of Kursk.
Sd.Kfz.221 Radio and Command Vehicles
During the war, the German Army suffered from a severe lack of command and radio vehicles. Therefore, many replacement or old vehicles had to be reused for this purpose. The obsolete Sd.Kfz.221, with its MG armament or even the AT rifle and the expensive AT gun variants, was too weak to defend itself on the battlefield.
For this reason and due to a shortage of radio vehicles such as the Sd.Kfz.223, an unknown number of 221s were converted into radio vehicles. Since these were mostly field conversions, the vehicles differed greatly from each other. Some had their turret removed, whilst some still mounted it. However, all vehicles were outfitted with some kind of antenna. Early during the war, this antenna would be a Rahmenantenne (Eng. frame antenna). Although these antennas differ in size and height from vehicle to vehicle, all of them were smaller and narrower than the one fitted on the Sd. Kfz. 223. Conversions were presumably done by the 7th Panzer Division, as their armored car company was refitted with French armored cars and they, therefore, had a stockpile of Sd.Kfz.221s. At the same time, their radio vehicles were removed from the signal detachment. Therefore, the spare Sd.Kfz.221s were refitted with the radios. The same can be said about the 20th Panzer Division. There is a possibility that other divisions did the same at a later point.
A single vehicle is known to have been commanded by Generalleutnant Gerhard Graf von Schwerin. It did not have the regular frame antenna, but a middle-to-late-war Sternenantenne (Eng. Star antenna). The vehicle had its turret removed and was outfitted with a windshield. It was one of the last Sd.Kfz.221s to see combat action during the Battle of the Bulge in winter 1944-1945.
The Sd.Kfz.221 not only proved to be popular as a replacement for radio vehicles, but also as a mobile command post. Due to fairly decent mobility, it was popular amongst HQ units, which reused the old 221s from their reconnaissance battalions. Similar to some radio vehicles, these command vehicles received a windshield. However, this windshield was less of a field conversion and more of a production type, as multiple vehicles can be seen with the same curved windshield. One of the most popular command variants with the photographers was a Sd.Kfz.221 converted during the Polish campaign, named “Tiger”. Another vehicle was seen during the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.
Sd.Kfz.221 with MG 34 Lafette
An unknown number (presumably a single vehicle) of Sd.Kfz.221s were converted into Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Guns (SPAAGs). The vehicle had its turret replaced by a Zwillingssockel 36 (Eng. twin base) with two AA MG 34s and a protective shield.
Sd.Kfz.221 in Chinese Service
In 1935, the Chinese Kuomintang Government was feeling more and more threatened by the Empire of Japan on its borders. As a result, the German advisors in Nationalist China advised the purchase of German tanks. Alongside Panzer Is, ammunition, firearms, and trucks, 18 Sd.Kfz.221s were also acquired. On arrival, they were organized into the 3rd Tank Battalion stationed in Nanjing, where they would later see service. Only a portion of the vehicles had machine guns sent with them. This meant a number of vehicles had to be equipped with Soviet or Chinese MGs. However, under German advice, the vehicles were not used in their intended role as reconnaissance vehicles. During the defense of Shanghai in 1937, they were mostly used as mobile pillboxes. Although defeated during the defense of Shanghai, the vehicles survived until at least 1944 according to photographic evidence.
There is a controversy around the use of the Sd.Kfz.221 in China relating to its camouflage. Although it seems like the vehicles were painted in the dark gray camouflage in most photos, they were actually painted in the standard German three-tone camouflage. The dark gray camouflage was only applied in Germany from around September 1938, when the vehicles were already in China. Due to exposure to the weather of China and because the pattern was not repainted, the three-tone camouflage quickly disappeared and wore off.
A single Sd.Kfz.221 is known today that survived the war. It is exhibited in the Royal Jordanian Museum, however, it is unknown how it got there. Furthermore, if the license plate is still the original one, it reveals that the vehicle was part of the SS. Wiking Division, which mainly served on the Eastern Front. This would lead to the conclusion that the museum purchased the vehicle from another museum or private collection in Russia. However, there is a possibility that this vehicle is a reconstruction (due to a number of oddities).
The Sd.Kfz.221 turned out to be a success during the early war. The vehicle featured many new technologies, such as a four-wheel drive or a rear-fitted engine. For the first time, it introduced standardized production in the German Army. However, like many other armored fighting vehicles developed and built during the interwar years, the vehicle was obsolete after 1940. The sole machine gun could not provide an adequate threat to any armored vehicles and the armor could only protect against small arms fire. The addition of the AT rifle could only help against soft skin vehicles and light tanks and the upgraded 221 with the 2.8 cm sPzb was not able to fight against enemy tanks at medium to long ranges. However, due to its mobility, it was fairly popular amongst the troops, who would use it as a command station or radio vehicle during the middle and late war.
United States of America (1990-1991)
Missile Tank Destroyer – 1 Built
The AGM-114 ‘Hellfire’ missile was developed by the US Army specifically to counter modern Soviet main battle tanks in a potential clash of superpowers. Thankfully for all concerned, such a conflict did not erupt, the Cold War ending with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, the missile in service proved itself effective in combat and offered advantages over the TOW (Tube-launched Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) missile. The idea of a ground-launched version of the missile goes back to around 1980, even before the missile had been finished. It was not until 1991 that efforts were seriously made to use it within a project called Hellfire Ground Launched (HGL) coming in two types; Light (GLH-L) – mounted on an HMMWV, and Heavy (GLH-H) – mounted on a light armored vehicle such as the Bradley, LAV, or M113. It came to pass that only one of those options was pursued, the test mounting and fitting of the GLH-H turret on an M113, in this case, a repurposed M901 TOW version of the M113.
The Hellfire missile is a third-generation anti-tank missile capable of both air launch (originally from the Advanced Attack Helicopter program by Hughes Aircraft Company) but also from the ground, in a line of development dating back to the late 1960s with the LASAM (LAser Semi-Active Missile) and MISTIC (MIssile System Target Illuminator Controlled) programs. By 1969, MYSTIC, the over-the-horizon laser missile program, had transitioned into a new program known as the ‘Heliborne Laser Fire and Forget Missile’, shortly thereafter renamed ‘Heliborne Launched Fire and Forget Missile’, later shortened to just ‘Hellfire’.
By 1973, the Hellfire was already being offered for procurement by Rockwell International based in Columbus, Ohio, and to be manufactured by Martin Marietta Corporation as the ‘HELLFIRE’, but somewhat misleadingly still being considered or labeled by some as a ‘fire and forget’ type of weapon. It was not until the arrival of Hellfire Longbow that a true fire-and-forget version of the Hellfire existed.
Procurement and limited manufacturing of the missile followed, with the first test firings of the finished product, known as the YAGM-114A, at Redstone Arsenal in September 1978. This was followed by modifications to the infrared seeker of the missile. With Army trials completed in 1981, full-scale production began in early 1982, with the first units fielded by the US Army in Europe at the end of 1984.
Despite being occasionally mislabelled as a fire and forget missile, the Hellfire can in fact be used quite differently. Fire and forget implies that, once the weapon is locked onto a target, it could be fired and then the launch vehicle could retreat to a safe distance or move on to the next target. This is not strictly a correct description of the Hellfire, as the missile also has the ability to have its trajectory changed during flight by up to 20 degrees from the original and up to 1,000 m each way.
Targeting for the missile is by means of a laser which is projected from a designator either in the air or on the ground, regardless of where the missile is launched. An air-launched Hellfire can, for example, be targeted onto an enemy vehicle by a ground designation laser or by other designating aircraft. The missile is not limited to ground targets either. It can also be used to target aircraft, with some emphasis on its ability to counter enemy attack helicopters. Thus, the missile gains a substantial survivability bonus for a launch vehicle, as it does not have to remain in situ and can even be fired from over the horizon, such as over a hill at targets beyond.
The TOW missile was already available in the US arsenal, but Hellfire offered some things that TOW did not. For example, an increased standoff capacity along with an increased range (over the 3 to 3.75 km maximum range of TOW), an increased versatility of use, as the TOW was not suitable for aircraft use, as well as improved physical performance, such as armor penetration, explosive blast, and a shorter flight time due to traveling more quickly.
With a continuous laser seeker on the missile following the designation applied, the missile could easily target moving vehicles whilst being harder to intercept or counter (by engaging the launcher).
Improvements in ballistics through the 1980s improved the Hellfire design and the weapon has a maximum effective range quoted as being up to 8 km, with longer ranges being achieved with a reduction in accuracy due mainly to attenuation of the laser beam. Data from the Department of Defense, however, provides a maximum direct fire range of 7 km, with indirect fire out to 8 km, with a minimum engagement range of 500 m.
The Hellfire missile was first used in anger during the Invasion of Panama in December 1989, with 7 missiles being fired, all of which hit their targets.
Ground Launched Hellfire – Light (GLH-L)
The initial deployment of Hellfire in the ground role was considered to support the capabilities of the US 9th Infantry Division in 1987. By 1991, this idea of using Hellfires to support that unit had grown closer and it was decided that the M998 HMMWV would become the mount for the system. Interest was later shown by the Army in potentially deploying this system to the 82nd Airborne Division as well.
Using off-the-shelf components, and with a potential customer in the form of the Swedish military, who wanted a coastal defence missile, the Ground Launched Hellfire – Light (GLH-L) received a budget and went ahead. Five such vehicles were created. During trials in California in 1991, the system showed itself to be a success in firing trials. Despite this, the system was not adopted by the US military.
Ground Launched Hellfire – Heavy (GLH-H)
For heavier vehicles, ones with some built-in ballistic protection from enemy fire, three vehicles were the obvious choice of launch platform for the Hellfire, the Bradley, the LAV, and the ever-present M113. Operating as Fire Support Team Vehicles (FIST-V), the vehicles would be able to lase an enemy target and attack it directly if they wished, or once more use remote targeting. This was the Ground Launched Hellfire – Heavy (GLH – H) part of the 16-month-long GLH project.
It is unclear if a test was even carried out on a Bradley, but one was certainly done on an M113. This involved little modification of the vehicle itself except that it had to have a turret fitted to take the missiles and electronics involved. To this end, the M113 under the system was almost inconsequential to the vehicle, as it was little more than a test bed to haul the turret around. A large circle was cut out of the roof armor to take the new system. Conversion work was undertaken by the Electronics and Space Corporation (ESCO), including the fitting of the turret and installation of the laser equipment.
The ring in the roof does not appear to even have an adequate lock or means by which to prevent it from easily rotating under its own weight. The vehicle, currently on display in a museum in Nebraska, has the turret held in place with wire cables to prevent damage and rotation, suggesting the original gearing or control mechanism from the vehicle have been removed. This is because the donor M113 selected for the trials was an M901 Improved TOW Vehicle (ITV).
The M901 ITV, introduced in 1978, differed from the M113 in that, instead of just being an armored box for infantry transport, it was an armored box with a roof-mounted missile system.
The basic M901 mounted the M22A1 TOW, followed by the M901A1 with the M220A2 TOW 2 missiles. The final option, the M901A3, carried the same TOW2 missiles and launcher as the A1 model, but had vehicular improvements, such as improved driver controls and RISE powerpack.
Carrying a dual M220 TOW launcher, the M901 had a crew of 4, consisting of a driver, a gunner, a commander, and a loader. This made sense for a vehicle where the missiles could be reloaded from inside, but less so for the GLH-L and GLH-H, on which reloading had to take place outside.
The Hellfire turret consisted of 4 primary parts: the basket lying underneath the turret and inside the body of the M113, the manned section of the turret, the guidance system at the front, and the rocket pods themselves.
At the back of the turret were a pair of hatches with vision blocks around them. Ahead of the left sight which was mounted on the roof and fixed in place, was the designator offset on the turret front, where a pair of angular protrusions covering the front of the turret face and a pair of thickly made boxes on each side. Each box appears to have been detachable by a series of bolts on the sides and top. These housed the rotating mount for each pod.
View of the turret roof showing the hatches at the back and fixed roof sight. The thickly made boxes are visible both from the front (left) and rear (right).
The body of the turret was approximately 8 mm thick aluminum all round. At the front, on each side, appear to be a pair of large armored boxes, approximately 35 mm thick on the sides and roof. The actual thickness of the roof cannot be measured as is, but the mounting plate for the gunner’s sight is 16 mm thick and sits on an additional plate on the roof with approximately the same thickness.
The hatches at the back are mounted on steel springs but have an aluminum body 40 mm thick. They have a thin steel covering bolted to the top of the hatch. The purpose of this construction is unclear.
The hatch on the left is fitted with 4 simple episcopes, although only the one facing 45 degrees to the rear left would be of much use. No sight is provided forwards for the gunner except for the large roof sight. The episcope facing left is completely obscured by the left-hand missile pod and the one to the right is blocked by the other hatch. The one fitted to the rear right, looking 45 degrees backward, is also blocked, this time by a small metal box in the center of the rear of the turret roof, the purpose of which is unknown.
If the crew member using the left hatch is poorly served by optics, then the one on the right is even more so, as they only had provision for 2 episcopes and these are half the size of the ones on the other hatch. Both are positioned facing forwards at 45 degrees, meaning no direct view forwards from that position and neither is of any use. The one on the right simply faces directly into the right hand missile pod and the one on the left would be completely blocked by the large roof-mounted sight, or would be if it had not been removed and welded over. Thus, of the 6 ‘normal’ episcopes on the turret for the crew, one is missing, three are completely or almost completely blocked by other turret features and none of them look forward.
Looking down on the turret hatches. Hunnicutt identified these are the commander’s hatch on the right and gunner’s hatch on the left.
The turret is asymmetrical, with the guidance module offset to the left at the front. It consists of a pronounced armored box on a mantlet, allowing the laser designator to be fitted. The author R. P. Hunnicutt states that both the US Army ground locator designator (G.L.L.D.) and US Marine Corps Modular Universal Laser Equipment (M.U.L.E.) were fitted.
The box housing it, like the rest of the turret (apart from the mantlet), is made from aluminium, with a front panel 9 mm thick, which houses the lens over the laser designator. The back of the box is 11 mm thick and then mounted to the steel rotating mantlet, which is approximately 50 mm thick. The aluminium framing on either side of this area is 20 mm thick on the right side and 32 mm thick on the left side. The reason for this difference is unclear.
The amount of rotation available for the guidance box on the mantlet is unclear, as there is a metal bolted to that rotating part which would foul on the top edge, where it meets the turret roof, at a relatively modest angle of around 30 degrees or so. It appears that this module would be severely limited in the ability of targeting aircraft, such as helicopters, but this was just a test bed, so what modifications would have been made to allow for a broad spectrum of possible targets is unknown.
Absolutely no secondary armament of any kind is apparent on the vehicle, either on the hull or on the turret. It is likely that, should such a turret ever have seen production, some kind of weapon mount would have been added in the form of a roof machine gun. Even then, however, with those huge pods blocking both sides, the coverage of such a weapon would be extremely limited. The vehicle is thus rather vulnerable to any enemy nearby. The only provision for self-defense are the smoke dischargers, which consist of a single 3-pot mounting on the front right corner of the turret and the dischagers on the hull (2 four-pot discharges on the front corners). Hunnicutt states that a single machine gun was fitted for close-in protection, but this is not shown in any photograph and no mounting for it is apparent either.
As mounted on the M113, the Hellfire system took the basic form of a pair of 4-missile pods on either side of a turret. Each pod was divided into 4 chambers, each measuring 335 mm wide by 335 mm high internally and made from aluminum supported with ribs 7 mm thick. The internal structure of the pods is heavy, with a central vertical divider and floor plate approximately 40 mm thick. Holes in the front and back of the pods indicate that, at some point, covers were also fitted to these pods and one can be seen in a photo of the system during trials.
Each pod was fitted with what appears to be a hinged lid, but closer inspection shows these hinges are on both sides of the top, precluding some sort of vertical reloading. Reloading, in fact, seems to only have been possible from either in front or behind the pod. Given the height of the turret above the ground, reloading would entail standing on the hull roof with the turret partially rotated.
Each pod can clearly rotate from at least horizontal, but the upper limit is unknown. Photographic evidence from launches show an angle less than 45 degrees and also that each pod could be rotated independently.
Eight Hellfire missiles could be carried ready for action on the GLH-H, compared to just 2 on the GLH-L. It is likely that additional stowage inside the back of the GLH-H mount, whether on the Bradley, LAV, or M113, would also have been installed to carry more missiles. For reference, the M901 had space for an additional rack of missiles. The same would likely have been true of any fielded GLH-H system as well.
Inside the vehicle, the driver’s station was just as it was on the M901. However, the area under the turret was quite different. The turret descended into the hull using a riveted cylindrical aluminum basket, with a motor or gearing mounted in the center of the floor. On each side of this were the two crew positions. Whilst a space was retained between this cylinder and the rear access door, in which a fourth crewmember might be located with additional missiles, there is no space on either side of the cylinder around which passage can be obtained. Through-access from front to rear on the vehicle is therefore limited to passage through the large gaps in the cylindrical basket and, with two crew in there, this would not be possible. In its current state, in 2020/2021, there is no safe access within the vehicle.
GLH-H appears to have been a bit of an orphan program. The GLH-L had been supported by the Army and by the Hellfire Project Office (HPO), which had accumulated the work of MICOM Weapons Systems Management Directorate (WSDM) in February 1990. HPO had then followed up on the Hellfire, as it was used in service and was being improved and refined. At the same time, Martin Marietta received a contract for the development of the missile known as the Hellfire Optimised Missile System (HOMS) in March 1990 and both had supported the work on GLH-L. However, in April 1991, HPO was redesignated as the Air-to-Ground Missile Systems (AGMS) Project Management Office, leaving no doubt that official interest seemed to have ended in ground-launched applications in favor of aircraft-launched systems. Indeed, this was just a few months after work on developing the Hellfire missile for the Longbow Apache helicopter had started.
By 1992, HOMS too was gone and its work was simply repurposed as ‘Hellfire II’, which was to finally take the form of the AGM-114K version of the missile. The GLH-H side of things, therefore, was left out in the cold. There seemed little appetite for a ground-launched version of a weapon that was already successful on aircraft and the development work specifically was to focus on airborne use as well.
What did the GLH-H offer that a vehicle like the M901 ITV did not? On a one-to-one comparison scale, both vehicles had pros and cons, although the substantially larger missile load on the GLH-H and the longer range of the Hellfire missile were perhaps the most obvious. The system was, however, unproven. The TOW system had already been in ground use since the early 1970s and was combat-proven, as well as being substantially cheaper on a missile-to-missile basis. Having a maximum engagement range of 7 km instead of just over 3 km was certainly no small deal and it was not argued that the Hellfire was in any way inferior to the TOW. The issue was perhaps more of a practical one. The TOW was already in widespread use and proven and the GLH-H was not. If the enemy were further away, then they were by definition a lesser threat anyway and could be engaged by other means, such as air-launched Hellfires. The GLH-H system was also huge. Those missile pods were vulnerable to damage from enemy action or environmental or terrain factors and there was no way of reloading them safely from within a vehicle such as the M113, as there was with the M901, meaning the crews would have to be exposed. The Bradley, on the other hand, had a large hatch over the roof at the back, which might have allowed for some limited protection for reloading.
More than the design issues of the GLH-H launcher and compatible mounting, the development of GLH simply came too late. Despite being considered as far back as 1980, no work was really done for over a decade, by which time the TOW was even more widely deployed than before and there were other new missiles for infantry use available. If GLH was ever going to get actively developed, it might have been then, during the peak of the Soviet threat in Western Europe, when large numbers of Soviet tanks were expected to be encountered and a new missile system could have added much-needed firepower. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 and existing anti-tank measures being proven in combat in the Gulf War of 1990-1991, it was not clear why a new system would even be needed, whether on a light or heavy platform.
After all, if the need for a better-protected platform with missiles was essential, there was no reason not to just mount the M220 TOW system onto a Bradley anyway, although what this would add when mounting a pair of TOW missiles on a Bradley was standard is even less clear and really just reinforces the point of this being a project without a true purpose.
It was all academic by the early 1990s, the M901 series was being removed anyway, the Bradley already carried a pair of TOW missiles on the side, meeting the same level of firepower, and two systems to do the same thing, with one substantially more capable as a basic vehicle than the other made no sense. The only logical outcome for a GLH-H to have met a ‘need’ would have been Bradley based rather than on an M113, but this step was not taken and would not have fundamentally changed the viability of the project other than creating a very identifiable variant of the Bradley on the battlefield. With control of the development of the whole project handed over to an aircraft-focussed approach, the project with unclear objectives and needs was destined for failure.
The M113 / M901 converted with this GLH-H 8-missile launcher resides today at the Historic Museum of Military Vehicles in Lexington, Nebraska. The author wishes to express his gratitude to the staff there for their assistance.
Ground-Launched Hellfire Redux?
In recent years, however, renewed interest has been shown in a ground-launched Hellfire version to replace TOW and upgrade the US military’s ability to strike enemy targets from even further away. In 2010, Boeing tested the ability of the Avenger turret air defense system to launch Hellfire missiles. This would allow the Hellfire once more to be mounted on light vehicles like a HMMWV, but also on the LAV and other systems.
The Hellfire missile has also already been mounted in the ground role on the Pandur 6 x 6, with the Multi-Mission Launcher (MML), on the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) truck and in Lockheed Martin’s Long Range Surveillance and Attack Vehicle (LRSAV) based on the Patria AMV firing the Hellfire II in 2014. However, such systems seeing service seems unlikely, as the Hellfire missile and variants are, as of 2016, destined for replacement by a new missile known as the Joint Air to Ground Missile (J.A.G.M.), meant as a common missile across all platforms, naval, air, and ground-based.
Russian Federation (1996-1999)
Infantry Fighting Vehicle – At Least 2 Prototypes Built
The Soviet BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle is a historically very significant vehicle, responsible for popularizing the IFV concept on a massive scale worldwide. The vehicle itself remains to this day the most produced infantry fighting vehicle in history, with about 40,000 produced in total in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, not counting various copies which could bring up that number by several thousands.
This ubiquitous status of the BMP-1, as well as the vehicle fairly quickly becoming obsolete, has led to a number of upgrade packages being studied and offered. Post-Soviet collapse Russia, which inherited thousands of BMP-1s, was the source of several of these. Perhaps the most potent to this day was a version of the vehicle fitted with the Kliver TKB-799 turret designed by the KBP Instrument Design Bureau based in Tula, which has historically been the main designer and producer of Soviet aircraft and ground-based autocannons, as well as several anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) or self-propelled anti-aircraft gun (SPAAG) designs. This BMP-1 fitted with a modern turret was offered in the late 1990s, but would never be adopted by any user.
The IFV of the Soviet World: Brief Summary of the BMP-1
Generally considered to be the first modern infantry fighting vehicle, the BMP-1 was designed by the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant in the early 1960s as the Object 765. It was adopted by the Red Army in 1965. Mass-production began under the name of BMP-1 in 1966.
The BMP-1 was a welded hull, amphibious armored fighting vehicle mounting a central one-man turret armed with the 2A28 Grom 73 mm low-pressure smoothbore gun and fed by an autoloader mechanism. The vehicle also featured a coaxial PKT 7.62 mm machine gun and a 9M14 Malyutka missile launcher mounted on top of the Grom’s barrel. To the rear, a troop compartment allowed the vehicle to transport 8 dismounts.
When first pushed into service in the late 1960s, the BMP-1 was a major addition to the Red Army’s arsenal, and despite the existence of some previous vehicles, such as the West German HS.30, it is often considered to be the first truly modern Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) to be adopted in massive numbers. Nevertheless, it was for the Eastern Bloc at least. The vehicle could be used to support armored assaults in all types of terrains thanks to its amphibious capacities, and was notably able to carry a section of infantry even in heavily contaminated terrain, which would typically be expected after the use of NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) weapons. Support for accompanying tanks as well as dismounting infantry would be provided by a 73 mm Grom infantry support gun and a Malyutka missile launcher, with four missiles stored inside the vehicle. This was a considerable evolution in comparison to Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs), which typically mounted little more than a heavy machine gun. In the Soviet Union, production of the BMP-1 lasted until 1982, with more than 20,000 vehicles produced. Almost equally large quantities were manufactured in Czechoslovakia as the BVP-1, while India produced a number under license, and a number of countries would produce more or less identical copies (Type 86 in China, Boragh in Iran, Khatim in Sudan). Operated in massive numbers by the Soviet Army and widely exported, the BMP-1 became perhaps the most ubiquitous infantry fighting vehicle in the world, despite a more modern type, the BMP-2, entering service in the early 1980s.
Russian BMP-1s in a Post-Soviet World
After years of a decline that the best efforts of various Soviet leaders could not prevent, the Soviet Union finally collapsed in December 1991, after most of its Warsaw Pact allies had gone their own way in 1989 and various Soviet Republics started declaring their independence from 1991 onward.
Russia, the largest, most populated, and most industrialized Republic of the former union, inherited most of the Red Army’s armament. Although the most significant aspect of this would likely be exclusive control of the USSR’s tremendous nuclear arsenal, it would also manifest in tens of thousands of armored fighting vehicles produced and fielded during the Soviet years. This included massive numbers of BMP-1s, perhaps up to ten thousand. The BMP-1 was at this point already fairly obsolete, with its 73 mm Grom main gun notably proving fairly puny and anemic, with a short effective range and only limited armor-piercing or high-explosive potential provided from its small shells. While some Soviet efforts, such as the BMP-1P upgrade (notably replacing the old Malyutka ATGM by a more modern Konkurs or Fagot ATGM and adding Tucha smoke dischargers), had been applied to part of the fleet, it nonetheless remained obvious that the BMP-1 was antiquated. More modern options were already in existence. The BMP-2 was in large-scale service for around a decade by the time of the collapse of the USSR and was armed with a 30 mm autocannon, far more useful than the Grom. The new BMP-3, a recent addition to the Soviet arsenal when the USSR collapsed, provided both a 30 mm autocannon and a 100 mm gun firing high-explosive shells and ATGMs, overall proving to be a very modern option. As such, it would appear the BMP-1 could perhaps entirely have been relegated to reserve use as these new vehicles entered service.
The 1990s, however, quickly turned into a dreadful decade of economic collapse, widespread corruption, violence, and chaos for Russia, putting potential plans of a quick modernization of the army into disarray. The production of many high-end vehicles designed towards the later years of the Soviet Union, such as the T-72BU, which would be redesignated into the T-90, or the BMP-3, had to be slowed down or prioritized towards exports instead of domestic use, meaning old vehicles such as the BMP-1 proved to be longer-lived in Russian service. In these economically trying times, potential upgrades for Soviet vehicles used abroad could also potentially be a lucrative prospect for Russian design bureaus to try and exploit.
It was in this context that the KBP Instrument Design Bureau, based in Tula, around 200 km south of Moscow, would begin working on a turret design that could be fitted onto old Soviet armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles in order to bring them to a more modern standard firepower-wise. Tula was in a fairly decent position to study such a design, with the design bureau having extensive experience designing autocannons, ATGMs, and their mounting into armored fighting vehicles. Among Tula’s most famous designs was the turret for the advanced 2K22 Tunguska SPAAG, pretty much all Soviet widely-used autocannons designs, and ATGMs such as the Metis and Konkurs. In the field of ATGMs, Tula was notably working on a new, more modern system, which would become the Kornet. The turret design studied by Tula for older Soviet APC/IFVs would first be unveiled, in a model form, in 1996.
Turret – the TKB-799 “Kliver”
The turret designed by the KBP design bureau would be designated TKB-799 and be given the nickname “Kliver” (cleaver). The turret was first showcased in 1996. By this point, a functional turret had been manufactured but was mounted on a BTR-80. The BMP-1 equipped with the Kliver would first appear at IDEX 97 in Abu Dhabi. It appears at least two vehicles would be fitted with the turret for trials and marketing purposes.
The Kliver was a weapon station designed with its own turret basket. The BMP-1 appears to have been the main platform intended for the turret, even though the turret was first showcased on the BTR-80. As such, the Kliver was designed for the BMP’s 1,380 mm turret ring diameter and with a light weight of 1,500 kg and could be installed without modifying the hull. The turret was operated by a single crew member, sitting on the left side of the turret, with the armament somewhat offset to the left.
Armament – 30 mm 2A72
The main armament of the Kliver turret was the 30 mm 2A72 autocannon, a modified 2A42 autocannon. The cannon fired 30×165 mm ammunition and had a rate of fire of 350 to 400 rpm. The gun was belt-fed, and overall remarkably light, weighing only 84 kg. The barrel length of 2,416 mm took a significant part of the weapon’s weight, at 36 kg, and was typically thicker and more durable than most barrels for 30 mm autocannons.
A number of 30×165 mm shells were available for the 2A72. For use against light fortifications, infantry, soft-skinned vehicles, and other unarmored targets, the 2A72 could fire the 3UOF8 High-Explosive Incendiary (HE-I) shells. This shell had an explosive filling of 49 grams of A-IX-2, the standard Soviet explosive autocannon shell formula since 1943. The overall mass of the projectile was 390 g, and that of the whole cartridge 842 g. In high-explosive belts, it was complemented by the 3UOR6. This shell forsook most of the explosive charge, with only 11.5 g remaining, in order to mount a very large tracer. Fired at the same muzzle velocity of 980 m/s, it was used for fire correction purposes, though over large distances, the trajectory of the two shells differed. With a fuse lasting 9 to 14 seconds, the explosive shells would generally detonate after about 4 kilometers away if they did not meet a target, though autocannons were typically used effectively at much closer ranges. The rate of tracer to high-explosive rounds in a 30 mm belt tended to be 1:4.
For armor-piercing duties, two types of 30 mm shells existed. The older 3UBR6 was a fairly classic armor-piercing shell with a core of hardened structural steel. This steel core weighed 375 g, with the entire projectile weighing just 25 grams more, at 400 g, and the entire shell having a weight of 856 g. It featured a tracer that burned for 3.5 seconds after being fired and had a muzzle velocity of 970 m/s. Its penetration values against Rolled Homogeneous Armor (RHA) at an angle of 60° were 29 mm at 700 m, 18 mm at 1,000 m, and 14 mm at 1,500 m. These were fairly mediocre performances, able to defeat little more than light armored vehicles in the vast majority of cases.
A more modern armor-piercing shell existed in the form of the 3UBR8, an Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) shell with a tracer. It featured a lighter 222 g piercing core of tungsten alloy. The projectile as a whole was 304 g and the cartridge 765 g. Fired at a muzzle velocity of 1,120 m/s, this shell seemed to penetrate, against similar RHA armor and at the same angle of 60°, 35 mm at 1,000 m, and 25 mm at 1,500 m. It offered much more promising performances than the older 3UBR6 against modern infantry fighting vehicles.
The TKB-799 offered some, at the time, very modern fire control systems for a Russian IFV, enhancing the capacities of this 2A72 autocannon. The Kliver turret offered an independent two-plane sight stabilization and a day/night sight in the form of a thermal imager, as well as a laser rangefinding device. The turret featured an automatic electromechanical firing system. It would provide sighting and ranging, as well as weapon laying including both lead, elevation, and traverse, which would provide better accuracy, particularly against moving targets. The turret was also designed to allow fairly generous elevation angles of -10º to +60°, which would allow for moderate anti-aircraft capacities, particularly against helicopters. In general, with the FCS provided by the turret, it was hoped the 2A72 would have an effective range of about 2 km in good, flat terrain. It appears 300 rounds of ammunition were provided for the 2A72. The weapon was slightly offset to the right but was still the most centrally mounted of all of Kliver’s weapon systems.
Secondary armament was provided in the form of a coaxial 7.62×54 mmR PKTM machine gun mounted to the right of the autocannon. This less crucial system is generally less documented in writings on the Kliver. It appears it was only provided with a limited ammunition supply of 200 rounds. Considering the capacities of the 2A72, there would be little reason to use the PKTM outside of enemy infantry in the open or some minimal suppression fire.
An Early Platform for the Kornet
In addition to the 2A72, the Kliver turret featured another crucial weapon system, this being Russia’s new anti-tank guided missile, also designed by the Tula design bureau, the 9M133 Kornet. This was a large caliber (152 mm) system. Work on it began a few years before the fall of the USSR, and it was first unveiled in 1994. In 1996, when it was showcased alongside the Kliver, it was still a new, cutting-edge system, which was yet to enter service in the Russian Army in a large scale.
The Kornet used semi-automatic beam-riding guidance, meaning the missile was aimed using a laser beam aimed at the target from the firing vehicle. The previous 9M113 Konkurs offered by Tula was, in comparison, a wire-guided semi-automatic command to line of sight (SACLOS) system, which required the firing vehicle to constantly maintain the target in line-of-sight in order to retain guidance. This more modern guidance system, in addition to the higher maximum speed of Kornet ATGMs (going from 250 to 300 m/s, depending on the missile, whereas Konkurs reached a maximum of around 200 m/s), makes the Kornet a safer and more accurate missile in general.
In addition to its superior guidance system and speed in comparison to older Soviet ATGMs, the Kornet also is of a larger caliber than most (being 152 mm, whereas the older Konkurs is 135 mm). This, in addition to more modern shaped charge designs and components, made it much more effective against armored fighting vehicles. By the time of the Kliver turret’s creation, the 9M133-1 missile was rated for around 1,100 to 1,200 mm Rolled Homogenous Armor (RHA) penetration on average, and the use of a tandem HEAT warhead reduced the protection offered by ERA against it. The large caliber of the Kornet also allowed for other uses than merely anti-tank. This manifested with the 9M133F-1 missile, which instead of an armor-piercing shaped charge, contains a thermobaric warhead, equivalent to 10 kg of TNT and provides significant incendiary effects. Both of these missiles have a maximum flight speed of 250 m/s and an effective range of 100 to 5,500 m.
On the Kliver, four Kornet pods were mounted, hanging to the right of the main turret body itself. It does not appear any reloads were provided with the vehicle, certainly not in the small turret. The potential of four Kornets was still fairly significant. The possibility to use either HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) or thermobaric missiles also gave some considerable adaptability for the vehicle, allowing it to mount a complement of HEAT missiles if likely to face high-end enemy armor, or thermobaric missiles if facing an opponent unlikely to use heavy armor, but rather using well-fortified positions.
Marketing the BMP-1 Kliver
In the late 1990s, Tula appears to have embarked on a serious marketing campaign in order to attempt to sell its Kliver turret for either domestic or foreign BMP-1s. BMP-1 with Kliver turret prototypes were showcased on a number of occasions in Russia, but also abroad. Prototypes were notably present in the 1997 and 1999 IDEX (International Defence Exhibition) which took place in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. Designers made some quite bold claims about the capacities of their turret, which they claimed to be superior to not only the turrets used in the BMP-1 and BMP-2 but also to those used in the American Bradley and German Marder. Though they may seem somewhat extravagant, their claims were not necessarily far-off from the truth. The Kornet ATGM featured with the Kliver turret was a more modern system than the TOW or Milan featured on these Western IFVs, and the 30 mm 2A72 was also a fairly high-end autocannon.
However, this was only part of the picture. Tula remained mostly a weapon designer, not one of military vehicles and it failed to provide an upgrade of the BMP-1 hull alongside its Kliver turret. Tula’s upgraded BMP-1 may very well have provided equal or superior firepower to most modern Western IFVs, but it still had what was essentially a 1960s hull. Problems with the BMP-1 platform had long been identified: it was notoriously cramped, even for soldiers of fairly moderate size, and featured a number of redundant features, such as nearly useless firing ports. The armor was almost symbolic, incapable of providing protection from anything above small arms and shrapnel. And, mechanically, many vehicles, even including Soviet refurbishment programs, would still be used and exhausted after decades of use.
Conclusion – The Future of BMP-1 Upgrades
It should not come as much of a surprise that, despite all its promises, the Kliver TKB-799 turret upgrade for the BMP-1 would never see any adoption. Outside of this obsolete hull, the new turret, while capable, would also likely be too expensive for a still cash-strapped Russia, due to its inclusion of many modern systems. One can see, for example, how, all the way to this day, the Kornet is yet to fully replace the Konkurs or Fagot, and as recently as 2022, most BMP-2s and BMD-2s spotted in the Russian invasion of Ukraine are still equipped with the old ATGMs, with the BMP-2M Berezhok modernization seemingly absent from the frontlines. One may still note how, at the same time as the Kliver turret was still being marketed, many Russian soldiers and conscripts would be faced with the failures of unupgraded BMP-1s to provide meaningful fire support in an urban environment during the bloody episode of the 1999-2000 Second Chechen War. Despite all the drawbacks of the old platform, a BMP-1 with Kliver turret would almost certainly have proved a more useful asset than one still featuring the Grom in this conflict, as well as others Russia has gotten involved in the last two decades.
The Kliver turret would be far from the only upgrade which would be proposed for the BMP-1. In a similar timeframe, another proposal from Russia which reached prototype stage and used already produced components would be to simply fit the turret of the BMD-2, which featured a 2A42 30 mm autocannon and a 9K11 Fagot ATGM, to the BMP-1. Though using less advanced weapon systems than the Kliver, it would still improve the capacities of the BMP-1 and likely be a lot cheaper, but like the Kliver, it was not met with any orders. In the early 2000s, Ukraine offered the BMP-1U, which featured the Shkval turret, fairly similar to the Kliver in design, though it used weapon systems available to Ukraine, such as the 30 mm KBA–2 autocannon and the Konkurs. It would actually prove more successful than the Kliver, with Ukrainian BMP-1Us being sold abroad to Chad, Georgia, where 15 would be captured by Russia in 2008, and Turkmenistan. Ukraine continued to develop their offering of BMP-1s armed with their turret during the 2010s in the form of the BMP-1M and BMP-1UM, the later featuring a major hull redesign, which the TKB-799-equipped BMP-1 lacked so much.
In more recent years, Russia has finally carried out a BMP-1 modernization project, though it would be on a much more limited scale, with the BMP-1AM, which was revealed in 2018 and saw a small upgrading run, 35 vehicles being operated for units operating the BMP-1 in eastern Russia. The BMP-1AM is in many ways inferior to the Kliver, mounting the BPPU turret of the BTR-80A and BTR-82, which only features the 2A72 30 mm autocannon and a coaxial PKTM. All ATGM capacities in such a vehicle are relegated to a Metis-M launcher not mounted on the vehicle itself, but to be operated by the dismounts, outside of the vehicle, a far cry from the four integrated Kornets of the Kliver turret.
While many would have thought the BMP-1 would no longer be an asset in the Russian Army by this point, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, launched on February 24th, 2022, would prove the contrary. Small numbers of Russian BMP-1s were seen turning up abandoned or destroyed, including outside of sectors where Ukrainian separatists operate, albeit in smaller numbers than the BMP-2s and BMD-2s which have been lost in an order of magnitude greater number. While the situation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine certainly is not tied simply to the quality of Russian vehicles, one can imagine how a BMP-1 with a Kliver turret would prove a far more useful asset in a modern conflict in comparison to one still fitted with the antiquated and anemic 73 mm Grom.
BMP-1 with Kliver TKB-799 turret Specifications
Dimensions (l-w), m
6.735 – 3.150
~ 14 metric tonnes
Road clearance, mm
UTD-20 6-cylinder 4-stroke V-shaped airless-injection water-cooled diesel (300 hp at 2,600 rpm)
Light Infantry Tank – 100 Built
Although relatively unknown, the FCM 36 was one of the French Army’s light tanks used during the battles of May and June 1940. Technically very advanced compared to other French vehicles of the type, it proved its effectiveness during a victorious counter-attack at Voncq in early June 1940. However, the excellent qualities of the vehicle were overshadowed by the outdated doctrine behind its usage, and its very limited presence on the frontlines.
Genesis of the August 2nd 1933 Program
The FT Tank
Development of the FT: Why Did it Appear ?
An understanding of the French tanks of the Great War is necessary to comprehend the fleet of light tanks subsequently fielded in 1940. After the Schneider CA-1 and St Chamond entered service in 1916, a smaller machine was conceived: the Renault FT. Some have argued that this small, innovative vehicle was, in many ways, the ancestor of modern tanks. Its widespread presence on the front and effectiveness granted it the nickname of ‘Char de la Victoire’ (Eng: Victory Tank).
Even if some in the higher echelons of the French military had at first doubted the effectiveness of this type of vehicle, they had to begrudgingly admit that tanks were becoming essential in modern conflicts. The FT would serve as the starting point for the majority of France’s armored vehicles up to 1940.
Technical and Doctrinal Description
An important characteristic of the Renault FT was its one-man fully rotating turret. It allowed for a weapon to engage targets in all directions. There were several versions of the turret, some cast or riveted, which could be fitted with different armaments. There were FTs armed with a 8 mm model 1914 Hotchkiss machine gun, but also some armed with a 37 mm SA 18 cannon. Later, in the early 1930s, many FTs were re-armed with a more modern machine gun, the 7.5 mm Reibel MAC31.
The second major particularity of the FT was that it only had two crew members: a driver in the front of the vehicle, and a commander/gunner in the turret. This heavily contrasted with what could be found on other contemporary vehicles, which could have as many as twenty crew members.
The major advantage of the small size of the vehicle was that it led to a much simpler manufacturing process, which enabled far greater quantities of FTs to be manufactured compared to heavier vehicle types. Therefore, the vehicle could be engaged on the frontline on a massive scale. Between 1917 and 1919, 4 516 Renault FT (all variants included) were delivered. In comparison, about 1,220 Mark IV tanks were produced.
In terms of the vehicle’s arrangement, the engine block was found to the rear, encompassing both the engine and transmission. This left more space for the crew compartment to the front, where the two crew members were found. To this day, this remains the most widespread design and component distribution in tanks.
Doctrinally, the Renault FT was an infantry support tank, like all World War One tanks. It was meant to support advancing infantry across no man’s land, particularly by neutralizing the main threat which was found in enemy trenches: machine gun nests.
As the enemy was not equipped with tanks on a large scale by this point, the FT was not conceived to have anti-tank capacities. The vehicle was not designed to resist enemy cannons either. The vehicle was only designed to protect the crew from rifle-caliber projectiles and artillery splinters.
The FT in the French Army after 1918
The Renault FT was a success. Tanks were a major element in the Entente’s victory. By the end of the fighting in November 1918, France had an impressive fleet of FTs, with several thousands of vehicles in frontline service.
Without an immediate replacement, the FTs were retained within tank regiments for years. They formed the backbone of the 1920s and early 1930s French Army. By this point, there were around 3,000 Renault FTs in service. However, the old vehicles were, by this point, worn out and technologically outdated. Their main issue was insufficient armor to protect the crew from purpose-built anti-tank weapons that began to appear.
Despite this, attempts were made to improve the FTs by replacing the 8 mm Hotchkiss model 1914 machine gun with a 7.5 mm Reibel MAC 31, introducing special tracks intended for use in the snow, and the development of engineering variants. Nonetheless, a replacement was urgently needed.
It ought to be noted that, despite some replacements having been introduced, the FT was still in service by 1940. Many were deployed against German forces, even against tanks, without the means to properly engage them and with little real protection.
Photo of a Renault FT which appears to have been immobilized during the campaign of France, 1940. (Photo: char-français.net, colorized by Johannes Dorn)
Characteristics of the New Tanks
The FT’s Successor
Further development of the Renault FT was studied after the end of the Great War. The first attempt was to fit a new suspension, which improved mobility. This led to the Renault NC-1 (often called NC-27), which was mainly used operationally in Japan as the Otsu Gata-Sensha.
An FT with a Kégresse suspension, which used rubber tracks, was also developed. However, it was never produced in large numbers.
It was not until 1929, with the D1, directly derived from the NC-1, that a mass-produced vehicle that could effectively serve as a replacement for the FT first appeared. Even then, its production run of only 160 vehicles was too limited to replace the entire FT fleet.
Predicting an armaments program aiming at replacing the old FTs, Hotchkiss self-funded a study of a modern light tank. Three prototypes of this design were ordered by the Conseil Consultatif de l’Armement (Eng: Armament Consultative Council) on June 30th, 1933. Hotchkiss’ studies allowed for the definition of the characteristics for the new armament program, specified on August 2nd, 1933. This program set out the requirements for the future successor to the Renault FT.
The August 2nd, 1933 program requested a light infantry support tank. It required either a dual mount for two machine guns or a 37 mm cannon with a coaxial machine gun. Even if the program contemplated a dual machine gun configuration, the preferred option was the cannon and coaxial machine gun, as it was more versatile and powerful. The determining factor would be that it had to use already available armament with significant stocks of ammunition: the 37 mm SA 18. In fact, eventually, many cannons were directly taken from Renault FTs and fitted into the new machines.
Being an infantry support tank, the vehicle planned by the August 2nd 1933 program was to be quite slow. It was to follow infantry troops and provide support from behind, without overtaking them.
Therefore, the vehicle was envisioned to reach a maximum speed of 15-20 km/h. Its average speed during a battle was to remain equivalent to the infantry troops it was following, 8 to 10 km/h. This restricted speed would limit the tactical mobility of these vehicles to go from one area of the battle to the other. Speed was one of the points which differentiated infantry and cavalry tanks in French service.
According to the August 2nd, 1933 program, the new vehicle would be a highly improved copy of the Renault FT. Two crew members, one stationed in the turret, were to maneuver the vehicle. The one-man turret was quickly criticized because its intended user, which was to serve both as commander and gunner/loader of the vehicle, was vastly overtasked. In addition to operating both weapons, the commander/gunner/loader would have had to give orders to the driver, observe the outside of the tank, and sometimes even command movement to other tanks.
Although the one-man turret was highly criticized and it was apparent it severely limited a tank’s full capacities, there was a reasoning behind it. Small two-man tanks, as demonstrated by the FT, were a lot easier and cheaper to build. The smaller a tank was, the fewer the resources necessary for its construction. France was not truly self-sufficient in its steel production, which was a major issue if it wanted to field a significant fleet of tanks. Furthermore, French armament industries did not have the capacity to cast large turrets. Additionally, there was a lack of personnel. Many soldiers had perished during the Great War, and there were few men of fighting age during the interwar. To field a considerable number of tanks, keeping a two-man crew was deemed essential.
May 22nd, 1934 Modifications
The Development of Armor-Piercing Armament in the Interwar Years
Following on from the success of the tank in the later phases of the First World War, weapons designed specifically to combat them were developed. Particular attention was placed on the evolution of anti-tank armament which could easily be used by enemy infantry to stop advancing tanks, leaving enemy infantry without their support. Armor, therefore, became an essential component of French vehicles. Several senior officers, such as the French General Flavigny, had already predicted an anti-tank arms race in the early 1930s, which led to the development of the B1 Bis, an up-armored version of the B1.
In France, light 25 mm guns were introduced and offered impressive penetration. A tank’s armor no longer had to protect solely from small bullets and artillery shells splinters.
Modifications to the Armor
The August 2nd, 1933 program stipulated a maximum armor of 30 mm for the light infantry support tanks. However, the introduction of new anti-tank weapons meant that this would not offer enough protection.
On May 22nd, 1934, the program was modified to raise the maximum armor to 40 mm. This would result in an increase of the weight of the vehicle from 6 to 9 tonnes in the requirements.
The Competition and Participants
The Different Competitors
Fourteen firms took part in the competition related to the August 2nd 1933 program: Batignolles-Chatillons, APX (Ateliers de Puteaux, English: Puteaux workshops), Citroën, Delaunay-Belleville, FCM (Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerrané, English: Mediterranean Forges and Sites), Hotchkiss, Laffly, Lorraine-Dietrich, Renault, St-Nazaire-Penhoët, SERAM, SOMUA (Société d’Outillage Mécanique et d’Usinage d’Artillerie, English: Society of Mechanical Equipment and Artillery Machining), and Willème.
However, only six firms were selected to build prototypes. An order for three Hotchkiss prototypes was passed by the Consultative Armament Council in June 1933, before the program was even launched. APX, which was a workshop owned by the French state, was also considered. A prototype, the APX 6-tonnes, was completed in October 1935 and had some interesting design features, such as its diesel engine or its turret which would be improved and re-used by some other tanks of the program.
The Renault R35
With 1,540 vehicles manufactured, the Renault R35 was the most produced tank created within this program. Some were even exported. The first official evaluations on prototypes began in January 1935 and led to the final adoption of the vehicle on June 25th, 1936. Like all other vehicles of the program, some attempts to improve the R35’s mobility were studied, modifying its suspension. These included trials in 1938 with a longer suspension, trials in 1939 with a new Renault suspension, and finally the Renault R40, with its AMX suspension. The introduction of the longer 37 mm SA 38, which would be fitted to late production vehicles, improved firepower. Some specialized vehicles based on the R35 were considered, including fascine-carrying (branches coddled together to fill trenches and anti-tank ditches so the vehicle could cross over them, or to spread over soft terrain) or for mine clearing, with several hundred kits ordered but not received in time to participate in any battle.
The Hotchkiss H35
The Hotchkiss H35 was the second most numerous tank from the program. Its first two prototypes were not turreted, and instead used a casemate. The third prototype was fitted with the APX-R turret, also used on the Renault R35. The performances of the vehicle, notably mobility-wise, were judged insufficient, especially by the cavalry, which saw this tank forced onto them despite it not fulfilling their requirements in any way.
An improved version was developed in 1937 and adopted in late 1938 as the “char léger modèle 1935 H modifié 1939” (Eng: Model 1935 H light tank, Modified 1939), more commonly known as the Hotchkiss H39. It used a new engine, and some received the new 37 mm SA 38 gun, which allowed for sufficient anti-armor capabilities. A total of 1,100 H35 and H39 tanks were manufactured.
From Development to Adoption into Service – the FCM 36 from 1934 to 1936
First Prototypes and Tests
In March 1934, Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée (Eng: Forges and Shipyards of the Mediterranean) offered a wooden mock-up of their new vehicle. The commissioners were pleased with the futuristic shapes of the mock-up. A first prototype was ordered and was received by the experimentation commission on April 2nd, 1935.
However, trials on the prototype were unsatisfactory. The vehicle had to be modified during the trials, which led to several incidents. The commission agreed to have the vehicle sent back to its factory to be modified, so the trials would go smoothly next time. The second prototype was tested from September 10th to October 23rd, 1935. It was accepted under the condition that modifications concerning the suspension and clutch were carried out.
After a second return to its factory, the prototype was presented again to the commission in December 1935. It undertook a series of tests during which it drove 1,372 km. It was then tested at the Chalon camp by the Infantry Commission. In an official document from July 9th, 1936, the evaluating commission described the FCM 36 as “equal, if not superior, to other light tanks already experimented with”. The vehicle was finally introduced into service in the French Army, and a first order for 100 vehicles took place on May 26th, 1936.
FCM offered another option in 1936, of which only photos of the wooden mock-up remain today. Compared to the FCM 36, the dimensions and firepower were greatly increased, with the addition of the 47 mm SA 35 gun. However, this project was abandoned in February 1938.
The Berliet Ricardo Diesel Engine
The FCM 36’s diesel engine was one of the main innovations of the vehicle, even if diesel engines had already been trialed on the D2. Nonetheless, the FCM 36 was the first serially-produced French tank with a diesel engine. The first engine on the FCM 36 was a 95 hp Berliet ACRO, though, due to several breakdowns on the prototypes, it was replaced on serial production vehicles by the Berliet Ricardo, which produced 105 hp and was judged to be very reliable.
There were several advantages to diesel propulsion. The most significant was higher range in comparison to gasoline. The FCM 36 had two times the range of its competitors, the Hotchkiss H35 and Renault R35. The FCM vehicle was the sole tank of the program able to travel 100 km and then immediately engage in combat without having to resupply. This was a certain advantage that allowed for quick repositioning without any stops to refuel. At its maximum capacity, the FCM 36 would have a range of 16 hours or 225 km.
The second advantage of a diesel engine was that it was less dangerous than a gasoline one, as it is way harder to ignite diesel. This explains why many vehicles were seized by the Germans after France’s defeat. Even if a vehicle had been pierced by shells, few were set alight. Internal fires were further limited by the use of a Tecalemit-type automatic fire extinguisher.
The suspension of the FCM 36 was an important part in the vehicle’s efficiency, despite some criticisms in this field. It differed from many other suspensions of vehicles of the program. Firstly, the suspension was protected by armor plates, the value of which was often doubted. Secondly, the position of the drive sprocket was to the rear.
The suspension was made of a beam with four triangular bogies with two road wheels each. In total, there were eight road wheels per side, plus an additional one not directly making contact with the ground, but placed at the front to ease the crossing of obstacles. The number of road wheels was advantageous for the tank, as it spreaded the weight, resulting in a better ground pressure distribution.
The main drawback of this suspension was the tunnel for the track return at the top. Mud had a tendency to accumulate in this tunnel despite multiple openings made to avoid this. As a result, some modifications were tested. In March 1939, FCM 36 ‘30057’, which also received improved armament, had a modified suspension with a new tunnel and gearbox. In April, another vehicle, FCM 36 ‘30080’, was modified with D1 track links, and was tested in September 1939 at Versailles with some other improvements regarding its motorization. The tests and modifications were discarded on July 6th, 1939, and both vehicles were restored to their original state and fielded for combat.
The Hull, Turret, and Internal Arrangement
Of the tanks from the August 2nd, 1933 program, the FCM 36 probably had the most suitable internal arrangement, with crews appreciating the internal space. The lack of a front-drive sprocket, which was placed in the rear of the vehicle, alongside the rest of the drive mechanisms, resulted in the driver having far more space than in other vehicles of the program. As recorded in the testimonies of many FCM 36 drivers and mechanics, the added space helped to endure longer trips.
The FCM 36’s turret was judged superior to the APX-R turret which equipped the Renault and Hotchkiss tanks from the same program. It was more ergonomic, even if the commander had to sit on a leather strap, and offered the commander better observation capabilities, with numerous PPL RX 160 episcopes. Episcopes allow for outside view without having to have a direct opening to the exterior of the vehicle, protecting the crew from enemy fire on observation slits. Indeed, during the First World War, German gunners often concentrated their fire on these slits, which could gravely wound the crew. The PPL RX 160 was a clear improvement for the observation of terrain around the tank.
However, FCM 36 photos often show the episcopes absent, especially around the driver’s hatch. This is not surprising, as many other French armored vehicles went into combat without some equipment and accessories that were manufactured separately from the vehicle.
Furthermore, the FCM 36’s turret did not feature a rotating cupola, as on the APX-R. On the APX-R, commanders had to lock their helmets into the cupola to rotate it, which proved a very questionable design choice. The FCM 36’s commander had, in theory, episcopes on all sides of the turret, allowing for all-round visibility.
Significantly, the FCM 36 lacked a radio. Unlike other French tanks, such as the D1 or B1 Bis, the tanks from the August 2nd 1933 program did not have radios. Because the vehicles had to be very small, only two crew members could fit inside, leaving no space for a third crew member to operate a radio. In order to communicate with other tanks and infantry around the vehicle, the commander flew ‘fanions’ (a small flag used by the French military, similar to an America guidon or British company color) through a purposely built hatch located on the turret’s roof, fired flares, or directly talked to someone outside.
Alternatively, there was also a very surprising way to communicate by firing messages placed inside a shell planned for this purpose (Obus porte-message type B.L.M – Eng: B.L.M. type message-carrying shell) out of the cannon.
It is possible that some FCM 36s, those of the reconnaissance company or section leaders, may have been fitted with an ER 28 radio. It would have been placed level with one of the ammunition racks in the middle of the hull, on one of the sides. This placement would render one of the racks useless, diminishing the ammunition stowage capabilities. The medic from the 7ème BCC (Bataillon de Char de Combat – Eng: Combat Tank Battalion), Lieutenant Henry Fleury, attested the presence of an antenna on the turret of vehicles of the Battalion’s 3rd Company, similar to the placement on some APX-R turrets. No photos have emerged to confirm his statement. Also, according to Lieut. Fleury, these antennas would immediately have been removed, as there was no radio post to go alongside them. A photo does suggest an antenna was present on the hull of some vehicles. It does not resemble any radio antenna in any French tanks of the era. In any case, as stated in a note from 1937, the FCM 36 would have received a radio from 1938 onward.
As stipulated by the August 2nd, 1933 program, the mobility of the vehicle was very limited. In combat, it was set to match the walking speed of an infantry soldier. As the FCM 36 was an infantry support vehicle, it had to advance by the side of soldiers. The maximum speed of 25 km/h on road was a major limiting factor to any quick repositioning from one area of the front to another. The speed of the vehicle cross-country would be limited to around 10 km/h.
The FCM 36 had the best ground pressure of all the vehicles of the program. It performed better on soft terrain in comparison to the Hotchkiss H35 and Renault R35 tanks.
The protection of the vehicle was one of the most important aspects of the FCM 36. Its special construction, made of laminated steel plates welded to one another, differed from the cast or bolted armor usually used on French tanks. It was sloped and offered protection from combat gasses, which were seen as a potential major threat, as they had been during the previous war.
The armor was resistant, but often not enough against the 37 mm anti-tank guns carried on the Panzer III or towed in the form of the Pak 36. There are photos of FCM 36 tanks where the front of the hull or turret were pierced by 37 mm shells. However, such penetrations often occurred on the less sloped plates.
The FCM 36 was still quite vulnerable against mines, such as the German Tellermine, despite a 20 mm thick armored floor, thicker than the Hotchkiss H35 (15 mm) or Renault R35 (12 mm). During the French offensive in the Sarre, some Renault R35s were knocked out by mines. Furthermore, the Pétard Maurice (Eng: Maurice Pétard, an anti-tank grenade prototype) eviscerated a FCM 36 tank in tests. However, the FCM 36 never met such weapon types on the battlefield. They were mostly faced with more classic anti-tank weapons, notably towed guns and tank guns, but also German ground attack aviation.
Against German 37 mm guns, the most common anti-tank weapon during the campaign of France, the FCM 36 held up relatively well. Despite numerous penetrations, numerous other hits bounced off the better-sloped parts of the vehicles. Some vehicles would have several tens of impact without a single penetration. However, enemy cannon fire did not necessarily have to destroy the tank, it could also immobilize it, notably by breaking a track.
The armament of the FCM 36 consisted of a 37 mm SA 18 cannon and a 7.5 mm MAC 31 Reibel machine gun. This was the standard armament of all tanks from the August 2nd, 1933 program. The SA 18 was designed for infantry support. It already equipped part of the First World War FT tanks, and there was an impressive quantity of ammunition stockpiled. For economic and industrial reasons, it was easier to re-use this weapon, especially as it was perfectly suited for a small tank with a one-man turret. The size occupied by such a weapon was minimal, and it was the smallest caliber that could be used for infantry support, taking into account the 1899 La Haye Convention banning the use of explosive ammunition for guns below 37 mm. The muzzle velocity of the gun, around 367 m/s (this differed depending on the shell type used), allowed for a relatively curved trajectory, which was ideal for infantry support. However, its low muzzle velocity, small caliber, and curved trajectory were major drawbacks for anti-tank duties.
The only round able to defeat enemy tanks was the obus de rupture modèle 1935 (Eng: Model 1935 armor piercing shell), but it arrived too late and in too small numbers to equip tank units. There was also the classic model 1892-1924 AP shell, which could penetrate 15 mm of armor at 400 m at a 30° angle. This was insufficient, and only 12 out of 102 stowed shells would be AP shells. Furthermore, it should be noted that the shell dated from way before the creation of tanks. In fact, the rupture shell was not made to penetrate the armor of a tank, but to go through enemy bunkers.
In 1938, an FCM 36 was modified to receive the new 37 mm SA 38 gun, which offered real anti-tank capabilities. Only the mantlet was modified to receive this new gun. However, tests conducted on this vehicle were a failure. The turret suffered from structural frailty at the welds due to the gun’s recoil. A new, sturdier turret was needed. Preference was given to APX-R turrets for this new armament, which equipped the other tanks of the August 2nd 1933 program in 1939 and 1940. Several prototypes of a new welded turret were manufactured, but this time with a 47 mm SA 35 gun. This turret, which closely resembled the FCM 36’s, was meant to equip the future AMX 38.
The secondary armament was a MAC 31 Reibel, named after its inventor Jean Frédéric Jules Reibel. This weapon was requested by General Estienne as early as 1926 in order to replace the old Hotchkiss model 1914 on French tanks. A little under 20,000 examples were manufactured between 1933 and 1954, which explains why the weapon was also found after the war, for example on the EBRs. On the FCM 36, it was placed to the right of the gun. A total of 3,000 rounds were stowed in the tank in the form of 20 150-rounds drum magazines.
A second MAC 31 could be used for anti-aircraft fire. As on most French tanks, an anti-aircraft mount was installed on some tanks. Obviously, this was yet another task for the commander. A movable anti-aircraft mount could be placed on the turret roof, allowing the use of the machine gun from the cover of the vehicle’s armor. However, the firing angles were very narrow, and the mount limited the anti-air protection of the tank when opening the rear turret hatch.
The FCM Company and Production of the FCM 36
The FCM 36 was the last vehicle of the August 2nd, 1933 program to be accepted to serve within the French Army, receiving authorization on June 25th, 1936.
FCM, based in Marseille, southern France, was specialized in naval constructions. However, FCM also turned towards the designing and manufacturing of tanks. They made several monstrous French tanks during the interwar, notably the FCM 2C, but they were also tasked with production of the B1 Bis until the armistice with Germany in 1940, as well as at several other production sites in the north of France. This was a typical advantage of FCM, which was very far from the traditional frontline located in north-eastern France. Even during war, it could manufacture tanks without respite. The Italian presence was likely not seen as a real threat at this point. It is thanks to its shipbuilding experience that FCM could innovate with the FCM 36 in terms of welding technology. It had the equipment and experience necessary for this complex task, which was not yet developed enough in other French armament factories.
However, the FCM 36 turret should have been more successful, as the plan was to eventually equip all light tanks with it. The first 1,350 light tanks were to be equipped with the APX-R turret, with production then changing to the FCM 36’s. This was, however, never done, as the appearance and testing of the 37 mm SA 38 gun showed it was not possible to use the new gun in the FCM 36 turret in its current state. Further studies led to the conception of a somewhat similar turret, which would equip the successor of the light tanks of August 2nd 1933: the AMX 38. An improved turret with a 47 mm SA 35 was designed for the AMX 39, but this vehicle was never built.
Production Cost and Orders
If the FCM 36 remains somewhat little known, it is because of its very limited production. Only 100 vehicles were delivered between May 2nd, 1938, and March 13th, 1939, only equipping two battalions de chars de combat (BCC – Eng: combat tank battalions). The main reason behind this limited production was the slow production rate (about 9 FCM 36 per month compared to about 30 Renault R-35 per month), two to three times lower than that of the Hotchkiss (400 H35 and 710 H39) and Renault (1540 R35) tanks.
FCM was the only company that could weld armor plates on a large scale. This was a complex method that proved more expensive than the casting or bolting/riveting of armor plates. With an initial cost of 450,000 Francs per piece, the price doubled to 900,000 Francs when the French Army asked for two new orders, for a total of 200 new vehicles, in 1939. The two orders were therefore canceled, especially as the speed of production was judged too slow for the 200 vehicles to be delivered in a reasonable timeline.
The FCM 36s in Regiments and in Combat
Within the 4th and 7th BCL
Mobilization and Day-to-Day Life
Based on the 1st Battalion of the 502nd RCC (Régiment de Char de Combat – Combat Tank Regiment), based in Angouleme, the 4th BCC was led by 47 year old Commandant de Laparre de Saint Sernin. Considered as capable of mobilization on April 15th, 1939, the battalion occupied the Couronne mobilization barrack in Angoulême. There were delays almost immediately, as there was a lack of personnel, as well as the requisition of trucks for administrative purposes.
By September 1st, 1939, the battalion still lacked personnel, and could only depart on September 7th. Tremendous logistical issues were felt, particularly in terms of spare parts, both for seized civilian vehicles as well as the FCM 36s themselves. There were also issues linked to the transport of the battalion to its area of stay. Unloading from trains was hard due to lack of equipment and training. The battalion was based in Moselle, at Lostroff, between Metz and Strasbourg, (2nd and 3rd Companies), Loudrefring (logistical elements and headquarters), and in the neighboring woods (1st Company). For all of September, the battalion fought in local small-scale operations which forged the trust of the crews towards their vehicles. On October 2nd, the battalion moved again to a new place of stay near Beaufort-en-Argonnes, between Reims and Metz, until November 27th, when it moved again towards Stennay, in the two warehouses of the former artillery barracks of the Bevaux Saint Maurice district.
Based on the 1st battalion of the 503rd RCC of Versailles, the 7th BCC was constituted on August 25th, 1939. It was led by Commander Giordani, a very well-liked officer whose leadership capacities were noticed on several occasions. The mobilization of the battalion was concluded by August 30th, and as early as September 2nd, it moved to Loges-en-Josas, around fifteen kilometers from Versailles. This new location made space at the Versailles barracks, which were awaiting a significant number of reservists. At this base, the occasion was taken to showcase the minutia with which the battalion paraded and performed ceremonies.
On September 7th, the battalion moved towards the operational area all the way to Murvaux (combat companies) and Milly (logistical company and headquarters), between Verdun and Sedan. The tanks and heavy vehicles were transported by train while lighter elements moved by their own power on roads. The different elements reached Murvaux by September 10th. The battalion was then part of general Huntziger’s 2nd Army.
At Murvaux, the battalion trained as it could, putting in place firing ranges in the south of the village. Economic cooperatives were created for the soldiers, in order to support those who needed it the most. On November 11th, at the American cemetery of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, the 7th BCC paraded in front of General Huntziger and several American officers who had visited specifically for the commemorations of World War One’s armistice.
The next day, the battalion departed for Verdun, in the Villars district of the Bevaux barracks. It set up there on November 19th. This new location had the advantage of being in a larger city, which included all necessities for the battalion, including a firing range at Douaumont, and a manoeuvers terrain at Chaume, as well as winter shelters for the vehicles. The battalion stayed there until April 1st, 1940.
On March 28th, 1940, the 7th BCC received the order to go to the camp of Mourmelon to undertake training missions. This unit had to lead several missions to train infantry divisions, which would rotate one after another each week at the camp all the way up to May 10th, 1940. The FCM 36s first had to train the infantry unit for supporting combat alongside tanks. Some exercises were particularly successful, as with the 3rd Moroccan Tirailleurs Regiment on April 18th. The 7th BCC then had to create lessons for the officers of some infantry units. For example, only a few officers of the 22nd RIC (Régiment d’Infanterie Coloniale – Eng: Colonial Infantry Regiment) could go through training at Mourmelon with the 7th BCC in April. Lastly, the FCM 36s took part in manoeuvers alongside the division cuirassées (Eng – armored divisions, attached to the French infantry)
This intensive training put the unit’s mechanics on high alert. The FCM 36s were mechanically exhausted by their daily use, with the number of spare parts becoming rare. Maintenance crews did their best to keep a maximum number of vehicles running for training, even if this necessitated working at night.
This training at Mourmelon also increased cohesion among the tankers of the 7th BCC. They were also more at ease with their vehicles and using the doctrine. Liaison between the infantry and tanks was widely used, often with success. The experience gained between the end of the month of March and May 10th, 1940 at Mourmelon was an incredible chance for the 7th BCC to have important combat experience. This made this unit a much better trained BCC in comparison to other units of the type.
Unit Organization and Equipment
The FCM 36 tanks were spread between two units, the 4th and 7th BCCs, also named BCLs (Bataillon de Chars Légers – Eng: Light Tanks Battalion) or even BCLM (Bataillon de Chars Légers Modernes – Eng: Modern Light Tank Battalion). However, they were generally called BCC, like all other French tank battalions. The two other designations were reserved to these two units, which only used FCM 36s. These two battalions were reattached to different RCCs. The 4th BCC was part of the 502nd RCC, based in Angoulême, while the 7th BCC was part of the 503rd RCC based in Versailles.
Each battalion was constituted of three combat companies, each divided into four sections. There was also a logistical company, which took care of all logistical aspects of the battalion (resupply, recovery, etc.). A headquarters led the battalion and included a command tank for the unit’s leader. It was constituted of personnel essential for liaison, communication, administration, etc.
The combat company was composed of 13 tanks. One of these vehicles was attributed to the company commander, often a captain, and the 12 others were distributed between the four sections, with three tanks per section, often led by a lieutenant or sub-lieutenant. A logistical section was also present in each company to take care of small-scale logistical issues, with larger operations being attributed to the battalion’s logistical company.
Besides the tanks, the theoretical composition of a combat tanks battalion, like the 4th BCC or 7th BCC, was as follows:
11 liaison cars
5 all-terrain cars
33 lorries (including some for communications)
3 (liquid) tankers
3 tank carriers
3 tracked tractors
12 logistical tankettes with trailers
4 trailers (La Buire tank carriers, and kitchen)
All of this was operated by a total of 30 officers, 84 non-commissioned officers, and 532 corporals and chasseurs. However, a large part of this material was never received, such as the radio lorry or four anti-air defense vehicles for the 4th BCC.
To fill these gaps, a large part of the vehicles used by the two battalions were requisitioned from civilians. For example, within the 7th BCC was a lorry that had more than 110,000 km on the meter and had been used to ferry fish to the market. A Citroën P17D or P19B half-track was also seized. It was used in the Vel d’Hiv ice rink, and Guy Steinbach, veteran of the 7th BCC, claimed it took part in the Croisière Jaune (Eng: Yellow Cruise), a long demonstrational trip using mostly Kégresse vehicles organized by Citroën in the late 1920s. Within the same battalion, there was also a surprising vehicle: an American tank-carrying truck, used by the Spanish Republican Army during the Spanish Civil War and captured by the French at Col du Perthus in February 1939 after it crossed the border. Within the 4th BCC, there was a vehicle even less suited for war, a truck used to transport ammunition that had been seized from a circus. This caravan was not designed for this type of use and even had a small rear balcony.
Another portion of equipment came from the military’s stocks, particularly for specialized equipment. Among these were Somua MCL 5 half-track tractors, which were used to recover immobilized tanks. For the transport of the FCM 36, tank-carrying trucks, such as the Renault ACDK and La Buire type trailers, originally used for the transport of the Renault FT, were used. Renault ACD1 TRC 36s were used as supply vehicles, which for a time played the same role as the Renault UE, but for tanks (UEs being used for infantry units).
While it had no anti-aircraft vehicles at all nor vehicles able to tow anti-aircraft guns, the battalion had some 8 mm Hotchkiss model 1914 machine guns used in the anti-aircraft role. They were modified for this role with the anti-aircraft model 1928 mount, but they required a static position. Only the armament of the tanks themselves really protected them from air attacks.
Camouflage and Unit Insignias
The FCM 36 were without a doubt some of the most beautiful tanks of the campaign of France thanks to the colorful but also complex camouflages and insignias sported by some vehicles.
Camouflages were of three types. The first two were composed of very complex shapes with a varied number of tones and colors. The third type was composed of several colors in the shape of waves along the length of the vehicle. However, for nearly all camouflages, a very clear color band present only on the superior part of the turret was common. Each camouflage scheme had its own lines, only the tones and global scheme was respected from the instructions being circulated at the time.
A good way to identify the unit a FCM 36 belonged to was the ace painted on the rear part of the turret, which showed from which company and section a tank was from. As there were three companies of four sections in each BCC, there were four aces (clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades) of three different colors (red, white, and blue). The ace of spades represented the 1st section, the ace of hearts the 2nd section, the ace of diamonds the 3rd section, and the ace of clubs the 4th section. A blue ace represented the 1st company, a white ace the 2nd company, and a red ace the 3rd company. This principle was applied to all modern light infantry support tanks of the French Army from November 1939 onward, except for replacement tanks held by logistical companies.
Anti-tank gun crews were not appropriately trained before the campaign of France, and, in most cases, had never even received identification charts for allied vehicles. This resulted in some instances of friendly fire, including some in which B1 Bis tanks were lost. To avoid further unnecessary losses, tricolor flags were painted on the turret of French tanks, including the FCM 36. A bulletin distributed to commanders dated May 22nd already stated crews should wave a tricolor flag when getting close to friendly positions to avoid any misunderstandings. In addition, the tank crews applied tricolor vertical stripes to the rear of their turrets on the night of June 5th to 6th, following notice n°1520/S from General Bourguignon. Slight differences in the angle of the lines can be found between vehicles of the 7th BCC, where it was typically painted on top of the mantlet, while for vehicles of the 4th BCC, it was often painted on the mantlet itself.
Though not very common in FCM 36 units, there was numeration in some instances. This identification system was hastily put in place, with some numbers being painted directly over the unit insignia. Obviously, with restructuring undertaken due to losses, these numbers were no longer up to date, and sometimes covered with paint. In addition to this number, the vehicles also featured the mandatory ace.
FCM 36s used a variety of insignias. The most commonly used was a variant of the 503rd RCC’s insignia, showcasing a machine gunner and a dented wheel of which the colors varied depending on the company the tank belonged to. This was notably found on tanks of the 7th BCC. Other insignias could also be seen on some tanks, following the crews’ imagination, such as the representation of a duck worthy of a children’s cartoon (FCM 36 30057), a bison (FCM 36 30082), or an animal climbing the side of a mountain (FCM 36 30051).
A small number of FCM 36 were given nicknames by their crews, as on many other French tanks. However, it appears this was an initiative taken by crews. In other units, this was done directly by order of the commander, such as Colonel De Gaulle, who gave his D2s the name of French military victories. With the FCM 36s, more atypical names, not following any consistent logic, could be found. FCM 36 “Liminami” was nicknamed by amalgamating the names of the fiancées of the two crew members (Lina and Mimi). Some other curious nicknames include “Comme tout le monde” (Eng: Like Everybody, FCM 36 30040) or “Le p’tit Quinquin” (Eng: The small Quiquin, FCM 36 30063). The nickname of each tank could be inscribed on the sides of the turret or on the mantlet, just above the gun. In the first situation, the writing was generally stylized.
The Fighting of May-June 1940
The 4th BCC’s FCM 36s Against Tanks
Engaged in the Chémery sector, a few kilometers south of Sedan, in the Ardennes, the FCM 36s of the 7th BCC were more often than not without supporting infantry. From as early as 6:20 AM on May 14th, the different companies started fighting.
At first, the different companies performed relatively well, with little enemy resistance. Only the 3rd Company faced some significant resistance from several anti-tank guns which immobilized the unit for a while before the pieces were destroyed by the fire from the tanks. The 1st Company had met a few machine guns which were swiftly neutralized as the only resistance.
At a later, more crucial point in the battle, the FCM 36s were faced with much more significant resistance. The 3rd Company reached the outskirts of Connage without any enemy resistance. However, the infantry did not follow and the company was forced to go back to reach its supporting infantry. During a move on a road, six FCM 36s were stopped by two German tanks, followed by several more behind them. The FCMs fired continuously with their rupture shells. Soon running out, as there were only 12 per tank, the fight continued with explosive shells, which could only slow down blinded tanks. A German tank was in flames. The shells fired by German vehicles struggled to penetrate the FCMs, until a tank armed with a 75 mm gun, described as a StuG III, fired and knocked out several vehicles by “disemboweling them”. The retreat of some vehicles was only possible by the accumulation of knocked-out FCM 36s which blocked the fire of the Panzers. From this fight, only 3 of the 13 tanks of the 3rd Company would reach back to friendly lines.
The 1st Company also had very significant losses. The 1st Section was engaged by anti-tank guns and the 2nd Section by tanks. Losses were significant. However, when the company had to retreat towards Artaise-le-Vivier on the order of the battalion commander, it met heavy opposition while crossing the village of Maisoncelle. Of 13 engaged tanks, only 4 reached friendly lines.
The 2nd Company also suffered tremendous losses. After fighting in Bulson and in the neighboring hills, a fight broke out between 9 FCM 36s and 5 German tanks identified as Panzer IIIs, with the absence of radio on their tanks this time being to the advantage of the French. The FCM crews, hidden behind a crestline, noticed the Panzers thanks to their antennas. They were then able to follow their movement and engage them more easily. At 10:30AM, the company received the order to retreat towards Artaise-le-Vivier. The company was also engaged by German forces and suffered tremendous losses. At Maisoncelle, German tanks were waiting for the FCMs, which therefore retreated towards the Mont Dieu woods. The 2nd Company arrived at this rally point with only 3 of 13 tanks.
The survivors of the 7th BCC gathered in the Mont Dieu woods and, at 1PM, gathered to form a single marching company to oppose German progress. Thankfully, there were no further attacks. By 9PM, the marching company received the order to move towards Olizy, south of Voncq. Despite major losses, an infantry that did not follow tanks, and a large number of enemy tanks, the 7th BCC showed obstination and held firm.
Context: Voncq (May 29th – June 10th 1940)
As German forces had broken through the French front around Sedan, their advance was lightning fast. In order to secure the southern flank of the offensive, three German infantry divisions rushed towards Voncq, a small village placed on the crossroads between the Ardennes canal and the Aisne. Voncq had already seen fighting in 1792, 1814, 1815, 1870, and during World War One. The goal of the Germans was to control this strategic village while the main force moved westward.
General Aublet’s 36th French Infantry Division was divided in three infantry regiments, the 14th, 18th, and most importantly, 57th had to cover a 20 km-wide front. This force of around 18,000 personnel was supported by a powerful artillery complement which did not cease firing during the battle. On the German side, around 54,000 personnel were deployed, part of three infantry divisions: the 10th, 26th, and the SS Polizei, which arrived on the night of June 9-10th. No tanks were deployed by any side at this point.
Fighting started on the night of May 29th. Small-scale but strongly artillery-supported French attacks routed some German units. After German aerial reconnaissance over Voncq, it was urgently decided to prepare the terrain, putting in place trenches, machine gun positions, etc.
The German offensive was launched on the night of June 8-9th against Voncq. The 39th and 78th Infantry Regiments crossed the canal under the cover of artificial clouds. Elements of the French 57th Infantry Regiment, led by Lieutenant Colonel Sinais, were quickly overwhelmed by German forces after intense combat. The Germans progressed well and took the Voncq sector.
The FCM 36s in the Battle of Voncq (June 9 – 10th)
The 4th BCC was deployed with its FCM 36s at Voncq as early as the morning of June 8th. By the evening, its companies were spread out in the sector. Captain Maurice Dayras’ 1st Company was attached to the 36th Infantry Division and was placed in the Jason woods, around 20 km south-east of Voncq. Lieutenant Joseph Lucca’s 2nd Company was attached to the 35th Infantry Division, not far from there, at Briquennay. This company was not engaged in the operations at Voncq on June 9-10th. Finally, Lieutenant Ledrappier’s 3rd Company was still in reserve at Toges with the battalion headquarters.
Fighting first broke out on the morning of June 9th between the 1st Company of the 4th BCC and Captain Parat’s 57th Infantry Regiment against elements of the 1st Battalion of the German 78th Infantry Regiment. The Germans were forced to retreat.
Three sections, with a total of nine FCM 36s, continued their progress towards Voncq. Three tanks were immobilized by 37 mm anti-tank guns, including the tracked tank of Second Lieutenant Bonnabaud, commander of the 1st section. His vehicle (30061) allegedly received 42 hits, of which none penetrated. The offensive was a success and brought many prisoners.
The sight of FCM 36s made German soldiers flee, as they often lacked any weapon able to neutralize them. They often hid in the houses of villages the tanks were crossing through.
On its side, the 3rd Company had to clean the village of Terron-sur-Aisne alongside the Corps Franc [Eng French Free Corps] of the 14th Infantry Regiment, in the early afternoon of June 9th. The tanks crossed the village and searched through the streets. Soldiers were tasked with cleaning up buildings. A similar operation was later led in the orchards around Terron-sur-Aisne, which led to the capture of around sixty German soldiers.
Two sections of the 3rd Company went towards Vandy alongside the 2nd Moroccan Spahi Regiment in order to support taking the village. Once that was achieved, they moved towards Voncq to attack the following morning.
During this last large offensive on Voncq, two tanks of the 1st Company engaged in battle without accompanying infantry. Among them, the commander of vehicle 30096, Sergeant de la Myre Mory, a parliamentarian for Lot-et-Garonne department, was killed. At Voncq, only a single tank of the 1st Company was still in operational condition, 30099. However, the commander was wounded, meaning the driver had to alternate between driving and the armament.
Eight tanks of the 3rd Company had to defend a barricade in the north of Voncq alongside the Corps Franc (Captain Le More) of the 57th Infantry Regiment. The soldiers were forced to take respite in houses, leaving the tanks alone from 0:20 PM to 8 PM. Lieutenant Ledrappier, commander of the 2nd Section of the 1st Company, then abandoned his position to make contact with the infantry. However, the other tanks followed him, as the move had been poorly understood. They then retreated due to a lack of communication.
Finally, the order to abandon Voncq was given by nightfall. The FCM 36s were tasked with covering the retreat of the infantry units, which they did without an issue.
Following the engagement in Voncq, very little is known about the fate of the FCM 36s of the 4th and 7th BCCs. It is possible that the units were disbanded and the surviving FCM 36 and their crews fought in smaller ad hoc units, though their is no supporting evidence uncovered as of yet.
Crew Experiences on the FCM 36
The period between September 1939 and May 10th, 1940 was divided into multiple movements, parades, and training in which the FCM 36s and their respective battalions distinguished themselves by their efficiency and seriousness. Testimonies of tank crews, as well as historical records of the battalions, show some interesting points to note, as they give very interesting anecdotes on the machines.
The first interesting point to note was an annoying consequence of the modernity of the FCM 36. The crews would often get chest pains due to the high internal pressure inside the vehicles, which was a quality ahead of its time, allowing the vehicle to be gas-proof.
Another generality was the presence of reports on the exceptional reliability of the vehicles. Captain Belbeoc’h, commander of the 2nd Company of the 4th BCC (and later of the logistical company from January 1940 onward), explained that “when operated by alert mechanics, the FCM tank revealed itself to be a splendid war machine, which gained the trust of all crews”.
Battalion records also show the complications linked to the movement of vehicles from one point to another. On one day, a column took five hours to cross 5 km due to refugees and deserters coming from the front. Similar problems were found during movement on trains. However, this was the problem of the railway. It should be noted that it only took around twenty minutes on average to unload all tanks from a train. A train could, however, only carry the vehicles of two tank companies, or an entire fighting company alongside the heavy equipment of the logistical company. Problems often came from air attacks on tracks or trains, which required changing routes which made the battalion lose time.
The 1939-1940 winter was very harsh. The vehicle’s diesel fuel had a tendency to freeze within the engines, preventing them from starting. A crew member would then have to light a torch at the level of the engine, and tow the vehicle with another. By running with a torch at the level of the ventilation system, the fuel could liquefy and the engine started up.
An anecdote reveals that it could be more dangerous than planned to use the anti-aircraft machine gun. On May 16th, 1940, while FCM 36 30076 was towing FCM 36 30069, a German bomber arrived and a bomb exploded a few meters away from the two vehicles. The rear turret door had been opened to coordinate the towing action, and the blast knocked both turrets off. This event was proof of the danger of using the anti-aircraft machine gun.
The logistical aspect of resupplying affected a part of French vehicles in May and June 1940, but also some German vehicles after 1940. The FCM 36 was a machine that used diesel fuel, in an army full of gasoline-powered vehicles. This was directly seen within the two BCCs, in which the trucks, motorcycles, and cars all worked using gasoline. Therefore, there had to be two fuel types in the supply chain. The same problem was found with the spare parts of many seized civilian vehicles of the 4th and 7th BCC. Many broke down and could not be repaired.
The FCM 36 on the German Side
The FCM 36s Captured During the Campaign of France of 1940
The French Army lost the 1940 campaign, but it brought many German vehicles down with it. French anti-tank guns, such as the 25 mm Hotchkiss SA 34 and the 47 mm SA 37, were of excellent quality, and some of the tanks were powerful enough to knock out German vehicles, even at long ranges. This led to many German losses. To compensate for these losses, many French vehicles were captured and some were used all the way to the war’s end. This was a common practice in the German forces, which had a large part of its armored vehicles fleet composed of tanks of Czech origin during the invasion of France. These Beutepanzers (captured tanks) constituted a minor but still important part of the German armored vehicle fleet during the entire duration of the war.
Already during the campaign for France, abandoned vehicles were re-used when their condition was good enough. This was the case of several FCM 36s, on which several Balkenkreuzen were painted quickly on top of the former French markings to aid identification and avoid friendly fire. In practice, thanks to their diesel engine, even if pierced by many shells, the vehicles rarely caught fire. The vehicles were therefore easily repairable by replacing worn pieces.
No document truly attests their use in combat immediately against French forces. The Germans, in any case, did not have the ammunition stock, and even less so the diesel to make the vehicles run. The Wiesbaden Armistice Commission claims 37 FCM 36s had been captured by October 15th, 1940. It appears that in total around fifty FCM 36s were pressed back into service with the Germans.
At first, the FCM 36s were kept in their original state as tanks and were thus named Panzerkampfwagen FCM 737(f). However, for logistical reasons, and particularly because of their diesel engines, it seems that they saw very little use in France in 1940.
As early as late 1942, a part of the FCM 737(f) vehicles were modified, like many other French tanks, by Baukommando Bekker, transforming them into assault howitzers or tank destroyers. The first, the 10.5 cm leFH 16 (Sf.) auf Geschützwagen FCM 36(f) , were armed with obsolete 105 mm leFH 16 guns in an open-topped configuration. Sources vary on how many were built, with numbers ranging from 8 to 48, though the number was probably 12. Very little is known about them and they do not seem to have seen frontline service.
The second were given a Pak 40 anti-tank cannon, which was able to neutralize most vehicles which it would face at standard fighting ranges. They were known as 7.5 cm Pak 40 auf Geschutzwagen FCM(f). This modification is sometimes considered to be part of the Marder I series. Around 10 were modified in Paris in 1943 and saw service until the Allied invasion of France in 1944.
The main issues of these vehicles were their diesel fuel, which caused supply problems. Their high silhouettes were also problematic, particularly for the tank destroyer. However, they had the advantage of giving mobility to fairly heavy artillery pieces and to provide an acceptable level of protection to their crews.
The FCM 36 was the best light infantry tank that the French Army had in 1940, as stated by the evaluating commission in July 1936. However, it was plagued by many issues. The main ones were linked to their complicated production process, which was the reason behind the vehicle not receiving additional orders, and obviously, the outdated doctrine which led to its conception, which was entirely obsolete. However, the units which were equipped with the tanks remarked themselves by their actions, particularly the 7th BCC, thanks to the experience they had gained during intensive training in close cooperation with infantry units. The engines shone in the mission for which they were designed: infantry support.
FCM 36 Specifications
2 (Commander/gunner/loader, driver/mechanic)
Berliet Ricardo, Diesel, 105 horsepower (at full power), 4 cylinder bore/stroke 130 x 160 mm
Règlement des unités de chars de combat, tome 2, Combat ; 1939
Règlement des unités de chars de combat, tome 2, Combat ; juin 1934
Instruction provisoire sur l’emploi des chars de combat comme engins d’infanterie ; 1920
Instruction sur les armes et le tir dans les unités de chars légers ; 1935
I thank l’Association des Amis du Musée des Blindés (Eng: the Association of Friends of the Tank Museum) which allowed me to use their library, from which the majority of previously mentioned books are sourced from.
World of Tanks, or ‘WoT’, is a tank combat multiplayer game developed by Wargaming Group Limited. The game features hundreds of playable tanks, including prototypes and designs that never left the drawing board, arranged in ‘tech trees’ grouped by nation and vehicle type. In addition to tanks that have some basis in reality, World of Tanks also features some vehicles that are entirely made up, designed to patch holes in the ‘tech trees’. Among the ‘fake’ designs is the T25 AT, an American tank destroyer. Described in-game as a real design, this is a vehicle that, from the name to the gun, is none other than a product of Wargaming’s think tank. However, there is some information pointing towards the existence of a similar vehicle that could have inspired this ‘fake’ tank.
Wargaming are generous enough to provide a short ‘history’ of their made-up tank both on their ‘wiki’ and in-game.
“The vehicle was developed based on the T23 tank, but the work on the project was discontinued at the concept exploration stage. The Command of the United States Army did not like the electric transmission and poor gun traverse limits.”
While this short summary is mostly accurate, the in-game design differs significantly from any proposed T23-based tank destroyer.
The Name Game
The first step towards deconstructing this ‘fake’ tank is to dissect its fictional name. Contrary to what one could expect, this vehicle is not based on the chassis of the T25 medium tank. Comparing historical photographs of the T25 prototypes and in-game screenshots reveals the differences in suspension between the vehicles.
While the actual T25 used Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS), the ahistorical T25 AT uses Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS). Due to the difference in suspension types between the T25 AT and the actual T25 medium, the chassis on which this design is based is much more likely to be the T23 medium tank, the T25’s predecessor. The chassis of the T23 and T25 were otherwise very similar, so it could have been possible for the designers at Wargaming to confuse the two when creating this fictional tank.
The other half of Wargaming’s T23-based tank destroyer’s name, the ‘AT’, is just as incorrect as the T25. AT is an abbreviation for ‘Anti-Tank’ and is a designation not generally applied to tank destroyers used by the United States Army. American tank destroyers, prototype or otherwise, were instead designated as GMCs (Gun Motor Carriages). Some examples are the M10 GMC or the T40 GMC. A much more historically accurate designation for this vehicle would have been ‘T23 GMC’, with T23 signifying the chassis and GMC denoting its status as a tank destroyer. Even with such a designation, it would still have been incorrect as such a distinct design would have been given a new T-number to distinguish it from the T23 medium tank. However, there is no way to tell what this hypothetical T-number would be. As it stands, T25 AT is an incorrect name back to front, featuring a misleading T-number and an improper designation for a tank destroyer.
To examine the T25 AT, it is first necessary to look at other conventional tank destroyer designs of the time period. During World War II, American tank destroyers were designed to conform with the U.S. Army tank destroyer doctrine, which demanded fast, heavily armed, lightly armored vehicles capable of defending against massed armored attacks. Doctrine also requested that tank destroyers possess anti-aircraft weapons and powerful radios. Almost all of these characteristics were present on many American tank destroyers of the Second World War, such as the M10 GMC, M18 GMC, and M36 GMC. However, many American tank destroyers also possessed common design decisions that, while not outlined in doctrine, have become synonymous with them as a whole, namely, fully rotating turrets and open-tops.
Notably, the T25 AT shares few characteristics with these vehicles. While the T25 AT, equipped with the powerful M3 90 mm gun, is heavily armed, its similarities to standardized American tank destroyers end there. This tank destroyer, as it is based on a medium tank chassis with a few tons of armor added, is not exceptionally mobile. It features reasonably thick armor, no anti-aircraft machine guns, a closed top, and, notably, an armored casemate instead of a conventional turret. However, while the T25 AT bears little resemblance to turreted American tank destroyers, it would be foolish to dismiss other, experimental turretless designs, namely the T40 and T28.
The T40 was created by mating the 3 in gun M1918 to the chassis of the M3 medium tank. A turretless design was pursued to lower the vehicle’s profile. Development was canceled in 1942 due to the lack of available guns and the success of its competitor, the soon-to-be-standardized M10 GMC.
The T28 was only considered as a tank destroyer for a short time. This massive tank was designed in 1943 to defeat the defenses of the German Siegfried Line using exceptionally thick armor and a large gun. This vehicle’s lack of a turret was, again, to lower its profile. The history of this vehicle’s designation is complicated. While originally designated as Heavy Tank T28 in 1943, its name was changed to T95 GMC in 1945 due to the tank’s noticeable lack of a turret, something that all U.S. heavy tanks had at the time. However, its designation was changed in 1946 back to Super-Heavy Tank T28 because of nomenclature changes and to reflect the tank’s massive weight. For the sake of comparison, we can consider this as a tank destroyer despite the fact that it was not developed with that role in mind.
Even compared to two other historic turretless American tank destroyers, the T25 AT is fairly unique. It does not quite have the speed, open-top, or light armor of the T40 GMC, a true American to-the-doctrine tank destroyer. However, the T25 AT also does not have the incredibly thick armor of the heavy assault T28. Therefore, it is fair to assume that the T25 AT shares little in common with any contemporary American tank destroyers, experimental or standardized.
Conversely, the T25 AT bears a striking resemblance in appearance and overall design to contemporary German Jagdpanzers. Visually, the T25 AT is a combination of German tank destroyer parts cobbled together. The T25 AT’s casemate is similar to that of the Jagdpanther, constructed by extending the upper glacis of the chassis upwards to form a fighting compartment. Additionally, the T25 AT’s gun mantlet is very similar to the Saukopfblende [Eng: boar’s head] gun mantlet used by many Jagdpanzers, including the Jagdpanzer 38 ‘Hetzer’ and Jagdpanzer IV.
While many factors of the T25 AT’s design appear confusing from an American perspective, including its relatively thick armor, closed roof, lack of turret, and average mobility, these are all common characteristics of Jagdpanzers. The Hetzer, Jagdpanther, Jagdtiger, Ferdinand, and Jagdpanzer IV, for example, all had thick frontal armor, fully enclosed casemates, lacked turrets, and had mobility ranging from average to poor. With its relatively thick frontal armor, casemate-mounted gun, fully-enclosed casemate, and average mobility, the T25 AT is extremely similar to these German tank destroyer designs. In contrast, it shares almost no characteristics with American designs of the time period.
Armor and Chassis
T23 Medium Turret Armor
T25 AT Turret Armor
T23 Medium Hull Armor
T25 AT Hull Armor
* all angle measurements taken from vertical
As WoT’s T25 AT is based on an essentially unmodified T23 chassis, the armor values are quite similar. However, a few small modifications were made on the in-game design, including the removal of the T23’s side skirts and hull machine gun. Why the skirts were removed is a mystery, but the machine gun was probably removed because the T25 AT’s status as a tank destroyer rendered it useless. The T25 AT, as a tank destroyer, was intended to fight tanks, not infantry.
In-game, the T25 AT has armor values that generally resemble the historic T23 medium tank. However, certain parts have been noticeably uparmored, including the side and front plate. The casemate of the T25 AT has similar armor values to the rest of the tank, with its front, rear, and roof armor being the same as the hull. The cast gun mantlet is the thickest bit of armor on the tank, offering a maximum of 127 mm of protection. Being an ahistorical design, the casemate’s armor scheme is a creation of Wargaming and is based on the actual T23 tank design with a helping of game balance added.
The casemate’s side armor is thicker than the hull’s and is curved outwards slightly to add more space for the crew. It broadly resembles the production T23’s turret, the same turret that was mounted on 76 mm armed M4 Shermans. Perched atop the casemate are a commander’s cupola of the same type as mounted on the T23 and a fume extractor.
Meet the Gang
The T25 AT has a crew of four in-game: a gunner, a driver, a loader, and a commander who doubles as a radio operator. The entire crew is crammed into the superstructure and, when looking at the tank from the front, the driver sits to the right of the gun, with the commander to the rear. The gunner sits to the left of the gun and the loader sits behind the breech at the rear of the superstructure. Requiring the commander to operate the radio in addition to commanding duties is most likely a space-saving measure, as there is not any room to spare inside the tank for a dedicated radio operator. This four-man crew layout differs from that of other American tank destroyers, such as the M10 or M18, due to a lack of a radio operator. For such an outlandish design, the T25 AT at least features a feasible crew layout.
As a central part of game progression, World of Tanks features many unlockable modules for each tank, and the T25 AT is certainly no exception. Included in the list of available modules for this tank are two different engines and two different suspension systems.
The first engine is the Ford GAN, which was the historical engine used to power the T23 medium tank on which this tank is based. The GAN is extremely similar to the Ford GAA engine used in the M4 Sherman. However, the T25 AT’s Ford GAN in the game is slightly more powerful than the engine in real life. The fake tank’s engine outputs 560 hp compared to the actual engine’s 500 hp. The T25 AT’s engine is also 72 kg (159 lbs) lighter than the T23’s. Therefore, the T25 AT’s Ford GAN engine was the same engine used in the T23 prototypes, but with some ahistorical improvements to decrease its weight and improve its power output, likely for the sake of game balance.
The second unlockable engine is listed as the Continental AV-1790-1. While the AV-1790-1 was in development around the time the T23 prototypes were being tested, it would make little sense to consider mounting it in the tank. The engine project was, from the beginning, designed to give the M26 Pershing a much-needed boost to mobility, not speed up an already fast medium tank. Described in-game as producing 704 hp and weighing 569 kg, this engine has issues with its statistics. In-game, the engine is significantly lighter than in real life, with the actual AV-1790 topping the scales at over 1,100 kg. The real Continental AV-1790-1 had a gross output of 740 hp in optimal conditions and likely would only have produced around 650 net hp or less when configured for use in WoT’s T25 AT. An upgraded version of the same engine, the AV-1790-3, produces 704 net hp, matching the engine described in-game. This is probably an error on Wargaming’s part, with the AV-1790-3 being the engine mounted on the tank but misnamed as the AV-1790-1.
In conclusion, the first of the T25 AT’s engines is the historical Ford GAN engine but with some slight improvements, while the second is a misnomer that was never intended for this chassis.
In addition to two mountable engines, the T25 AT also features two different suspensions, T25T1 and T25T2. However, both suspensions are extremely similar, with their only difference being that the T25T2 has a larger so-called load limit and is required to mount heavier and more powerful modules on the tank, such as a larger gun. Both suspensions look exactly the same and are visually identical to the Sherman-style VVSS present on the T23 prototypes. As such, it can be concluded that these different suspensions and their designations are fictional and are only present in World of Tanks to force the player to grind more experience points.
The T25 AT is capable of mounting two different radios in-game, the SCR-508 and SCR-506. These radios could both be installed in the actual T23 medium tank, so their configurations on the T25 AT are hypothetically possible.
The first of the radios is the SCR-508. Introduced in 1942, this was the standard American tank radio until the late 1950s. It was fitted to many vehicles in addition to the T23, including the M5 Stuart, M4 Sherman, M7 Priest, M36 GMC, and M26 Pershing. Because this radio was both standard issue and used by the T23 medium, it is the most historically accurate choice for the T25 AT. If the vehicle existed and was produced, the SCR-508 would have been the radio it used.
The second radio is the more powerful SCR-506, which was also fitted to the T23. However, it was only used by the command variant of the T23. Of the two radio configurations present for the T25 AT, the SCR-506 is certainly the least realistic. This was a radio intended for a command tank, not a tank destroyer. A specialized anti-tank vehicle’s standard radio, for example, the SCR-508, does its job perfectly fine, no upgrades required.
Similar to the two different researchable suspensions available for the T25 AT, the radios serve little purpose in-game other than to extend the amount of ‘experience’ the player needs to earn before they can move on to the next tank. The only difference between the two available radios is their ‘signal range,’ an arbitrary value that serves little to no purpose in World of Tanks. To illustrate the silliness of ‘signal range’ as a game mechanic, the in-game SCR-508’s range is given as a paltry 385 m. However, its actual range is greater than 10 mi, or 16,000 m! Given the largest WoT map has an area of just 9 square km, or 5.59 square mi, maintaining communications with allies should be no problem on any map in the game. The entire gimmick of extremely short radio ranges serves no purpose but to force players to play the game more.
The transmission of the T25 AT is also worth a mention, as one of the main reasons why this ‘fake tank’ was supposedly canceled is related to its unreliability. The in-game ‘history’ of the T25 AT states that “One of the reasons given for [the T25 AT’s] cancellation was the Army’s dislike of the tank’s electric transmission.” The T23, as the vehicle on whose chassis the T25 AT is based, also had issues with its electric transmission system.
Mounted at the rear of the tank, this experimental electric transmission was the T23’s main deviation from its predecessor, the T22 medium tank. While this transmission offered many unique and advanced features, including increased engine life and the ability to drive the tank by remote control, Armored Board was not impressed. They saw the remote control feature as superfluous and cited the difficulties with maintaining the complex system as their main reason for canceling the tank in 1943.
Fitting with the theme of customization and upgradability, the T25 AT features three gun choices, all of which feature just 10º of traverse to either side. From least to most powerful, they are: the 90 mm M3, 90 mm T15E2, and the 105 mm T5E1.
Of the three guns, the 90 mm M3 is the most historically reasonable choice. It was a useful gun and was used in other designs of the time, such as the T25/T26 medium tank and M36 GMC. The M3 saw extensive service at the end of World War 2 and proved itself in Korea as a serviceable anti-tank weapon.
90 mm M3
160 mm @ 0 m and 0°
140 mm @ 914 m and 0°
243 mm @ 0 m and 0°
201 mm @ 914 m and 30°
45 mm @ 0 m and 0°
<<45 mm @ 0 m and 0°
In-game, the M3 is capable of firing M77 armor-piercing, M304 high-velocity armor-piercing, and M71 high-explosive rounds. These shell types were available for actual M3 guns, but their penetration values were slightly different than they are shown in-game for the purpose of game balance. The M77 AP performs the closest to real life, with its in-game penetration values reflecting the shell’s actual results reasonably well. The M304 HVAP, however, is significantly less powerful than it should be. Conversely, the M71 HE is much more powerful than it should be. Only guns of very high caliber, 15 cm or larger, have high-explosive shells capable of penetrating that much armor in real life. As for mounting the 90 mm M3 on the T25 AT, its breech and ammunition were the smallest of the three gun choices, so they could have fit the most comfortably inside the already cramped superstructure. The M3 also bears the strongest visual resemblance to the proposed gun for the design this tank is based on.
90 mm T15E2
The 90 mm T15E2, the same gun used by the much heavier T32 and experimental T26E4, is neither a sound nor a historically accurate weapon for mounting in a small vehicle like the T25 AT. The T15E2 was developed to compete with the firepower of the German 88 mm KwK 43 and is a reconfiguration of the T15E1 cannon used on the first T26E4 ‘Super Pershing’, with the only main difference being the rechambering of the gun for two-piece 90 mm rounds. This caused a decrease in the gun’s rate of fire but fixed the awkwardness of loading such a long shell in the confines of a tight turret. However, this gun was developed in 1945, long after the T23 had been ‘canceled’ in 1944.
170 mm @ 0 m and 0°
258 mm @ 0 m and 0°
373 mm @ 9 m and 0°
45 mm @ 0 m and 0°
<<45 mm @ 0 m and 0°
The T15E2 is listed as firing the same rounds as the shorter 90 mm M3 in-game, which is partly historically accurate. While the T15E2 and M3 could fire the same projectiles, the shells themselves are not identical. For use in the T15E2’s two-piece breach, the projectiles had to be separated from their propellant. The shells also underwent slight modifications to their rotating bands, which allowed them to function properly when used with the new high-velocity gun. The shells used by the T15E2 in-game that underwent this transformation, M304 and M71, were redesignated as T44 and T42 respectively to avoid confusion with their unmodified predecessors. The M77 round did not receive these modifications because it was superseded by its improved derivative, the T33 AP round. The T33 was, in turn, modified for use in the T15E2 gun and redesignated as T43.
The addition of a longer gun with larger ammunition and breech would certainly have created an issue of crew comfort and ammo stowage within the casemate. The T15E2 was never intended to be mounted in anything but the T32 heavy tank and serial versions of the T26E4. Its configuration on the T25 AT is a much larger break from reality than the 90 mm M3’s.
105 mm T5E1
198 mm @ 0 m and 0°
177 mm @ 914 m and 30°
245 mm @ 0 m and 0°
381 mm @ 0 m and 0°
53 mm @ 0 m and 0°
<<53 mm @ 0 m and 0°
Capping off the arsenal of guns the T25 AT has at its disposal in-game is the massive 105 mm T5E1 cannon. This gun was developed in 1943 and mounted in various heavy prototype vehicles, such as the T29 heavy tank and T28 super-heavy tank. It has three rounds available in-game: the T32 AP round, the T29E3 APCR round, and the M11 HE shell. In real life, the T5E1 gun was able to fire both the T32 and T29E3 rounds. However, there is no mention of the M11 round ever being used.
In-game, the T32 AP round is reasonably accurate to its actual performance, if slightly less powerful than it should be. The T29E3 APCR round, however, is significantly less powerful than it should be. Compared to historical firing tests, the in-game shells have about one and a half times less penetration than they should. Conversely, as is the case in World of Tanks, the M11 HE round is much more powerful than it should be. High-explosive rounds are given exaggerated penetration capabilities in WoT to give them some use in-game, that being increased effectiveness against lightly armored targets. All of these changes to penetration values are in the name of game balance, as unrealistic as they are. After all, in game terms, it is not very fun or fair to fight against a gun that can negate the armor of anything it can possibly fight.
However, there is a good reason why only very heavy tanks with very large turrets or hefty casemates mounted the T5E1 gun. It had a large breech, a long recoil distance, and large shells. Attempting to cram a gun this large in a casemate as small as the T25 AT’s would likely have resulted in many issues. These would include the loader not having enough space inside the tank to load the gun’s large rounds, a severe lack of ammunition stowage, reduced gun traverse limits due to crew positions obstructing the breech’s rotation, severely limited gun depression, and the gun’s weight making the tank front heavy, to name a few.
Everything about this gun and its configuration on the T25 AT is a pipe dream. There would have been no way for a cannon of the T5E1’s length and weight to fit inside the casemate of a vehicle like the T25 AT without many significant issues that would render it next to useless. Of the three guns that the T25 AT has at its disposal in-game, the T5E1 is certainly the most egregious.
Shreds of Truth
While the T25 AT represented in-game is a confusing mess of antiquated design and historically questionable upgrades, it would appear as though a design similar to this was actually proposed. However, very little is known about this obscure vehicle. According to R. P. Hunnicutt’s Pershing,
“In early 1943, a design study called for the mounting of the 90 mm antiaircraft gun on the medium tank T23 chassis and in March such an installation was demonstrated to General Devers, General Barr, and other officers. These tests proved useful in the design of the T25 and T26 tanks later in the year.”
Almost nothing is known about this vehicle other than that it mounts the M1 90 mm anti-aircraft gun and is based on the T23 medium tank chassis. While the T25 AT is most likely inspired by this real, mysterious design, WoT’s interpretation differs drastically on almost all points except being based on the same chassis.
As Wargaming’s official ‘history’ of the tank states, the Army would have been dissatisfied with the horizontal limits of the gun. They would soon have two designs mounting the same gun in a fully rotating turret, the M26 and M36. They also would not have been fond of the electric transmission, as evidenced by their rejection of the T23.
The T25 AT, as present in Wargaming’s World of Tanks, is without a doubt a fake vehicle. It is not the worst of Wargaming’s fake tank crimes, as a historical project that bears some likeness to it existed at some point in the past. However, the in-game representation of this idea is entirely incorrect. It hardly resembles the mock-up visually, if at all, and features modules that could have, within reason, been mounted on such a design, such as the 90 mm M3 gun and Ford GAN engine, juxtaposed by laughably impractical, inaccurate, and downright anachronistic modules, such as the T5E1 gun and Continental AV-1790-3 engine.
T25 AT (Fake Tank) Specifications
42.72 tons, battle-ready
90 mm M3 gun (56 rounds)
90 mm T15E2 gun (56 rounds)
105 mm T5E1 gun (40 rounds)
Upper plate: 88.9 mm
Lower plate and side: 63.5 to 50.8 mm
Rear: 38.1 mm
Roof: 19.1 mm
Belly: 25.4 to 12.7 mm
Front: 88.9 mm
Side: 76.2 mm
Rear: 38.1 mm
Roof: 19.1 mm
Detailed armor model available at tanks.gg