Sunday, August 28, 2011

From Christie to T-72: T-34/76

The A-32 was scheduled for production in early 1940. At that time the Soviet army was in turmoil, searching for reasons why their victory over Finland took so long to materialize, and why so many lives were lost. Out of this tumult came the KV-1 and the A-32, now renamed T-34. Unfortunately for the Kharkov design team, Koshkin, T-34's designer, fell ill and soon died. The T-34 was produced in moderate numbers until June 22, 1941. On that day, Nazi Germany invaded Russia. Almost immediately, it was deemed imperative that major factories in the USSR, including those in Kharkov, had to be transported across the country to prevent them from falling into Nazi hands. So the Soviets set about the task of moving the factories all the way to the Urals. Once this was complete, they almost immediately went into high gear producing tanks, especially KVs and T-34s, aircraft, and all the components of modern warfare. Almost from their first day in combat, T-34s proved themselves better in combat than all German tanks of the day. The Germans were stunned by the new vehicles, Field Marshal Von Kleist called them the best tanks in the world. They were just what the Soviet Union needed. They were actively involved in the Winter offensive of 1941/42, rolling over the snow while the German tanks and artillery pieces were too frozen even to shoot back. They were produced not in thousands, like most German vehicles, but in tens of thousands, becoming the very symbol of Soviet resistance to the foe.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

From Christie to T-72: A-20, A-32 and the origins of T-34

Now I shall return to a subject which I have examined before, the T-34. But first, I shall give some background on its development history.This revolutionary design sprang out of projects to replace the BT-7, most of which used that tank as a basis. But two designs in particular stood out from the rest, and the competition soon narrowed down to these two, the A-20 and the A-32. Both used the christie suspension; and both used sloped armor. This was a relatively bold move for the mid 1930s, as while most tanks used sloping only in the front of the vehicle, these designs would have sloped armor covering the entire upper hull. While both vehicles were revolutionary in concept, the A-20 had thin armor and used the BT-7's 45mm gun. The A-32, however, was a different story. It had very well-sloped armor, which was also quite thick, and it also used a 76mm gun capable of penetrating every tank of its day with almost no exceptions. The importance of this in my view requires a bit of explanation. During the Spanish Civil War (it would drag on until 1939), countries such as France and Germany started to design tanks to deal with the Krupp 37mm anti-tank gun, but in Russia, Stalin's purges had decimated the main tank design team, and new members were hired. One of these, a man named Michail Koshkin, decided that what his country needed was a tank that would not only defeat the 37mm threat, but would also defeat whatever new AT gun was made to deal with the new generation of tanks. And thus the A-32 was born. As a consequence of its revolutionary design, the tank was accepted for service as the T-34.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chr-T72: BT-7

The BT-7 was the ultimate evolution of its series. It was in many ways an upgraded BT-5, with a new turret and better armor ( Although in the first tanks produced the old model turret was used). It was utilized throughout the Great Patriotic War, as World War II was termed by the Soviets. The tank's main fault was the fact that it had a petrol engine, which burned very easily. This problem was rectified by the BT-7M, which went into production from 1940 onwards. The infantry support version mounted a 76mm howitzer in a modified turret. The BT-7 was phased out of production after Operation Barbarossa(the German invasion of Russia) decimated stocks of the tanks, although as previously noted they did not go out of service until almost the end of the war.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

From Christie to T-72, part 2

J. Walter Christie was just one of many US tank designers vying to get their vehicles accepted by the War Department. But Christie turned out to be the most outstanding of them all, with his designs almost immediately accepted for service ( although none of them went into full production). Perhaps the very best of these was the M1931. Part of what made this vehicle such a winner was its revolutionary new suspension, which allowed for better mobility and speed than any other type at that time. It also allowed for the tracks to be taken off for ease of transport. But perhaps the most interesting quality of these tanks was the interest other countries, particularly Russia, took in them. Very soon that nation had bought a number of them, albeit turretless. These were accepted by the Red Army and designated BT-1 or "fast tank" in russian (although their crews took to calling them "betkas" or beetles). And those are the subject of the next post.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

From Christie to T-72: the evolution of the M1931

In this series, I shall explore the evolution of the Christie suspension tank from the M1931 to the T-72 and beyond.( Note: although all Soviet tanks after T34 were not equipped with the Christie suspension, most were descended from the T34 design, which did.) I will examine some tanks outside of the Soviet family tree, but mostly I shall focus on the Russian machines. But before examining these and other vehicles, I shall explain the background for these inventions. The military world of the 1920s was a strange place. The First World War had only just ended, and Military theorists were still trying to get some meaning out of that war's battles. How to break through an enemy's trenches, for instance, was still up in the air for most people. The proper use of, even definition of, the tank was not clearly defined, especially in countries with little or no wartime experience in their use such as the United States. In that time, there were two main theories on how to use tanks: the British one and the French one. The French treated them as mobile artillery platforms for use in support of the infantry, while the British treated them as the next level of cavalry, with heavy and light vehicles. But a universal concept of both theories was the idea of multiple turrets. In the United States, however, these theories had almost no meaning, namely because the US had little or no tanks! Even the Russians had a more solid program for the type. Many inventors, like J. Walter Christie, thought up their respective designs, most of them failures. But one of them was a triumph, if not in the US, then in foreign countries. This brings us to the subject of my next post.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus

In this, the last installment of my "the Panzers" series I shall tell of the Super heavy projects of the late war era, specifically the Maus. This was a Porsche designed vehicle of gigantic proportions, carrying a 128mm gun as main and the Panther's 75mm gun as primary and secondary armaments, respectively. It was the heaviest tank ever built, weighing in at 188000 kg. It was the only super heavy vehicle to enter service (albeit as a prototype). It shared the Kingtiger's  slowness due to to an under-powered engine or excessive weight. However, it was an even better moving pillbox than the Kingtiger, being much more heavily armored. Only two prototypes were finished by the time the Soviets reached their factory, although there were more in various stages of construction. Both vehicles were destroyed by their owners, although it is said that for a time they played an active role in defending the premises. One of the turrets was put on the other's hull and the completed tank was moved to Russia for evaluation purposes, and can be seen on display in the Kubinka tank museum outside Moscow. While it was the only one built, the Maus was not the only super heavy model to be designed. Germany had designs out for the Panzer VII Lowe, the E-100, the Panzers IX and X, and the P-1000 Ratte. the last tank was envisioned as a so-called Landcruiser, being armed with multiple Flak mounts, a 128mm gun, and a two gun turret similar to those on the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Power would come via two U-boat diesels. These monster tanks were the last fantasies of the German high command, and reflected the ever-decreasing hopes for victory. The fact the the Maus was even built is a testimony to the utter lunacy of the desperate German army, and to that of Ferdinand Porsche. EPILOGUE. On May 9, 1945, the war in the west ended. Germany lay in ruins and was divvied up between the victorious Allies. Neither side accepted her great tank designs, preferring their own vehicles. So it was that the tale of Germany's WWII tanks ended, and although some, mainly Pz. IVs, soldiered on into the 1960s, most of the remaining vehicles were sold to museums. However, one of Germany's vehicles kept going and going. The Hetzer, descended from the Pz. 38t, was kept in production by the Czechs into the '50s, and was used by some countries for a time afterwards. However, the countries that operated them gradually phazed them out of service, and by the '70s they too were just another chapter in Tank history.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Panzerkampfwagen VI Kingtiger

While the Tiger I was a fearsome weapon, it had many problems. So, the Germans decided to make an even bigger and better armored tank. This Led to the Kingtiger, or Royal Tiger. This tank used sloped armor and an even more powerful version of the 88mm gun. However, its terrible mobility and fuel consumption rate made it almost useless. It was first used in the 1944 Ardennes offensive ( Battle of the Bulge)and at first seemed a total success, but they were soon stopped by Allied resistance and a lack of fuel. Overall, the Kingtiger was most effective for propaganda purposes, as it terrified the enemy. Like the huge super heavy models that followed it, Kingtiger was almost more of a moving pillbox than an actual tank.