Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Bad Day

Tilly-sur-Seulles was one of the fiercest battles the British faced in Normandy. It was on the eastern end of a defensive line held by the elite Panzer Lehr Regiment.  The village held out for a number of weeks and involved many engagements. The final capture of Tilly-sur-Seulles was completed by the 2nd Essex Battalion which had had a bad time in Normandy.
Looking for mines in the aftermath of the battle
The 2nd Essex was landed on D-Day, and as British forces pushed inland it was moved up with the rest of the 56th Infantry Brigade to provided the needed additional infantry to the 7th Armoured Division.  The need for infantry was due to the Bocage country.  The 2nd Essex was sent with the 5th Royal Tank Regiment through Bernières-Bocage to cut the Tilly-sur-Seulles road. On their way they had to size a place called Verrières Wood.

From the 2nd Essex's position they had to cross 1500 yards of open ground, and that was uphill. Verrières Wood stretched from the crest line down the other side of the hill, and was in a perfect reverse slope position. The first 1400 yards was an open cornfield, the last 100 yards didn't even have the half grown wheat as cover as it was just a meadow.
Verrières Wood is the line of tree's in the distance, this was the view that greeted the men of the 2nd Essex.

There was meant to be tank support, however it never showed up, mostly in part due to confusion within the 7th Armoured Division as to their role.  At the same time as the 2nd Essex was planning its attack the 7th Armoured had been tasked with an end run through a gap in the German lines.  They were to pass around the western flank of the Panzer Lehr line, and to their date with destiny, as after their movement they were to end up a place called Villers-Bocage.
So at 1800 on the 11th of June, the 2nd Essex moved out expecting tank support. In perfect formation they waded through the corn, like a week earlier they'd waded through the Normandy surf.
An artillery bombardment was falling on the woods to give them cover. After the first 500 yards nothing had happened, the tension was rising as they marched forward. The corn field was brightly light by the sun in the pure blue sky, if the Germans were in the wood they couldn't fail to miss them.
After another 500 yards the Germans revealed their positions. Showers of mortar bombs and tank HE started landing along the line. The men of the 2nd Essex continued to stride into the haze caused by the barrage, firing from the hip as they went. Whenever the scream of incoming shells was heard the line would throw itself flat, seconds after the explosions they'd scramble right up and continue advancing.
When they entered the meadow German infantry and machine guns began to open fire, by now the casualties had been heavy and there were holes ripped in the neat skirmish line. As the remains of the battalion closed with the Germans they had bayonets fixed and ready to assault the German position. But the Germans withdrew suddenly.

The English battalion pushed through the wood and found the Germans on the other side. Some had taken up defensive positions in a small farm that was assaulted and cleared by a single platoon.
However the Germans had a sizeable force in the next line of trees, so the Essex men held their position and dug in.

As German forces often did they launched an immediate counter attack. A battalion of tanks rushed at the battered Essex battalion. With only PIATs to stop them they tried their best but were running out of ammunition. The German tanks simply overran the line. However, the English soldiers held their ground, dug into simple slit trenches the battalion commander called the artillery down on his position, knowing his men would be protected by the trenches.
Equally at this point the Germans were running low on ammunition and were using AP rounds from their main guns in desperation. The dogged resistance caused the initial German attack to fall back. They carried on assaulting throughout the night, including at one point bringing up half track flamethrowers.
In the early hours of the morning the battalion anti-tank company deployed forward.  At about the same time a platoon of M10C Achilles was brought up to the front. It's a matter of debate why the AT guns were not brought up sooner, and while the Battalion Commander was removed from post overnight for this error, one should remember the exposed advance and the fact that tanks were rampaging around inside the wood, and should one of those meet the Carriers with their guns limbered the results would have been deadly.

As morning approached the battalion Padre appeared at the front. The vicious fighting had been raging all night and numerous Germans had been cut down as they advanced, many were wounded and still in no-mans land calling out for help. The Padre began to venture out in the darkness, alone and unarmed, to rescue or if they were too badly wounded tend to them.

Later that morning the anti-tank company formed a screen, allowing the rest of the battalion to withdraw. After the infantry had swept their line of advance and pulled back the Carriers were bought up and hitched to the guns. As they did so the Germans spotted them and their withdrawal. Several Panther tanks began to take shots at the Carriers, however all the anti-tank company made it away without a casualty.
By the time the 2nd Essex reached safety the three infantry companies were reduced to the strength of just one, and a large portion of the officers were amongst the casualties. Over the next week replacements began to fill out the ranks. On the 17th the 2nd Essex was detailed to capture Tilly-sur-Seulles. Several other assaults by infantry regiments had been put in against the village over the previous week, and all had been repulsed.
This time however supporting attacks covering the flanks would also be launched, and the 2nd Essex would be joined by 81st Assault Squadron. The 81st was equipped with the Churchill AVRE. They'd been part of the assault waves on D-Day, and had lost four tanks, two had drowned and two had been knocked out by enemy action.
The assault started at 1600 on the 17th of June. As the tanks and infantry pushed down the road fierce fighting erupted. One of the AVRE's was nearing the cross roads, spraying machine gun fire into likely looking bushes. Its gunner was Sapper Sydney Blaskett. Suddenly just in front of the tank a Panther appeared at the short range of only 50 yards.
Load Dustbin!
 Under orders from his commander Spr Blaskett rotated the turret round.  The cavernous maw of the 290mm Spigot Mortar was stuffed with the 40Lb "Flying Dustbin". With a bang the heavy projectile was hurled towards the Panther. It whirled through the air, arcing straight towards the point of aim. Spr Blaskett had aimed his shot at the Panthers turret ring. The round exploded after hitting a telegraph pole three feet away from the Panther. When the explosion had cleared the Panther was still, and never moved again. The blast from the round had put it out of action.

Friday, August 15, 2014

[WoTB] First Major Update for Blitz

Update 1.2 for World of Tanks Blitz has been submitted for Apple's review, meaning the release date is within 2 weeks from now. 

Below are the update notes:
  • Added new desert map - Oasis Palms (two more maps are coming in 1.3)
  • Tier VI-VIII vehicles are added in tech trees - SU-100Y, Dicker Max, Panther M10, Lowe, T34. All of them can be purchased for gold.
  • Added quick auto aim control that enables/disables auto aim (aiming assistance) directly in batle. Works independently for arcade and sniper modes. Very convenient thing, using it myself.
  • Added display for discounted shop items during specials
  • Added new notifications for garage header. The most important of those are battle results and gifts. E.g. if you left the battle for garage, you will see the popping header with the results.
  • Added automated chat censoring.
  • Added ability to share battle results on Facebook.
  • Added new sound effects: engines, transmissions, breaking objects, enemy tanks on fire, etc
Balance and gameplay
  • Increased net credit income (income minus expenses) for premium tanks: Lowe +20%, T34 +22%, Dicker Max 19%
  • Decreased battle tiers for tier III and IV vehicles, and T2 Light to +/-1. It means that all tanks up to tier IV can only meet vehicles one tier below and above. Being unplatooned ofc.
  • Decreased prices for equipment.
    • tier 1: 20000->1500, 40000->3000
    • tier 2: 30000->5000, 60000->10000
    • tier 3: 40000->12500, 80000->25000 
    • tier 4: 50000->35000, 100000->70000
    • tier 5: 75000->60000, 150000->120000
    • tier 6: 100000->90000, 200000->180000
  • Decreased prices for consumables.
    • tier 1: 1000->500 (only 3 basic consumables now available)
    • tier 2: 1000->750, 3000->1500, 5000->2100
    • tier 3: 1500->1000, 4000->2000, 7000->2800
    • tier 4: 1500->1250, 4000->2500, 7000->3500
    • tier 5: 2000->1500, 5000->3000, 9000->4200
    • tier 6: 2500->1750, 6000->3500, 11000->4900
    • tier 7: 3000->2000, 7000->4000, 13000->5600
    • tier 8: 3500->2250, 8000->4500, 15000->6300
    • tier 9: 4000->2500, 9000->5000, 17000->7000
    • tier 10: 5000->3000, 10000->6000, 20000->8400
  • Increased experience to get 100% crew skill.
    • tier 1: - 
    • tier 2: 2000->2700 
    • tier 3: 5000->7600
    • tier 4: 14000->18300
    • tier 5: 27000->36000
    • tier 6: 50000->83000
    • tier 7: 81000->139000
    • tier 8: 125000->250000
    • tier 9: 173000->455000
    • tier 10: 240000->540000
  • Rebalanced tier I-III automatic guns. Decreased cassette damage and reduced reload time to maintain DPMs.
  • Reworked battle tutorial: added reaslistic grass, animated trees, changed tanks. In future updates these visual improvements will be available for all maps.
  • Previously researched modules are now mounted automatically for newly purchased vehicles. 
  • Battle results for 10 battles are now saved on mobile device and available even after the game restarts.
  • Changed condition for Patrol Duty achievement: 4->3 vehicles.
  • Updated interface graphics for shell icons, menu icons (left-side panel), vehicle specs icons in upgrades screen, directional arrow in sniper mode, etc
  • Updated some interface elements for Retina resolution.
  • Improved layout for chat interface on iPhone.
  • Fixed incorrect marker for destroyed T40 tank.
  • Fixed textrures for Ferdinand tank.
  • Fixed bug with unpredictable behaviour of auto-aim assist when the reticle would switch from stationary target to another passing enemy tank
  • Volume level setting is now saved after the game restarts.
  • Fixed bug with synchronization that would bring back the login screen
  • Fixed description for Hunter and The Lion of Sinai achievements. Removed vehicles that are not in the game yet.
  • Fixed icon for Raseiniai Heroes' Medal.
  • Fixed bug when renamed player couldn't enter chat.
  • Game now works in background mode for up to 3 minutes (connection to server is kept, you can minimize the app now). 
  • Optimization for texture quality on iPad 2, iPad Mini, iPhone 4S. The game should be more stable on those devices and crash less. 
  • Fixed multiple crashes.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ribbon of Fire

In early 1941, whilst Germany was still mostly ascendant, a war broke out away from most of the more well known theatres.  This little known war could have had huge ramifications for both the Axis and the Allies, yet it’s almost unheard of.  The campaign itself was largely decided by air power.

The whole of the Middle East has a very complex and turbulent history.  By World War Two it was a series of countries that were relatively new constructions set up after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. One of these new countries was Iraq, first granted independence in 1932.  From 1933 to 1941 Iraq had six coups and many religious uprisings. The last of these, in April 1941, put Rashid Ali al-Gaylani in power as Prime Minister.  Rashid Ali was extremely anti-British: despite this Iraq was allied to Britain, whom had been training and equipping the Iraqi armed forces as well as pouring funds into the country to help develop Iraq’s infrastructure.  The British also supplied assistance with developing the country’s oil resources.  At the time the Middle East produced a fraction of the world’s oil supplies with the US being the major producer.  Despite this, even Iraq's limited output would have solved most of Germany's oil problems.
Rashid Ali al-Gaylani
Britain's treaty with Iraq gave them certain rights.  It allowed the UK to have two bases on Iraqi soil and allowed the transit of forces through the country.  This was because Iraq was a stepping stone on the transit route by air to the Far East and India.  The two bases the British maintained were RAF Habbaniya and RAF Shaibah.
Number 4 Flying Training School (FTS) was based at RAF Habbaniya, with a motley assortment of aircraft. On strength it had eighty four airframes, which included six Gloster Gladiators, twelve Hawker Audaxs, seven Fairey Gordons, twenty seven Airspeed Oxfords and twenty five Hawker Harts. The largest bomb any of these aircraft could carry weighed only twenty pounds.  Over half the aircraft couldn't even manage that.
As the situation worsened a cabal of junior flying officers and instructors turned their attention to arming these aircraft.  This initiative was met with resistance by the commanders of the base.  However the junior officers doggedly persisted, even going as far as to ignore direct orders to increase their bomb loads.

On the night of April 29th the Iraqi army moved out on "exercise".  This exercise saw them entrenched by the morning of the 30th on the plateau overlooking RAF Habbaniya, with tanks, artillery and several thousand men.

The Base Commander then spent the next two days trying to obtain clear orders from his superiors, either the RAF or the Foreign Office.  However both institutions gave him the run around.  Then on May 1st a telegram arrived from Winston Churchill. It simply read:
"If you have to strike, strike hard."
The RAF would launch an all-out offensive against the besieging Iraqi Army at first light the next day.
Fairey Gordon
As it happened May 2nd was a Friday, the Muslim holy day. As the soldiers knelt to begin morning prayers thirty nine aircraft from No.4 FTS and ten Wellington bombers from RAF Shaibah were overhead, all trying to avoid each other in the cluttered airspace above the plateau.  At first light the RAF aircrews could distinguish the gun positions and started their attack.

The Iraqis responded immediately with a storm of anti-aircraft fire. The Germans had supplied light AA guns to the Iraqis. Meanwhile the Iraqis began to shell RAF Habbaniya. The AA fire was so intense that every aircraft overhead was hit.  Nine of the ten Wellingtons were damaged and put out of service for repairs when they landed.

The tenth had one of its engine damaged and was forced to land at RAF Habbaniya’s airfield.  Despite efforts of the ground crew to tow the aircraft to safety the Iraqi Artillery ranged in on it and set it on fire. During that first flight one Audax returned to base with 52 bullet holes.
There are photo's of the Wellington, but I couldn't find any on the, this one is from a different incident
Pilots would land, re-arm, grab new targets and take off again without shutting down the engines, just to keep the sortie rate up and the ordnance falling on the Iraqi Guns.

As well as the shelling, the Royal Iraqi Air Force joined in the attacks on RAF Habbaniya.  Normally a number of Iraqi Gladiators would strafe the airbase and then a reconnaissance over flight from S.79 Bombers at 20,000 feet would follow. On one occasion, seeing the S.79s coming in, a pilot managed to scramble a Gladiator and claw up to that altitude.  The Gladiators didn't have oxygen systems fitted; gasping for breath the pilot caught up with the S.79 and pressed the fire button on his control column.  All four of his guns had iced up and jammed.

During the first day in over 14 hours of combat the 39 pilots had flown in excess of 193 sorties, with 22 aircraft damaged or destroyed and 10 pilots put out of commission, including one who developed appendicitis at midday.

The Gordon bombers had developed new ways of terrifying the Iraqi soldiers. They had started bombing from an altitude of ten feet! The pilots disarmed the safeties on the bombs and fitted seven second fuses.  This meant they could just get outside the blast radius of the bombs going off.  This was used to great effect to knock out an Iraqi AA gun that had been infiltrated behind a brick shed under the flight path for the runway.

On the third day, four Blenheim fighters appeared overhead. These were valuable reinforcements sent to aid the base from Egypt.  However, the pilots hadn't been briefed on the situation and carried out normal landings, presenting a perfect target for the Iraqis! As luck would have it a flight of Audax bombers were airborne, saw what was about to happen and commenced a very close bombing run to keep the Iraqis pinned down.  One Blenheim actually flew through the dust cloud kicked up from an exploding 250 pound bomb!  When on the ground they saw the nearest airmen racing towards them directing them to safety, the Iraqi soldiers shooting at them with small arms added to the message. Luckily despite some superficial damage all four Blenheims were saved.
Hawker Audax
The next day one of these powerful fighters took over the standing patrol.  When two Iraqi Audaxs dove onto the base both were easily caught and shot down by the Blenheim.  Everyone watching in the base cheered.  From then on the Iraqi Air Force attacks slacked off and became much rarer.  Despite this the days of constant shelling and flight operations had caused exhaustion in the defenders.  On the 5th day of the siege more bad news arrived.  Every morning an aircraft was sent for a reconnaissance flight around the surrounding area.  The pilot returned early with the grave news - a huge column of Iraqi soldiers was driving down the road from Baghdad!  Upon hearing that news every aircraft was readied to fight and launched in an all-out strike against the column.

Whilst arming and preparing these aircraft the situation changed again.  The Iraqi soldiers on the plateau - demoralised from suffering round the clock bombing for five days - routed; leaving behind most of their weapons they fled up the main road en masse, their morale shattered.  The two columns of Iraqis met and caused a massive traffic jam preventing either column from moving.  All this happened as the RAF strike force arrived overhead and began bombing.
Iraqi Position on the plateau
During that afternoon the RAF mounted 139 sorties. The bombing halted as dusk fell.  The last pilot on the scene reported the Road to be a solid ribbon of fire.  The siege had been lifted!  During those five hectic days No.4 FTS had flown over 700 sorties and dropped around 3000 bombs.  From the starting strength of thirty nine pilots the school had lost 13 killed, 21 wounded and 4 were suffering combat fatigue, and the war wasn't over yet.

Friday, August 8, 2014

[ALL] Teamkill or Not Teamkill

Writing this mostly referring to World of Tanks Blitz (well, to WoT PC/Xbox to some extent). 

Do you think teamkilling is a major issue in WoT-games? Does teamdamage in general a vital part of gameplay and atmosphere for you? 

For Blitz we are considering the idea of taking away shell-based team damage keeping ramming damage in place. If adopted, this will basically make obsolete the following things:
  • teamkilling complaints 
  • automated TK penalty system
  • credits compensation mechanics for being teamkilled
What do you think?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Who Rescues the Rescuers?

For background and context please read last weeks article which can be found here.

On August 19, 1942 the Allies launched operation Jubilee, more famously known as the Dieppe Raid. With over 60 squadrons tasked to take part and all the military shipping in the area rescue was considered. After deliberations within five miles of the landing beaches the Royal Navy would take care of rescue duties. Outside of that area it fell the fledgling, newly formed SARF force of the RAF. During the course of the day 47 SOS's were received and 31 rescue vessels attended. Most were High Speed Launches (HSL's), which were just wooden boats, with no armour and crammed with fuel tanks. On top they had a pair of .303 Browning's to defend themselves. Their standing orders were not to open fire unless fired upon. They were planned to operate under the air umbrella for the Dieppe operation, however often the launches had to leave the cover to make a rescue, which exposed them to enemy aircraft.
The HSL's from Dover were mostly crewed by men from 961 Squadron, which had flown barrage balloons.
The first HSL was scrambled in the early hours of August 19th. At 0430 it left its harbour, but more were soon to follow. Most stayed on station picking up survivors for the entire day. One of them was Flight Lieutenant D. Morrison, a Canadian of 401 Squadron picked up by HSL 177. FLt Morrison wasn't injured so 177 stayed on station to help with other rescues.
 At 1635 HSL 123 was under way when it was suddenly strafed by two FW190's that dropped on it and gave it a long burst. The cannon shells ripped through the fragile wooden hull and injured two of 123's crew. Luckily both German planes missed the fuel tanks. They also both made a single pass and then disappeared as quickly as they had arrived. Luck was not on the side of 123, as shortly afterwards she was challenged by signal lamp from a shore position on the French coast. When she was unable to respond coastal batteries opened fire on her position. Due to the speed of the HSL the shells fell well astern of her.
Things got worse as four more FW190's pounced on 123. The launch weaved around several times to shake off the pursuing German planes, cutting a huge wake in the water at a speed of 36 knots. When the 190's broke off 123 turned to the north west and made to link up with her sister ship HSL 122.

 On 122 things were going worse than on 123. Acting Corporal M. Nunn had been below deck at his station as a Wireless Operator. When his launch was attacked by Heinkel bombers, Cpl Nunn stayed at his post as the boat was hammered by the guns of the bombers, and near misses from the bombs pelted shrapnel through the fragile hull. Eventually the radio took a hit and was smashed to scrap metal. Scrambling up on deck Cpl Nunn found himself alone. Every other crew member had been hit and either wounded or killed. The Heinkels were still swooping overhead, flashes of gunfire lit up their airframes as they made repeated attacks on the helpless launch.

Cpl Nunn raced for the engines where he struggled to shut them down (the source on this fails to say why he tried to shut them down). The fumes from the engines were filling the room where he was working, choking he staggered on deck nearly fainting from the fumes. He ran to the wheel and set course for England.
122's medic, Leading Aircraftman Albert Dargue was badly wounded. Despite this he continued to work to save the lives of his colleagues. He kept on working while Cpl Nunn tried to save the boat.

At about 1715 HSL 123 spotted Cpl Nunn's stricken boat with the Heinkel bombers still overhead. By the time 123 pulled alongside the stricken craft the Heinkels had left the scene. As 123 pulled alongside, she tied up to the badly damaged boat and began to transfer the wounded.
 Again bad luck stayed with the launches. Eight FW190's swooped in from the port side and began to make repeated attacks. The cannon shells smashed through the hull of the boats, puncturing the fuel tanks. Flames ripped through the boats and both began to sink, spreading a sheet of burning fuel across the sea with the survivors, some wounded, of both launches thrashing in the water. The burning fuel and burning wooden boats sent a giant black pillar of smoke into the sky to mark their pyre.
Some distance away HSL 177 saw the smoke column. Having received the earlier message from 123 that read "Urgent Help! 182 Dungeness 23", they knew something was wrong. They had contacted a Royal Navy rescue launch (number 513) and more importantly a pair of RAF fighters. 
The force headed for the smoke. Upon their approach, the two boats each at top speed, with foaming white wake around their bows ploughing through the sea, and the dots of the two fighters overhead, the German planes broke off contact and fled for shore.
As 177 and 513 reached the area they set about picking up the crew. At this point FLt Morrison saw an unconscious body floating away from the area. Unhesitatingly he dived into the sea of burning oil and swam out to the body. It was LAC Dargue, 122's wounded medic whom had kept his colleagues alive despite his own injuries. FLt Morrison towed LAC Dargue back to 177. Having found all the survivors and with the end of the day closing, and packed full of people pulled from the sea 177 made a course for home.
During Operation Jubilee the SARF suffered fifteen killed, eight wounded, eleven captured and three are still missing. From then on more guns and armour were fitted and the rules of engagement were changed.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Sea Shall Not Have Them.

During the Battle of Britain many pilots ended up in the sea. This was normally a death sentence, because although Britain did operate some Air Sea rescue capability, it was spasmodic and not very efficient. It was hoped that pilots landing in the channel would be spotted and picked up by passing ships, due to the weight of traffic in the area.
It was a fact that you had a much better chance of being picked up by the Germans. In fact Luftwaffe air crew were more likely to be picked up as well, simply due to their equipment. The biggest fault was with the life jackets. British pilots had to inflate their life jackets by blowing into them. Not something easy to do when your plane has been shot down, and you're dealing with the stresses of that, plus the freezing cold and having to swim in full clothes. In comparison the Germans had a small cylinder of compressed air that could be quickly used to fully inflate the life jacket. Equally the German aircrew were issued with fluorescein, a chemical compound that would produce a slick of bright dye to mark the location of the airmen.

Being spotted and staying afloat were only two small parts of the challenge, you still needed to be picked up, or the cold sea would still kill you. Here again the Germans were miles ahead of the British. They operated silver painted HE-115 float-planes with Red Crosses instead of black ones. The HE115 was used for a variety of other tasks, and would be attacked if spotted. But the silver Red Cross plane's were left alone.
These operated with impunity over British waters, until one fateful day a pair of RAF pilots spotted a rescue HE115 being escorted by BF109's. Deducing that the plane was up to no good, hence the escort, they attacked. From then on the Luftwaffe planes flew with normal markings and camouflage.
During 1940 the RAF began to organise a more coherent air sea rescue service, helpfully prodded along by Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, who wanted more of his crews to be rescued from the North Sea. Eventually in 1941 the RAF Search And Rescue Force was formed. It still exists today, and I suspect most of you in the UK will have been to the seaside and seen a bright yellow Sea king of the the SARF flying overhead.
It operated a variety of planes to search and rescue pilots. But it also manned High Speed Launches.  The first of these was designed by Fred Cooper, the man behind one of Donald Campbell's early boats. When they were first built in the mid 30's they were the fastest craft at sea. However they were badly designed for rescue work, and later a much better design came from Hubert Scott-Paine, a winner of the Schneider trophy.

These were as fast as their predecessors, but were much better at the rescue role. They also mounted a pair of  .303 machine guns in turrets for self defence. Some of you might question arming of a rescue boat. However the Geneva protocols allow for rescue craft to be armed, as long as they don't mount a weapon forward of the bridge. The weapons were there for self defences against German aircraft which were the only thing that was liable to be able to catch them. And wouldn't have the ability to accurately identify them.
On August 19th 1942 14 HSL's responded to some of the 47 Mayday calls from the Dieppe landings. After a an action that can only be described as disastrous (which I cover here), several reports and studies were written. One pilot, whom had been picked up by the HSL's stated:
"There can be no question as to the bravery of these men of the Air Sea Rescue Service who were often working within sight of the French coast. For myself, I would rather meet a FW 190 head-on in my Spitfire than meet one from a rescue launch."

Following all these reports armour plate was made available to help protect the HSL's and a large increase in their fire-power, in the form of 4 extra .303 machine guns in twin mounts, and a 20mm Oerlikon cannon on the rear deck. In this form the 70 or so HSL's served until the end of the war.
From its first operations to the end of the war, the SARF rescued over 8000 military and 5000 Civilians.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Smoking gun, Part two

Don't worry about the title, you've not missed anything. Its just I realised that last weeks title was a bit dull, but my inner tabloid headline writer was on strike.

Last week I started rambling on about a 3.7" howitzer, and gave some of the technical details, but what about its service life?

Well first there's a bit of an oddity to think about. I dashed it off in a amendment on the bottom of last weeks article.  One of the first two Medium MKI tanks delivered to the army in 1923 was a CS tank armed with the MK I 3.7" howitzer.  But only one of these guns was ever made, equally the final trials report came out in 1931 that raised some questions.  To add to my confusion a 1925 organisation issued by the War Office required every tank battalion to have a battery of three close support tanks.

In hindsight its quite obvious, there just wasn't any money for it.  Plus with no chance of a major war in Europe there wasn't seen to be a need for it.  Of course that had a knock on effect, namely during exercises three Vickers Mediums of each battalion would have their guns and mounts painted white, and the huge letters CS applied to their turrets.
Then a flurry of work was done as we've seen towards the end of the 1920's.  In September 1931 each tank battalion was issued one gun.  The pace of issue carried on until the tanks were up to their full compliment.  In 1933 a slight issue was noticed by the civil servants.  The name of the gun was very similar to that of the 3.7" Mountain Howitzer used by the infantry. So an official proclamation was issued.  Henceforth the gun would be known as the QF 3.7" Tank mortar.

The story of tanks in South Africa between the wars is a very short one.  First you have His Majesties Landship Union, a Medium MK A Whippet that was used mainly as a propaganda tool, although during strikes in 1922 it was used to support the Government forces.  Its début was a bit dismal and it got bogged down on a street.  While dismounted its driver was killed by a sniper.
Then in 1933 the South African government approached the British to ask for a tank capable of mounting a 3.7" gun capable of firing tear gas (desperately trying to avoid a "CS gas" joke here) shells.  As we've seen previously, the round was a failure.  However two tanks were shipped to South Africa in August 1934.  These tanks were Medium MK IA's, and at least one of them had had very hard life.  It was one of the earliest Medium MKI's produced, then it had been used as a test bed for a new massively powerful engine.  It had so much power the lowest gear had to be disabled.  Equally most of the front hull was heavily modified.  After the trials it was returned to its normal configuration and used as a instructional hull at Bovington before it and its sister were gifted to the South Africans.  One of the two tanks still survives as a gate guardian at Bloemfontein.
Medium MK IA "T14". I believe its the only Vickers Medium CS tank in the world. This picture was taken before restoration.
The other change in 1934 was a round of modifications and all the mortars were withdrawn from service, apart from one in Egypt.  But soon the guns were back.  Now the trail goes cold for a few years.  The next time we encounter the tank mortar is as the gun on the A9 and A10 Cruiser tanks, in the run up to and first years of World War Two. 
The combat records for a tank that can only fire smoke are difficult to find, and so the Tank Mortar passes into history.  However to give you an idea of what the Tank Mortar would have been like in combat I did find the following short account. The unit in question was at the time equipped with Crusaders, and would have been using the 3" howitzer for the CS role, but the fight would have gone much the same anywhere the Tank Mortar was used.

In the retreat to El Alamein, the Commanding Officer of the squadron spotted some suspicious vehicles moving behind him.  He drew his tanks up in a semi-circle pointing towards the possible enemy.  While he called it in to his Regimental Command, the gunners probed the horizon for any clue as to what was below the dust cloud.  This would have looked like the barrels were twitching, as if sniffing the air. Then permission was given to open fire.
Close up of the business end of a A9 CS tank.
 Four tanks of the squadron headquarters were CS tanks.  On order they began to fire as fast as they could. The shells drawing a line of smoke across the bright blue desert sky.  After 4 vollies the twelve Cruisers moved out, gathering speed right for the billowing smoke bank.  As they drew closer the tanks disappeared into the cloud of smoke, their dust trails eddying and mixing together. Through the clouds flashes of gunfire could be seen, and shortly afterwards the thump of the guns.  After about ten minutes silence descended on the battlefield, then shapes could be seen moving.  Slowly they resolved themselves into the Cruisers that had launched the attack, as they closed back to the start line, they swung about and reformed their semi-circular position.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

[WoTB] Blitz for Android

Android version? Easy! Live EU server, btw.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Smoking Gun

As my last technical article didn't get me lynched for being terminally dull, here's another one.  This is the first of a few articles which come from me visiting the National Archives at Kew.  They include amongst other things a new British tank that no-one has ever heard of, and finding out that a weapon that's been a long standing joke for the last 70 years is nothing of the sort. However that is all for the future. 

When the British tree was released I immediately noticed that someone had made an error. To be utterly fair though, it is confusing and its something only a native English speaker would pick up on. When you're working on the other side of a language barrier it would get lost in translation.  I created a thread on the subject on the EU forums.  However I got some stuff wrong.

During the period covered by this game the British used three short barrelled 3.7" guns for close support work.  To avoid confusion they named the second one in millimetres, as is common in the British military of the time. The Guns in question are:

Q.F. 3.7-inch howitzer: A World War One gun that was only ever used as a towed artillery piece. Some were still kicking about during World War Two, especially out in the far east.
Q.F. 95-mm howitzer: This howitzer was developed sometime in either 1942 or 1943, it was tested in 1943. It had two versions, as an infantry gun version as well as a tank gun.  The weapon itself was a section of 3.7" AA gun barrel, married to a 25 lbr breech block.  On the infantry gun version the recoil system was taken from a 6 lbr gun.  Although the infantry gun was dropped the tank gun saw service from 1944, its normally very easily identified by the huge semicircular counterweight on the gun barrel.
QF 3.7" tank mortar: This was fitted to a few tanks up until the early years of the war, and its the focus of this article.

Development started in the late 1920's when the British started looking at the problem of anti-tank guns.  It was quickly realised that the tanks needed some way of closing with the enemy while not getting killed by the enemy AT guns.  The obvious idea was to block the enemies line of sight with smoke.  Normally smoke would be provided by artillery, but artillery was relatively imprecise and took time to deploy.  What was needed was smoke capability that could be provided organically to the tank unit.

Thus the idea of a close support tank was born.  At first there was an idea that the CS tank would be a lighter, less complicated, and most importantly cheaper vehicle which could carry 70 rounds of ammunition. It was sometimes referred to as the "Artillery tank".

By 1929 a gun had been developed to fulfill the role, and was fitted with some work to a Vickers Medium MKI. It fired a 15 lb shell, and to enable a high rate of fire it was given a semi-automatic breech to enable a high rate of fire.
On a normal quick firing gun the breech needs to be manually closed.  A semi-automatic breech will automatically close when a shell is inserted.  It was found that if this happened and the gunner still had the firing handle compressed the gun would fire... while the loaders left hand was still practically touching the breech. This would have obvious results of a smashed left arm and was therefore considered to be too dangerous.
It was also judged that the rate of fire needed wasn't altogether that high.  Firing tests showed that one or two rounds a minute would produce a suitable smoke screen.  In one test firing while the tank was moving, 6 rounds were fired over 4 minutes that masked a large area. In another test two rounds screened an area of about 800 yards. Obviously the main concern was the weather conditions which would greatly effect the smoke screen.

The shell itself used charged smoke, which is today known as White Phosphorus.  Listed in the archives at Kew you have a list of ammunition.  These rounds are simply called Smoke, Charged Smoke and High Explosive.  Its important to note that official documents do actually call the shell "HE".
This is where that British eccentricity rears up. The Smoke and Charged Smoke were pretty much identical. Both with the same sized bursting charge and carrying two pounds five ounces of white phosphorus.  But what of the HE shell? No one has been able to find examples of a HE round being used from the gun.  The simple answer is that the "HE" shell had a slightly larger bursting charge (One ounce twelve drams) for added morale effect on enemy troops.  It also only carried one pound eleven ounces of WP. A Royal Artillery officer was invited to to view a test of the shell.  His one page report is pretty damning. He explains in no uncertain terms what a bad idea this is. He describes the idea as "laughable".
As yet no-one I know has been able to find any mention of a proper explosive HE shell. It is likely that any mention of a HE shell is just this, an idea.
There's also two marks of the gun. But oddly the mark designation was only used within the Royal Tank Corps to designate between the two guns.  This caused all sorts of confusion and reproachful letters between civil servants and military officers.
The unofficial mark system is fairly simple: The prototype weapon with the semi-automatic breech and unique mounting which could only be fitted to a Vickers Medium MKI, was termed the MKI, and the production version the MKII.
By the time the MKII came out the gun had been significantly altered to allow it to be totally interchangeable with the 3 pounder gun then used in the Vickers Medium tanks. All you needed to do was swap out the gun and the range drum. This process took years to perfect, but by August 1931 the first guns had passed proof and two had been issued to the Tank Gunnery School at Lulworth.

Part two is here.

Literally yesterday night, and to late to work into the main part of the article, I found some relevant information to this subject. 
There's records of a Medium MKI CS tank being delivered to Lulworth in 1923. Now it could be that this tank had the prototype 3.7" tank mortar. But that would mean it took 7 years before they produced a final report on it! The report on it that I have is dated 1930. It could be that the Government only started looking in seriousness at the CS gun for the Medium MKII, and did development work from there. All the documents I've found so far are dated later than 1928.

Monday, July 7, 2014

[WoTB] Blitz Matchmaker

World of Tanks Blitz uses basically the same matchmaking system from the PC version of the game, only slightly optimized for faster performance and 7vs7 battles.

First, it would be good to watch this video for the PC version.

  • There are no particular restrictions on vehicle nation, class, tier, etc. Same as on PC.
  • MM-ing spread is 2 tiers for most of the vehicle tiers, apart from tiers 1 and 2. Tier 1 can only play with tiers 1 and 2, tier 2 can play with tiers 1, 2, 3. 
  • Platooned players are matched based on highest tier in platoon.
  • Balance weights for all classes in Blitz are the same, i.e tier 7 mediums, heavies and tank destroyers all have the same balance weights. 
  • Premium tanks may have preferential matchmaking, eg A-32 can only play against tier 3-5 vehicles, Pz IV Hydro, KV-220, M4A2E4 - only against tiers 3-6, Panther M10 - against tiers 5-8, KV-5 - against tiers 6-9.

Ideally, matchmaker tries to create full 7vs7 battles, ensuring that top 3 vehicles in both teams are of the same tier, and balance "weights" of both teams are equal.

The longer the wait time in the queue, the softer matchmaker requirements become. The requirements change twice - after 30+ and 60+ seconds in the queue.

After 60+ seconds for one of the waiting players matchmaker would try to create battles with less players on the team where minimal size is 3, i.e. 3vs3 battles. In such battles, at least 2 top vehicles are to be on the same tier, while matchmaking "weight" difference between the team can go up to 10%.

Unfortunately, there are some rare bugs which carried over from the PC version to Blitz, and in Blitz they are reproduced more frequently:

Such battles, where top 2 equal tier requirement is not enforced, could be created after 60+ seconds of wait time for one of the queued players. We will be monitoring the situation and trying to fix this.

After 5 min wait time, player is kicked out of the queue to garage due to timeout.