Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Don't Panic!

Due to real life workload and time issues, the articles for the next few weeks will be a bit shorter than normal. On the plus side it means I can use some of the funnier or more interesting pieces I've had that I've not been able to make a full article out of.

In July 1942 a note was received by the Prime Ministers office. It stated that the British military mission to the US was sending home samples of a new "anti-tank rifle which shoots a rocket propelled projectile". We of course know this weapon as the famous Bazooka. Prime Minister Churchill of course wanted to see it in action. The demonstration was held at Shoeburyness on the 15th of August on a US T1 rocket grenade launcher. The results were less than impressive. It should be noted that these weren't full trials, but just a demonstration. However the back-blast was judged to be too dangerous for prone firing, and "there is a constant danger of prematures." The weapon was also judged to be too flimsy for field use.
Equally they were unable to view the armour penetration as the weapon missed the target all day.
The Bazooka's one selling point, its recoilless nature wasn't new to the British. A recoilless weapon had been created by two Home Guard officers, one of whom was called Jones, the other was named Wise. They created the Jones-Wise Projector. Its once again proof that smart people are often only smart in one way. Between them they designed a weapon that used a very clever system of achieving recoilessness, a system that is used in part in a lot of modern weapons.

These two officers were serving in the Hampshire Home Guard, seeing as I can only find one mention of the Jones-Wise projector, and its from 32nd Hants Battalion, Home Guard, one would presume that is the unit the two officers served in. It was first brought to the Prime Minister's attention in October 1940.
The Royal Navy trialled the weapon, as did the Army. However they both turned it down. The Royal Navy because they deferred in the matters of anti-tank weapons to the Army. The Army turned it down because the Home Guard had Northover projectors, the devastating Blacker Bombards and the Smith Gun was just coming into service. It was felt another AT weapon was surplus to requirements. Plus its rather unique design possibly raised some eyebrows.
No, a different Jones!
The weapon was described by one officer that saw it as a "Heath Robinson contraption", and although I've yet to find a picture of the device there is an ample description.
It was a semi-circular trough with a parallel sighting bar, shaped a bit like a rifle, with sights on top. One would also presume it had some form of tripod mount. Into the trough a steel tube was loaded which contained a complete round. Upon firing the round was fired outwards, and the barrel backwards, which made the weapon ready to take another shot instantly with no recoil. This system is very similar to one used by many anti-tank guided missiles today, such as the Milan.

The issue of course is that the steel tube weighed 34 Lbs, and was flying backwards at a high rate of speed, would be incredibly dangerous to friendly soldiers. Plus the entire weight is the guns barrel, and each round would need a corresponding barrel. So while the actual gun was cheap to produce the ammunition would be expensive.
Finally one needs to make mention of the firing system. The firing hammer strikes a cartridge sticking out of a touch hole on the steel tube. Why is that odd I hear you ask, well because its a hammer. Yes, one of the crew members had to whack the cartridge with a normal hand held hammer to fire the projectile, presumably this would make fine aiming and shots against a moving target interesting to say the least.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Tiger gets the Bird

Despite what many say the British anti-tank guns of World War Two were always a match for their targets. This happened simply because the British tended to look forwards. Just as the two pounder was coming into service design work started on the six pounder. Equally as the six pounder was just entering production design work started on its replacement. The replacement was to be the famous 17 pounder which was required to penetrate 120mm-150mm of armour.  This 3 inch gun hurled its shot at over 800 m/s. This performance was achieved with the shell technology of the time such as normal armour piercing rounds. Later developments such as ballistic caps and even APDS (armour piercing discarding sabot) meant the gun stayed a devastating AT gun throughout the war.
Although the gun was ready in early 1942 the design of the chassis lagged behind, leaving the gun with nowhere to go. Luckily the six pounder was more than capable of dealing with the German armour then in the field.
Then the War Office received worrying news. Ultra intercepts had determined that a new German heavy tank was being deployed to the African front, this was of course the famous Tiger. While the 6 pounder could deal with the Tiger, it required skill, nerves and a spot of luck. So the War Office issued an urgent requirement for the 17 pounder to be deployed. The solution was to mount the 17 pounder gun on a 25 pounder chassis. Although the 25 pounder carriage was used to firing a much lower velocity round the study construction stood up to the punishment inflicted on it by the forces of the 17 pounder. When fired it was described as " [...] something of a lively weapon.”
One curiosity is the 25 pounders turntable. Some sources say it wasn't used, while others indicate it was. As most of the pictures show the turntable in place it is likely that it was used.
To prevent German intelligence getting wind of the surprise in store for their shiny new tank the 17/25 pounder, as it was officially known, was codenamed "Pheasant". In October 1942 59 guns were shipped to Tunisia, with a total order of 150 pieces completed by December that year.
In early 1943 The Afrika Korps was planning a spoiling attack against the 8th Army. But again the British had been warned the attack was coming. So they prepared to hold in the area of Medenine. More and more preparations were made, and by the start of March Stephen Wier, one of the officers involved in the defence, said 'I have so many anti-tank guns I am having difficulty in siting them."
This array of fire-power included everything from 2 pdr's all the way up to and including 3.7" AA guns. It also included the Pheasants.
The defensive line was covered by fake minefields. These were placed so as not to restrict any counter attack by British tanks. But by clever positioning they were placed to force the German panzers to expose their flank to the Allied gunners. The troops were issued with orders not to engage until the AT guns had opened fire.
Due to still being secret weapons the Pheasants were sited to the rear, with orders not to fire unless the front line was breached.

On the morning of the 6th of March thick fog covered the battlefield. When it lifted the area to the front was covered by the German army as it advanced. In accordance with their orders the defenders held their fire. The Germans spotted the false minefields as they advanced. Even with tempting targets such as exposed tank commanders the troops held their fire. The German tanks followed the line of the false minefield and as planned they exposed their flank. The anti-tank gunners let fly instantly knocking out the first 4 tanks. Another tank had its tracks blown off by a salvo of mortar bombs. The rest of the day long battle was the Germans trying to advance into the face of overwhelming fire-power.
During the next week the 17 pdr's came into action as they were used to snipe from forward positions against the Germans. There is one fragmentary report of a single Tiger on a road and the suggestion that the Commonwealth troops tried to stalk it with a Pheasant. But no records have been found of the two ever having an engagement. So as yet I've not been able to find out when the first meeting between these two famous weapons happened.

Image credits:
nzetc.victoria.ac.nzwww.desertrats.org.uk and en.wikipedia.org

Extra:
In addition to the above I have a number of WOWS Closed Beta access keys to give away. To enter just send an Email to this address:
historylisty-WOWSCBTkey@yahoo.co.uk

Competition closes this Friday at 1800 GMT. After that I'll randomly select the winners and send a reply to their email, so make sure the Email you send your entry from is one you can receive with as well!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The British 88?

A question I often see asked is "Why didn't the British use the 3.7" AA gun like the German 88?". By that they mean why not crank its elevation down to 0 degrees and start knocking out tanks. This is partially supported by Wikipedia's entry on the subject that reads:

"The 3.7″ was inherently unsuitable as an anti-tank gun. It was big and heavy, 2 tons heavier than the German 88, making it tactically unsuitable for use in forward areas. Additionally, heavy AA Regiments equipped with the 3.7″ gun were relatively few in number in the field army and controlled by Corps or Army HQ, or at even higher level HQs, and command of them was not often devolved to the commanders at Divisional level where the anti-tank role might be required."

The implication is that the 3.7" AA gun was only ever used in desperation before being overrun. As you might guess this isn't entirely true. Certainly pre-war, up until some time in 1938, crews were trained in direct fire roles. However the rapid re-arming of the British forces meant that this training was dropped. The mounts also had a part to play. With the MKI being a complex piece of equipment, the gunners faced forward. In the MKII (the static mount) the gunners were facing in towards the gun mount, and finally in the much simplified and lightened MKIII mount the gunners were facing towards the rear of the gun. 
 In the early years of the war the 3.7" did fight against German armour but not entirely successfully. In part this is because of the lack of suitable ammunition. In most cases they used a plugged shell, which is a shell with the fuse removed. At Boulogne the 2nd Heavy AA Regiment knocked out two attacking Panzers in this manner. Equally at Calais, at the Oyez farm four 3.7" AA guns of the 6th Heavy Anti-Air Regiment were dug in as part of the strong point. Two were sited to cover the wide open ground, and two were sited for AA work. The position was one of the last to be captured by the Germans, although some reports indicate the two forward guns sited for ground defence may have had to have been abandoned earlier, but they did take out several German tanks before being made unsuitable for use.

During and immediately after the Battle of Britain, defence of the home islands was on the minds of everyone. One of the worries was the new 100 ton tanks the Germans were thought to have. The answer was obvious, the 3.7" AA gun was about the only piece the British had that could dent these imagined monsters. So on the south coast a study was undertaken to find which beaches were suitable for landing these super heavy tanks, and several guns were sighted to deal with any landing.

But what to fire? Again here I can shed some light on another dark spot in the historical record. Up until now the only figure for penetration I've been able to find is from British & American Artillery of World War 2 by Ian V. Hogg. He gives a penetration figure of 117mm at 1000 yards against 30 degree sloped plate.

The quickest option was to make an semi-armour piercing round. This SAP round was an normal HE round with an armour piercing cap on top of it. Against a 30 degree slope this would go through 110mm at 400 yards and 94mm at 1000 yards. By July 1941 1000 rounds of SAP had been manufactured and shipped to the Middle East. However a full armour piercing round was under development at the same time. It was, unusually for the British, an AP round with a bursting charge. The British didn't tend to use bursting charges in AP rounds due to the chance of the charge being ejected from the shells base upon impact, making the hit ineffective. Its performance in the documents are 126mm at 400 yards and 115mm at 1000 yards, which tallies nicely with the previous figure. In total one third of a million of the AP rounds were manufactured.

The other innovation that came out of the invasion defence came from Birmingham. Under a plan codenamed "BARGAIN scheme" HAA units were tied into local artillery control and could be used to fire bombardments at pre-arranged targets. This did meet with some resistance from AA command as they pointed out that the high velocity would hamper indirect fire. However it was in this role the 3.7" was normally used throughout the war, where its long range was considered very useful.

Now what of that shipment to the middle east of ammunition? Well it may have first came into use in May 1942, when four guns were dispatched to the Knightsbridge Box at Gazala. The small size of the Box meant that only two guns were accepted into the position. These were set up, but ultimately didn't perform too well.


Things were different at Tobruk when in June German armour assaulted the line. Upon receiving warning of the attack the 3.7" crews dismantled the walls of their dug outs so they could depress their guns low enough. The German tanks were spotted at a range of 1500 yards, but before they could be taken under fire they entered dead ground. The dead ground led right up to the guns, meaning they'd next appear at a range of about 200 yards.
The gunners held their fire and waited. Then the Panzers appeared. The crews lept into action. With the gun barrel so low to the ground each blast kicked up a huge amount of dust, so it was difficult to see what was going on. However with a rate of fire of around twelve rounds per minute the guns laid down a fearsome barrage. In an engagement lasting two and a half hours the Germans were forced to retreat, losing six of eleven tanks that attacked the position.

Elsewhere in the desert the potential of the 3.7" was being tested with HAA units practising AT work at ranges filled with the hulks of knocked out Italian tanks or practising movements to form anti-tank screens. One particular exercise sounded very dangerous as the guns were not unlimbered first and were fired still on their wheeled carriages.

There is one other notable story from the war. During Operation Market Garden there are reports of a battle between Jagdpanthers and a HAA troop near the Town of Veghel, which the HAA troop won.

Image credits:

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Palestine MKIII

During April 1936 the British mandate in Palestine was rocked by an armed revolt and insurgency by the Arabs living in the area. The violence was targeted at the Jews and the British forces stationed there. To give you some idea of how bad the situation became British forces were forbidden from leaving their bases unless on operations and before departing outside the wire all weapons were to be loaded, although not charged. So for small arms such as a revolver this meant five rounds loaded, or for machine guns the ammunition belts being loaded into the feed. So all the soldier needed to do was cock the weapon twice and he'd be ready to defend himself.
Equally traffic all but disappeared from the road as Arab attacks were so common, along with roadblocks. To that end the British instigated a convoy system. For example from Tel-Aviv a convoy would run north via Tulkarm, Nablus to Haifa in the morning, and then make the return journey in the afternoon. Any vehicle was free to join these convoys, and the British presence was limited to mostly armoured cars and lorries. In later fighting the Rolls Royce armoured cars would often push a flatbed railway car in front of them to protect against mines and IEDs.
Despite this the situation continued to get worse with attacks on Jewish settlements and utter breakdown of law and order in the cities. So the British started to deploy further forces. One of the units selected to deploy was the "C" company, 6th Battalion, Royal Tank Corps. Consisting of about twelve Light Tanks MKIII the company arrived in May 1936. This was the first time in British experience that light tanks had been employed in this sort of role, so naturally a very close eye was kept on the performance of the tanks. Despite fighting ten engagements during their tour it’s the eleventh and final battle I'll be covering, this happened in the area of Kafr Sur and Wad At Tin on the 8th of October 1936.
A section of three tanks commanded by Lieutenant W. M. Hutton was carrying out a patrol, possibly to test the performance on poor terrain. The area was criss crossed by wadi’s, and the broken and rocky ground pushed the tanks to their limits. Some had thought the area impassable to tracked vehicles, however, due to perseverance Lt Hutton's section had reached Kafr Sur by about 1500. Having reached the objective the section began to withdraw and that is when the trouble started. Almost instantly the terrible terrain caused one tank to throw a tread, possibly due to a broken wheel. At the same time Arabs began to snipe at the tanks. The tracks were repaired under fire, and the section moved off again. Then after travelling about 100 yards further a second track was thrown, again it was repaired but instantly another one was broken.
The track breaking terrain had been anticipated and every tank had a spare wheel, and one of the tanks was also carrying a complete bogie as spares. However the multiple breaks had used up the units entire supply.
At this point a large gang of Arabs appeared and charged the the tanks. They clambered over the rocky sides of the wadi and snipping from its edge. Lt Hutton immediately put an "XX" call out on the radio. "XX" calls were used by the British forces in the theatre in a way similar to using an "SOS" today. The advantage of that is that the RAF could pick up and understand the call as well.
As the Arabs approached the stranded tank platoon the British opened fire with the Vickers machine guns in the turret. Again the terrain came into play, the jolting as the tanks crossed the uneven terrain had rattled the guns around to an unprecedented level. This caused a round to work its way loose and fall down behind the feed block on the gun causing it to jam. Of the three machine guns only one functioned. Even with only one functioning gun they managed to deter the Arabs from charging, then about 1700 the RAF arrived and began strafing the Arabs.
The combined fire meant that they managed to hold the Arabs at bay, however at dusk the plane from the RAF had to return to base. Lt Hutton sent out a distress call, then shortly afterwards the message "Hurry". After that no one could make contact with him. As the plane left the scene in the failing light it could make out that the three tanks were utterly surrounded and signs of heavy fighting could be detected, and passed that information onto the army.

This caused an immediate reaction, the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment's 1st Battalion was based at Tulkarm, only about seven miles away. At 1800 its "B" Company was dispatched in lorries, however due to the darkness and the awful terrain they had to halt nearby on the road until early the next morning when they were joined by the Quick Reaction Forces of about five other battalions.

Closer to the action was Captain B. Carey's five tank section. It had a similar mission only its destination had been Wad At Tin. When they reached the settlement they found a group of Arabs digging in near a mosque. They then had come under heavy sniper fire, one of the rounds hit a driver’s vision port and the bullet splash injured him in the arm. Despite this he continued to drive his tank as they extracted from the area, however, after a short period both the tracks came off his tank. Upon receiving news of the plight of Lt Hutton's section Cpt Carey had made best possible speed to find Lt Hutton. However as he entered the wadi the broken ground reaped its usual tally of destroyed running gear, with four of the tanks being immobilised. Despite being lost in the network of wadi's Cpt Carey was only about 1000 yards from Lt Hutton, however the darkness and terrain prevented him from linking up.
In the darkness Lt Hutton was worried. The sniping had caused several issues. The two big ones were all the containers with water had been punctured and so the crews had nothing to drink. The bullet impacts had also severed all the exposed electrical cables on the tank, meaning none of the lights were working. Normally one of the tanks headlamps was removed and mounted above the gun to provide a primitive searchlight for this sort of situation. The design flaws of the Light Tank MKIII turret were also starkly clear as it lacked vision ports to provide a good enough all round vision. The tank commanders were also sorely missing the ability to fire smoke, high explosive or flares.

After a tense night waiting for the final assault from the Arab gang morning brought with it the relief forces. After action reviews determined the Arabs had withdrawn at some point around 2030. After sweeping the area they found out how close it had been. One Arab body was found no more than 25 yards from the tanks. Due to the terrible terrain it wasn't possible to recover the body, especially as more Arabs might return. They did take his rifle, a Turkish one in good condition and the 45 rounds of ammunition he had been carrying. All the tanks in both sections were repaired by spares brought up and the last of them had returned to base by 1800 the next day

Image credits:
wikipedia.org, wwiivehicles.com, hmvf.co.uk and arcaneafvs.com

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Japanese Monster?

A couple of weeks ago I was flicking through an Archive here in the UK. I was mostly after light tank related information. I then saw a file simply called "light tanks". So a file in a UK archive titled "light tanks"... want to guess what it held? Well it did have a few pages on Japanese light tanks,  but it was mostly a file built up by MI10 (the intelligence department for foreign equipment) during the war about what we now know as the Type 97 Chi-Ha.

Inside it gave an interesting look at what an Intelligence Officer has to work with to produce a viable assessment. Including information from a Japanese POW. Now I don't know if this POW, or the later one, was deliberately providing false information, or if they genuinely believed what they were saying.

The first POW was a Lieutenant in the 1st Independent Mixed Regiment on Saipan, he was captured in July 1944. However half his interrogation file seems to be missing, and only the bits relating to the tank survive. He stated that the Type 97 Chi-Ha had 15 mm of armour and a twelve cylinder diesel engine. His unit had trained on them in August 1941.

Equally he claimed all tanks had radio's, air conditioning and twin 47mm guns, with one mounted in the standard turret and another in the hull. He also claimed that they could fit 30 ammunition boxes in the tank, each box being 2 feet long, 1 foot tall and 1.5 feet wide.
The POW's were asked to draw sketches of the tanks.
Finally and most bizarrely he claimed as well as one drive wheel at the front, it had two smaller drive wheels at the back, both 14 inches across. The intelligence officer indicates that this might signify an earlier model.
The POW also gave a rundown of crew numbers. Three men for this particular medium tank, two for a light tank and an unknown number for a heavy tank.
"Heavy tanks?" I thought, so more searching ensued, and another POW report was found.

This one is from a private captured in the Manus Islands. He was wounded and sought help from natives. Unsurprisingly they promised to help and simply turned him over to the US forces some time around the 6th of August 1944. In civilian life he'd been a foreman at the Hitachi's forging plant at Kameari, where he'd been working up until at least November 1943. Whilst there he'd seen several of Japan's heavy tanks; the Type 97.

More guns needed I think...
The Type 97 Heavy was 22 feet long, 8 feet 6" tall and 9 feet wide, weighing in at 27 tons. Protected by 30mm of armour its 300 horsepower engine could move it at 15mph, it could climb a 35 degree slope and had a crew of six.

Then this story takes a bizarre turn. In one of the files I was reading there was a page of French. When translated it was further stats for the Type 97 Heavy Tank. In a final odd twist some original captured Japanese documents appear, again detailing the Type 97, with plans which look somewhat like the above sketch.
Further searching finds even more of what appear to be original Japanese plans for several models of heavy tanks.

Finally, I'll leave you with a report that is a bit of a mystery. What were the Japanese firing? Any of you want to take a swing at it?


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Foiled Again

Bit of a short one this week, so apologies. My originally planned article proved to be much harder to research than I thought. An article normally takes me about four hours. After that period of time I'd only completed half the research. Who'd have guessed that Palestine would be difficult... Anyway that'll later. Today you'll have to settle for a short look at something I found in an archive, namely Project Foil.


The project was to design a multiple rocket launch system for the British Army. This had become possible with recent advancements in rockets that had made them more accurate than the area weapons of the Second World War. So with this in mind the British started looking at large calibre unguided rockets. Phase one of the project was finished in 1969, with talks about a joint German and Italian collaboration the following year. It seems that the rocket chosen was the same one as used in Project JAWL, which ran from 1963 until 1968. Foil in turn lead to the RS-80 project of 1974, which got killed off by the United States MLRS system, which had a massively faster reload due to the rockets being loaded in pods.

RS-80 system
Each of the Foil rockets was 7" diameter, 9.5 feet long and weighed about 350 lbs. 8", 9" and 10" rockets were also considered for the system. The rockets were fired from a 12 ft beam that weighed another 350 lbs. There were two main warheads looked at, an anti-light armour warhead which blasted 1120 dense metal spheres across an area, and a anti-personnel warhead which scattered  22,250 spheres. Finally a cluster warhead with 220 bomblets was also built.
Consideration was also given to warheads with fuel-air explosive, explosively formed penetrators, minelets and flechettes.
Phase one of the project looked at mounting on vehicles, and studied the logistics requirements. All these systems were designed and plans made. The first question was what vehicle to mount the rockets on? Well the consideration of shoot and scoot made a tracked vehicle ideal, although some wheeled vehicles were considered. So plans were drawn up for mounting a very similar turret on each type of tracked chassis the Army was using. The turrets mounted between 1-10 rockets (depending on type) in lightly armoured boxes. The exact arrangements and weights meant that the traverse to either side ranged from 66 degrees down to 30 degrees. Elevation arc for all mounts was 0-55 degree's.
The soft skin launchers were planned for 4 ton Bedford MK and a 10 ton AEC Militant MK3. They also looked at towed versions, portee versions and strapping them to Land Rovers. Tracked chassis considered were Abbott, Chieftain, MICV, CVRT, M107.
The MICV, if you're wondering is the embryonic stage of the Warrior, and was planned as a family of vehicles weighing about 20-28 tons and came in two versions, one with five road wheels, the other with six.
Of all vehicles the Abbott was judged to be the best chassis, carrying six rounds of 7" rockets. That was the most common amount of rounds carried, although some of the M107 builds could carry ten rockets. The CVRT could however only carry one, but was the only vehicle to carry a re-load, which interestingly enough was just strapped to the top of the turret and not protected.
Re-loading was carried out by having a truck parked next to the launcher and a second truck equipped with a crane near by. The rounds would then be pulled tail first from racks on the ammo truck by the crane and then swung out and slid into the launcher box from the rear. This slow labour intensive process was ultimately why the project failed.

Image credits:
www.jedsite.info

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Corporal Seyit

Here’s the last of the Competition articles. This was originally written by bigmantr from the EU server. With his permission I’ve gone through and tweaked some of the English for a better flow, and added some bits I found on the subject.

After the Ottoman Empire entered the Great War new fronts were opened, and the war was prolonged. The Ottoman entry into the war also closed the Dardanelles straits to the Allied ships. The allies planned an offensive to open the straits as this would both eliminate Ottoman Empire by taking their capital city Istanbul and aid Russia, allowing a better flow of supplies.

At the age of twenty Seyit Ali enlisted into the Ottoman army and fought in the Balkan Wars. After the war he was not discharged but assigned to the Dardanelles straits as a gunner of the famous artillery battery in Mecidiye Forts located in the European side of Dardanelles. Their mission was to stand guard over the waterway. Their 240mm Krupp guns were old but there was no time or resources to replace obsolete weapons.
However the Ottoman forces had time to prepare the battlefield. After a probing attack on 19th February 1915 the Ottomans started to lay more mines. On the night of March the 8th the tiny minelayer Nusret left port. It offensive armament consisted of a pair of 47mm guns, and just over 20 mines in a bay on the south side of the strait.

Later that month on the 18th, a combined force of British and French ships approached the strait. At 1100 the first line of British ships began to bombard the fort, including the one where Seyit Ali was stationed. With the forts under heavy fire the French contingent of four ships was ordered forward, to pass through the British lines. Although the French ships took some severe hits their point blank fire combined with the British pounding destroyed every gun but one in Seyit Ali’s battery and disabled nearly all of the crew.
British battleship firing on the Turkish positions.
By early afternoon the task force commander judged it was safe to force the strait as the return fire was almost nil. He ordered the French to retreat, and pushed the majority of his force forward. The bombardment had destroyed the artilleries loading crane and each round weighed around 275 kilograms. When they got within firing range of Seyit Ali’s battery he was furious that enemy was in range and a broken crane was in between him and his target.

He prayed to God and tried lifting the artillery round. Unbelievably he managed to lift the round and carry it to the gun, his bones were creaking but he didn't give up until he loaded the gun. Now it was time to shoot back. He aimed at one of the ships in front of him, HMS Ocean which was a Pre-dreadnought battle ship.
After being bombarded for hours the Ottoman army was shaken. Titanic battleships were pounding everything on the ground but the Turks could not reach them let alone harm them. At this grim hour for the Ottoman army a miracle happened. While the allied ships were crossing the strait one artillery piece roared behind them which took everyone by surprise.

The first shot missed but Seyit Ali was determined and he loaded another heavy artillery round into the gun again and fired the second shell. It landed closer to the dreadnought but still didn't do any damage. He lifted one last round and loaded the gun, and fired again.

At around this time the British began to withdraw. Earlier when the French contingent had withdrawn one of their ships had been blown to pieces by one of the mines. In the confusion the British had thought the ships magazine had been hit. Thinking their route clear the British followed the same line of retreat. First one, then a second battleship struck a mine. The first ship sunk immediately, the second began to drift. HMS Ocean was dispatched to assist with recovery of the second ship. After being unable to help and taking off the last of the drifting battleships crew, HMS Ocean suffered the same fate of striking a mine. She too began to drift; damaged beyond repair and with incoming fire she was abandoned and both ships later sank.
The French battleship Bouvet withdrawing, moments before hitting the mine
The Ottoman Empire lacked weapons superiority but her soldiers accomplished heroic deeds and held their ground. Seyit Ali was promoted to the rank of corporal after the war and he lived the remainder of his life as a coal-miner and forester in his village. For a photo shoot they invited him to his former battery, but he failed to lift the artillery rounds again.



Image credits:
commons.wikimedia.org, www.naval-history.net, www.anzacsite.gov.au and www.davidpride.com

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Witnessing the Ferdinand

Here’s another of the Competition articles. This was originally written by haeschn from the EU server. With his permission I’ve gone through and tweaked some of the English for a better flow, and added some bits I found on the subject.
In November 1943, the 20 year old German common soldier and so-called “Landser” G√ľnter K. Koschorrek was part of the 24. Panzerdivision at the eastern front. He operated a machine gun on a sustained fire mount. This account is from when he was stationed to the south of the city of Dnjeprowka in the today’s Ukraine.

The front line was only a few kilometers away and Koschorrek spent days of waiting, always in expectation of being thrown into a counterattack against a Soviet penetration of the German lines. The Soviet troops on the other side were well armed and had slowly decimated the German troops on the flanks over the last few months. An attack was only a question of time and Koschorrek’s unit was held in reserve to face the threat as soon as news of the breakthrough was reported. Throughout the days and even in the night he could hear the thunder of bombs and artillery shells rumbling across the front.

Then on the 22nd of November the order for a counterattack was given. Koschorrek joined his troops as well as some lighter tanks and artillery. But soon after the attack they were told to return to their positions they had just left. As a common soldier in the trenches of the war, nobody tells you what is going on and so he continued waiting for new orders until the next day.
In the early morning a huge barrage started pouring down on the right flank at the tired troops of the 258. Infanteriedivision. Koschorrek was wondering, what was going on and if they could hold the line as suddenly a huge rumbling sound rose from behind him. He states that he had never heard such a loud humming noise before which made the walls of his earth hole tremble and shake like in an earthquake. He looked out of his hole and saw five huge monsters rolling towards him. The other Landsers around him stood up and stared at these tanks in astonishment. Some of the more experienced soldiers and officers shared their knowledge: these beasts were the Ferdinand, a heavy tank destroyer with the infamous 8,8cm Panzerjagdkanone L/71 mounted in a heavily armoured casemate. The incredible power enabled it to fight tanks at longer distances than usual, later in the war one Ferdinand scored a hit on a T-34 at a range of 4500m. The following engagement of the Ferdinands and some T-34s in the next days gave an indication of the power and range of the gun.
Four Ferdinands and four assault guns covered an attack of the infantry which Koschorrek was part of. After taking positions, the Soviets launched a counterattack with twenty two T-34s. The tank destroyers stayed in cover behind a small ridge and waited for the tanks to close the distance just a bit more. Then they showed their true colors and opened fire at the surprised tanks. After the first smoke slowly disappeared, six T-34s were already burning. The Soviets fired back at the Ferdinands, but hull down on a ridge line they were only exposing their thick armoured casemate.
Koschorrek couldn’t see any damage on the Ferdinands or the assault guns. The Ferdinands roared again, flinging a second salvo at the Soviet tanks. Immediately three turrets were flung into the air, after the ammo stored in the tanks got hit and exploded in a huge fireball. Two more tanks were also smoking and rendered useless for the rest of the battle.

The remaining eleven T-34s turned around and retreated back to their lines at full speed. At a safe distance they stopped, forming a wide line facing the Germans and observed the situation. Koschorrek could only clearly see the T-34s through the optics of his machine gun, even as he looked the four Ferdinands fired nearly at the same time. Some of the red-hot shells slammed into the tanks, others kicked up dirt where they hit the ground. Unbelievably, despite the long range, the Ferdinands managed to hit two tanks which were standing still, almost in a parade formation. After learning their lessons, the Soviet tankers retreated behind a hill as fast as they could and the engagement was obviously counted as a success for these big tank destroyers.
In the following days, the Ferdinands were part of many more operations in the nearby area and were able to destroy about forty tanks and fifteen guns. But despite its formidable gun, optics and armour, it soon turned out that it was indeed good at fighting tanks in a static warfare but not in a dynamic operation because of its poor manoeuvrability and heavy weight in the muddy ground. This is why these fortresses were blown up by German engineers after abandoning the bridgeheads and retreating from the overwhelming Soviet forces.

Image Credits:
http://www.warlordgames.com and http://www.worldwarphotos.info












Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Chocolate War

   
Today's article is another contest entry. This one came from Azaz129 on the NA server.

There are three things universal to all wars: soldiers, weapons, and food - though not many tend to focus on the latter.

The US military generally issued five different rations during World War Two: A-rations, B-rations. C-rations, K-rations, and D-rations. A-rations are fresh, refrigerated, or frozen food that is served to troops after being prepared by a field kitchen or transported from fixed facilities. B-rations are foods that come canned, preserved or pre-packaged and do not require the use of refrigeration. C-rations were individually issued rations that were pre-cooked and canned for soldiers out in the field where A-rations and B-rations were impractical, they were replaced in 1958 by the Meal Combat Individual (MCI), which was later replaced by the Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) in 1981. K-rations were meant to be issued to mobile forces, such as paratroopers and the tank corps, for short durations, contained three boxed meals, the military declared it obsolete in 1948 due to inadequate caloric content. Finally, D-rations were meant for emergency situations and consisted of concentrated chocolate bars designed to provide maximum calories for soldiers in need.

Even before the start of World War Two, the United States was looking for a way to supplement soldiers' rations with a nutritious, lightweight food. In 1937, Captain Paul Logan of the U.S. Army Quartermaster General's office went to Hershey Chocolate Company President, William Murrie, about creating a chocolate bar to be included in military rations. The requirements presented to Hershey were simple, lightweight, high energy, and (in order to ensure consumption only in emergencies) tasting slightly better than a boiled potato.
D-Ration... Looks tasty? So palatable you need to eat it over the course of 30 minutes.
The result was a viscous paste that had to be hand packed into molds. Called D-rations, the bar had to have pieces shaved off for consumption and possessed an extremely bitter taste. Soldiers called it “Hitler's Secret Weapon” and would often times throw them away as soon as they received them. Later, in 1943, the government would ask Hershey to design a new bar that could hold its shape for an hour in 120 degree heat and would have a somewhat improved taste, eventually resulting in the Tropical Chocolate bar.
Around the same time as this, Forrest Mars, son of the creator of the rival Milky Way bar, was working on developing a sugar-coated chocolate candy designed to resist heat, after having seen a similar sugar coated chocolate being eaten by soldiers in the Spanish Civil War. Unlike Hershey, Mars was trying to create a commercially available product in addition to a snack for servicemen. With this in mind, Mars approached William Murrie's son, Bruce, about a partnership. For a 20% stake in the product, Murrie secured a steady supply of chocolate from Hershey, which was in charge of U.S. sugar and chocolate rationing at the time. The product was named M&M's after Mars and Murrie. Though Mars would buy out Murries's share shortly after the war ended, the name would remain.
Shortly after release, the U.S. military became the exclusive customer for Mars' new product and would remain so for the duration of the war. Unlike the modified Hershey bar, M&M's were included in soldiers C rations in cardboard tubes and were intended for regular consumption, which allowed for a taste that didn't cause the troops to want to immediately throw them away. After the end of the war, as well as rationing, the newly returned soldiers continued buying M&M's and by 1954 M&M's were the number one candy in the United States. To this day, various chocolates are still included in soldiers' regular rations.

Image credits:
www.schaakstukkenmuseum.nl, www.historicreproductions.com and amhistory.si.edu/

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The only Tank in the Village

Here’s the first of the Competition articles. This was originally written by NAKKE_FIN from the EU server. With his permission I’ve gone through and tweaked some of the English for a better flow, and added some bits I found on the subject.

During the Continuation War approximately 500 000 Finnish soldiers and 200 000 Axis soldiers fought against 1 500 000 Soviet soldiers. The Finnish side had only one armoured division (Finnish Armoured Division) at the beginning of the Continuation War, consisting of obsolete T-26 and Vickers 6 ton tanks. Meanwhile the Soviet Union had approximately 4900 tanks on the Finnish front. The Finns also lacked the modern anti-tank weapons needed to deal with the Soviet tanks. Instead the Finns had to rely on the bravery of their troops armed with improvised weapons such as packs of explosive and smoke grenades to obscure the vision of the tanks. To encourage the soldiers even further, rewards such as extra leave, were offered for destroying enemy tanks.


 The Finnish military began an offensive in July 1941 at Ladoga Karelia.  Later in July the offensive at East Karelia was started.  On the northern front at the village of Salla (often called Alakurtti, which appears to be the region, not the village) the Finnish JR 33 1st battalion meet with a lonely KV-2. The KV-2 had been born out of the trouble the Soviets had encountered when facing the Finnish defences during the Winter war.
The first sign of the battle was when the lone KV-2 appeared to the front of the Finnish trenches. The monstrous heavy tank rolled out of the woods and down the road towards the Finnish lines.

 The first shot of the 152mm cannon started to spread fear amongst the Finnish soldiers. The KV-2 found a gap in the Finnish mine fields and started to push through the lines, defensive fire ricocheting off the tanks armour. Even the few dedicated anti-tank weapons the Finns possessed had no effect. As the behemoth loomed over them with the ground trembling under the roar of its engines and the monstrous turret blocking out the light, the Finns threw grenades at the tank but they seemed to do no harm. The Finnish line bent under the pressure.

For some reason after few hours the KV-2 stopped the assault and fell back. Finns started to place mines in the gap in their minefield which the KV-2 had found. Just as they were finishing the task in the distance they heard the squeak of the tanks tracks as it roamed out of its forest lair once more.
 The KV-2 reappeared and drove directly towards the Finnish lines again. The sound of mines exploding filled the air, but the mighty fortress of a tank was impervious to the anti-personnel mines the Finns had placed. The horror filled the minds of the Finnish soldiers. Finally when the KV-2 drove over eight mines it lost its tracks and had to stop. Still the tank was capable of firing towards the Finnish lines. No gun the Finns had could penetrate the hide of the KV-2, so the Finns had to wait for the night to close with and destroy this beast.
 When the darkness came the Finns formed a group to destroy the immobilized tank. The Finns were armed with iron bars, Molotov cocktails, smoke caskets and explosives. The assault party sneaked through the still night, if the KV-2 saw them it would open fire with that devastating cannon. Finally they were close to the tank, and leapt onto it. First the machine gun barrels of the KV-2 were smashed with iron bars to prevent the crew from shooting at the close targets. They then tried to set it on fire with Molotov cocktails but the tank was not lit regardless of several attempts. The smoke caskets were triggered to drive the crew out of the tank but the persistent crew remained inside the tank. Finally the explosives were set on the ground next to the tank and the tank tilted towards the ground by the impact but still the crew remained alive inside the tank.
The Finns were afraid that KV-2 would soon receive help; therefore the attempts to wreck the tank were hastened. The tilted tank was unable to defend itself against Finnish combat engineers who placed 30kg of explosives on the turret. The tank was lit up by the explosion and moments later blew up. 
The actual remains of the KV-2 after the explosion.
The battle against the steel monster was over. Several Finns were wounded in the battle but only one combat engineer was killed when placing the mines.This was the only time the KV-2 saw action in Finland.

Image credits: