Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Ironclad War (part one)

HMS Ramillies was a Revenge class battleship that was launched during World War One. Although during that war she didn't see any action, this was not to be the case during the Second World War. As an older design she was relegated to secondary roles, one of which was a very interesting campaign against the French and Japanese.
HMS Ramillies
After the Iraqi War in May 1941 it was quickly realised that the Vichy French forces controlling France's empire were an issue. It allowed Axis nations access to strategic bases across the world. Equally the French had armed forces stationed in these nations, which could pose a threat. So a series of campaigns were launched to seize French held territory. In June and July the French possessions in the Middle East were captured during Operation Exporter, removing the threat from them to the British rear in Africa, and its ability to influence the Middle East.
There remained one final French thorn, Madagascar. It sat right on the main British shipping routes between Africa and the India. Part of the force that had disposed of the Golden Square in Iraq had sailed past its shores. The French had a handful of submarines based on the island, but there was a larger threat, what if the Japanese were to station some of their formidable ocean going submarines on the island? Transport between the Middle East, South Africa and India would become vastly harder, if not impossible.
This was no idle threat either. In April 1942 the Japanese deployed a detachment of submarines and support vessels to travel to Madagascar. But due to the distances involved it would take several weeks to reach the area.

By sheer coincidence the British were also moving to Madagascar, the old warship HMS Ramillies lead a force of ships, including two carriers, to the island to conduct Operation Ironclad. This was the invasion of the island. The initial plan was for a landing at the north of the island to capture the main city and port. On the 5th of May 1942 the flotilla arrived at the island. One of the first actions was when a flight of Swordfish from HMS Illustrious attacked and sank one of the French submarines. The allies landed and began an 18 mile march to the capital city, facing fierce resistance from the French Foreign Legion.
One of the French Submarines
On May the 7th the deadlock was broken when a party of 50 Marines from HMS Ramillies was transferred to the destroyer HMS Anthony. She sailed around the north of the island and approached the capital from the seaward side. She steamed into the defended harbour under intense gunfire at about 0800 in pitch darkness. With no pilot she managed to halt next to a wharf and the Marines charged ashore. The Marines had orders not to attack the heavily defended locations in the shape of the barracks and the main armoury. However within half an hour they had captured both, causing immense confusion. After being taken by surprise in the rear by the Royal Marines the rest of the French defence crumbled, although fighting continued to the south of the island for some time, the main port was in British hands.
HMS Anthony
The following day a third and final French submarine made an attack on the carrier HMS Indomitable. She dodged the torpedo and her escorts pounced on the French submarine.

At 2230 on  the 29th of May an unknown plane was spotted above the harbour. HMS Ramillies immediately weighed anchor and began to steam about the harbour, but when no attack was forthcoming she re-anchored.
The plane was a reconnaissance plane from the Japanese submarines. Only two had made it, the other had suffered damage from bad weather. The Japanese had missed their window, if they had left a month earlier the British fleet might not have even made it to the island whilst being under attack by the Japanese submarines.
The Japanese submarines were carrying midget submarines, and an attack by these was scheduled for 0230 on May the 31st. On the evening of the 30th two midget submarines were launched. One was never seen or heard of again, and its wreck has yet to be discovered.

The tale of the other Midget Submarine will be told next week.

Image credits:
Wikipedia.org, www.warshipsww2.eu, freepages.family.rootsweb.ancestry.com and 3.bp.blogspot.com

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The last Battle

If I were to ask you when the final battle between a Panzer IV and a Sherman took place, what would be your answer?

How many people said 1945? Well it was later than that, a lot later. During the 1967 Six Day War in fact. After their defeat in the Israeli War of Independence and the following years the Syrians brought in advisers to help train their army. These were predominantly German ex-soldiers. These advisers convinced the Syrians they needed more armour. So the Syrians went shopping and from about 1959 they started to acquire Panzer IV's, Stug IIIG's, a handful of Jagdpanzer IV's and even the odd Hummel. The tanks seem to have been sourced from both Czechoslovakia and France, although some may have come from Spain as well. They saw action on the Golan heights during the War over Water. However when the Israelis deployed Centurions the old German tanks were forced back. The Syrians then started to receive Russian support, such as T-34/85's and T54's. From then on the tanks remained in positions on the Golan heights.
At the start of the Six Day War the Syrians tried a limited offensive. However due to a variety of reasons (and a good study of "how not to do it") the attack was defeated. One of the reasons was bridge width, as the tanks advancing were too wide for the bridges, and the Syrians lost several tanks drowned in rivers. The other major factor was the Israeli Air Force mounting a sustained and deadly attack after catching the Syrian Air Force on the ground. After the attack was defeated the Syrians restricted themselves to firing bombardments into Israel. For their part the Israelis didn't want to push the Syrians to avoid fighting on too many fronts. However this changed on the 9th of June when the Israelis attacked.
The 8th Armoured Brigade consisting of M50 and M51 Shermans attacked. Around Tel Faher and  Tel Azaziat there were several Panzer IV's, and at least one Stug III. One source suggests there was four Panzer IV's at Tel Faher.  All the German tanks were well dug in with minefields and infantry. The infantry were armed with Soviet anti-tank weapons.
The view from the trenches of Tel Azaziat looking into Israel
The Israelis attacked with eight Sherman Dozer's leading the advance to clear the minefields, however five were destroyed by defending fire. The 8th Brigade also took heavy losses in Shermans.
In the early afternoon after pushing forward in half tracks the Israeli forces had reached the base of the hills that the Syrian positions were on. However the crawl across the open ground had cost them dearly. Only 25 soldiers remained combat ready. These were split into two groups who stormed the two fire bases. At Tel Azaziat of the 13 men who attacked only three survived the assault. At Tel Faher the casualties were worse. Of the 12 attackers only one man survived.
During this battle at least one of the Sherman's destroyed a Panzer IV. A study of the wrecks in the area shows that one of the Stugs was hit three times by a Sherman, and a fourth hole was caused by ammunition cooking off and punching out from the inside of the vehicle.


Image credits:
www.ww2incolor.com, i2.guns.ru and idf-armor.blogspot.co.uk

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cars and Bridges

Today is another request, I was asked about armoured cars. Reconnaissance units often roam ahead of the main forces, but don't hang about once the heavy mob show up in tanks, so finding accounts of battles is actually quite tricky. However I did find the following video from a British army training film.

This is an organisation from earlier in the war. The motorcycle elements of the platoon were removed for the later war. To give you some idea of the life of an armoured car unit here's a series of extracts from the 11th Hussars war diary.

I'm scouting for Tigers! Maybe a captured dingo. Or maybe the Autoblinda Lince. An exact copy of the Dingo built by the Italians. Which goes to show you how useful a little vehicle the dingo was.


During the 21st Army group's advance across Europe after D-Day one of the major tasks armoured car units had was to find suitable bridges. Shortly after they arrived in Normandy the 2nd Household Cavalry squadron was due to take part in Operation Goodwood, however due to the nature of that battle the light armoured units were not deployed. The next major operation was Operation Bluecoat, and this time the 2nd Household Cavalry were deployed.


Lieutenant Dickie Powell, of C Squadron was leading his armoured car troop of two Daimler Dingos and two Daimler Armoured Cars through the narrow Bocage country. The rear most Daimler broke down and blocked the road, and prevented the Dingo bringing up the rear from passing.
Lt Powell continued on with his mission. Their first contact was a German sentry who tried to flee, but a grenade from the Dingo stopped him dead. Grenades were often used as a random explosion near the front is hard to identify and reduced the risk of giving the location of the patrols away.
Coming round a corner they quickly came across a large number of anti-tank guns, however the patrol managed to charge through the AT gun's killing zone, leaving a few more grenades with the German gunners. Still probing forward they found a bridge over the River Souleuvre still intact, this bridge was six miles behind enemy lines. Unbeknownst to Lt Powell however, a number of Panther tanks were covering the bridge.

The Daimler set up covering the bridge, and the tiny Dingo scuttled across. Quickly hiding in a bush the crews from both cars dismounted and with only small arms they held the bridge, with two men at each end. The 5th man stayed in the Daimler to use the radio and try and get the vital information through to headquarters. The dismounts had to dispose of several Germans quietly, holding on for several nerve wracking hours until an armoured spearhead arrived.
Born on February 2nd 1923, Rupert Buchanan-Jardine was also serving in the 2nd Household Cavalry, as a Lieutenant in D Squadron. As well as being a keen rider, Jardine spoke fluent faultless German, having picked up the language from his German nanny. He'd joined the Cavalry straight from school due to a love of horses and riding. However his first taste of action was when a German bomber scattered its payload of incendiaries over his boarding schools roof. Jardine was part of the fire watch and had scaled up onto the school's roof to tackle the fires. He was commissioned in 1942, and then deployed with the 2nd Household Cavalry to Normandy.
Lt Jardine (Standing outside he Dingo), with the group of Dutch Civilians.
In early September Lt Jardine was the first Allied soldier to enter Holland. Riding in a Dingo, and accompanied by a Dingo from another troop Lt Jardine led a patrol into occupied Holland to check on a bridge south of Eindhoven.
Shortly after crossing the border Jardine came under heavy enemy fire. Like Lt Powell Jardine used the small size and the Dingo's excellent mobility to just charge through the lines. The tough armour on the Dingo kept the German bullets away, and its speed meant that the German anti-tank weapons never came close.
The Crew of the other Dingo in Lt Jardine's patrol. Again Photographed with the Dutch Civilians. Lance corporal of horse Brook (The one with the mosutache big enough to put the fear of god into the Germans!), and Trooper Bateman.
Five miles later they approached the bridge they stopped to observe and they saw a Panzer IV guarding the bridge. They remained in that position for about half an hour. While waiting a crowd of local civilians approached them thinking liberation had come. One of the locals had a camera, which is where the photographs here come from.
With the Germans approaching, time to leave.
The civilians warned Lt Jardine that the Germans were approaching and trying to catch them after blowing through their front line. With this warning Lt Jardine led his patrol back towards Allied lines. Again they roared through the Germans that were hunting them with no casualties, although almost every item carried outside of the armour was shredded by German small arms. Incensed by the escape of the patrol the Germans shot several of the civilians. 
For his role in this reconnaissance he was awarded a Military Cross, and for being the first soldier into Holland, The Bronze Lion of The Netherlands.

Lt Jardine used his German on a couple of occasions. Once he was ordered to find out how strongly a town ahead of the advance was held. Instead of a classic reconnaissance which would put his men at risk he simply phoned up the German commander in the next town, and started shouting questions down the phone in perfect German. Amazingly this trick worked and he was able to find out all the information on the strength of the defending forces.
Another time Lt Jardine headed into the woods after breakfast to relieve himself. As he squatted behind a tree a German raced up to him trying to surrender. Lt Jardine's only response was "Go and wait over there until I have completed my business!"

Lt Jardine retired from the army in 1949 as a Major. He then studied Estate Management and Forestry, before moving back to his family's home in Scotland where he ran their lands, and became master of their hounds. He died aged 87 on August 24 2010.

Image credits:
daimler-fighting-vehicles.co.uk (Note: This is a very good site for all things Daimler armoured car/Dingo related. Well worth a visit) and warlordgames.com.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sticks and Stones

Before we get on with today's article, I'd like to ask your opinion. Earlier in the week I mentioned I'm working on some books. My current plan is here. However what I'd like to know is which book should I do second?
You can vote here

Today's article is another request.

 In 1935 the Italian armed forces launched an invasion of Ethiopia. Whilst the Italians were a modern army with all the aspects we'd recognise today the Ethiopians had manpower and a few antiquated guns. While it appears some weapons were centrally sourced, most were acquired from arms dealers, and the price for even basic small arms in the opening days of the war in Addis Ababa reached astronomical levels. The Italians also had modern artillery, air forces and tanks. Ironically the Ethiopians had Italian tanks as well, but from a generation earlier. The Imperial bodyguard had four FIAT 3000's. One, a 3000A had been gifted to the Emperor in 1925. In 1930 three FIAT 3000B's were purchased.
Eritrean Elephants towing artillery during the invasion
The Ethiopians lost the war, and almost every battle. On occasion they were able to inflict large casualties. One large attack by the Ethiopians led to a sixteen hour slugging match in which their FIAT 3000's were deployed, to no effect.
But during one battle the Ethiopians did win, and push the Italians back, this battle happened at the start of the Christmas offensive, and despite the presence of Italian tanks the poorly armed Ethiopians were able to win. This is known as the battle of Dembeguina Pass.

15th of December 1935 was the middle of the dry season. The river Beghemder in the valley of Takazze was very low due to the lack of rain, a pair of fords crossed it separated by nine miles. At one ford, on the main mule track in the area stood a small stone fort manned by Italian troops.
In the early hours of the morning a large force of Ethiopians led by Fitaurari Shifferaw, and accompanied by his 80 year old father Fitaurari Negash, arrived at the ford after a long night march. The Ethiopians quickly overran the surprised defenders and wiped the fort out, then pushed on towards Dembeguina Pass.
Ethiopian Troops
The pass was held by a force of Italian and Eritrean infantry, who formed colonial regiments and a large part of the attacking Italian force. The Italians also had eight CV-35 tankettes nearby.
As the Ethiopians approached the unaware Italian forces, the Italians had the luck to send out a routine patrol. As soon as the Ethiopians spotted this patrol they fired on them from extreme range, the Italian patrol immediately turned and fled back to its larger force. The undisciplined Ethiopians started a headlong charge after their fleeing enemies.
Major Crinti, the Italian commander at the pass immediately radioed for help, and the eight CV-35 tankettes commanded by Capitano Ettore Crippa responded. When they arrived on the scene the Ethiopians hadn't arrived so one of the tankettes was sent forwards to find out what was happening. As it advanced it ran into the leading elements of the Ethiopian Army. The little tank began to chop up the charging Ethiopians with its twin machine guns. The Ethiopians lacked anything bigger than a rifle and so couldn't knock it out. All of their bullets and arrows were turned aside by its armour. In the face of this obstacle the Ethiopian vanguard began to retreat.
One Ethiopian soldier whom had been one of the lead element was armed with nothing more than a sword. His name was Tashemm. His rank was Balambaras, which has no real equivalent that we might recognise. It essentially means he was a trusted person. Tashemm crawled out of the tankettes line of fire and moved round behind it. Sneaking closer he concocted his plan. He climbed up on the rear of the tank and hammered on the hatch with his sword pommel yelling in Italian "Open! Open!". Immediately the crew of the CV-35 opened their hatches with fatal results.

You might ask why the Italians opened up their hatches. The answer is these simple machines lacked radio's and so had to communicate by word of mouth. At another battle later in the war a large number of tankette crews were killed and wounded simply because they had to open their hatches to communicate.
With the guarding CV-35 tankette knocked out the Ethiopian army swept forward. Maj Crinti then lead his forces forward to meet the attacking Ethiopians. The Italian's sharp and aggressive attack came very close to routing the Ethiopians, it was only the presence of Fitaurari Shifferaw, their chief that held the force together. As more pressure was brought on the Italians they realised they couldn't continue the attack and fell back to a hill. The Italians then tried to entrap the Ethiopians by sending forth their baggage train, hoping the ill disciplined Ethiopians would attack it and loot it. However the Ethiopians saw the danger and failed to take the bait, and a very intense firefight erupted.

Italian Colonial unit (Eritrean's)
This firefight ended when the Italians tried to surrender, as their position became more desperate. The Italians tried to surrender, by standing up from their positions behind the rocky cover with their hands up.
This gesture had no meaning to the Ethiopians, and not understanding what the Italians were trying to do, just saw it as an opportunity to kill more enemy.

After the attempted failure to surrender the Italians launched another assault, during which they killed Fitaurari Shifferaw. As the vicious battle waged around Fitaurari Negash, he was mourning the loss of his son and the Ethiopian troops again started to waver. Fitaurari Negash was approached by the forces Confessor, who told him
"I will take care of your son, but you will be damned if you don't avenge him!"
Ethiopian Leaders
Fitaurari Negash immediately began to rally his son's forces and close in on the Italians.
The Italian’s assault had been a breakthrough aiming to get from their position to a place where their trucks and the remaining tankettes were in order to retreat from the enemy. The rallied Ethiopians didn't give them the breathing space needed to mount the trucks and were on them instantly.
The lorries were easily burned by the Ethiopians but the tanks took more work. Using levers and weight of numbers the Ethiopians wrestled with the three ton CV-35’s. Three of them were turned on their side using nothing more than sturdy sticks. As they tipped the fuel tanks on the CV-35's began to leak, and a small pool of fuel surrounded each one. The Ethiopians happily set fire to this to destroy the tanks. Another CV-35 threw a track, and a final one had the crew killed.
The last two CV-35's were captured intact around 1600 when a second force of Ethiopians who had been sent to the other ford over the river arrived at the battle.
The Italian forces began to run back down the road on foot, towards Enda Selassie with the Ethiopians in pursuit. The Italians were unable to break free when they reached the town so they halted and a vicious close combat fight developed. The Italians had no hope and were defeated. However the days fighting and the long distances it covered meant that the Ethiopians were exhausted, so they halted for the night.

The following day the Italians deployed a Blackshirt unit in trucks supported by even more CV-35's. From the descriptions of what happened next it seems the column was driving along a road on the side of a ridge or rocky hill when the Ethiopians ambushed them. They started by rolling large boulders down the hill, which blocked the road and smashed into the leading CV-35's. The driver of the lead tankette was also killed.
Two CV-35's slipped (or were hit by the boulders) and fell off the road and became bogged down on the hillside. Two more had torches thrown under them which caused them to catch fire. With the road blocked and the column being destroyed the Italians retreated.
(Actually a picture from Greece in WWII I think)
This marked the high point of the Ethiopian attack. It also had much worse consequences. With the very real threat of an Ethiopian offensive keeping the momentum the Italians deployed chemical weapons from bombers. Against mustard gas the Ethiopians had no defence whatsoever. From then on in the war the Italians reigned dominant, although as I said earlier they occasionally took heavy casualties. That said the battle of Dembeguina pass wasn't that bloody, despite its close combat and the forces measuring in the thousands on both sides. Only 382 Ethiopians were killed with 256 wounded. The Italian casualties are harder to assess, due to the Italians trying to downplay their losses and the Italians blind spot for losses their colonial regiments took. So a best guess is about 250 killed on the Italian side.

Image credits:
ecadforum.com, amedeoguillet.files.wordpress.com, media-3.web.britannica.com, martinplaut.files.wordpress.com, wikimedia.org, tanks-encyclopedia.com and avalanchepress.com

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Hail Hydran!

 Thanks to Vollketten from the NA server for his help with this article.

Tiny engineering companies sprang up all over the place before the Second World War. Some make it big and expand into the giant companies with names we all recognise such as Vickers, however, many are lost to history. One such company was Hydran Products Ltd. This company sticks in your mind simply because of the work of one of its designers, Mr Lewis Motley.
I can't give you much details about either the company or Mr Motley, as this information is lost. I know both their addresses, as it's listed on their patents. Hydran Products was based at the Hydra Works, Gresham Road, Staines. Mr Motley's address was at Clapham Common, some 17 miles away, so he had a daily commute of about an hour; assuming the Germans hadn't bombed his railway. The earliest mention of Hydran Products was in 1937, when they started producing oil burners to provide heat.

This seems to have been their one product until the war broke out. After the war they worked on street lighting. At some point before 1971 the company closed and vanished from our sight. However it left several ideas and patents from the years between the wars. And they all stemmed from Mr Motley's remarkable imagination.

The first entry in the war years is in 1940, when Hydran Products designed a new belt feed system for the Ministry of Aviation and its Hispano 20mm cannon. Hydran Products was also asked to design and build 3750 mountings for twin Vickers HMG's to be used in the AA role. This I suspect was the majority of the company's war work.
However in July of 1942 Mr Motley submitted an ambitious design to the Gunnery School at Lulworth, and with it roars into the historical record, showing off his special kind of genius. It consisted of a Universal Carrier, with much thicker armour to the front of the vehicle. On the rear, mounted on the engine deck, is a turntable. That turntable has four gun barrels fitted, each barrel comes preloaded and sealed at the breech end. The round inside the gun is fired electrically, and to absorb the recoil the entire barrel flies off the back of the carrier. After the four tubes have been fired the Carrier retires to reload.
Mr Motley envisioned the Carriers approaching at high speed and making attack runs like Motor Torpedo Boats do against larger ships. After all if you have Cruiser tanks in the desert, why not MTB tanks?

Mr Motley then goes quiet on the new design front until 1944, when he seems to have found out about rockets, and turned his mind to their use. Obviously what is needed is a rocket gun, but not just any old rocket gun, one that has a selectable rate of fire like an assault rifle. On April 4th 1944 Mr Motley submitted this patent:
The gun is fed from the top, with each rocket projectile dropping down into the breech. However there was one slight design flaw, if the previous rocket failed to launch the next round would cause the entire thing to explode. Additionally the soldier would be holding the weapon when the round launched and would get exposed to the full blast of the rocket motor.

To combat this Mr Motley submitted another patent on July 17th, in which he launched a liquid fuel rocket with a gunpowder charge, and once away from the barrel the rocket would ignite. In May 1945 he submitted a similar patent for the same principle with solid fuel rockets.

By December 1944 he was ready with another patent, this time to combat the issue of the exploding gun if there was a failure to launch. As you can see it's a large drum, with a "timing shoe" at the muzzle, so that the rocket during launch presses the timing shoe allowing the next chamber to move into position, and so can only be fired when the barrel is clear.
After this Mr Motley carried on working on the ideas for rockets submitting patents for a worm drive loader, feeding from multiple magazines (to save space) in April 1945. A belt feed for rocket loading, with each belt holding 100 rockets, in June. Finally in November a method of loading using something akin to the blowback principle.
Of course at this point World War Two was over, and it was a new world. Apart from the patent work on street lighting Mr Motley and Hydran Products disappears from the historical record.

Image credits:
www.vickersmachinegun.org.uk and www.gracesguide.co.uk

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hero Carrier

Mid week quiz: This week I asked you to identify this tank. Answer as usual after the article.

Last week I was asked to do an article on the humble British Carriers, so here it is.

The carrier series has several names, the two most common ones are the Bren Gun Carrier and the Universal Carrier. what many people don't realise is those two are different vehicles. But as the Universal Carrier came after the Bren Carrier was introduced, they are often misnamed Bren Carriers. The main difference is the body of the Bren Gun Carrier has a small sloped armoured compartment on the back, capable of fitting one man, while the Universal Carrier has the famous square box all the way around the back.

The role of the Bren Gun Carrier was, as its name suggests, to carry the two men of a Bren Gun or Boys Rifle team and their weapon under light armour.
The Carrier was given to infantry units to provide a utility vehicle to do several tasks, however infantry commanders often saw it as armoured, and therefore a tank. This, or dire circumstance, often led to the little Carrier being thrown into the front line of battle.
the honourable Christopher Furness
 Lieutenant Christopher Furness commanded a section of Bren Gun Carriers belonging to the 1st Welsh Guards in 1940 as part of the BEF in France. He was born in London in 1912, the son of a British Peer. In May 1940 he was at the city of Arras in the aftermath of the famous counter attack.
At some point prior to the battle that comes later Lt Furness was wounded by enemy fire, some sources state it happened on the 22nd of May, others over night on the 23rd/24th of May. Either way Furness refused to be evacuated and remained in command of the section of three Carriers.

After the Arras counter attack had failed the Germans had continued to advance deeper into France. By the 23rd of May Arras was surrounded on three sides, so the Welsh Guards had no other option but to retreat. The orders for retreat were issued about midnight, with instructions for the infantry to move out in individual companies and the first men began to move about 0200. A bigger question was what to do with the motor transport which comprised of 40 trucks. The main road was unusable, so a much narrower road was chosen. Lt Furness with his three carriers and ad-hoc formation of three Mk VI light tanks were to provide cover for the column. Luck was with the Welsh Guards, as there was a thick blanket of mist covering the area. The previous three days had all been bright and clear.
After winding their way down the road for about three miles they stumbled upon a strong German position. They were dug in on a small hill, with wire, heavy machine guns and anti-tank guns. The column was still hidden in the mist, however if the mist lifted the Germans on their hill would see the soft skinned vehicles laid out in front of them like a shooting gallery. The quartermaster explained to Lt Furness it would take some time to get the column turned around on the narrow road. Lt Furness still sporting his previous wound replied:
"Don't worry about Jerry, I'll go shoot him up and keep him busy while you turn and get out."

With that his three Bren Carriers, with the three Mk VI light tanks set out to attack the Germans.

The light tanks set up a base of fire and started shooting at the Germans, however they were all quickly set on fire by the German anti-tank guns. However the lighter, smaller and faster Carriers were able to evade the German anti-tank gun fire. Not so the colossal amount of small arms rounds the Germans fired at the Carriers. Such was the volume of fire Carrier #3 had the bi-pod shot off its Bren gun. Soon all the Carriers had wounded men on them. Lt Furness led his Carriers along until nearly on top of the German position then began to drive in a circle around the German hilltop all the while firing with every weapon they could. They managed several circuits inflicting very heavy casualties on the Germans. However the German return fire was beginning to take its own toll. In Carrier #1 Lt Furness was the only man alive, and when the driver had been killed the Carrier had halted. In Carrier #2, just behind Carrier #1, Guardsman David Williams had been killed and the other crew wounded.
At this point Lt Furness dismounted from his Carrier, and seeing the Germans only a short distance away charged, on his own, into the midst of the superior German force. During the vicious hand to hand combat that followed Lt Furness was killed. His actions had allowed the most of wounded crews from Carrier #2 and the light tanks to be evacuated.
Carrier #3 had its Bren Gun jam earlier in the battle, so had pulled back. In some dead ground the crew put their weapons back in order. Then reports that other parts of the column were under attack from a machine gun came in. This lone Carrier went out looking for the gun. However nothing could be found so Carrier #3 then returned to the original German hill to continue the attack alone. As they approached the hilltop they noticed an eerie silence. The Germans had evacuated after the losses inflicted upon them by Lt Furness and his Carriers.
As Carrier #3 was withdrawing back down the hill, picking up wounded from a nearby infantry battalion, it was hit by an enemy AT gun from a wooded area, the shot hit the rear of the carrier and knocked out the engine.

For his actions Lt Furness was awarded the Victoria Cross, the column of trucks he gave his life to defend were able to turn around, and retreat using another road. All reached their destination without a scratch.

Image Credits:
wikimedia.org, onlytruecars.com and nzetc.victoria.ac.nz



Mid week Quiz:
From the Photo the British intelligence officers had this drawing done:
Its the Type 2 Ka-Mi, Japanese amphibious tank, only its not got the floats fitted which you're more used to seeing it with. The link has pictures of it with both floats fitted and without.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Fat Fox


 Mid week Quiz: I asked you to identify this turret.


In the early 70's the British developed and introduced into service the FV721 Fox armoured car. At the same time they envisioned a command and liaison utility vehicle based upon the Fox hull. This was the FV722 Vixen. Unlike the Fox they didn't quite get her right. Twenty one years ago she was also a vehicle I helped maintain at a museum, and I have some striking memories of her. The reason why I'm writing this is because a few weeks ago I asked, on my facebook page, for ideas on what to write about. One of the responses was for stuff that wasn't a good idea, and I instantly thought of Vixen.
At first glance the Vixen looks a lot like an attempt to copy the Soviet BDRM-2 armoured car, just from the shape of it. However Vixen's roles were very different, despite similar attributes. Vixen was lightly armoured, maximum armour was 60mm, but that was the skid plate on the bottom of the hull. Her glacis plate was 33.5mm thick, but made of lightweight aluminium alloy. The lightweight armour provided protection against shell splinters and small arms. It also allowed her to be air transportable with three Vixen's fitting inside a C-130 Hercules. She was also capable of amphibious use after a screen was erected, which could be done in two minutes. Her Jaguar 4.2l engine could propel her up to 65 mph on land or 3 mph in water. It's likely she'd actually have gone much faster, as Fox's even with the turret have been clocked at higher speeds, and one Fox without a turret has even been said to have reached 100 mph. She was also fully immune to fungus growth and could operate in temperatures from -40 to +50 degrees centigrade.

Role wise she was to be used by all arms of the British Army. The requirements also called for the fitting of artillery observation or engineering stores, such as an assault boat. The main users were seen to be reconnaissance and Royal Armoured Corps units. Vixen had a crew of a driver and a commander, but had space for two passengers. A radio operator sat in the left hand side of the hull, and a passenger, such as an officer or observer on the right. In the RAC units the passenger wouldn't be carried, and this is where the rot started. Due to having no one on the right hand side, there was no one to operate the periscopes, and so the armoured car was utterly blind to the right due to the placement of the commander's periscopes.

Another sticking point seems to have been ergonomics. The study of ergonomics really took off in the post war period with the Cranfield Institute of Technology at Cranfield University. They took a look at a lathe and worked out what the ideal body shape was for its operator where they can comfortably reach all the controls. They termed this human "Cranfield Man". Cranfield man was 1.35m tall, with shoulder width of 0.61m and arm span of 2.44m...

Well Vixen was assessed for the ergonomics of the vehicle. This included such things as checking to see how much support the seats gave to a soldier's posterior. One thing they noticed was that when the commander rotated his turret he'd be kicking the driver in the shoulder blades constantly. Equally there was an utter lack of headroom, and the report highlighted that as an issue unless a size limit was to be placed on its users.

However that was not the biggest issue with the crew positions. As I said I sat in one of these twenty one years ago, and the position has left a lasting memory; the passenger seats face directly forward. The leg wells are angled 45 degrees towards the centre of the vehicle, whilst your work station, such as the radio's or maps are 45 degrees to the other side. Try positioning yourself in that position now, and you'll see how utterly uncomfortable it is. These positions were not adjustable and locked in armour plate. The idea of driving cross country in such a position is horrific, because even sitting still inside a maintenance bay it was incredibly uncomfortable.





Quiz answer:
I dropped a clanger here. Here's another picture of it:
When I first glanced at the turret (from the other side of the car park) I saw the overhang at the rear of the turret and thought KV-1. When I got closer I thought M3 Lee. However I failed to spot something. An M3 Lee turret doesn't have a loaders hatch. So I'm pretty sure its the turret from a Staghound armoured car.

Image credits:
Cranfield man

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Some old Junk

Those of you who follow my Facebook page will have seen that this week I didn't do my usual mid week post, with added madness. This was because I was away. That's the bad news, the good news is I was at Bovington tank museum sifting through their archives. But before that I had a stroll around outside, and there's quite a few interesting tanks out there which most people don't see, as they park up in the car park then go into the museum. So I had a stroll about and took some photographs.

One of the first tanks you'll see is this T-55 (or is it a T54?) tank. Note the odd contraption over the gun barrel.

Next tank you pass is a range target rescued from one of the UK's gunnery ranges.
As you can see its a very battered Matilda Infantry tank. The impact just above the gun trunnion has cracked the turret casting. You can also get a good impression of how heavily armoured this tank was.
 The next photograph isn't a tank, its the kerb stones along side the road. Bovington Camp is still an active military base, and is used for training. Both days I was there we had Challenger 1 Driver Training tanks moving about. When one of the drivers gets a bit too close to the kerb the tanks tracks smash down on the stones and chop them up.
Outside in a pretty bad way is this Churchill Gun carrier.
Interestingly she's still got her main gun, as most of the conversions had the gun removed and were used to carry Snake mine clearing charges. Which, apart from 25 or so on the books of the Calgary tank regiment at the time of Dieppe (although not scheduled to land) was the closest these machines came to combat.

Next to the Gun carrier you have a wrecked Cromwell chassis, intrestingly on this tank the turret has been split into two.
That's the front of the turret on the left, and the turret is almost upside down.

Next we have the Action X turret.




And then, behind it a mystery turret.
But what is it? Its got parts of it which suggest Chieftain, but other parts that scream Action X/FV4202. Its been suggested its some form of prototype Chieftain turret, which would make sense.



By this time the Archives had opened and I had documents to read. While going through I did find one thing that made me laugh. Luckily Mr Wheeler the head librarian was there and he gave me permission to show this to you. There's a hand written note suggesting its from 1912-1914, although those dates are suspect to my mind. Its the submission for a wheel-cum-track, amphibious armoured vehicle, with what appear to be two guns.



I don't even want to think of how complicated and impossibly hard to maintain and build that would have been.

If you want to support Bovington and help it continue its good work, then you can of course join the Friends of the Tank Museum.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Who Rules the Waves?

 Question:
This week I asked How much did Nicholas Straussler get paid for inventing the DD tank. Answer after the article.

As you may be aware the World of  Warships has finally released the Royal Navy into the game in the form of HMS Warspite. Upon hearing the news of the arrival of the largest, most important and powerful navy in the world during the scope of the game I figured I'd share some test data I found at an archive.
HMS Warspite
HMS Warspite's first taste of action was on the 31st of May 1916. When probing through the murky afternoon in the North Sea with several other British ships she ran into a German fleet. This was of course the battle of Jutland. Early on in the battle she appeared to be heading on a collision course for HMS Malaya.  Her captain ordered her 20 degrees to port, but about this time she took a hit to the steering gear, which jammed it in the port position.
This turn narrowly caused her to miss ramming into HMS Valiant, passing close to her stern. The crew were wrestling with her trying to get her under control, and this left them heading towards the enemy fleet, and slowing at the same time. Seeing the threat HMS Warspite's captain ordered full speed. This meant that she sailed in a giant circle and at the closest point to the enemy fleet she was just 12000 yards (about 10Km) away from the German line. Then as she extended away, the crew were unable to regain control, and she made another circuit past the German line. During these circles she took a massive battering, with about 150 hits, although she survived. After the second circuit she managed to withdraw.
During the Second World War HMS Warspite returned to the North Sea, and during operations there a Swordfish plane launched from her bombed a U-boat, which was the first sinking of a U-boat by a aeroplane.
Wreck of HMS Warspite, when she broke free while being towed to the breakers yard after the war

 If you'd like to know more about HMS Warspite, both in World of Warships and in history, see The Mighty Jingles Youtube video here.

In the North Sea there lay another giant battleship, the German Tirpitz. She was larger than HMS Warspite, faster and had a larger crew compliment. She was also much more modern. But in respects to the armour and the guns she was roughly the same.
Tirpitz
Tirpitz however didn't have anywhere near the list of battle honours that HMS Warspite had managed to achieve. She spent most of her war protected in a fjord being attacked by the RAF. To counter the aircraft smoke pots were emplaced that could lay a blanket of obscuring smoke over the area. These managed to shroud her several times as the super accurate 617 Squadron tried to attack her with Tallboy bombs. Each time the smoke foiled them, and the bomb aimers were ordered not to waste the valuable Tallboys by area bombing due to their cost and the slow speed of production. However on one occasion, one of the eagle eyed bomb aimers managed to plant one into her deck towards the front of the ship. Another near miss damaged her steering gear.
Later she was moved to Tromsø, and again 617 Squadron attacked. This time the Germans hadn't had time to install the smoke pots, and the battleship lay naked beneath the RAF's bombers. The resulting damage caused a massive explosion and the ship to capsize.
Tirpitz being salvaged
The above is nothing new to those of you who know your naval history. However here's the interesting bits. Immediately after the war armour plate was salvaged from the the Tirpitz's hulk. It was compared to British standard plate in firing trials. The guns used were 15" weapons firing APC MK XVIII shells. The plate was angled to 30 degrees. Although both types of plate were of cemented armour manufacture, and about the same metallurgical quality the British plate was found to be superior by a significant margin. This is likely due to the depth of hardness facing, the British depth being nearly twice that of the Germans (6 inches against 3.5 inches). This amounted to needing a difference of about 50 feet per second to achieve the same results. The trials were repeated against thicker plate armour recovered from the Meppen proving ground, although the difference in that plate amounted to 100fps. This confirmed the results.
Note: the Tirpitz plates were only used for a single impact trial, while the British plate was used for multiple shots.
Tirpitz plate after getting hit by a 15" shell
So if the two mighty ships had met would the British would have walked away unscathed? Maybe, the German guns were of a more modern design and had a higher muzzle velocity, well within the margin needed to achieve the same results. However the closer range may have meant the rounds would bounce. Either way this is only the belt armour. The rest of the ships armour, excluding the gun turrets was much thinner.

Results of the tests


Answer to the Question:
Nicholas Straussler's company was paid £2,792 0s 0d. The vast majority of that was wages. In todays money that's about £598,500. Not a bad investment considering that for that the Government got a Fully converted DD Tetrarch light tank.
Image credits:
www.helstonhistory.co.uk, www.maritimequest.com, www.jamesgdorrian.com and www.historyofwar.org