Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Radfan (part three)

Part one.

We left the situation in Radfan with two companies of 3 Para, and the battalion HQ arriving along with some medium guns. These replaced the company already on the ground which rotated out for a rest. This formation was to be used as a mobile element to enable attacks on the enemy. However, the British commanders faced a problem. They could easily throw formations into the mountains, but to what aim? Without a clear-cut strategy there was little point to doing so apart from to run the risks of getting the soldiers stranded. The commanders also realized that simply relying on body counts was impractical, as the rebels were far too clever to mount a stand-up fight. Thus, the British commander, Major General Cecil Hugh Blacker, concluded that the only solution was to land attack the rebels in their most secure locations, the ones they considered militarily important. This would prove that the British forces could do whatever they liked, at will, with impunity. Equally the rebels might be drawn into a stand-up fight at that point to protect their ground, but this was considered a secondary goal to destroying the rebels will to fight.
The obvious target for this was the Bakri Ridge, and the village of Hajib situated halfway along the ridge. From the outset this had been a major concentration of enemy resistance and had been close to the location where the SAS patrol got attacked. The plan was to start on the 21st of May, the entire ridge line was to be worked over heavily by the RAF, then on the 25th the Paras would attack. The dates were selected due to the arrival a squadron of Wessex helicopters from HMS Centaur to assist the RAF Belvederes.
HMS Centaur
The Paras however had different ideas. There was a noticeable slackening of enemy resistance around the lower slopes of Bakri Ridge, so the Paras were ordered to make a reconnaissance in force to see what was happening. They were told they would receive no Belvedere support, and so had to plan accordingly. On the 18th they launched their probe. One company led the way, with a second company being turned into porters to carry supplies. The Paras advanced some three miles, although the route taken by foot was closer to three times that distance. The company used as porters had to do this route again to collect their own arms and equipment, and then re-join the force. They covered some 36 miles in the heat, over rough terrain in a single day, half of it while carrying significant levels of equipment.

This advance meant that the northern end of the Bakri Ridge was now held by the British, with no resistance met. Thus, the operation was continued with the Paras attacking and capturing Hajib village the following night in the face of very light resistance. The southern end of the Bakri Ridge was captured by the planned operation on schedule.

The next phase of the campaign was to seize the Jebel Huriyeh and the Wadi Dubsan, places where no European had ever ventured. The Wadi Dubsan was the main military headquarters and logistics area for the rebels and the rebels held the Jebl Huriyeh as a point of prestige as it was the highest mountain in the Radfan area. 
As a distraction an armoured advance was sent down Wadi Nakailain, like before it wasn't expected to reach the end due to impassable terrain, but it was ordered to create a lot of noise and draw the Radfani attention. This it did, with one Saladin crew penetrating a bit further than was intended. Simply because when they reached the impassable terrain the commander was a bit eager and ordered his driver to accompany him as they both dismounted and pushed forward a short ways. They then ran into the enemy and became involved in a skirmish, in which the driver was lightly wounded, at which point the two soldiers withdrew back to their Saladin, and the driver was able to resume his duties.

45 Commando was due to advance up Wadi Misra and capture Jebel Radfan and then Jebel Huriyeh. However, a massive rainstorm occurred which delayed the Commando's by 24 hours. At this point the Commandos were due to be pulled out of action to attend another operation elsewhere in Aden, and the entire operation was suspended for a week until further forces could be brought in.
The Paras were reinforced by a company of Commando's to bring them up to full strength and sent in a sweep from the Bakri Ridge through the Wadi Dubsan. Their job was to seize any food stuffs, documents and weapon caches. To get off of Bakri Ridge the Paras had to fight their way down from Arnolds Spur, this was a feature that started at about a height of 5,000 feet and had drops ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 feet down to Wadi Dubsan, most of these were near vertical. To add to the problems the weather was beginning to turn much rainier and the beginning of storm season made life more difficult for the air support. The Wadi was out of range of all the British artillery apart from a single section of medium artillery. To make matters worse once in Wadi Dubsan the sides of the Wadi proved extremely difficult for helicopters to operate in, with only Scouts really being able to get in with some difficulty.

Nether the less the Paras began to plan their descent and would eventually be involved in a race against time to recover a shot down Westland Scout and its crew. This will be in next week’s final article on the Radfan.

Image credits:
www.4and7royaltankregiment.com, www.seaforces.org and www.radfanhunters.co.uk

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Mountain Armour

We left British operations in Radfan with the failure of an SAS patrol to secure a landing zone, that would allow a company of Para's to land behind an objective. With the failure to secure the drop zone the parachute drop was cancelled, and the Para's were to re-join 45 Commando, and take a ground route to Cap Badge and attack it from the rear.

As it turned out Cap Badge was unoccupied, the fortified positions on the Cap Badge which 45 Commando stormed were empty. They consisted of caves with crude concrete breastworks. As 3 Para moved through Wadi Taym they found progress harder than expected. At daybreak they were still in the low ground, and immediately came under concentrated fire from the small settlement of Al Naqil, which was adjacent to Cap Badge. The thirty odd rebels in the large village were the force stationed on Cap Badge. They had decided not to spend the night in their sangers and had retired to the Al Naqil to sleep.

Now they had a company of Paras in front of them. Due to the sheer nature of the sides of Cap Badge the commandos couldn't bring any fire to bear on the settlement as they couldn't see it. Thus, a day long battle begun, with thrusts to capture a house, and then a counter thrust to flank the captured position. They received support from the Hawker Hunters, who in one daring strike managed to get a salvo of rockets into a cave hidden at the base of Cap Badge, which had been screened by the settlement. This cave contained an ammo dump.

The Hunters also helped deal with the houses that had been fortified. Initially HE rockets were tried but failed to work as the rockets would not arm on the mud walls. Back at base a suggestion was made to use the concrete filled practice rockets. These worked much better at demolishing the fortified houses. A company of commandos was brought forward by Belvedere to Cap Badge in the afternoon, this force then began to press upon the rebels from the other side.
Eventually after eleven hours of fighting the settlement was captured. The Paras had lost two men killed, and nine wounded. The Paras re-named the village Pegasus Village.

Road building in the Radfan
At the same time as this operation had been going on, the local troops had been advancing up Wadi Rawba towards a feature called Gibraltar. As they cleared the last hold outs the road was found to be almost utterly destroyed. With Gibraltar seized the British forces had a good toehold in the Radfan and had pushed the rebels back. The rebels were still confident of winning and were well organized and still well equipped with small arms. They also still in some strength in the northern and southern ends of the Wadi Taym.

The rebels also had a much more secure logistics system. The British were at the end of a long supply line, which was being maintained by the use of helicopters. Camels were being used to bring in more supplies, and some primitive airstrips were constructed. Even so the number of troops deployed forward had to be reduced.

About the 11th of May when the Kings Own began to arrive one of the objectives given was to get the logistics under control, because before that supplies arrived and were just moved out of the way and piled up without order or thought. Equally the Kings Own was given the task of imposing 'military control'. This latter was a kind of scorched earth policy, which was apparently common throughout the region. Leaflets would be dropped on a misbehaving settlement, warning them to leave. After a time, to give the residents time to evacuate the army would move in and remove foodstuffs and livestock, and otherwise do damage that was non-permanent. For example, structures and items were to be left undamaged. This wasn't often carried out as the British soldiers disliked carrying out these orders.

Another operation that was carried out was the deployment of an entire squadron of SAS into an area east of Wadi Bana. This was suspected of being the main route of supply for the rebels. For five days the SAS operated in the area, by the end of it they had killed or wounded every rebel in the area and cut off a major route of supply for them.
4th RTR ready for the opperation's start. At the time, in Aden 4th RTR was equipped with Ferret and Saladin.
Finally, an armoured spearhead was planned. It was to be thrown up the Wadi Mirsa. 4th RTR provided a squadron, supported by 16/5th Lancers. The armoured column advanced as best it could through the broken ground. Every time they encountered a position that looked like it might hold an enemy the locale was shelled. This kept enemy action to a minimum, but there were some terrain issues which slowed the column down. Eventually, just short of the end of the Wadi where it turned into an uncrossable obstacle, the tanks got into a serious firefight with the rebels. Here bad luck struck, a sudden and heavy rain storm occurred higher up the hills. A Wadi is a dried-out river bed, and it began to flood. This forced the tanks to retreat in the face of the rebels, who took heart from the action, as it appeared they had seen off the enemy’s tanks and that the British lacked the heart for a fight.

On the 16th of May the rest of 3 Para, and a section of medium artillery arrived to support the Kings Own, there was still plenty of fighting to be done before the end of the operation, however this article is beginning to get a bit long, so we will wrap it up there.

Image credits:
iwm.org.uk and www.4and7royaltankregiment.com

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Radfan Radicals

On the day I normally write an article I had to go to an archive for some research, so for this week and next, we'll be doing a two parter.

There is a common theme in the history of Arabia. The country that claims ownership over the land has trouble with its indigenous peoples. Generally, this has led to what are seen as revolts. In the 1960's, in Southern Arabia (currently Yemen, which at the moment is undergoing another cycle of revolt) there was the British Aden Protectorate. Within this Protectorate there was a wild, rocky, hilly area with peaks up to about 6,000 feet. This area is known as the Radfan. Inside this tangle of jagged rocks there are two fertile areas, the Danaba Basin and the Wadi Taym, where the vast majority of the large Radfani population lie. On the hills themselves there are well constructed terraces cut into the landscape to provide room for cultivation. Apart from these crops there is very little in the way of vegetation.
Photograph showing the typical features of the Radfan area.
The area of the Radfan was surrounded by important geographical features. On the western side was the main Dahla highway. To the south was a desert that stretched to the city of Aden, and to the East ran the Wadi Bana. There were also political considerations to the area, in the north were the Hallmain tribe, who were neutral to the British, over the Wadi Bana were the Yafi, who were aligned with the British. The British had tried to improve the area by driving a road along the Wadi Rawba which led to the Danaba basin, however this lasted about a month in January 1964, as the Radfanis immediately demolished it and blocked it with rockfalls. The only other routes in the hills was by trail.

These factors were of importance when the British began to consider an operation in the area. The main reason for the action were the Radfan tribe itself. Many Radfanis would, under encouragement from the Yemen government, cross the border and enlist in the Yemen army. After training they would be issued with small arms and sent back to their homeland and be encouraged to attack Protectorate officials, and any British they could find. The Yemen government would pay for any success. Thus, by April 1964, the Dahla road was so heavily mined and had so many ambushes on it civilian traffic had to be stopped, and even escorted convoys had difficulty getting through. This was put down to about an estimated 500 fighters armed with small arms and mines. To prevent the breakdown of control spreading to other neighbouring tribes, which would have led to internecine slaughter the British Army decided to intervene in force.
British patrol searching for mines.
The forces available for action where seemingly quite overwhelming. The British had at their disposal 45 Commando reinforced by a company from 3 Para. 1st East Anglians, a squadron of SAS, two battalions of local government troops, a squadron from 4th Royal Tank Regiment, a battery from 3 Royal Horse Artillery, a squadron of Westland Scouts and the 26th Squadron from the RAF. The latter was a transport squadron equipped with five Bristol Belvedere helicopters. The RAF also promised support from Hawker Hunters based at Aden. In addition, the King's Own Scottish Borders were being flown in to support the operation.

The British plan called for the fertile areas to be seized first, and the obvious route, up the Wadi Rawba was considered. However, as this was soundly blocked with the enemy well dug in overlooking the area the line of approach was rejected. A Wadi further north was selected as the axis of advance, but this would need a road laying along its length, and until it was done the entire force would be resupplied by the Belvedere's. As well as flying multiple sorties a day these few helicopters would have to fly in water for the troops, which was set at the limit of two gallons per man, per day. These factors meant that the size of the force that could be deployed was limited by the lift capacity. Equally the fragile nature of the helicopters and their limited flight time before needing to be withdrawn for maintenance would impose a time limit on the initial operation.
British troops loading into a Belvedere
To start things off 45 Commando marched through the Danaba Basin overnight and seized the highest hill overlooking the area, this was code-named Coca Cola. A similar operation was planned to capture the high ground overlooking the Wadi Taym, which was code-named Cap Badge. The capture of this height was to be made by a 45 Commando attack frontally at dawn, however in the previous dusk the company of Para's were to be dropped in the Wadi Taym. To secure the Para's drop zone the SAS were sent in.
British patrol heading in to the mountains. Note these are not SAS troops, just regulars.
On the 29th of April the SAS moved into the area, with a single nine-man patrol landed in a quiet area by a few of the Scout helicopters. They would patrol the area, then lie up during the day before moving out to mark the drop zone. They found the area saturated with rebels. However, these rebels were all wearing uniforms and moving about in organized formations. Things got even worse when one SAS team, whom were lying up in some low ground, were discovered by a shepherd who accidentally walked into the SAS position. Soon about 100 rebels approached and began to attack. The nine SAS men held off the attack until dusk, when they saw signs of a much more coordinated and dedicated assault being prepared.

The SAS patrol by now had one man killed and one wounded and unable to walk. So, they decide to launch their own breakout under the cover of darkness. Carrying their wounded comrade, the patrol starts to use bounding overwatch to withdraw. One party conducts a firefight with the pursing force, while the other retreats, and sets up, then the first party withdraws. On the first movement another SAS soldier is hit and killed. At least twice the pursing force catches up with the retreating six men, two of whom would have been needed to move the casualty. That would mean that in each battle the combat is two SAS men against 100 odd rebels. The SAS men managed to avoid getting overrun, and broke contact during the night, around 20-30 rebels were killed in action. The two dead SAS men were mutilated and displayed in a town until a British patrol arrived and recovered both soldiers bodies.

Part two is here.

Image credits:
www.nam.ac.uk, iwm.org.uk and sofrep.com

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Go Ahead England

In the first half of 1944 The Japanese Army and Navy were having an argument over the use of the Japanese Navy’s huge Type C submarines. These monsters were over 100m in length, to put that in perspective the most common German U-boat was only 67m long. The Navy wanted to keep doing naval related stuff with the submarines, maybe even attacking US installations at long range, using the Type C's 14,000 nautical mile endurance to reach those targets. The Army however wanted to use them to move supplies to cut off islands. In the end the Army declared it would build its own submarines and use them. Rather than let any of its area of responsibility slip into the Army's hands the Navy relented. Thus, the I-16 was dispatched to Buin on Bougainville Island, loaded with supplies.
I-18, I-16's sister.
Unfortunately for the Japanese they transmitted a coded message about the mission over a radio. US intelligence picked it up and quickly read it. Orders then came down for three Buckley class destroyer escorts in the Escort Division 39 to track her down and sink the submarine. The ships were the USS England (named after a Sailor killed at Pearl Harbor), the USS George (named after a posthumous Navy Cross winner in 1942) and the USS Raby (named for a USN Rear Admiral killed in a traffic accident in 1934). The three ships would start near Bougainville Island and begin a run back along the submarines projected course, where they should hopefully bump into each other.
USS England
Shortly after 1300 on the 18th of May the USS England's sonar operator detected a submarine dead ahead and the USS England launched its first Hedgehog salvo at 1341, this was the opening salvo of a remarkable two weeks for the USS England.
The Hedgehog was a multi-barrelled spigot mortar that lobbed 65lb bombs in a pattern ahead of the escort carrying it. These bombs would sink through the water and explode on contact with the submarines hull.
US patten Hedgehog launcher.
Over the next hour five Hedgehog attacks were launched by the USS England, the last one at 1433 was reported to have scored six hits, this was followed by a huge explosion that caused the destroyer escorts hull to rear out of the water. For the rest of the day the three ships continued their search to make sure the sub was destroyed. The next morning, as they had encountered this submarine some twelve hours earlier than expected they continued their sweep looking for the I-16 heading towards Japan for another day.
During that day a US plane flying out of Manus Island spotted a Japanese submarine and launched a failed attack on it. As the USS England and her sisters were close by they were ordered to head to the area and hunt down the submarine. By a sheer coincidence the three US ships were heading in a straight line that would cross the locations of five Japanese submarines. This Submarine Division had been placed in a line to act as a reconnaissance force to spot any US fleet movements.

The first submarine was detected by radar during darkness early in the morning of the 22nd of May. At 0501 The USS England carried out a second Hedgehog attack, scoring three hits on the submarine and destroying it. The following morning at 0600 another submarine was detected on radar. Again, the USS England launched the killing blow scoring twelve hits with her Hedgehog projector. The following morning at 0214 another five hits killed the fourth submarine. Late in the evening on the 26th at 2318 the USS England gained another kill with six hits.
Hedgehog projectiles rain down into the water.
Over the next day or so the three ships docked and resupplied at Manus island then when leaving on the 30th they detected another submarine. For the next 25 hours they tried to get the submarine, however all their efforts were for nought, the submarine briefly surfaced between the USS Raby and USS George to take on air before submerging again. As the submarine was between two ships neither could fire for fear of hitting the other ship.
After several attempts to hit the submerged submarine all failed, the task force commander resignedly radioed "Go ahead England." Of course, the USS England steamed in and fired a single salvo scoring ten hits.

Or at least that's the story according to Wikipedia. There are a few problems with this story that make me doubt parts of it. First let me be clear I am not challenging the claim that the USS England sunk those submarines, indeed it is blindingly clear they achieved this record.

However, lets look at that last submarine, the claim it remained on the surface for five minutes between two ships and neither ship could shoot at it for fear of hitting its allies. The Buckley class are rated at 23 knots, that means each ship is moving at about 629m per minute, and yet neither ship could clear out the way? Another source suggests there were orders to maintain the contact until daylight when the attack could be prosecuted much easier and with reinforcements.

While we're questioning the Wikipedia account let’s look at the claimed number of hits with the Hedgehog. First you need to understand how the Hedgehog works. Each salvo fires twenty-four rounds in a circle. These then sink downward at a rate of about 23 feet per second, if they hit a submarine they detonate. This is important because the sonar of the time could only give you bearing, not depth*. Thus, the rounds comb the entire column of water.
This is the patten fro ma double hedgehog (IE twin mounts) it gives you the idea of the shape of the patten.
Now depending on which mark of Hedgehog launcher the USS England was fitted with the circle would have been either 120 feet long and 140 feet wide, or 180 feet diameter. In the latter case that's one bomb every 718 feet along the circumference, assuming a full spread was launched and there were no blinds, prematures or duds. Discounting the I-16 the Japanese submarines were all 60m, or 199ft long. Yet the Wiki article is claiming up to twelve hits, or half the salvo, in some cases, hit the submarine. I don't need to tell you how suspicious that sounds, as the submarine would need ot be curved like a banana, and a lot longer than it was.

*Which is another strike against the Wiki article considering it talks about depth estimates causing the Hedgehog to miss.

Image credits:
www.ussslater.org and warfarehistorynetwork.com

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Tandem HEAT warhead

In the years prior to the Second World War the Swiss inventor Henry Mohaupt started work on the Munroe effect, and is credited with developing the hollow charge anti-tank projectile. Although this is a bit of a generalization as there were many people thinking along these lines and may have also held the claim. The British Army embraced the idea of the HEAT projectile and began to work with it, resulting in a 2" No. 68 anti-tank grenade. The Germans were not far behind however by now with the war in full swing the British began to see themselves as having a technical advantage over the Germans with this technology.
The No2 68 Grenade was fired from a standard cup discharger on a SMLE.
To this end the British began to work on HEAT projectiles for a quite a few applications. In the spring of 1942 a requirement was issued for hollow charge rounds for all field guns, and both the 3.7" Mountain Gun in service with British and Commonwealth forces in Burma, and the new 95mm Close Support howitzer. The latter was a new infantry gun made from a section of 3.7" AA gun barrel, a modified breech from a 25-pounder and the recoil mechanism from a 6-pounder. As it had the same calibre as the 3.7" howitzer, and would also be a howitzer, the British could not use their conventional naming system. To avoid confusion they metricized it and made the calibre 1mm bigger, giving it the name of Ordnance QF 95mm Howitzer. The same solution was used in later years for the 77mm on the A34 Comet.

A Churchill Mk.V. The tank mounted versions of the 95mm had a counterweight on the muzzle. If you look closely the bottom of the counter weight is flattened. Something quite a lot of people miss.
The 95mm came in two varieties. One fired a fixed round and one a split round. The fixed round version was used in tanks such as the Churchill Mk.V or the Centaur. The split round was designed as an infantry gun but would never see service. It would however be fitted to the Alecto self-propelled gun when it entered its brief service life.
Alecto's in Germany, armed with 95mm's.
The shells designed for both guns met a simple problem, the hollow charge warhead had to be detonated some distance from the targets surface to allow the jet to form, today we call this standoff. In these shells the standoff was calculated at 62.48mm. The fuse had to be at the front of the shell to impact first and trigger the detonation. However, the detonation needed to start at the base of the shell. In between the two was the shaped charge, which needed a hollow cavity to allow the jet to form. In modern shells this is achieved by micro-electronics and a wire, but such technology was not available at the time.

The two options open to the designers were a really long mechanical striker that ran down the centre of the round, or a detonating train. The latter was an explosive line that carried the explosion from the fuse down to the desired location.

At first the simplest option was chosen, the long striker. However, the width had to be limited to avoid interfering with the hollow charge, this meant it was extremely thin and would not function fast enough to maintain the standoff. A detonating train would be very complex and difficult to manufacture to survive even limited muzzle velocities.

In July 1942 a new idea was tried. This involved two hollow charges facing towards each other. The top one facing backwards (towards the base of the shell) was smaller and had a shallow cone angle. This was triggered by a simple direct-action fuse, and it would then fire its jet along the length of the projectile and hit a pellet which initiated the detention of the main hollow charge. Trials were held with a 6.35mm hollow charge, which could trigger the pellet at a range of 1ft. It was found this initial charge could be fired fast enough to avoid the smaller shaped charge being moved out of alignment by the impact of the projectile on the target. This type of charge has been on occasion described as a 'Spitback' fuse, although that is not an official designation.
3.7" howitzer in action in Burma in 1944
When a 3.7" howitzer was used to fire these experimental rounds the penetration of the main charge was found to be very poor, far below expectations. It was suspected that the revolution of the shell was causing problems, and this was confirmed when a test shell was spun up to 12,000rpm when fired. To get around the issue of spin the cone angle was changed from 80 degrees to just 45 degrees and the standoff distance lowered. At this point the requirement for field guns to be able to fire hollow charge shells was dropped but remained for the 3.7" and 95mm.

In the final design the nose charge was aimed to fire down a hollow tube that started at the apex of the 0.08" brass liner. At the base of the hollow tube was the pellet to cause initiation of the main charge. Twenty rounds were manufactured for trials and penetrated 90mm of IT80 plate, sloped at 30 degrees, or 77mm at 44 degrees. A trial production run of 2,000 rounds was ordered, with one small change, the liner was switched to steel. Of these 200 rounds were fired in August 1943 and achieved 110mm of penetration at 30 degrees. Not a single round was a dud, and all functioned perfectly. 
95mm HEAT round, in its fixed version for use in tanks.
 With all in hand main production was started by a different manufacturer of the 95mm HEAT rounds. Immediately problems started as proof testing failed. After fitting the fuses to empty 40mm rounds, and firing them through mild steel plate, which triggered the fuse, it was found that alignments were off due to the new manufacturer forgetting to use gauging properly during the assembly process. Equally the assembly quality was bad with some shells having their nose caps just placed on the round and not pushed home before being welded. The defect with the alignment of the fuse was fixed around May 1944.

In June of the same year a suggestion was made to change the No.233 fuse for a No.243 fuse. This would allow the use of the round on soft targets. However, trials showed that if the round was fired under 2,000 yards it would be a dud.

Problems with the shells continued when a further trial in the first half of 1944 fired 99 shells filled with an inert filling, but a live fuse. It was found that the filling was leaking into the hollow tube that the nose fuse was aimed to fire down. This would absorb the jet and prevent the main charge from detonating.

There is surprisingly little evidence of what happened to the 95mm rounds during 1944, there is no evidence that they were issued in Europe. As the rounds were listed as 'not required for service' in October 1944, it seems unlikely that they were ever issued. My best speculation is that the manufacturing problems persisted and that few, if any, rounds passed proof stages. Thus, the entire project was abandoned.

Image credits:

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Super Conqueror Kryptonite

Have you ever looked back at work you did when younger or looked back at your social media posts from your teen years and thought "What the hell was I thinking?". Well that is me today, and it is time to touch upon a subject we've covered at least three times on here, and this I hope will be the final time. This is also an apology as a young historian I made a mistake.
We are all aware of the "Super Conqueror" that is spreading like wildfire around the internet. Well after seeing it appear, as a model kit after its WOT release, I began to feel a bit like Dr Frankenstein, whose just applied the electrodes, seen his monster lurch to life, stagger down to the local village and now all you can hear is screams and see the glow of a massive fire. At this point I have no idea how to stop it.
 The WOT Super Conqueror is made up of three parts. The hull of a normal Conqueror, a new turret based upon a sketch I found, and a set of spaced armour plates that were employed upon a range target.
In WOT high tier heavy tank was needed. However, on the 4th of July 1946 Britain had officially stopped developing infantry and cruiser tanks and moved all armour development to the Universal Tank. It is also at this date they switched from the old pre-war General Staff numbers (Eg: A.22), to the FV number system. This left WOT with a serious problem and is the reason why they used the FV215 (HT) that they made up for a number of years.
Then I show up with a document that says the hull armour on the Conqueror range target was actually manufactured and would have been fitted for combat.

To get around the issues WOT had, they mashed all the components together and came up with something that could work, they just needed a name. This approach works fine for WOT. Even the model kit that has been produced is fine, as it's meant to be the range target (although the base model is the wrong marque of Conqueror). The recent addition of the range target to other "100% historically accurate" games is a bit more confusing though.

Where did I go wrong then? Well last week, for the first time in four to five years, I was reviewing the documents on the spaced armour with some colleagues over at tanks-encyclopedia.com. It was pointed out that my evidence was a bit suspect. Even at the first glance I could see this was the case. The original claim for the hull plates was in a proposed requirement, not an actual specification. The document on the range target trials did use the same name for the armour plates, which I had latched onto and used it as proof. If I had been a bit more thorough I would have read the entire document and seen the wording at the back.
Simply put there is no evidence that the hull plates were manufactured or built. The text in the trials report implies that the hull plates were built for the trials only. Granted it is only implied, and you could read it to say the hull plates were actually for service. However, I feel that the phrasing indicates this was not the case. Now it maybe that someone will find a document listing the hull plates as produced, but at this time it is looking unlikely they were. I would also be careful about claims otherwise as these hull plates are unlikely to have left much, if any records, even in a fully complete archive, which the UK archives are nowhere near.

These were some of my earliest discoveries. Luckily, these days, I have become more thorough and over the years and learnt better methods of note taking, documenting and cross checking.

Therefore, I can only apologize for the mistake I made when I was younger and impetuous.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

No Big Bang

During 1940 Britain came under sustained bombing from the Luftwaffe. Its widely recognized today that an average of 10% of bombs that were dropped on the UK were duds, often called 'UX' or 'UXB' in reports, this stands for UneXploded Bomb. Today the number of bombs dropped on the UK is generally given in total tonnage of bombs dropped. For example, its often stated that 41,000 tons of bombs were dropped during the Blitz. This does not give a scale of how many bombs were dropped. Keep in mind that most of these would be 250 or 500kg high explosive weapons, with a rather large amount of incendiaries as well. But you've also got bigger 1,000kg mines as well. To give you an idea I posted this picture to my Facebook page a few weeks ago.
It is the bomb census data for the final quarter of 1941. If you look on the right hand page it gives you a number of UXB's by weight of bomb. In October alone, there were 100 UXB's and that isn't including smaller weapons like butterfly bombs or incendiaries. Each one of these had to be attended by a bomb disposal officer. Due to the bravery of these men, and other civilians during the period it was felt that existing medals and awards were insufficient. Thus, in September 1940, the George Cross medal was created.
Lt Andrews
The first award of a George Cross came on the 23rd of September 1940, technically the day before the medal was officially established. The recipient was Second Lieutenant Wallace Launcelot Andrews, for his actions on 26th of August 1940. Lt Andrews had been born in 1908 and was an architect before the war. He was called up in December 1939 and posted to the Royal Engineers. He was commissioned in January 1940. By August he was in command of a bomb disposal section when they were called to a UXB at Croham Hurst Golf Course, Croydon. The bomb was near the aerodrome. On closer inspection of the bomb it was found to have a new type of fuse, which was determined important and requested to be removed intact by the Department of Scientific Research (DSR). Hunched over the bomb Lt Andrews managed to get the fuse extracted about 1.5 inches, when it was pulled inwards by a spring or magnet. Several times attempts were made to pull the fuse, but each time the fuse was pulled back into place. Eventually Lt Andrews moved his section back to what he considered a safe distance, returned to the bomb and tied a string to the fuse discharger. He retired a short distance and gave the string a solid pull, attempting to rip the fuse assembly out of the bomb.
The bomb instantly exploded, hurling Lt Andrews through the air for some distance. Two of his men were also injured by splinters.

There are a great may stories of bomb disposal men working on bombs under incredible circumstances, such as Lieutenant Bertram Stuart Trevelyan Archer who worked on a bomb at the Anglo-Iranian oil storage facility in 1941. It had been hit by a stick of bombs that had all been duds. During the several hours he was working there two of the bombs detonated setting fire to the fuel storage, despite this Lt Archer continued his work.
There is also Doctor Arthur Douglas Merriman, a civilian. Dr Merriman was director at the DSR and would often attend extremely dangerous bombs and work on them. On the 11th of September 1940 at regent street London he attended a bomb. As work began on the bomb it was found impossible to remove the fuse, which then started ticking. This meant the clockwork on the bomb had been activated and after a pre-set, and unknown length of time the bomb would explode. Dr Merriman decided to remove as much of the explosive in the bomb as possible, this would limit the damage the bomb could do. The explosive was solid cast TNT which needed to be steamed to make it softer and pliable at which point it could be removed. As an example of how long this could last a previous bomb that had to be steamed empty had taken well over 12 hours (incidentally the Officer involved in that incident had also won the George Cross). In this case Dr Merriman worked on the bomb for four hours.
He judged the time and explosive perfectly, getting to safety seconds before the bomb exploded. The only damage the bomb caused, when it detonated, were some broken windows.
1000kg Luftmine
The incident that got me thinking about this subject were the actions of Lieutenant Harold Newgass. In November 1940 a 1000kg mine hit the gas works at Garston Gas Works in Liverpool. It was the same type of mine that was washed up earlier this year at Bognor Regis.
Lt Newgass' mine had hit a 4,000,000 cubic feet gas holder and passed through the roof. The parachute was entangled and keeping the mine suspended nose down.
The gas holder which had the mine stuck in it.
A quick explanation of how a gas holder works is in order to explain the situation. There is an island in the middle of the gas holder, this island has water around it allowing gas to be pumped into and out of the holder, with the water acting as a seal (a bit like the U-bend on a sink or toilet). The mine was in the center of the 65m wide holder and resting on the brick island next to one of the supports.
As the mine was inside a gas rich atmosphere no sparks could be allowed, so there was no form of illumination. Equally the atmosphere was such that a normal gas mask wouldn't work, and so Lt Newgass had to use breathing apparatus from the fire brigade, a piece of equipment he had no experience with. Finally, the fire brigade only had six bottles of air, each rated for thirty minutes. However, Lt Newgass would be using air much faster than normal due to the extreme exertion. Even just getting to the mine involved him wading through about 30m of waist, or even chest deep oily water. If he overestimated how long he had spent on the device there was no hope of him getting to safety quickly and he would be asphyxiated.
Lt Newgass
It took two days for Lt Newgass to defuse the bomb. The first three bottles of air were used on the first day to assess the situation, transport his equipment and secure and brace the mine. The second day he returned and encountered his first problem, the fuse access panel for the mine was resting against one of the steel supports for the gas holder. Lt Newgass had to rotate the mine, by hand, and if there was the slightest spark from the metal surfaces rubbing against each other, he and the surrounding area were going to vanish in a massive explosion.
No tragedy struck, and Lt Newgass was able to remove the fuse and detonators while using bottle number four. However, these mines also had a backup hydrostatic clock fitted. So, using his fifth cylinder of air Lt Newgass returned and removed the keep ring for this device, and rendered the bomb safe.

Image credits:

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Busy Week

I'm sure there's a scientific theory somewhere which describes this phenomenon, but as you will most likely know I got made redundant a few weeks back. After two-three weeks unemployed I started back at my old job (with worse hours, I now do a 56 hour week). During that unemployed period I had nothing to do. The same day I started back to work I was contacted by two different companies I work for, and they asked for three pieces of work between them, oh and can two of them be done by next Monday please?
This meant I was unable to get an article finished for this week, so I've got to improvise a little bit, but I think you will like it. Next week will be back to normal.

First off, you'll remember a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the British assessment of the T-64. Well how well did they do? I showed the article to a Russian expert I know and he pointed out one glaring flaw. The glacis plate was actually under estimated by 105mm. Which by a curious coincidence is almost the same thickness as the fuel tank (110mm) that the British designers put there. They had to place the fuel tank there as there was no where else to put the fuel required for the gas turbine they thought fitted. Which was a bit of an error, equally the drivers position was nowhere near as bad as the British imagined.

Now onto the fun and games for today. Keeping with the theme of intelligence assessments of British Vs Russian cold war tanks, I give you a report on how the two equipments hold up:
page 1

Page 2
Page 3

So once again I'm sorry for the lack of article, and we'll be back to normal next week.

Sunday, May 27, 2018


Late in the day of 6th July 1941, No 75 (NZ) Squadron Wellington Mk.Is took off from RAF Feltwell. Their target for tonight was Munster. The Germans had just launched their invasion of Russia, and Munster was a major transport hub. By striking it the British hoped to relieve pressure on the Russians.
As they plunged through the darkness the crews were struck, and more than a little relived, by how little enemy action there was. No night fighters, only a handful of search lights and just a few bursts of flak. They arrived at Munster and bombed the target, the city looked like it was in flames. On board one of the Wellingtons the pilot of the bomber circled the city so the crew could see what was going on. The pilot was Wing Commander R. P. Widdowson, whom was also the Squadron Commander, and his second pilot was Sergeant James Allen Ward. 
Sgt Ward
After Wg Cdr Widdowson had seen how the battle his squadron was engaged in had progressed they set course for home. Crossing the Zuider Zee Sgt Ward was standing with his head in the astrodome, keeping an eye out. Suddenly he spotted the first German resistance of the night, the shadow of a lone ME110 was closing from port. Sgt Ward keyed his intercom to warn of the impending attack. However, the intercom had broken in the previous few hours and no one had realized. The German plane raked the bomber with its cannon, spraying red hot shrapnel everywhere and fracturing a fuel line in the wing causing the fuel line to catch fire.
Wg Cdr Widdowson threw the plane into a dive to escape, at the same time Pilot Officer A. R. J. Box in the rear turret returned fire. This wild burst scored several hits on the ME110, and it was seen spiralling out of control. When the plane levelled out they followed the course of the Dutch coast to see how the fire would develop. Two of the crew were wounded by shrapnel, the nose gunner and Sgt Ward.

The crew attempted to put the fire out, first they smashed a hole in the side of the Wellington trying to get to the fire with a fire extinguisher, however their efforts were in vain. Next the crew tried throwing coffee from their thermos flasks at the fire, this did improve matters slightly by damping down the fabric around the wing but didn't extinguish the flames.
The damage to the Wellington after it landed at base.
The crew by now had decided to risk crossing the channel. At this point Sgt Ward volunteered to climb out of the astrodome hatch and crawl out to the fire to extinguish it. A rope was retrieved from the dinghy and tied around Sgt Wards chest, he tried to climb out the hatch, however it was very narrow and he wanted to take his parachute off. The crew refused to let him, and so he tried again and squeezed out. He was now sitting on the roof of the Wellington's cockpit while it was doing somewhere between 100-200mph. Sgt Ward then put the Wellington’s geodesic construction to good use, he kicked holes in the fabric and used the structure to stand on. Like this he made his way down to the wing. He was carrying a large cloth cockpit cover to help him smother the fire. However, it kept being caught by the wind and threatened to blow him off the plane. When he reached the wing, he began to crawl along it using holes made by the German's attack, and new holes he tore in the fabric himself. He was unable to stay close to the wing as his parachute was on his chest and this allowed the howling wind to get underneath him, once lifting him away and slamming him back into the wing. Eventually he managed to reach the engine and was now exposed to the full blast of the back draft from the propeller, but he carried on.
Sgt Ward's route along the wing of the plane
Sgt Ward got to the hole where the fuel and fire was coming from and tried to stuff the cover into it to smoother the flames and clog the fuel pipe. The second he let go the cover caught in the air flow and ripped away. Sgt Ward managed to grab the cover and dragged it back and rammed it back in the hole. Again, the wind tore it away instantly and although Sgt Ward grasped at it, he missed and the cover was gone.

The fire from the fuel pipe was now contained. There was nothing that could catch fire near the flames and so Sgt Ward made the difficult journey back to the cockpit. He was so exhausted by his journey he had to be hauled the last foot or so and into the cabin by the rest of the crew. As the Wellington neared the English coast the flames suddenly flared up, a small pool of fuel had collected inside the wing and had caught. Fortunately, this quickly died down again.

The German attack had also damaged the hydraulics which meant the landing gear was stuck and had to be hand pumped down. Instead of landing at RAF Feltwell, Wg Cdr Widdowson decided to land at Newmarket where there was a much longer landing strip. After circling the airfield Wg Cdr Widdowson radioed to the tower "We’ve been badly shot up. I hope we shan’t mess up your flare-path too badly when we land."
The Wellington thumped into the runway, and rolled forwards, it seems likely the brakes were also damaged as she rolled right off the end of the runway and came to rest in a barbed wire perimeter to the runway. Luckily no one was injured.

Sgt Ward was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions. Unfortunately, Sgt Ward would not survive the war, in September of that year his bomber was shot down by flak and Sgt Ward was killed.

Image credits:
 For more on Sgt Ward's exploits, see this page, it contains some new pictures I'd not seen before.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

I spy a T-64!

Earlier in the week I took advantage of the fact I was made redundant and went to visit an archive. Whilst there I saw a document that I thought might be of interest. It is a technical assessment of the brand new Soviet tank, the T-64. Here is what the British thought the T-64 performance would be like. This is what the British were able to speculate from the intelligence sources they had, and these intelligence sources are varied and seem to have gone right to the heart of Soviet tank design.
"What's that? No I'm not British. Comradski!"
In September and October 1976 large numbers of a new Soviet tank were seen being issued to Group of Soviet Forces Germany (GSFG). The British had information about the T-72, and its planned introduction, and so thought this new tank was the T-72. This tank obviously sparked the British interest, especially as a large amount of information was being presented. Because of this excess of information, the Military Vehicle Experimental Establishment (MVEE) was tasked with creating a paper in December 1976. This paper involved the work of two British intelligence groups, the Technical Information (Army) and the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre.  MVEE had finished the paper by June, but were soon to be back at work as in November it was announced that the T-72 would take part in the Moscow Parade that year. The pictures immediately caused a concern, as all the agencies expected to see the tank they had identified beforehand, but it wasn't. It looked different. Initially these two tanks were known as the "GSFG T-72" and the "Moscow T-72", but intelligence data quickly identified the "GSFG T-72" as the T-64.
TI(A) and MVEE drew up a fully detailed 1/10 scale plan of the tank based on measurements from photographs. The internals were worked out from a variety of sources including defectors and a photograph of a turret trainer. The latter would have been used in class rooms to help instruct crew. How the British got a hold of this picture is an interesting question, as it seems that at least someone in tank design, or tank training school was spying for the British.
The turret trainer
Equally the British received a pair of recordings of the engine noises of the T-64. They analysed these and found out that most of the noises were in the high frequency range of 4000-80000 Hz. This, it was worked out, corresponded to a gas turbine engine with twenty compressor blades producing 800hp with a shaft rotation speed of between 12000 and 48000rpm. The British speculated that it might be a modified version of a MI-24 Hind engine that had been fitted to a tank. There were other sounds on the tapes that indicated an auxiliary power unit was fitted, which was a 6 cylinder four stroke engine running at 4000rpms producing some 75hp. This it was expected could be used when the tank was snorkelling to propel the tank at 0.5mph to cross the river.
But no T-64 was actually fitted with a gas turbine, so the likely source for these tapes is the Object 219, which was a prototype T-80. This would indicate that someone within the Soviet tank design departments was actually spying for the British, as a secret Object test bed vehicle isn't likely to be driving down the main road regularly enough for a spy to position themselves to make a recording.

This tape and the subsequent analysis did lead to some knock-on effects in the British version of the T-64. Due to a gas turbines high fuel consumption the British loaded the tank down with extra fuel to maintain a 500km radius of operation. This was achieved with some 920L of fuel in external tanks, which the British could see and measure. These due to the way they were linked by exposed fuel lines were considered for movement use, and not for combat use.  A further 360L was stored in the engine compartment, while a final fuel tank was placed on the drivers left hand side holding 1400L.

The drivers position was another oddity. While it was reported as having power steering the position was deemed to be very uncomfortable. This was ascertained by using the position of the episcopes the driver would use to see out of his tank while closed down. This in turn meant that the British knew where the drivers head would have been, and then using the "Soviet 95 percentile" of height (which meant that 95% of Soviet males would be close to this height), worked out how much space would be needed. The Soviet 95% figure was 5ft, 6in. The only place the foot pedals could be placed was on the nose plate, however the leading suspension arm’s torsion bar had to run through that space. This meant the pedals had to be placed higher up the nose plate than would be normal. It meant that the driver had to assume a hunched half crouch while reclining on the seat. It also meant that a set of duplicate pedals had to be installed for when the driver was unbuttoned. As well as the fuel tank the British designers placed some eight spare rounds of ammunition in the drivers compartment.
The loading arms removed for auto-loader maintenance.
The British also knew about the auto-loader mechanism as some photographs showed the loading arms of the auto-loader removed during maintenance. These, along with pictures of the ammunition, allowed the British to manufacture a loading arm to the same design as the Russian one and work out how it fitted into the tank. They estimated the ready ammunition would be between 28-30 rounds. The 125mm smoothbore gun was presumed to assume a loading position automatically after each shot and would have about 450mm of recoil travel. Total vertical movement of the gun was given as -5 to +16 degrees.
The copy of the loading arm the British built. In the left hand one you can see one of the wooden rounds that were also constructed.

The wooden rounds
Although the gun came with a thermal sleeve it was noted to lack a muzzle reference device which would affect the accuracy of the gun. The gunners primary sight was a variant of the TPN-1-21-11 sight with an optical rangefinder across the turret although no sign of a laser range finder was present at the moment it was expected to arrive on later models. The commander had at his disposal a TKN-3 day/night sight, with an assumed ability for hunter-killer automatic laying. All vision devices, including the drivers were deemed to be IR types, which needed active illumination by IR searchlights.

The armour was measured for the turret by taking the space needed for the internal layout and deleting it from the external dimensions. This gave a raw thickness. The report stated that there was no sign of any "Chobham style special armour” and suggested that the use of electroslag remelt was possible. In fact the T-64 had aluminium cores to its armour to save weight, while the T-64A had high hardness steel up until 1976 when corundum-ball inserts were used.

To assist with the hull armour values the report stuck with a Soviet standard of using some 50% of the total tank weight for armour. This figure is a bit of a pain to us in the modern day as we don't know what the total weight the British were using. Combat or loaded weight? But in comparison a Leopard 1 has 39% of its combat weight as armour, but a massive 57% of its empty weight. Equally one source I have has about 25% of the total weight of a Chieftain as armour but fails to mention what state the tank would be in when this was measured. However, it made sense to the British of the time as they knew what they meant. From that they came out with the following armour values for the hull:
Due to the turrets shape it was trickier to map, so MVEE took the simple route and sliced the turret into 100mm sections and plotted those thicknesses.
Cross sections of the turret showing armour thickness.
Because of the small wheels and torsion bar suspension hidden behind the wheels the side hull was seen as vulnerable to chemical anti-tank warheads such as HEAT, for this reason a series of paddles were fitted to the hull. These could be swung out a few degrees cover an arc of about 25 degrees with spaced armour. These were thought to be quite light steel and sprung so that they would be able to swing out of the way of a tree then spring back into position.
"Ulybka dlya britanskogo shpiona tovarishcha."
Other speculated protective features included a potential radiological sensor that would fire small charges upon detecting a nuclear bomb detonation, these charges would automatically close all the grills and louvres on the tank. In addition, an over-pressure NBC system was fitted, however the crew would wear grey NBC suits and individual gas masks.

The T-64 was seen as a step up in Soviet tank design, as well as abandoning their tried and tested technique of re-using the same components over and over again. Despite this it failed to meet the current Western standards. For example, the West were designing Chobham style armour into their tanks, and fitting thermal vision as standard, while the Soviets were still using IR. Equally on items like the NBC system, on British tanks a common air feed was provided to the crew stations meaning the crew could plug into air supplied from the tanks NBC pack, meaning a constant supply of clean cooled air was available to help with crew discomfort. In addition the drivers position was seen as particularly awful.