Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Schwimmpanzer 36

In the middle of the week I once again put a quiz up on my Facebook page. The question was "What is this?" As several of you guessed its body armour, but for what animal? Answer after the article.
On 26th of February, 1936 a report was filed by the British intelligence agencies about some alarming information coming out of Germany. It was the development of amphibious tanks. The report caught the British a bit by surprise as at the time the only tank type the Germans were known to own was the Panzer I.

The report describes several incidents of amphibious tanks collected from sources throughout Austria and Germany. In the first report in 1932 an Austrian source said that the Germans had built a very good amphibious tank, and that two versions of it were in store at Kummersdorf. During the next two years continued reports came out about an amphibious tank designed by the German equivalent of the British War Office. These reports named the firms involved, Krupp, M.A.N., Bussing and Magirus. However all mention of the vehicle suddenly stopped and it seemed to drop off the radar.
Maybe the mystery tank was an early Tauchpanzer?
Then in 1935 a report arrived of the German navy carrying out tests at Kiel of an amphibious tank that travelled 1.5 miles to shore from its launching point. This report gave the vehicle statistics; it was described as 6.5 ton in weight, with 22mm of armour and propelled by a 75 hp engine, giving it a top speed of 28 mph. Dimensions were listed as 20.5 feet in length. A 47mm gun and machine gun were mounted in a turret, and it had a crew of 5 men.
Both the screw and rudder are under armour, and tank can switch to water mode in about 5 minutes, without the crew needing to leave the vehicle. It was also described as a wheel-cum-track machine.

Upon reading the performance of the vehicle the British were intrigued, and a bit worried! At the time the standard British tank was the Vickers Medium MKII, although the Medium MKIII had been prototyped. This strange Panzer had better armour, the same fire-power, was faster and amphibious. All in a smaller package.
However not all everyone was convinced with one technical expert saying:

"It is surprising that these tanks are also wheel-cum-track machines as this adds extra complication and weight in addition to the screw and rudder.
The length of 20 feet, 6 inches is greater than one would expect of a 6 ton tank and the 22mm of armour could only be in a few places around the turret.
If the data given is correct then the tanks must be a wonderful achievement in design.
Frankly we do not believe that this information is correct in every detail.
Perhaps a Panzerspähwagen Schildkröte?
Pretty scary stuff for a nation surrounded by water. However with modern research we can actually make a good guess as to what this tank actually is. It also highlights, I would hope, the difference between reality and the strange world intelligence departments live in.

First the tank is in fact an armoured car, hence the confusion about the wheel-cum-track. Even then the number of road wheels was wrong with 10 being reported, but the vehicle having only eight.
The mysterious vehicle was, I think,  the very German named "Mannschaftstransportwagen I", from now on referred to by its initials "MTW".

Several of the factors in the reports tie up nicely with the historical record. The vehicle was first designed in the very late 1920's. It had a five man crew, a turret with a 37mm gun, and the screw was under armour. One of the reports says it was powered by a 100 hp engine, which is the same power the engine on the MTW had.
Equally the list of firms while not a perfect match, do have some similarities. Especially the involvement of Magirus. The armour however is wrong with the MTW having 13.5mm all the way round. That is however, still better than British tanks of the period. Also remember the source that is supplying this information wouldn't have had time to measure or take notes, instead they would have had to measure by eyeball and then remember. Anyone who has dealt with getting eye witness reports will tell you how fun that can be.
Plans for the MTW's turret.
For me the final proof is the fact the MTW seemed to disappear for a while. According to various sources it was in Russia being put through its tests, then returned to Germany for more tests, where it was spotted and at least semi-correct details were passed on to the British.

militarymodels.co.nz, www.wehrmacht-history.com and MadestCat from the EU server

Special tanks to MadestCat, for providing details and photographs.

Quiz answer:
Earlier I asked What is this body armour for? The answer is, a Sheep. You might of course be wondering why anyone would design and make body armour for a Sheep.
In 1956 the Admiralty were investigating how to protect personnel from underwater explosions. The idea of a Rubazote suit and abdominal guard was floated, and was trailed by building a suit for a sheep and placing it in the water with an explosive charge. The system failed to work.