Ride the Lightning…

Given the topic we’re about to invade, listen to this video while reading.

Germany during the time of WW1 had substandard tank production due to the fact that they were focusing on anti-tank weaponry and tactics (such as the K bullet), but still lost.

However, Germany learned from their mistake and would in 12 years re-arm to modernize the way tanks were used on the battlefield, quickly becoming a mechanized forced to be reckoned with up until US intervention.

When Hitler came to power in 1934, he violated the Treaty of Versailles by remilitarizing and occupying the Rhineland industrial region of Germany and had the factories begin to produce war material, namely tanks such as these two examples which would later serve a founding role as part of the Blitzkrieg style of warfare and would also serve as the basis for a new type of tank when their use as a conventional tank was rendered obsolete, the Tank Destroyer or Assault Gun.

These were both light tanks, and would form the initial point of the Blitzkrieg spear, supplemented by other elements such as reconnaissance vehicles, infantry, air support…even tanks from countries Germany had annexed, such as Czechoslovakia.

 

1024px-panzerkampfwagen_i_ausf_a
A Panzerkamfwagen I Ausf. A, produced 1934-1945
panzeriisaumur
A Panzerkamfwagen II or Panzer II, produced 1936-1945

 

 

The first 3 divisions of Germany’s Panzerwaffe–the German tank regiments–were formed in 1936, and was used alongside the Luftwaffe–the German air force–as a testbed for tactics during the Spanish Civil War, when they were deployed to swat down any opposition to Francisco Franco’s rise to power as dictator. The tactics used were “shock and awe” in nature, whereby one were to attack with such swiftness and ferocity so as to quickly destabilize an enemy before they could retaliate. In the case of the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, the latter would quickly bomb out an area while the former rushed in with fast vehicles and heavy armor to lock down vast ranges of territory.

Much of these tactics were designed by General Heinz Guderian (pictured below), who had a vision of an army of combined arms–where all of the elements of a military, such as infantry, naval, and air forces and not just tanks, would be utilized. However, the Panzer would still serve as the primary force to perform the Blitzkrieg.

Bild 101I-139-1112-17
Heinz Guderian

 

 

 

So, you may be wondering, “So how well did this tactic work early on?”

Well, here is what happened in history.

  • Spain: Lasted from 17 June 1936 – 1 April 1939 (according to Wikipedia: 2 years, 8 months, 2 weeks, and 1 day.)
    • Note that Germany was not directly involved in this fight, but was involved through  the Condor Legion, which comprised of Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht volunteers
  • Poland: Lasted from 1 September 1939-October 6 1939 (according to Wikipedia, 1 month and 5 days)
    • Did not help that Poland was torn apart from both sides by Germany (west) and the Soviet Union (east) due to the Non-Aggression Pact
  • France: Lasted May 10 1940- 25 June 1940 (according to Wikipedia, 1 month and 15 days)
    • The French thought they could delay the Germans long enough through the construction of the Maginot Line, the Germans responded by storming through the Ardennes and completely bypassing the French lines.
    • Britain was forced to cross back across the English Channel in panic, leaving behind equipment

 

 

Now that I have your attention….

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So you want to start a Blitzkrieg eh? Well take a gander at this step by step instruction on how to quickly become the most feared man/woman/entity in Europe.

 

How To Blitzkrieg aka “How do I start a War with Style ?”

You need to have these before hand:

  1. Communications, communications, communications!
    • In order to make this work, you need to have complete, clear, and precise communications with all commanders in the German army, everyone has to be on the same page.
  2. Be fast and have the element of surprise (be very sneaky)
    • Its called a Lightning War for a reason, dummkopf.
  3. Military assets and party favors to wage war with!
    • This includes infantry divisions, air support (Stukas Divebombers), fast vehicles, and tanks….you know, the military.

Procedure:

  1. Put several squads of your infantry on fast vehicles, such as motorcycles, Kubelwagens, and or armored cars with good radios and maps.
    • These will be your scouts, the eyes and ears of your Blitzkrieg
    • Supplement these scouts with artillery or air support spotters
  2. Send your scouts into enemy territory
    • If your scouts see any threats, have them report it and get them to move deeper and deeper into enemy territory, no bathroom breaks (that means no stopping)
      • It is imperative that your scouts do not stop moving forward otherwise the Blitzkrieg will not occur
  3. Have your back-line commanders assess the threats reported by the forward scouts
    • Their only 2 choices should be: Destroy or Ignore, before moving on
    • If a threat is considered large enough to attack, then proceed to step 4
  4. Attack!
    • Using the combined forces of your military force, move forward, apply overwhelming firepower upon target and steam-roll it
    • After you punch a hole in the enemy line, have another part of your military force attack the rear line, avoiding all main threats and creating havoc, use your mechanized troops to wipe up any resistance.
  5. Put your army back on its original course and repeat until victory
    • Remember, DO. NOT. STOP.

Congratulations, you have succeeded in becoming feared in all of Europe. Let’s hope your friend doesn’t screw up the moment somewhere in Africa.

 

 

Sources used:

http://tanks.net/tank-history/tank-development-between-two-world-wars.html

http://tanks.net/tank-history/german-panzer-heydays-of-world-war-two.html

http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/blitzkrieg

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/blitzkrieg_01.shtml

Some images courtesy of Know Your Meme and Wikipedia

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A tour of the WW1 section of Bovington

So here’s the deal: We could be talking about WW1 tanks all  up until the cows come home, and that’s not going to help us at all. Questions I’m expecting would be:

  • Did the Germans have any tanks to combat the Allied advantage? If so how many were produced?
  • Were there any other tanks designed by the British?

As a result of time constraints, here is a video of the Bovington Tank Museum’s WW1 exhibit, by The Mighty Jingles.

The Revolution: The Renault FT

The overall mediocre success of the CA1 and the Saint-Chamond forced the French military to look for another tank to fill in the role. Specifically, they needed a tank that was light, maneuverable (by WW1 standards), and could be built in such vast quantities to the point where you can easily overwhelm the enemy with them. A man named Louis Renault, 1 of 3 brothers who helped found one of France’s premier automobile companies, stepped up to the plate. The result as seen below.

bovington-tank-museum-renault-ft-17-51333
The Renault FT, this particular specimen is on display at the Bovington Tank Museum

The Renault FT was designed by Renault Auto Group (The same car company still exists today), and forever revolutionized the way tanks were setup and built.

So how is this tank considered revolutionary? Well, consider the layout below:

 

renaultft-17tankinternallayoutdiagram

  • In a regular WW1 Tank, the engine and fuel storage could be ANYWHERE but the back, frequently leading to engine fires and the crew being burnt alive when those fuel tanks were struck
    • Solution by the Renault FT: The Engine and Fuel Storage was placed in the back, the crew was placed in front.
  • There were no true turrets in the early WW1 tanks, and the side sponsons of your typical Mark tank or the CA1 had little gun coverage
    • Solution: A fully 360 degree rotating turret at the top (because this was a light tank designed to swarm, the Renault FT was armed with either a machine gun or 37mm gun as its sole armament)

Here is a video lecture by David Fletcher at the Bovington Tank Museum:

 

Satisfied, the French army first deployed this tank in 1918 at the battle at Forêt de Retz and took part in all French fighting during and up to the end of WW1. Over 3,000 of Renault FTs were built, many more licensed and unlicensed copies were built by countless countries after the war, the tank saw service to as far as 1948 by the Egyptians in the Arab-Israeli War. The tank’s layout and design was quoted by one historian as “the first modern tank”, because it influenced all tank development even to this day.

In the US, a licensed modified copy of the Renault FT (known in US armories as the M1917) formed the basis of the US armored force in WW1 (because we did not have any tanks and were severely under-equipped), with 4,440 ordered but 950 produced.

There was one captain in the US military who believed that the tank would never be a thing, during WW1 he became the leader of the first US tank corps operating M1917s and would later distinguish himself as a general in WW2 as a tank commander, and his nickname was Old Blood and Guts.

Still don’t recognize him? It was George S Patton.

Another video for your leisure by R. Lee Ermey (Keep an eye on the video at 2:35 to 11:37)

 

 

Sources used:

http://tanks.net/world-war-one-tanks/renault-ft-17-light-tank.html

http://tanks.net/tank-history/world-war-one-french-tanks.html

https://www.onwar.com/weapons/afv/data/Renault-FT.htm

http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww1/fr/renault_ft.php

French Tank Development during WW1

French tank development began shortly after the creation of Little Willie, but the one thing to note about French tank development was that the French were not designing their tanks under one ministry like their British allies, rather all of their designs were being produced by multiple little committees and companies that competed with one another for resources. This led to two things:

  1. French tank development was wild and chaotic, because of the amount of competition and design differences from the different committees.
  2. Tank development in France had arguably more innovation than the British, you had radically different tank designs from France than in Britain–who derive most of their designs on variations of the Marks series.

Out of all of the companies, one came to be the forefront of early French tank development, the Schneider company. Within 2 weeks of introducing the concept to a French artillery officer, the chief engineer at Schneider designed the Char d’Assaut (Assault Tank) Schneider CA1 (Shown below)

schneider_char_dassaut_french_tank_first_word_war

Though the CA1 was for the most part a riveted metal box with guns, at least the French had put some functional style into it compared to say Little Willie and the German A7V, aside from the standard armament of the 75mm gun short barreled gun on the right side flanked by machine guns, the front of the tank was slanted with a metal rebar to cut through barbed wire, and was able to carry 6 men.

Remember when I said that the French had multiple companies and committees all vying for resources/funding? Another tank was developed shortly after the CA1 by FAMH–a competitor to Schneider, originally designed to be partly based on the CA1 but was blocked by the designer of the aforementioned tank due to patents, known as the Saint-Chamond Heavy Tank (shown below):

char_st_chamond_tank

This thing was similar to the CA1 in weapons loadout (1 75mm and 4 machine guns), but it was  larger, delicate, and more unwieldy in rough terrain (look at how small the suspension/track was compared to the rest of the tank!), often breaking down and leaving its 9 man crew dead in the water.

Unfortunately, both of these tanks were not successful in on the front and production for both stopped, the few remaining remained in service throughout the war.

***This does not mean however, that the French stopped tank development outright, in 1916 the French would later produce a tank whose design would forever revolutionize the way tanks were built and set the standard for all tanks all the way to today, more in the next post.***

Sources used:

http://tanks.net/world-war-one-tanks/schneider-ca1-heavy-tank.html

http://tanks.net/world-war-one-tanks/saint-chamond-heavy-tank.html

http://tanks.net/tank-history/world-war-one-french-tanks.html

https://www.onwar.com/weapons/afv/data/Schneider-CA1.htm

http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww1/fr/ww1-char_saint_chamond.php

British Tank Development during WW1

Due to overconfidence by British command, the Mark series of tanks had mixed success on the battlefield. Incidents such as the Battle of Arras–where a combination of bad weather, horrifically bombed out terrain and lack of combined arms coordination led to below average performance by the tank brigades assigned to breach the entrenched German lines–and the 3rd Battle of Ypres–which occurred for similar reasons–cemented the and emphasized on the fact that the British were still new to tank warfare and required more specialized tanks to support the other assault elements (infantry, artillery etc.)

 

After the Battle of Ypres, the British began to improve their tactics in addition to creating specialized variants of their tanks to address a wide variety of conditions:

Improvements in Tactics:

  • 1917 near town of Cambrai: 447 British tanks attacked German lines.
    • Before the attack, artillery began a shorter than usual barrage so as to not create so many craters so the tanks had an easier time traversing terrain.
    • The Allies were able to gain an extraordinary 7 miles of land, but were unable to hold it because the tank brigades had taken so many hits that the occupying forces were left with no support.
      • During WW1, it was extremely common to lose many lives in order to gain and lose (at most) up to a few feet of land, such was life in the trenches.
    • Effect: This led to increased interest in tank design and improvements in combined arms tactics, whereby all elements of a military force worked together in an assault or defensive maneuver. Many of these new developments would form the foundation of armored warfare–and would be used and modified–up until the Cold War.

Specialized Tanks:

  • The First World War also produced a need for mobile artillery, where you combined powerful fixed artillery with the treads of a tank, alleviating logistics because you can now move entire artillery pieces without having to assemble them on site
    • This was particularly important because aircraft were also in their infancy, being used as spotters to look for stationary gun emplacements, once the gun emplacements were spotted the planes would transmit via 1 way radio signal back to the artillery emplacements to fire on those coordinates.
      • On a related note: Aerial dogfights came about when planes were sent to shoot down the spotter planes.
    • New development: Self-Propelled Guns (SPG)
    • The British developed the Gun Carrier Mark 1, based on the chassis of the Mark 1 tank (shown below)gun_carrier_mark_i
  • Combat Engineering Vehicles (Both the British and French did this)
    • The conditions of the WW1 battlefields combined with tank innovation naturally led to the development of vehicles designed with the sole purpose of either digging new trenches, laying bridges, carrying large and heavy loads, mine clearance, and to salvage other tanks that were lost in No Man’s Land.
      mark_iv_salvage_tank_first-world-war
      a Mark IV Salvage Tank

      ***A thing to keep note: Do you wonder why all of the British tanks were largely the same? That’s because all tank development was put under the authority of one the Landship Committee, and all design decisions/resources were put through the same minds, same criteria, and same approval. I.E. British Tank Development was largely centralized under one ministry.

Sources used:

http://tanks.net/tank-history/british-tank-development-during-world-war-one.html

http://tanks.net/tank-history/world-war-one-british-tanks-initially-not-very-successful.html

http://www.militair.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=3292 (for Mark 1 Gun Carrier picture)

Sidetracks: The Mark 2

After the Mark 1 there were various improvements to the basic model,  such as the Mark 2, but the Mark 2s had thinner armor alongside the Mark 3, and were deployed with overconfidence by the British military. The Mark 2 was used mostly for training purposes, only 50 were built.

But on a personal note: Who in their right mind would put the fuel storage of an armored vehicle in the FRONT, where they would be shot at the most? And why were the escape hatches so difficult access?

Video lecture courtesy of David Fletcher of the Bovington Tank Museum.

Supplementary Source:

http://tanks.net/world-war-one-tanks/mark-ii-and-mark-iii-heavy-tanks.html

Big Willie and Trial by Fire

Although Little Willie satisfied the requirements set forth by the Landship Committee, there were still improvements to be done. As a result, engineers designed a new tank based on new criteria put by the War Office. The resulting prototype was affectionately called “Big Willie” (shown below).

big-willie-mother-tank

Big Willie had quite a few differences and improvements from its predecessor, namely it had tracks that ran all the way around the hull, and also had sponsons–half turrets located on the side of the vehicle–carrying a 6-pdr gun, in addition to a rear set of wheels to improve steering capabilities (only slightly though, remember that these things were SLOW), and was capable of carrying 8 men.

Satisfied, the British immediately called for the construction of 100 Mark 1 Tanks (these were production models of Big Willie) which later increased to 150.

In a ratio of 50/50, the Mark I was divided into genders, where the gender of the tank determined its weapon loadout:

  • Male tanks were merely copies of Big Willie, armed with a pair of 6-pdr guns and machine guns.
    • Designed to spearhead breaches into German lines and destroy emplacements
  • Female tanks, on the other hand were armed with heavy machine guns and regular machine guns
    • These were designed to support and protect the infantry, who would often use them as cover.

Initial Battle Reports:

The first tank offensive had mixed results. Because the tank was still in its infancy, the tank crews were largely inexperienced and had little training. Several tanks were destroyed outright by enemy shelling.

However, this did not mean that the tank was unsuccessful as a design. There were at least 2 incidents where Mark 1s were successful on the battlefield:

  1. In 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, 3 Mark 1s were successful in overrunning a German machine gun emplacement, with the German soldiers posted there running in terror at the sight of the armored-metal-boxes-with-guns coming at them.
  2. Another Mark 1 tank,  Crème de Menthe, was successful in supporting a British raid on a German-occupied factory.

Conditions inside of the tanks were extremely harsh, here were the reasons why:

  1. The inside of the tank was hot
  2. The crew was constantly choking on exhaust fumes, carbon monoxide, and cordite from weapons fire.
  3. The armor plating was extremely thin (12mms of armor at maximum), and were riveted rather than welded or cast
    • a) The reason why this is harsh is because weapons fire directed at the tank could hit the rivets, dislodging them and causing them to bounce around inside the crew compartment, often injuring or outright killing the crew, a mere bounce could be dangerous.
      • b) To combat this, tank crews often wore medieval style chainmail/leather, which was heavy and cumbersome.
  4. There was inadequate ventilation of any of these tanks.

Combining the above conditions, many of these tanks were knocked out or rendered inoperable simply because the crew fainted from the lack of air and extreme heat.

Here is a video lecture by David Fletcher of the Bovington Tank Museum on the Mark 1

 

 

 

Sources used:

http://tanks.net/tank-history/first-tanks-in-battle.html

http://tanks.net/tank-history/the-first-tank.html

http://tanks.net/world-war-one-tanks/mark-i-heavy-tank-big-willie-mother.html