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Friday, August 21, 2009

Heavy metal highlights

I was down in London for a family wedding last weekend. I had some time on my hands before my return journey on the Monday, so I hooked up with a friend and we paid a visit to the Imperial War Museum. I've only been to the IWM once before, many years ago. I had less time on that visit than the couple of hours at my disposal on Monday and I didn't have a digital camera then either, naturally enough. Here are a few of the pictures from that Monday afternoon.

Me with the famous 15" naval guns in the background

Panzerjäger V Jadgpanther

The information panel at the IWM and the wiki article both note that "many military historians consider the Jagdpanther to be the best tank destroyer" of WW2. This is an opinion I share:
  • Its 88mm L/71 main armament was simply the best gun in its class in the entire war, able to destroy any Allied tank at any range (L/71 means that the gun barrel is 71 calibre lengths long, ie. 71x88mm= ~6.25m; the longer a gun in calibre lengths the greater the muzzle velocity its shells achieve; the greater the muzzle velocity of solid AP shot the greater its penetration).
  • The thick and well-sloped armour gave the Jagdpanther one of the best defence profiles of any AFV to see action.
  • It was also fast, with good cross country performance.
The Jagdtiger was better armoured and had a more powerful gun, but was far less mobile and therefore easier to deal with; and the Tiger is more famous, naturally enough. Still, I would have to say that an encounter with a Jagdpanther would probably've offered the worst chance of survival for Allied tankers, especially in the infamously vulnerable tanks of the Anglo-American armoured divisions in Normandy and beyond during 1944-45.

Given all that, just imagine the bollock-shrinking fear of the Cromwell crew in Normandy whose tank came out from behind cover to find this very specimen right in front of them. Imagine too their sheer relief when their puny OQF 75mm scored several quick penetrations in the weaker side armour- picture above left, to put the Jagdpanther out of action.

Readers the slightest bit familiar with modern ground warfare will know that AFV's are disadvantaged in urban settings because buildings constrain their movement and their fire arcs. AFV's with fixed mount weapons, like the Jagdpanther, are even more hampered because they have no rotating turret. A few shots taken from the 1st floor balcony should give you some sense of this.

Above right you can see a couple of views that any bazooka man or PIAT gunner would've wanted to see: high flank shots with the vehicle's vulnerable rear-decking exposed to fire. Infantry support or sheer dumb luck would be the Jagdpanther's only hope in a situation like this. The picture above left shows though that simple height advantage wouldn't always work. Here a quick pivot is all that would be needed to bring the Jagdpanther's main armament to bear. In this case the poor bloody infantry would've been praying for divine intervention.

Assorted pictures
Daimler armoured car

The British army was apparently much better at making armoured cars in WW2 than it was at making tanks, as exemplified both by the general high opinion of the Daimler armoured car, and by the fact that it outlived its own replacement. Phrases like "it incorporated some of the most advanced design concepts of the time" are simply not commonly associated with British AFV's of the period. I suspect that this might have something to do with the usefulness of armoured cars in colonial policing, which would've given the British army experience of armoured car deployment which could've served to prevent development of these AFV's being stymied by spurious doctrines as was the case with the tank.

Matilda II infantry tank

The Matilda II was a prime example of those spurious doctrines in action. It was an 'infantry tank', ie. a tank whose purpose was to support the infantry, hence eg. it was very slow because it wasn't expected to travel much faster than infantry's walking speed. Yet its main armament- a 40mm gun, wasn't provided with HE, so that the tank couldn't actually effectively support infantry in their main role, namely assaulting enemy infantry to seize ground. Thus it was essentially designed to support infantry against tank attacks, a role which wasn't part of the very doctrine which produced the Matilda itself. With thinking like this behind tank procurement it is hardly surprising that Germany's blitzkrieg of the early war years mesmerised its opponents.

Sherman tank

Ubiquitous and reliable, the US M4 Sherman was the mainstay of Allied armoured forces from 1943 onwards. No match for the superior Panther and Tiger tanks, it was also outclassed by its German opposite number, the Panzer IV.

T34/85 tank

Widely regarded to be the best tank of WW2 (though not by yours truly who reserves that accolade for the Panther), the T34 was probably the most influential design of the period, and certainly the most numerous production tank of the war. Unlike the Matilda, the T34 was able to be upgraded, an 85mm gun replacing its original 76mm main armament in 1944.

25 pounder

Field artillery was another area in which British designs excelled, the 25pdr being perhaps the most famous field gun of WW2. Anglo-American fire control was very advanced and well-trained crews using the 25pdr could bring down a truly astonishing weight of fire. The story goes that captured Germans in Normandy in 1944 asked to see the 'belt-fed field guns' so great was the pounding to which they had been subjected.

That's it for the selection of pictures from my recent visit to the IWM. I'm sure I'll be back, and that it'll be somewhat sooner than the 20-odd years since my last visit. Fingers crossed I guess. ;)
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