21/03/2022 at 15:49 #170300
Flonking around in some electric copies of “Tactical and Technical Trends”, I came across a report based in British trials that might be of interest to afficionados of the Western Desert campaign. It offers a picture of anti-tank effectiveness of weapons in British service at the time of the Gazala and Alamein battles (the setting for Avalon Hill’s popular but dice-intensive “Tobruk” boardgame). The piece is called “Vulnerability of German Tank Armor” in Tactical and Technical Trends No.8, September 1942.
Penetration ranges are given in yards. Entries for US guns suggest the angle of impact for these figures is 20°. For the US 75mm I assume that SAP refers to the M72 round, and APC to the M61. From the date of the report I assume the gun in question is the M2.
The face-hardened 30-32mm plate on the front of the “reinforced plates” Mk III or IV and the face-hardened front plate of the “new type” Mk III break up 2-pounder and 6-pounder AP, and uncapped 75mm, so any penetration achieved is by shattered rounds. The capped 37mm and 75mm rounds remain intact.
2-pdr 2-pdr 6-pr 37mm 75mm 75mm AP HV AP SAP APC Mk III and IV: 30mm (old type) Lower front plate and turret 1,300 1,500 2,000+ 1,600 2,000+ 2,000+ Visor plate 1,400 1,600 2,000+ 1,800 2,000+ 2,000+ Sides 1,500 1,700 2,000+ 2,000 2,000+ 2,000+ Mk IV: 44mm (reinforced plates) Sides 1,000 1,200 2,000 1,100 2,000+ 2,000+ Mk III and IV: 62mm (reinforced plates) Lower front plate None None 500 200 400 1,000 Visor plate None None 600 300 500 1,000 Mk III: 50mm (new type) Lower front plate and turret 200 400 800 500 600 1,500 Visor plate 200 400 900 600 700 1,700 Sides 1,500 1,800 2,000+ 2,000 2,000+ 2,000+
All the best,
John.22/03/2022 at 07:21 #170319
That is really interesting (and useful) – think it also gels with some of the other US figures I have seen. The additional armour plating on the the Panzer IIIE-G seems to have been a key factor in tank combat in the Desert, as well as a cause of some confusion amongst the British, Commonwealth & Imperial troops about what was tactically feasible and what wasn’t (and later amongst some historians). What seems lacking is a really authoritative study on when exactly the additional plates were added to the various marques of Panzer III in the Desert. My own sense is that it was relatively early on within the 1941 fighting; certainly British tankers’ accounts are full of reports of shots from 2-pdrs hitting the frontal aspect and seeming to do no damage.22/03/2022 at 14:41 #170338Aethelflaeda was framedParticipant
shattered rounds that penetrate will still kill the crew and damage internal components ricocheting about. Do you really want a frag grenade equivalent dropped into your crew or engine compartments?
Margate and New Orleans23/03/2022 at 01:22 #170373
What seems lacking is a really authoritative study on when exactly the additional plates were added to the various marques of Panzer III in the Desert. My own sense is that it was relatively early on within the 1941 fighting; certainly British tankers’ accounts are full of reports of shots from 2-pdrs hitting the frontal aspect and seeming to do no damage.
I think you’re right. Tom Jentz’ “Tank Combat in North Africa” seems to me to be as definitive as one is going to find, and it makes it clear that the up-armoured Mk IIIs were present in considerable numbers right from the start. One point that interests me is that the initial proportions of them were very different between Panzer Regiment 5 and Panzer Regiment 8. Looking at the figures given on pp. 34-38 of that fine book, it looks as if the initial strength on completion of Op Sonnenblume would have included something like:
Pz Regt 5
61 Pz III, of which at most 9 have additional armour
17 Pz IV, of which 5 to 8 have additional armour
Pz Regt 8
71 Pz III, of which about 51 have additional armour
20 Pz IV, of which 10 have additional armour
The specific Ausfuhrungen seem to be a few Fs, some Gs, and mostly Hs for the Pz IIIs, Ds and Es for the Pz IVs. No 37mm-armed gun tanks seem to have made it into action, 31 such having been swapped for 5cm-armed tanks by Pz Regt 8 in February 1941.
The exact mix of tanks in Pz Regt 5 depends on exactly what kinds of vehicle were lost when the “Leverkusen” caught fire while loading in Naples. 10 Pz IIIs and 3 Pz IVs were lost; it is known that they were replaced by 5cm-armed Pz III Ausf F and Gs, and new production Pz IVs, presumably Ausf Es.
Another useful source for attempting to keep track of Afrika Korps armour is the listing of tank shipments at Andreas Bierman’s magnificent “Crusader Project”:
This also indicates when the first long 5cm Pz IIIs and long 7.5cm Pz IVs were shipped into theatre.
certainly British tankers’ accounts are full of reports of shots from 2-pdrs hitting the frontal aspect and seeming to do no damage.
I seem to recall reading in Perrett’s “Valentine” that the 2-pdr tracer element had an annoying habit of breaking off and flying away so as to appear to be a ricochet when a penetrating hit had been scored. Even so, it seems to me that 2-pounders must have been facing 30+30mm armour on some panzers right from the start. From the wargaming perspective, the British player is going to be very interested to know which panzer regiment he is facing, the one with mostly thin-skinned or the one with mostly thick-skinned Mark IIIs.
One of the things I find strange about all this is that the 2-pounder has traditionally been condemned for its poor performance against face-hardened armour. There is certainly some justification for this, but a total thickness of 60mm seems too much for a 2-pounder without sub-calibre shot to punch through regardless of the type of armour plate, and according to the table the 2-pdr could handle the thinner plates, if rather less well than the capped US 37mm. The real tactical benefit of face hardening seems to be the 500 yard or more reduction in fighting range for the M72 round in the US 75mm.
Presumably 2-pounder APCBC would do as well as US 37mm. One wonders why the British armaments industry was so backward in producing improved ammunition; it’s not as if piercing or ballistic caps were novel technology at the time. Similarly, one wonders how matters might have been improved had an APCR shot for the 2-pounder been developed, or, later, how much better off the Sherman would have been with an APDS shot for its 75mm. Still, they got there in the end, with the 6-pdr and 17-pdr, among the best hole-punchers of the war for their calibre.
All the best,
John.23/03/2022 at 05:28 #170376EtrangerParticipant
The lack of APCBC may have also been related to limitations in production capability ie not developed as it couldn’t be produced before the 6 pounder came on line. They did however end up with the Littlejohn adapter, which could presumably have been issued earlier than it actually was.
Looking at the table here http://www.wwiiequipment.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=73:2-pounder-anti-tank-gun&catid=40:anti-tank&Itemid=58 it suggests that the APCBC round may have replaced the APS on the production lines in 1943. (I’m assuming that these are sourced from official statistics somewhere). By then of course the 6 pounder was in full production and the first 17 pounders were available.
Somewhat similarly, 2 pounder HE rounds were developed but production wasn’t prioritised. When the HE rounds became available, they were first issued to AT guns, rather than the tanks.
Based on those tables, they were still making a lot of 2 pounder guns well into 1943 so presumably someone still had a use for them. They can’t all have ended up in armoured cars!23/03/2022 at 14:38 #170394
Thanks very much John. It occurs that the mixture in additional armour/non-additional armour must have inadvertently contributed a bit to the confusion in British tactical responses in mid-to-late 1941, and the uncertainty of the effect that a given weapon might have on the German tanks.
As you say, the sheer thickness of those frontal plates would give the British plenty of problems; even the 6-pdrs performance isn’t amazing – I wonder if that partly explains the British disappointments with the 6-pdrs in some of the Gazala fighting.24/03/2022 at 00:51 #170415
Looking at the table here http://www.wwiiequipment.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=73:2-pounder-anti-tank-gun&catid=40:anti-tank&Itemid=58 it suggests that the APCBC round may have replaced the APS on the production lines in 1943. (I’m assuming that these are sourced from official statistics somewhere).
The trusty old “Fire and Movement” booklet issued by Bovington in 1975 gives 2-pdr APCBC as being available from May 1942, which raises the question of why it is not mentioned in the “Tactical and Technical Trends” report. The same document gives 6-pdr APC and APCBC as coming in October 1942, whereas the Wikipedia page seems to think it was not until January 1943.
Based on those tables, they were still making a lot of 2 pounder guns well into 1943 so presumably someone still had a use for them. They can’t all have ended up in armoured cars!
Bizarrely, we were still making Matildas in 1943, still arming some Valentines with 2-pdr, and the wretched Covenanter was only declared obsolete in that year. However we do seem to have made an awful lot of armoured cars — as far as I can work out probably more 2-pdrs went into armoured cars than went into cruiser tanks.
As you say, the sheer thickness of those frontal plates would give the British plenty of problems; even the 6-pdrs performance isn’t amazing – I wonder if that partly explains the British disappointments with the 6-pdrs in some of the Gazala fighting.
Yes, gaining only 300 yards in fighting range over the US 37mm seems less than stellar. I wasn’t aware of any disappointments with the 6-pdr from Gazala (although there was plenty to be disappointed about in that battle), but if the October 43 date is correct for the introduction of capped shot, it would mean that by the time of Alamein the 6-pounder was punching better than the US 75mm with M61.
A range table I have from Bovington for the 6-pounder includes an amendment apparently dated Dec 42 that mentions APC and APCBC shot, and only settles on a definitive set of muzzle velocities for different ammunition natures out of different lengths of barrel in a typed amendment based on an Ordnance Board instruction dated 22 April 1943. The 2-pounder range table is uselessly uninformative on the introduction dates of new natures, as it contans no amendments, is dated 1939, and says it is for A.P. Shell Mk 1 — in other words, APHE, replaced quite early in the war by AP shot.
All the best,
John.31/03/2022 at 20:42 #170733
Thanks very much John, most interesting. I think the impression I have of the British being disappointed with the 6-pdrs at Gazala comes from Carver – although (and this is from memory) I think it may have been disappointment with the units which were issued with them. However, assuming my memory isn’t playing tricks on me and I haven’t made the whole thing up, then it is possible that the performance of the 6-pdr described above at that time couldn’t be rationally expected to make so much of a difference as was hoped. I need to find a copy of his books again and check! (Tobruk disintegrated and I can’t find El Alamein for the life of me)
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