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The Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk and Warhawk – American WWII Fighters

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H/T War History OnLine.

A look at a World War II warbird.

iStock.com/bratan007

An American Fighter

The Curtiss P-40, known as the Warhawk, was an American fighter plane. It went into service during WWII, where it was widely used by the American and British air forces.

Building on the P-36

The P-40 was the latest in a line of Hawk fighters produced by Curtiss for the US military. Its predecessor, the Curtiss P-36 Hawk, was one of the most advanced fighters in the world when it entered service in 1935. It impressed the US Army Air Corps, who placed their largest ever peacetime order for fighters; 210 P-36 Hawks.

P-36As were an important part of the defensive force in Hawaii at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941. By then they were widely seen as being out of date, due to the incredibly fast pace of change in early fighter aircraft design. As a result, Curtiss set to work on a new fighter – the P-40.

Flush Rivets

One of the improvements of the P-40 on the P-36 was the introduction of flush rivets. Although each rivet was only a small factor, there were many of them, and collectively they added to the plane’s drag. Rivets that sat flush with the surface, therefore, helped to make the plane more aerodynamic.

Allison Engine

The P-40 had an Allison in-line piston engine. It was liquid-cooled, an advance on the air-cooled Wright Cyclone radial engine that powered the P-36.

Speed

The improvements led to a plane that was faster than its predecessor. The maximum speed of a P-40N was 378 miles per hour, compared with the P-36G’s 322 miles per hour.

A Hawk 87A-3 (Kittyhawk Mk IA) serial number AK987, in a USAAF 23d Fighter Group (the former “Flying Tigers”) paint scheme, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Reaching Heights

In some ways, the P-40 was only as good as its predecessor. It could attain an altitude of 15,000 feet in six minutes and 42 seconds, slightly less impressive than the climb rate of its predecessor, which could reach that height in six minutes. On the other hand, the P-40 could go higher. It could perform its job at altitudes of up to 38,000 feet, compared with the 32,350 feet of the P-36.

Reduced Range

The P-40 could not go as far from home as the P-36. The Hawk had a range of up to 650 miles. The P-40’s range was only 240 which was suitable for defensive flying and short-range missions but was a downside in launching strikes deeper into enemy territory.

Another Hit with the USAAC

Like the P-36 before it, the P-40 proved popular with the US Army Air Corps. It took over as the leading fighter of the USAAC’s pursuit squadrons.

Diverted from France

The French military had ordered a consignment of P-40s before Germany invaded their country in 1940. After the fall of France, the planes were instead diverted to Britain, where they joined the fighter squadrons defending that island nation against the advance of the Axis powers.

Also Known as the Tomahawk

The British had also ordered their own P-40s. They were given a new designation in Britain, being named Tomahawks.

Armourers working on a Tomahawk Mk.II from No. 3 Squadron RAAF in North Africa, 23 December 1941.

Limits of the Tomahawk

During the early years of WWII, Europe played host to some of the most intense aerial combat ever seen. During the Battle of Britain and the international bombing raids that followed, as well as aerial cover for invasions of Poland, France, and Norway, there was fierce fighting in the skies.

In those conditions, fighter planes were tested to their limits. The Tomahawk did not live up to the hopes of the Royal Air Force. Its engine was not powerful enough to stand up to the rigors of dog fighting against the best planes Germany had to offer. Instead of remaining in use as a fighter, it was reassigned for use in low-level tactical reconnaissance work.

Successes in China

100 Tomahawk IIs were sent from Britain to China, where the American Volunteer Group used them. They had far greater success against the Japanese planes.

Arrival of the P-40D

Despite the limitations of the Tomahawk, the British ordered a new version of the P-40. It was the P-40D, which was given the name Kittyhawk. The name is sometimes mistakenly used to refer to all P-40s.

The first Kittyhawk flight took place in May 1941.

Upgraded Armament

The improvements made to the Kittyhawk included changes to the weaponry the P-40 carried. Guns that had previously been located in the nose were replaced by four 0.5 inch machine-guns mounted in the wings.

A rack could also be added to the underside of the Kittyhawk allowing it to carry a 500-pound bomb.

North Africa, c. 1943. A P-40 “Kittybomber” of No. 450 Squadron RAAF, loaded with six 250 lb (110 kg) bombs.

Fighting in the Desert

P-40s played an important part in the North African campaigns. Fighter-bombers were useful in attacking supply convoys and troops moving around Tunisia. The Kittyhawk gained a particularly impressive reputation for its service in the western desert.

Neville Duke

One of Britain’s most impressive test pilots, Neville Duke achieved many of his successes while flying P-40s. In the skies above Africa, he destroyed 5 Axis planes while flying Tomahawks and another 12 while piloting Kittyhawks.

Carrier Service

The P-40 was not designed for service on aircraft carriers. Planes built for the US Army were made as light as possible, to make them maneuverable in a dogfight. Those designed for the Navy had to be rugged so they could withstand being launched by catapults and brought to an abrupt stop by hooks and wires on a carrier.

In the build up to the American invasion of North Africa in 1942, tests found that P-40s could be safely launched from carriers, provided a few modifications were made. Adjustments and training were hastily done so they could provide air cover during Operation Torch.

When the US Army Air Force’s 33rd Fighter Group arrived in Africa aboard the USS Chenango, they did so with 76 Warhawks.

Source:
Francis Crosby (2010), The Complete Guide to Fighters & Bombers of the World
Orr Kelly (2002), Meeting the Fox: The Allied Invasion of Africa, from Operation Torch to Kasserine Pass to Victory in Tunisia

 

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9 Famous Firearms from History

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H/T War History OnLine.

They missed the Colt 1911.

The Dreyse Needle Gun

The great needle gun was the first bolt-action breech-loading rifle in history. It gave the Prussian army a huge advantage during a series of wars from the mid-1860s to 1871, during which they united the many small provinces of Germany against external threats. The gun’s name came from its firing mechanism, in which a needle was driven into a percussion cap in the cartridge.

The Prussians worked hard to keep the mechanisms and performance of their weapon a secret, keeping their edge for years.

The Winchester Repeater

Tyler Henry’s Winchester repeating rifle was not the first repeater to be invented. That was designed by the 20-year-old Christopher Spencer in 1860 and patented only months before the Winchester. The Winchester took longer to load than the Spencer, but it had advantages in other ways. Due to its 12-round magazine, a man equipped with a Winchester could fire up to 25 rounds in a minute.

The Winchester’s innovative toggle-lock mechanism opened the chamber, loaded a bullet, drew the hammer, and locked it in place with a single movement. It led to the widespread adoption of repeater weapons.

The triumph of the Winchester over the Spencer had less to do with technology than with sharp business practices. Oliver Winchester bought out the Spencer company after the American Civil War and sold off the left-over Spencer repeaters, leaving his weapon without competitors.

Teddy Roosevelt with his engraved Model 1876.

Colt Model 1873

Samuel Colt was the man who perfected revolver technology. Building on earlier ideas, he combined a cylindrical six-round chamber with percussion firing and modern engineering to create the modern revolver. His mechanism used a ratchet in the rear of the cylinder to rotate it every time the hammer was cocked, automatically moving a fresh round into the firing position.

Colt’s early models gave a huge edge to the men wielding them. But the arrival of the metal cartridge gave his technology a whole new lease of life. Together with a hinge-gate mechanism behind the chamber, it allowed the revolver to be loaded faster than ever before.

The most famous result was the Colt Model 1873, known as the Peacemaker. An icon of the American West, it has starred in more westerns than John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood combined.

Lee-Metfield Magazine Rifle

During the 1880s, the British army investigated different options that could give them a superior weapon to their opponents. After looking at designs from many different manufacturers, they settled on a Lee action and Metford-rifled barrel, creating the first box-magazine military rifle. The design traveled the world, as British troops fought to control their scattered colonies.

Luger

Officially known as the German Pistole 08, it is better known by the name of its designer, Georg Luger.

At the end of the 19th century, Luger worked for Ludwig Lowe while making the European production version of Hugo Borchardt’s ground-breaking semi-automatic pistol. While streamlining the clumsy American gun, Luger saw that a complete redesign would be better. The result was the Pistole 08.

Several features made the Luger a success and an enduring feature of 20th-century warfare. Its shape meant that it acted as a natural extension of the firer’s arm and hand, for easy aim. It was robust and reliable, able to withstand the knocks of service in the field. Its inline magazine and toggle mechanism allowed it to be quickly and instinctively reloaded and ready for action. A larger “snail” magazine could be used to increase its capacity.

M1 Rifle

Adopted by the American military in 1932, the 0.3-inch Rifle M1 was the first in a long series of American semi-automatic weapons. It was excellent but expensive, a reflection of America’s commitment to self-loading weapons.

The clip-fed magazine held only eight rounds and was noisy when ejecting a clip. It was a good, reliable gun that served the US well into the 1960s.

John Garand points out features of the M1 to army generals.

Sturmgewehr 44

Abbreviated to the StG44, it was the first widely used weapon that could alternate between single shot and fully automatic fire – the predecessor of modern assault rifles. Introduced by the German military in 1944, it provided either accurate long-range single-shot fire or deadly close-range bursts.

Hitler initially objected to the idea of assault rifles, but when he heard about the StG44’s effectiveness in combat, he changed his mind. German troops changed tactics to make use of the new weapon, which saved them from the need for slower-moving machine-gun support. Demand outstripped supply for the rest of WWII.

AK-47

The Soviet response to the StG44 was the AK-47, possibly the most famous gun in the world.

The AK-47 was built in line with Russia’s distinct military doctrine, which remained fundamentally consistent throughout the 20th century. The focus was on providing masses of men with masses of unsophisticated but reliable equipment, using quantity rather than top quality to win wars.

The AK-47 has a clear design and relatively simple mechanisms for an assault rifle. From the start, it was made from high-grade materials that could be mass-produced. It was easy to maintain and repair so that conscripts with basic training could put it to use.

The result is a weapon that has been adopted all over the world, by criminals, guerrillas, and professional armies alike. Sturdy and easy to use, it is an icon of modern warfare – not sophisticated but incredibly practical.

A U.S. Army M.P inspects a Chinese AK-47 recovered in Vietnam, 1968.

Uzi 9mm

A sub-machinegun that first appeared in the 1950s, this Israeli design has been exported around the globe. Short, light, and unusually accurate for a gun of its type, its purpose is to put a lot of lead into the air at close quarters.

The Uzi took most of its features from other guns but combined them to create something new in its compactness and practicality. It is used both by frontline troops and as a self-defence weapon for rear-line soldiers and police forces.

 

Source:
Christopher Chant (1986), The New Encyclopedia of Handguns

In 1943 several US airmen went on a suicide mission. Two men were awarded a Medal of Honor for Separate Acts of Heroism in One Cursed Bomber

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H/T War History OnLine.

Just over eight hours after the mission began, Old 666 landed in New Guinea

In 1943, several US airmen went on a suicide mission. Two men were awarded a Medal of Honor – the only time in WWII that two men received the same award for the same engagement. Interestingly enough, their careers didn’t start out well.

Jay Zeamer, Jr. got his wings in 1941 at Langley Field. All his classmates became pilots and got their own planes and crews, but not Zeamer. Although he could fly and had a passion for it, he just didn’t have what it took to be a pilot.

Still, he could fly, so when America entered the war, they made him a co-pilot. In March 1942, they sent him to Australia where he again tried to become a pilot but again failed. So they sent him to the Solomon Islands – same thing. Zeamer was to spend WWII as a co-pilot, navigator, gunner, and anything else; just not a pilot.

Joseph Raymond Sarnoski met Zeamer at Langley. Sarnoski got his wings, but they made him a bombing instructor, something he wasn’t happy about. In 1942, they sent him to Australia where he became a Technical Sergeant, but he wasn’t happy about that, either.

He wanted to see combat, so they let him fly a few missions, promoted him to Master Sergeant then sent him to the Solomon Islands to train others. Despondent, he turned to the one person who couldn’t fly a plane. As to what happened next, you first have to understand what was happening on the islands.

Lt. Col. Jay Zeamer, Jr. (left) and Joseph Raymond Sarnoski (right).
After bombing Pearl Harbor, Japan occupied territories in the South Pacific, including the Philippines (which was American property). The island of Rabaul was, therefore, Japan’s key to the region.

America’s priority, however, was on Europe. Since it couldn’t ignore Japan, the original plan was to contain them till Hitler and Mussolini were out of the way.

General Douglas MacArthur fired the air chief in early 1942 and replaced him with General George Kenney’s Fifth Air Force.

General George Churchill Kenney
General George Churchill Kenney
The Fifth began calling themselves “Ken’s Men” and began receiving awards, including several Medal of Honors. Even Sarnoski earned a silver star for an earlier engagements. And Zeamer? The Intelligence Section in Port Moresby.

The Japanese at Rabaul were stepping up their activities to retake the rest of the Solomons and Papua New Guinea, but US reconnaissance flights were impossible because the island’s volcano kept spewing smoke. Zeamer volunteered for the job, flew below the smoke, and got his photos while the crew fought off the enemy.

Rabaul’s volcano is the lower mountain on the right
Rabaul’s volcano is the lower mountain on the right. By Masalai CC BY-SA 3.0
He still wasn’t an official pilot, but he had flown so well they stopped caring. On 16 January 1943, he sank an 8.000-ton ship and was awarded a Silver Star. That should have earned him a plane and crew, but they had none to give him.

Their eye fell on old 666 a B-17E 41-2666 which was assigned to the United States’ 43rd Bomb Group. By 1943, Old 666, tail number 41-2666, had suffered heavy battle damage and had gained a reputation as a cursed bomber, often coming back from missions with heavy damage.

Grounded at Port Moresby Airport, it was parked at the end of the runway where other aircrews could cannibalize it for needed parts. A military photographer told Zeamer, “I know where there’s a bomber, but no one will fly it anymore because every time it goes out it gets shot to hell!”

Still, it flew and was more heavily armed than other Flying Fortresses because they’d rebuilt it almost from scratch. They increased the number of machine guns from 13 to 19, replaced the waist gunners’ standard single guns with twin guns, replaced all .30 cal machine guns with the larger and more powerful .50 cal, and added a fixed-position gun that could be fired from the pilot’s station. Zeamer’s crew put guns where they did not even need them and left spare machine guns on the aircraft’s catwalk; if a gun jammed at a critical moment, they could dump it and quickly replace it. They also mounted a gun behind the ball turret near the waist.

Zeamer’s crew put guns where they did not even need them and left spare machine guns on the aircraft’s catwalk; if a gun jammed at a critical moment they could dump it and quickly replace it. They also mounted a gun behind the ball turret near the waist.

The group volunteered for missions no one wanted and were called the Eager Beavers – always taking the most dangerous jobs but always making it back alive. All received Silver Stars while Sarnoski got an Air Medal and became a second lieutenant.

Boeing 17B Flying Fortresses at Marchfield, California
Boeing 17B Flying Fortresses at Marchfield, California
By March, skirmishes against the Japanese were increasing, culminating in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. The Japanese defeat gave MacArthur the plan to take the Philippines back. Called Operation Cartwheel, it meant attacking their bases at Bougainville, Buka, and Rabaul. If those fell, the Americans could take the other islands till they reached the Philippines.

But a raid against such heavily defended positions would be suicide unless they knew what they were up against. No one volunteered, so MacArthur settled on a reconnaissance flight over Bougainville. The Eager Beavers stepped forward. Two caught malaria and Sarnoski was ordered back to the US to teach, but he couldn’t let the rest go without him.

Just before their 4 AM takeoff on June 15, however, Zeamer was ordered to make an additional reconnaissance flight over Buka. He was determined to ignore it. Bougainville was dangerous enough, and he wanted all the Eager Beavers back alive.

They reached Bougainville too early, however, still too dark for picture-taking, so Zeamer flew to Buka. It was worse than they thought. There were 400 new enemy fighters, and 17 were revving up to meet them. The Old 666 zoomed to 25,000 feet and flew toward Bougainville.

Chief Flight Petty Officer Yoshio Uki of the 241st Kokutai was among the recent arrivals, so he couldn’t wait to take out the Americans with his A6M Zero. As they took to the skies, however, the Fortress took neither evasive maneuvers nor sped up. It was as if the Americans didn’t see them.

They did, but to get proper pictures, they had to fly steadily for 20 minutes. To buy time, Sergeant “Pudgy” Pugh shot at the Japanese from the tail, while Technical Sergeant Forrest Dillman shot from the waist.

Sarnoski manned the guns at the nose, waiting for them to attack from the front. He didn’t have to wait long. Uki and five others had flown ahead and were turning back to hit the Fortress from its most vulnerable point – the front.

A Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero Model 22 (NX712Z) that was recovered from New Guinea in 1991 and restored
A Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero Model 22 (NX712Z) that was recovered from New Guinea in 1991 and restored. By Kogo – GFDL
It took them over 15 minutes to complete their maneuver. By 8 AM, the two sides were on a collision course at over 500 mph over Empress Augusta Bay. Zeamer needed only one more minute before he could break off, but it was too late.

The Japanese opened fire with 20mm cannons and 7.7 machine guns. Zeamer fired back from his nose gun, hitting Uki’s wings… but not before Uki’s 20mm cannon smashed the Plexiglas, hit Sarnoski, cut open his side, sent him flying back into the catwalk beneath, and shredding Zeamer’s legs and feet with shrapnel.

A Mitsubishi Ki-46 “Dinah” twin-engined reconnaissance plane with two 20 mm cannons in the nose and one 37mm cannon in an “upwards-and-forwards” position
A Mitsubishi Ki-46 “Dinah” twin-engined reconnaissance plane with two 20 mm cannons in the nose and one 37mm cannon in an “upwards-and-forwards” position. By Tony Hisgett – CC BY 2.0
Second Lt. Ruby Johnston, the navigator, ran to help Sarnoski, but the latter waved him off and dragged himself back to his guns. He took out a Dinah and a Zero, but not before the Zero’s cannon hit the cockpit, taking out their instruments and oxygen supply. More bullets found Zeamer’s arms and feet, but he managed to dive down to 2,000 feet so they could breathe. Then they crashed into the sea.

Or so the Japanese official report claimed. Despite blacking out several times, Zeamer got them back to base, but Sarnoski never got up from his machine gun. He had died firing his machine gun, the only men Zeamer failed to return.

Upon landing, the co-pilot told the ground crews to get Zeamer first, but the ground crew said, “He’s gone!”; Zeamer, however, was not dead,

Thanks to their mission, however, the Allies knew exactly how to avenge Sarnoski at Buka and Bougainville. For completing a vitally important mission, both Sarnoski and Zeamer each were awarded the Medal of Honor, every other member of the crew was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Old 666 was returned to the United States in February 1944 and was salvaged at Albuquerque in August 1945.

 

General George S. Patton – one of the most brilliant commanders of WW2 but some would disagree

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H/T War History OnLine.

Say what you want about General George Smith Patton Jr. he was a rough tough Son of a Bitch that knew how to win and get the best from his men.

 

General George S. Patton was one of the most flamboyant, brilliant, and troublesome commanders of WWII. He argued with colleagues, offended allies, and assaulted his men. He also led some of the most dramatic and successful tank offensives ever seen.

Early Life

Born in 1885 and raised on tales of heroism, George Patton was inspired by an old-fashioned type of warfare. Trained at the Virginia Military Institute and West Point, he was drawn to the romantic appeal of the cavalry. An expert horseman and skilled swordsman, he represented the USA in the Olympic Pentathlon, demonstrating his physical prowess in many fields.

First World War

In 1916, Patton served under General Pershing in a punitive expedition into Mexico. Having impressed Pershing, he took command of the general’s headquarters staff when they joined WWI in Europe the following year.

There Patton discovered a form of warfare that inspired him even more than mounted combat; tanks. He visited the French tank school, then set up the first US tank unit, and was wounded leading the 304th Tank Brigade in action in September 1918.

Into Africa

Between the World Wars, Patton developed his skills as a tank commander and his reputation as a flamboyant tough guy. When the time came to commit American troops to the North African campaign of WWII, he was a natural choice. Tanks played a prominent role in that theater, and the American people needed the morale boost a charismatic commander like Patton could give.

The Francophile Patton dealt sensitively with the French in North Africa, whose position was made awkward by their homeland’s surrender to Germany. He dealt less kindly with his British allies. Like many American officers in North Africa, he came into conflict with the Brits, developing a personal feud with General Montgomery.

Still, the campaign was a success, Patton rising from command of an armored force to overall command of US troops in Tunisia.

Italy

With North Africa taken, the Allies moved on to invade Sicily. There, Patton’s obsession with out-doing Montgomery, together with his aggressive fighting style, led to swift but costly advances.

The Germans were learning to dread Patton, while American leaders were coming to rely on him.

An Insensitive Spectre

Dealing with the bull-headed Patton had always been difficult for his bosses. It came to a head in Sicily, where he slapped shell-shocked troopers in a field hospital. It was a shocking incident and one that could not go unpunished.

Rather than being court-martialled, Patton was forced to apologize and relieved of command. Even away from the action, he continued to court controversy, upsetting the Russians by talking about Britain and America ruling the world.

Boots of General George Patton at “Baugnez 44 Historical Center” Baugnez, Malmedy Belgium – By Paul Hermans – CC BY-SA 3.0

The Americans still made use of Patton. In the lead-up to D-Day, they made him the official commander of the First US Army Group, a fictional force designed to distract the Germans. Such was his reputation the Germans were convinced he would be used in the invasion of France, adding to the credibility of his ghost army.

Operation Cobra

In July 1944, Patton returned to real command. Put in charge of the Third Army, he entered the fighting in northern France as part of Operation Cobra, a crucial part of the Allied breakout.

Other forces softened up Axis troops on the west of the lines, allowing Patton to punch through with a characteristically aggressive advance. He swept around the Germans, surrounding them at Falaise, and advanced across France so fast his tanks ran short on fuel.

It was a decisive breakthrough.

The Saar

As the Allies moved east into Germany, Patton and the Third Army were sent to the strategically vital Saar region. This center of German military industry needed to be taken to cripple the Nazis’ ability to fight.

There, Patton proved he was a sophisticated as well as an aggressive commander. Thwarted in his initial attempts to seize the city of Metz, he outflanked it rather than keep on throwing in resources. By the end of 1944, the Saar industrial complex was in ruins.

The Ardennes

On December 16, 1944, the Germans made their last great play. The Ardennes offensive burst unexpectedly through Allied lines, threatening to split the advancing forces.

Patton played a vital role in stopping the German counter-attack. He raced his troops north from the Saar valley to hit the Germans in their southern flank. His 4th Armoured Division traveled 100 miles in 36 hours through difficult terrain and weather to catch the enemy. He relieved Bastogne, one of the focuses of the German advance. His threat to their flank was one of the reasons for the collapse of the offensive.

The Rhine

As the Allies approached the River Rhine, Patton could not resist one last chance to out-do Montgomery.

The British general was due to make the first advance across the Rhine on March 23, 1945. Patton scheduled an attack of his own the night before. It had no strategic significance, merely allowing him to say he had gotten across the Rhine before Montgomery.

Germany was collapsing. As they advanced, the Allies were horrified to discover the brutality of the prison camps. Faced with piles of bodies, Patton forced locals to dig proper graves for the victims and in doing so to confront the evils they had ignored.

The General requested to be buried with his men when he died. His grave is in Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial, alongside WW2 Third Army Casualties

Out of Favour at the End

While celebrating the fall of Germany, Patton once again offended the Russians, this time by name calling at a formal dinner. Such an attitude to America’s allies could not be ignored, and he was once again relieved of command.

After taking leave in the USA, he returned to Europe in charge of a force studying the lessons of the war. He again caused offense, making comments about ex-Nazis involved in reconstruction, and was reprimanded.

In December 1945, Patton was in a vehicle collision. Despite appearing to recover, his health suddenly worsened, and he died in Germany on December 21.

Patton had been one of America’s greatest and most awkward commanders. He lived long enough to see the fruits of his successes, with victory in WWII.

Source:

David Rooney (1999), Military Mavericks: Extraordinary Men of Battle.

 

 

A Look At Nazi Germany’s Love Of Heavy Tank Destroyers & Assault Guns

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H/T War History OnLine.

The Nazi’s had some very scary and effective weapons.

In Spite of that we were able to beat them.

iStock.com/ratpack223

The tank destroyer is not really a tank, and an armored assault gun is also not really a tank which can be confusing to some students of history.

That said, war planners and strategists and tactical maneuver geniuses saw a distinct advantage in putting as many heavy guns on a battlefield as possible. When WWII broke out, pretty much only the Wehrmacht had developed a new kind of war tactic where fast-moving tanks could spearhead an opening in enemy lines to enable infantry to storm through.

For almost everyone on the Allies side, tank doctrine still saw tanks as primarily infantry assault support vehicles. Tanks initially were thinly armored cars with heavy machine guns, a mobile pillbox of sorts. They knocked out other machine gun nests, redoubts, field guns and of course infantry.

They worked wonderfully. There was almost no situation when it was pleasant to find oneself at the business end of a mounted heavy machine gun on a tank.

However, the fast-moving Panzer Mark III and the Panzer Mark IV had not only machine guns; they had 50mm cannons on them. So planners decided that German medium tanks should be confronted with not only tanks that could destroy them, but with machines designed specifically to hunt other tanks.

The Axis powers had produced Main Battle Tanks that could support infantry, yet with guns big enough to knock out other tanks.

The Allies had to catch up. The arms race in tanks was on.

The Germans were efficient, and they began putting hard-hitting anti-tank guns on an obsolete tank chassis, producing a Tank Lite. All the killing power of a typical tank, but one-third the armor protection. The Germans had thousands of 76mm high-velocity guns and shells that could do damage to or eliminate almost every tank in the opposing skirmish line.

If there was a tank battalion with 20 tanks, and ten extra 76mm guns, with a range of up to 1200 meters, they could be used to secure their flanks from tanks racing in for a counter-attack from behind or the side. These small tanks could be camouflaged and used to ambush enemy tanks.

The armored assault gun could dish it out, but it did not really have the armor to take it.

Most American, British, and Russian tanks destroyed on the battlefield were most likely taken out by an armored assault gun. Stugs took out more Shermans than Tiger tanks did. German Nashorns, Elefants, and Hetzers destroyed more T-34s than Panther tanks. The Allies wasted no time creating their own long-range tank snipers, and ambush guns: the SU 122mm, the M18 Hellcat, the 90 mm M36 Gun Motor Carriage, and so forth.

That said, here are the big German tank destroyers.

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Marder II. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de

The Marder

The Marder Series were some of the German armored assault guns used to support infantry advances and secure the flanks of armored assemblies. They had a citadel style or open turret design. Soldiers really did not like the fact that gun operators were exposed to shrapnel and small arms fire. Some models sported the lethal high-velocity 76mm Pak gun or the 75mm Pak 40. This diesel powered mobile gun was placed on the reliable Czechoslovak LT-38 chassis.

There was exactly 1,736 of the Marder III built. They saw action on the Eastern front and in Tunisia. Their 50mm armored glacis plating was insufficient to withstand a round fired even from the short barreled 75mm of a Sherman or anything larger.

The Marder III also suffered from a high profile, and it required a crew of 4 men.

1461243241-3465-1e3-HbebViHDPAu7dwYWsNw
Stug III on the Eastern Front. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de

The Sturmgeschütz Series

Germany made more Sturmgeschütz anti-tank guns than they made Panther IV tanks. Over 11,000 of the mobile guns were manufactured. Only 8,000 Panthers made it off the assembly lines. The Stug for short was a series of mobile assault guns that saw much action in WWII. The Stug III was built on the Panzer III Chassis. The Stug IV was built on the Panzer IV chassis.

This odd ‘tank’ did not have a traversable turret. The advantage was that they took less time to produce and then get them to the battlefield. The disadvantage was that the tank had to be steered to the left or right to aim. That meant the engine had to be on, which might give away an ambush position. So the Stug, while extremely effective, was a defensive armored vehicle used as support and ambush.

The Stug had a gas engine, and a low profile and its gun could knock out anything the Allies could field. In fact, German armored divisions could block holes in their lines with Stugs. This vehicle spat death all over the killing fields of Kursk and Moscow with its 7.5 cm StuK 40 L/48 gun and high-velocity armor-piercing shell.

About 1,100 Sturmgeschütz IVs were built, utilizing sloped armor on the Panzer IV chassis. It was so heavy that after the first run all production was halted.

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The Hetzer

Hetzer Jagdpanzer 38 D

The Hetzer was a mobile 75mm high-velocity anti-tank gun mounted on a widened Czechoslovak light tank chassis and 7.92mm machine gun operated from inside the vehicle. Some 2,800 were built, mostly by Skoda in 1944 and 1945.

It had a crew of four and a gas engine. It suffered from insufficiently thick side armor, limited ammunition storage, little or no gun traverse, and an odd configuration that made operating the vehicle difficult.

That said, on the Eastern front, there is a report of a company of Hetzer mobile guns destroying 20 Russian tanks without a single loss. The Hetzer was not designed to trade with main battle tanks, but used as an ambush vehicle or backup for armored divisions it fared well.

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Some 2,800 were built, mostly by Skoda in 1944 and 1945

The Nashorn

The Pak 43 88mm gun was the tank killer of all time. It was Rommel who discovered in the deserts of North Africa that the anti-aircraft 88mm guns could be turned horizontally and used quite effectively against armor. Mounted on the Mark VI chassis, the Nashorn was first given the name Hornisse (Hornet).

Hitler renamed it the Nashorn (Rhinoceros) and off it went into battle. Its 88mm gun was feared by all and used effectively in the East against heavy Soviet Josef Stalin tanks and super heavy KV-1 and KV-2 tanks.

It had enough armor to be used as a tank but was mostly employed as an ambush gun. Its high profile made it hard to hide, but the Nashorn’s 88mm gun was capable of penetrating 190 mm of armor at half a mile.
Four or five men could operate it effectively. Just 473 were made.

It saw action from North Africa to Kursk and was famous for its long-distant kills.

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Ferdinand, Later the Elefant

The Elefant Panzerjager

It began as the Ferdinand named after Mr. Porsche, the famous car designer. The Germans built 91 of these tank destroyers. It featured the famous 88mm Pak gun and a 7.62mm MG-34 machine gun. This particular 88mm gun was designed to fire an extended shell, at a longer range and it was a far more powerful round.

It’s 200 mm of armor made it rather tough on the battlefield, and thus, it could go head to head with most Allied tanks. It was installed on the Panzer Mark VI Tiger One chassis.

It weighed in at 65 tons and had a profile almost ten feet tall. It was an easy target for anti-tank guns in Italy and at the battle of Kursk. Russian infantry that could get close enough destroyed many of these guns by swarming over them with charges and incendiaries. The first versions lacked a machine gun for self-defense.

One Ferdinand of the 653 Heavy Tank Destroyer Battalion traded with Soviets at Kursk and counted for 320 armored vehicle hits for the loss of just over a dozen Ferdinands.

Like the Jagdtiger and the Nashorn, these guns were very heavy and plagued with mechanical problems. Their own crews scuttled most that were destroyed.

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Abandoned Jagdtiger

The Jagdtiger

This monster German tank destroyer featured a 128mm gun that could stop any armored vehicle on the battlefield and penetrate almost any bunker. The Germans made 88 of them and deployed them as fast as possible. All of them had to be transported by rail because they were 128,000 pounds and few bridges could hold them.

On the battlefield, they performed quite well. Their 250 mm of front glacis armor was almost impenetrable. Once, three Jagdtigers took out a dozen US armored vehicles in just a few minutes from a hidden hull down position in 1945 fighting in the Ruhr pocket. Shermans destroyed a few Jagdtigers when they exposed their thinly armored sides.

Maintaining these Juggernauts was a nightmare. The gun needed to be recalibrated after driving for a long time. A crew member had to leave the vehicle and unlock the barrel ring. The massive 128 mm gun had to be loaded in two pieces, the shell, and the firing charge which slowed the rate of fire down.

The gun was casemate style so traversing the barrel had to be done by steering. Most Jagdtigers were destroyed by their own crews when they ran out of gas, or ammo. Many just broke down and could not be repaired. The cabin filled with smoke after the gun was fired which was too much to bear and had to be vented which gave the Jagdtiger’s position away.

It was vulnerable to Allied air cover, and by the time the 50 or so that were manufactured reached the battlefield, the Allies owned the skies.

The Jagdtigers destroyed about 50 US armored vehicles mostly Shermans, many from ranges up to 4,000 meters.

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Sturmtiger. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de

The Sturmtiger

It was a weapon that could demolish sniper hiding structures with a single shot. It had a telescopic sight and was armed with a 380 mm breech loading rocket launcher and mortar. It could fire projectiles ¾ of a mile away.

The 275-pound shaped-charge “raketen hohladungsgranate 4582” was used against fortifications and could penetrate 8 feet of reinforced concrete. Each shot could bring down a building. It only carried 14 of these long rockets or mortars, though.

The launching charge was so powerful exhaust gasses had to be vented through special ducts. A tremendous flash accompanied each firing meaning the vehicle had to be moved as the flash revealed its position.

The ammunition was so deadly and technical that the best estimate for production capacity was 300 rounds – a month.

The Sturmtiger was a German assault gun built on the Panzer Mark VI Tiger I chassis. The idea was to create an infantry assault support vehicle specifically to destroy heavily defended pillboxes and buildings.

It not only had a 380 mm rocket launcher, but it also had a 100 mm grenade launcher and a 7.92mm machine gun. The 380 mm rocket launcher was adapted from the Kriegsmarine naval depth charge launcher.

The Sturmtiger weighed 65 tons and featured reasonably heavy 150 mm thick and sloped armor. It was designed for close-in urban fighting around infantry battalions, and it required five crew members to operate. The Sturmtiger was used in the Warsaw uprising and the defense of Remagen.

Just 19 of them were built.

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GIs examine an abandoned Sturmtiger.
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The Brummbar, or “Grouch” Also known as the Sturmpanzer

The Sturmpanzer

The Sturmpanzer IV or Brummbår was also an assault gun designed to knock buildings down. It featured a 150mm or 6-inch gun and carried 38 of the massive rounds. It was not intended as an anti-tank gun. It was an anti-real estate round.

The Germans put this gigantic field gun on the Panzer IV chassis and apparently that was not big enough for the StuH L/12 gun, and the first model suffered terrible breakdowns. The Germans then put a lighter 150mm gun on the chassis, and that tank was used to put down the Warsaw Uprising.

They were able to manufacture 306 of them before the war ended. It housed five crew; a commander, a gunner, a driver and two loaders. It also featured a 7.62mm machine gun on the armored citadel. Bad ventilation affected the crew, and they often had to leave the firing cabin after firing a few shells.

The Sturmpanzer was used at Operation Citadel, the massive two-pronged assault on the Kursk Salient. It was seen at Normandy and in the Warsaw uprising. It was manufactured from 1943 to 1945.

Historians have discussed the low number of German tanks manufactured because they were sufficiently complex to warrant months to build each one. The Germans were experimenting with anti-tank guns and old chassis promiscuously and creatively.

The era of the mobile anti-tank gun as a sort of ersatz tank is over. Today’s manually operated anti-tank missiles make the Panzerfaust look moribund, and new anti-tank weapons make the individual soldier as deadly as a tank.

By Daniel Russ 

Unselfish Service – Missouri State Highway Patrolman died in Japanese POW camp in WWII

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H/T War History OnLine.

Trooper Ellis is pictured in the mid-1930s while working in the Fingerprint Division at the Missouri Highway Patrol Headquarters in Jefferson City. Courtesy of Missouri State Highway Patrol.

War History online proudly presents this Guest Piece from Jeremy P. Ämick, who is a military historian and writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.

The period of World War II has left us with many stories of heroism, often that are associated with individuals so filled with patriotism and a voluntary spirit that they chose to serve their nation despite any obvious threats to their safety. Sadly, many of these bold personal narratives come with the death of the servicemember and loved ones left behind to mourn an unexpected loss.

One such tale originates from Kansas City, Missouri, and describes James D. Ellis—the only member of the Missouri Highway Patrol to have lost his life while serving in the military. Though his passing is now decades in hindsight, it has inspired one organization to share his story and seek ways to honor his memory by beautifying his final resting site.

“Before entering the army … Captain (James) Ellis was in charge of the fingerprint department at the Lee’s Summit highway patrol office and before that was stationed at the patrol’s headquarters at Jefferson City,” reported the Maryville Daily Forum on March 19, 1943.

Prior to his decision to enlist in the U.S. Army during World War II, Ellis served as a lieutenant with the Missouri National Guard’s Battery D, 129th Field Artillery Regiment, which became known as “Truman’s Own” since it was the regiment with whom President Harry S. Truman served during the First World War.

Records obtained from the Missouri State Highway Patrol confirm that Ellis attended the patrol academy in 1935 followed by his assignment to General Headquarters in Jefferson City, where he was serving when he married the former Kathleen Hufflines in 1936.

James D. Ellis is the only member of the Missouri State Highway Patrol to have died while serving in the military. He perished in a Japanese POW camp during WWII. Courtesy of Missouri State Highway Patrol.

The 29-year-old trooper was transferred to Lee’s Summit in August 1937 and less than three years later made the decision to leave his position as a citizen/soldier with the Missouri National Guard to serve his country as an officer in the U.S. Army.

Granted a leave of absence from his patrol duties on June 30, 1941, Ellis “was assigned to the Philippines and served in the field artillery,” wrote retired Col. Fred M. Mills, former superintendent of the Missouri Highway Patrol.

Records accessed through the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration establish that Ellis was promoted to captain and assigned to the 88th Field Artillery Regiment. The regiment, as noted in the book “World War II Order of Battle” by Shelby L. Stanton, was “partially activated at Ft. Stotsenberg, Philippines,” on April 19, 1941.

Trevor Nevitt Dupuy’s book, “Asiatic Land Battles: Japanese Ambitions in the Pacific,” summarizes the horrid struggle that soon ensued in the Philippines. As Dupuy explained, by December 1941, “(General) MacArthur’s force consisted of 13,000 American troops, plus 12,000 excellent Filipino soldiers … (and a) Philippine Commonwealth Army (that) consisted of about 100,000 (poorly trained) men.”

The Japanese were focused on capturing Luzon, the principal island of the Philippines, and as Dupy further explained, they had “nearly 60,000 combat troops (and were) supported by the powerful Japanese Third Fleet.”

Former Trooper Ellis, now an artillery officer in the U.S. Army, would experience the nightmare that quickly followed. On December 8, 1941—the day after much of the U.S. fleet was crippled at Pearl Harbor—Japanese planes destroyed many American aircraft during an attack of Clark Field, Luzon. A couple of days later, Japanese landings began on the northern coast of Luzon.

Overwhelmed by the violent Japanese assaults and lacking adequate reinforcements, U.S. troops soon had to withdraw south toward Bataan. In the coming weeks, supplies began to diminish and the lack of food weakened those who struggled to keep up the fight. On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched their final attack and, on April 9, 1942, the 88th Field Artillery Regiment along with the other American forces surrendered.

Trooper Ellis is pictured in the mid-1930s while working in the Fingerprint Division at the Missouri Highway Patrol Headquarters in Jefferson City. Courtesy of Missouri State Highway Patrol

Much has been written about the “Bataan Death March” that followed, during which hundreds of Allied survivors were forced to march in sweltering heat to prisons in Manila. Though much suffering occurred during this timeframe, Ellis, who was wounded in combat prior to the surrender, “remained behind on Bataan in a Japanese prisoner of war camp at Cabcaben, which also served as a field hospital,” explained James Erickson.

“A file from the National Archives and Records Administration indicates Ellis later died from malaria on October 16, 1942 in Ward 12—the officer’s ward—of the Cabanatuan #1 POW camp hospital,” explained Erickson, whose own father, Capt. Albert Erickson, was held in the same ward during a portion of his 3-1/2 years of imprisonment by the Japanese.

He added, “I do not know that my father and Capt. Ellis knew one another but I seems probable.”

The Sunday News and Tribune reported on July 11, 1943, “Capt. J.D. Ellis, formerly finger print expert of the Highway Patrol in Jefferson City, died in a Japanese prison camp according to word received here yesterday by friends,”

The artillery officer’s body was eventually returned to the United States and interred in Floral Hills Cemetery in Raytown, Missouri. His wife, with whom he never had any children and who never remarried, passed away in 1986 and is buried in the Lee’s Summit Historical Cemetery.

Fred Mills is a past president of the Missouri Association of State Troopers Emergency Relief Society (MASTERS)—a benevolent fund that provides aid to a trooper’s immediate surviving family member (wife or husband) and children if he or she is killed in the line of duty. As he explained, MASTERS wishes to honor Ellis’ memory by connecting with any relatives to work together to improve and maintain the trooper’s gravesite.

“We feel that it is important that Trooper Ellis’ story becomes a permanent part of the Patrol’s history,” Mills said. “It is our wish to honor his unselfish service for not just maintaining, but living the Patrol’s motto of ‘Service and Protection.’

“MASTERS was formed in 1979 with the commitment to support the families of troopers who died in the line of duty and while Ellis’ death was not a Patrol line-of-duty death, he is the only trooper to have died while on military leave.” Mills added, “As such we feel that we have a moral responsibility to honor his sacrifice and work toward providing a grave marker that recognizes both his Patrol and military service.”

Anyone with information that will assist MASTERS in connecting with any direct family members of James D. Ellis, please contact Fred Mills at fmmcallhome@comcast.net.

 

100s Killed In Tragic ‘Friendly Fire’ our own navy… shot down 27 transport planes killing 410 paratroopers, who were coming in to reinforce us

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H/T War History OnLine.

This story illustrates how tragic things happen during the fog of war.

     It is well that war is so terrible – otherwise we would grow too fond of it.Robert E. Lee           

Operation Overlord and the D-day landings on June 6th, 1944 were supported by a massive assault of airborne infantry, both paratroopers and men in large military gliders. Results were very mixed. There were many casualties both in the air and for the often scattered soldiers who made it to the ground alive. There were many success stories, as well, of troops securing vital bridges, sabotaging German communications and equipment, and attacking the enemy.

This was not, however, the Allied force’s first use of an airborne assault. They had to learn through immensely painful trial and error, a process, that saw the largest friendly fire incident for the Americans at the time. This first major proving ground was the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, almost a year before D-day. Though the invasion was ultimately a success and paratroopers would be used in other major invasions, the horrors experienced by British and U.S. troops would not be forgotten.

Three separate incidents between July 9th and July 13th, 1943 resulted in an intensive reworking of how the Allied combined forces coordinated airborne infantry assaults. Two of them involved jaw-dropping friendly fire incidents and another almost lead to fights between British and U.S. pilots and glider troops.

After dark on June 9th, the invasion of Sicily began, first with paratrooper and glider infantry, then by sea in the early hours of June 10th. The Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Allied force was General Dwight D Eisenhower. The U.S. Seventh Army, led by Lieutenant General George S. Patton, landed on the South coast while the British and Canadian Eighth Army, led by General Bernard Montgomery, landed on the Southeast coast.

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The Allied Invasion of Sicily, June 10th, 1943. Operation Husky

Luckily, the U.S. paratroopers, mostly from the 505 st Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 82nd Airborne Division, avoided any calamitous friendly fire incidents this time around. They were, however, very scattered upon landed and often missed their drop zones by quite a ways. Though they did manage to harass the Italians and Germans a great deal. The British 1st Air-landing Brigade, however, fared far less well.

Over 2,000 British troops took off in 136 Waco (American built) and eight Horsa (British built) military gliders towed by British and U.S. bombers. While flying to their targets and encountering bad winds and anti-aircraft fire, the bombers climbed, taking evasive action.

Confusion spread throughout the formations and 65 gliders were released from their tow lines too early. They crashed into the sea and killed 252 men. Of the remaining gliders, some were taken back to their bases in North Africa and only 71 made it safely to Sicily. Of those lucky 71, only twelve landed close to their target.

Upon returning to base, British and American pilots, officers, and troops involved in the incident had to be separated due to tensions and accusations— and violence was feared.

 

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Waco CG-4A Glider

Throughout June 10th and 11th, Allied forces landing on the beaches and meeting up with the airborne troops secured a foothold in Fortress Europe. On the night of June 11th, another drop of U.S. paratroopers was planned and executed, again from the 82ndAirborne, but now the men of Major General Matthew B. Ridgeway’s 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

From Tunisia, 144 C-47s and C-53s carrying some 2,000 U.S. paratroopers flew towards the South coast of Sicily. Word had been sent to the Navy informing them of the operation and to the forces on land. Many on the ships would later claim the message had not been received. Furthermore, they had been attacked by German bombers throughout the day and were frayed from battle.

Whatever or whomever was to blame pales in comparison to the terror that unfolded when anti-aircraft gunners on shore and on the ships opened fire on the planes carrying their fellow soldiers.

The reaction of onlookers from the time reveal the catastrophe in plain and striking words: “Patton could only stare in horror, repeating, ‘Oh, my God,’ over and over while Ridgeway cried. Anti-aircraft gunner Herbert Blair later wrote, ‘Only then does the dreadful realization descend like a sledgehammer upon us. We have wantonly, though inadvertently, slaughtered our own gallant buddies. I feel sick in body and mind.’”

Allied planes were exploding in the skies above their heads, shot down by their own comrades. The sight was heartbreaking, barely comprehensible.

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British troops of the 151st Infantry Brigade (left) talk with a U.S. paratrooper of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Avola, Sicily on June 11th, 1943

Over 300 men were killed in the bloody mistake. One plane that had turned around and made it back to Tunisia had more than 1,000 holes shot through it.

The final, awful incident of the airborne landings on Sicily happened late on the 12th/early on the 11th of June. 1,856 men of the British 1st Parachute Brigade were being carried in well over 100 planes to land inside the Southeast coast of Sicily. Thirty-three of the planes accidentally went off course, flying over a convoy of Allied ships. The sailors had been expecting a German air raid and opened fire.

Four planes along with their contained soldiers went to the bottom of the sea. The planes that survived, along with those that didn’t stray from the flight plan, encountered heavy enemy anti-aircraft fire in Sicily and lost another 37 craft. All told, only 39 planes managed to drop their troops within a half mile of their target.

Following the invasion of Sicily, considerable training was implemented in the Army, Air Force, and Navy of Britain and the U.S. Glider pilots were subjected to much more rigorous training for missions, ships crews were instructed in aircraft recognition, and Allied planes were painted with three, large white stripes under the wings for identification. Everybody prayed such terrible accidents would never happen again.

By Colin Fraser for War History Online

 

 

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