This usergroup is for technical discussion of weapon delivery systems, intended as a companion for e2armory. Got a question, or need advice for a military-themed writeup? Perhaps you need help identifying a specific piece of hardware or are looking for some background information. Anything from bombers to boomers can be discussed here, but please leave politics at the door.


Venerable members of this group:

archiewood, The Custodian$, Chase, ring_wraith, Transitional Man, Palpz, 54b, TerribleAspect, locke baron, Noung$
This group of 10 members is led by archiewood

At the end of World War I all armies realized they had to do something about the tank. Combat experience had demonstrated the tank's potential in offensive operations, but also its weaknesses. The tanks of World War I were like many first-generation military devices: barely useable. They had a short range, broke down constantly and exhaust gasses might easily put the entire crew out of commission. Tanks also didn't fit very clearly inside the already well-established military specialties: infantry, artillery and cavalry. The value and use of tanks was heavily debated even before the Great War ended and the debates continued through the early stages of World War II. Tanks had their supporters-- notably Basil Liddell-Hart, J.F.C. Fuller, Heinz Guderian-- and their detractors as well. As nobody really knew what would happen most armies decided to hedge their bets. They built tanks. They also experimented with a wide array of anti-tank weapons were developed from anti-tank rifles (basically useless) to the rockets using a shaped-charge warhead (still in use). Tank destroyers are a product of that doctrinal struggle. The term is usually used to describe a vehicle, usually armored, whose primary purpose is to destroy tanks, but may also describe military units and descriptions created specifically to deal with the tank.

The first practical experience with tanks came in 1916 when the British used them during the second Battle of the Somme. Tanks had been hurredly developed to overcome the inability of any infantry force to overcome a properly supported trench line. Tanks were first used in limited numbers and without infantry support, but their initial appearance caused panic as local machine gun fire didn't seem to affect them and a rare breakthrough was achieved. Lack of infantry support and breakdowns meant the initial attack never went anywhere. Tank doctrine evolved, but the defense learned as well so that at the end of the war the tank was not yet a decisive weapon.

Part of the reason was flawed doctrine, but the bigger reason was the nature of those early tanks, easily as primitive as the early biplanes who fought it out over Flanders Fields. The British Mark IV Male tank weighed 28 tons but was powered by only 105 horsepower. The thing could barely make walking speed. Inside the unmuffled engine noise was deafening, and poor ventilation meant heat and exhaust smoke often incapacitated the crew. Crewmen could barely see out of the things and could hear nothing. Early tanks broke down every ten miles. Without radios, communications between tanks was difficult and between the tanks and headquarters impossible. Experience also showed that with proper training and experience they could be defeated.

Tanks are also quite expensive and after World War I people were tired of paying for weapons. New weapons were very low on the priority list of post-war politicians, particularly after the onset of the Great Depression. Funds for experimentation on new tanks were scarce at best. In the US Army, tanks were all but forbidden. Many infantrymen hoped the big things would just go away so they could return to "real soldiering". Given that tanks didn't fit neatly into any of the big three pre-established military specialites-- infantry, artillery or cavalry-- no one really wanted to divert scarce funds from their particular specialty. For many years the debate was primarily theoretical, fought out in journals and a limited series of military exercises where the efficacy of armor and armored tactics could be tested.

At the same time, while many infantry veterans of the Great War didn't like tanks, the utter slaughter they experienced during that war meant few wanted to go "over the top" without tanks along to support the attack. The infantry wanted tanks designed to help them neutralize defensive strongpoints. An ideal infantry tank is heavily armored and fires an effective high explosive shell, but was not seen as needing much speed. Tank killing was at best a secondary requirement.

What interest the cavalry had in tanks centered around reconnaissance. Cavalry units were all but useless during World War I, with its long, continuous front. Cavalry charges against machine gun fire amounted to a dramatic suicide pact. The cavalry very much saw itself threatened between wars. It is important to remember the love affair between soldiers and the horse persisted well into the Second World War. The pre-war officer class all regarded horsemanship as an important skill, and many military units remained horse-drawn throughout the war. Few remember that while Germany's panzer units were heavily mechanized, the vast majority of German divisions depended upon horses for transport. Soldiers were reluctant to give up on the horse, but the cavalry longed for a mission. The only practical missions available were scouting and screening. Also, if those tank-things were going to be built and funded, cavalrymen wanted a piece of the pie. The ideal cavalry tank was seen as fast and lightly armored, capable of protecting itself but not slugging it out against strong defenses.

So as World War II began most armies fielded two types of tanks. Infantry tanks included the German Panzerkampfwagen IV, the French Char B and British Mathilda. Calvalry (or in British parlance cruiser) tanks included the Panzerkampfwagen III, the French Somua, the British Cruiser Mk I, along with the Czech TNH series (known as the Panzer 38(t) in German service) and the American M2 light.

The United States entered the war particularly ill-suited for armored warfare. The United States Tank Corps was disbanded in 1920, with all existing tanks assigned to the infantry, and the only tanks America possessed for most of the interwar years were either WWI leftovers or prototypes. Funding was virtually zero with a development budget of $100K for fiscal year 1939. Because tanks legally assigned to the infantry by the Defense Act of 1920, American thinking consisted of infantry support vehicles which were too light to perform what was expected of an "infantry tank" and combat cars, which were cavalry tanks renamed to meet the law. But the US gave a great deal of thought (which was free) and experimentation on the idea of defeating enemy armor. US Army doctrine was that tanks were supposed to assist the infantry in breaching prepared defenses. Period. Tank against tank combat does not seem to have been considered.

1940

Then Germany invaded Poland in 1939. The world was at war, and generals were about to find out if they had guessed right about the shape of the next war. Nazi Germany came closest to getting it right. Their best theorist, Heinz Guderian, enjoyed Hitler's ear and the Fuhrer liked exotic, new technologies. The Wehrmacht used a very realistic set of exercises to test armored doctrine and wring out its weaknesses while Hitler got them the weapons they wanted. Superior tactical doctrine enabled Germany to whip France and England very quickly. What became known as blitzkrieg tactics was really the exploitation of two important tactical principles, surprise and concentration of force (or mass). The Germans concentrated their armor in narrow fronts. Most allied divisions had their own dedicated anti-armor weapons which inflicted losses. But the few spread out guns encountered could not inflict decisive losses against such numbers, so the German forces quickly passed through and continued their attack into areas where there were few, if any, effective anti-tank weapons. They would, as Patton so eloquently put it, "get back there amidst the cooks and the quartermaster corps. These people are not used to cordite!" Once past the anti-tank belt losses dropped sharply. Continuous movement helped protect the fast moving panzers, as knowing where a mechanized force was two hours ago is very different from knowing where it is now. Speed made it hard to reform a solid defense line. In 1940 the Luftwaffe enjoyed real, if not entirely uncontested, air superiority, and could hit possible counterattacks before they formed, and help secure the panzers' flanks. German commanders led from the front and the Luftwaffe was a fine-tuned for ground attack. None of this would have been possible in 1917, before radios become portable, cheap and reliable enough to be installed in individual armored vehicles. Every German tank had a radio. In World War I generals lost control of the battle almost from the moment it was initiated. In World War II, improved communications made it possible to adjust tactics on the fly. Battles became manageable. The German mix of concentrated armor, widespread use of radio communications, continuous movement and combined arms tactics put them well up on everyone.

Tactical superiority allowed the Germans to quickly conquer France, and to swallow whole Russian armies whole in the early days of that conflict. Of course there was a solution to the new German tactics. Deploy anti-tank belts in depth so the panzers can't just fight their way past a thin screen. Counterattack in strength into the attackers exposed flanks, and try to cut off the lead tanks from their logistics train. The French figured this out and tried, but too late to accomplish more then buying the Brits time to evacuate.

German victories drove early tank destroyer doctrine. The panzer divisions moved fast, so an effective defense required fast mobile forces to get in front of attacking armor before it could break into open country. In 1941 the US Army formed the Tank Destroyer Command to develop tactics and equipment capable of defeating all enemy tanks. Army Ground Forces commander General Leslie McNair had written the US Army's primary treatise anti-tank operations, and stressed fast, highly mobile battalions dedicated to fighting tanks. McNair accomplished much good such as ensuring all US combat vehicles deployed met high standards of automotive reliability and durability. But he had his blind spots. McNair was also an artilleryman and preferred traditional towed guns for fighting tanks. Towed guns had the advantage of being much cheaper to both build and maintain, and a lower profile which was potentially easier to camouflage. Once McNair even ordered the complete conversion of all TD battalions to towed guns. But the Tank Destroyer Center's first commander, Col. Andrew Bruce disagreed vehemently with McNair on the shape of future tank destroyers. Bruce argued towed guns were too slow and vulnerable to defeat a massed armor attack. Bruce's ideal tank destroyer had a really big gun on a really fast chassis so it could get ahead of the attacking Panzers. The debate between towed and tracked advocates was spirited, and led to the Army going to war with Tank Destroyer Battalions that were divided between tracked, armored tank destroyers and towed guns. The US also made a basic miscalculation in that they planned their guns to defeat existing German tanks (then the Pzkw III and IV) while failing to realize that as they upgraded their equipment so might the enemy, a point driven home in 1944 when they met Panther tanks in quantity.

Early in the war the US Army tried mounting an old French 75 gun on a halftrack, but the portee mount performed poorly at Kasserine Pass. The standard 37mm towed gun was also seen as obsolete immediately. US forces adopted the British six-pounder (the M1 57mm in US service) and quickly cobbled together their own towed gun out of a three-inch anti-aircraft gun on a howitzer chassis. The resulting M5 was a poor gun. It was tall and tall, heavy and difficult to emplace and lacked penetrating power, particularly in comparison with the most common German anti-tank gun of the war, The German 75mm PaK 40. Fortunately McNair had been overruled even before Kasserine pass, and armored tank destroyers well under development. The US produced three which saw common service. All were tracked and turreted, although the turret roof was conspicuous by its absence. The most common early in the war was the M10 Wolverine, which used the proven Sherman chassis with a modified 3" anti-aircraft gun. The Wolverine was there from beginning to end, but lacked the ability to engage German Panther and Tiger tanks at range.

Ordinance wanted to keep the 76mm (3"), but was talked into converting a 90mm anti-aircraft gun because the bigger gun "would be needed to penetrate Siegfried Line fortifications". The Siegfried Line was a ruse, for the Army had met some Tigers in North Africa and quickly learned that even the 76 on the M10 wasn't enough. The M36 Jackson was an M10 with the 90mm gun, and was the only US TD capable of engaging Panthers and Tigers at range. The final design was very different. The M18 Hellcat matched Bruce's ideal of a truly fast TD. It combined the 76mm gun, a torsion bar suspension and a big motor (the 400hp Continental radial from the much heavier Sherman) in a low, modern clean sheet design that was cramped and lightly armored but faster then any armored vehicle until the M1 Abrams.

While American military leaders observed the war and tried to draw lessons from across the Atlantic the Brits were actually fighting for their lives. While they may have agreed that tanks weren't suppposed to fight tanks he fact of the matter was they did fight, and fought often. They also recognized that if they were trying to improve their tanks the Germans would likely do the same. The British Army did invest in towed guns, and moved to heavier guns quickly. They also enjoyed one big asset, the 75mm OQF 17-pounder. The gun's high explosive ammunition was nothing to write home about, but in penetrating armor the 17-pounder was every bit the equal of the German 88mm. The Brits began adapting their Shermans for the big gun creating the Sherman Firefly. They tried to deploy one Firefly with each platoon of four Shermans. They also tried to deploy the gun elsewhere, including putting the 17-pounder into their M10 to create the M10 Achilles. They built an open casemate mount on a Valentine chassis to create the 17pdr SP Archer.

The Germans came by their tank destroyers differently. Once the winter of 1941-42 and the sheer size of Mother Russia put an end to their initial offensive, they quickly realized they had a problem. The Russian T34 was far better then anything they had, with a big gun, speed and well shaped armor. In fact, the T34 was good enough that a few still serve today. No German tank in 1941 had the firepower to fight the T34. Worse, like the Sherman, the T34 was designed for mass-production. The Russians built over 84,000 T34s before the war ended, while producing many other types and receiving M4 Shermans and M3 Grants from the US. Given that the Germans never produced that many tanks of all types during the war, the Wehrmacht became desperate for anti-tank vehicles with an effective gun. They could not just produce more of their own tanks. German production techniques and designs were poorly adpated to mass production, and war makes you hurry. So the Germans improvised. They converted captured French and Czech chassis, and converted obsolete PzKw I and PzKw II tanks into the Marder by simply building a big stationary fighting compartment and mounting a 75mm Pak 40. But even for their clean-sheet designed TDs (often called assault guns) the Germans stuck with casemate mounts which were easier to build but limited the main gun's traverse to only a few degrees. The Sturmgeshutz III used a PzKw III chassis, and was upgunned to permit it to carry a long STuk 40 75mm gun for fighting tanks. The Czech 38(t) chassis was adapted into the tiny Hetzer which saw service with Swiss forces into the 1970s. The Jagdpanzer was purpose built out of the PzKw IV chassis and the big 88mm gun. The Jagdtiger used the Panther's suspension. They even built the enormous Elefant tank destroyer with an 128mm gun.

Russian designs tended to follow German lines in that the used casemate mounts with limited traverse with relatively heavy armor and a big gun. The Russian SU-85 and SU-100s used an 85mm gun with a well shaped hull and proved very effective. The SU-100 remained in service into the 1970s in the Middle East.

American tank destroyers used light armor and turret mounted guns. German TDs all carried a fixed gun with limited traverse. That meant you had to aim the vehicle, a significant disadvantage. On the plus side (except for the ungainly Elefant and the cobbled-together Marder) they enjoyed a lower silhouette then the American designs and for the most part were much more heavily armored.

In action the American towed Tank Destroyer battalions were a failure, and were all but abandoned by the end of the war thanks to poor effectiveness and high casualties among gunners. Most were used as conventional artillery battalions. Much of the reason was the poor design of the M5 towed gun, but for most of the war the Allies were on the offensive. Towed guns take time and effort to emplace and camouflage, a task better suited for defensive operations when you often have more time to prepare. When the Germans counterattacked, the guns were easily bypassed. The mechanized tank destroyers fared much better, but they were rarely employed as doctrine directed. The M18 was only used once as Bruce envisioned, when its speed was used to block the roads to Bastogne during the early phases of the the Battle of the Bulge. In that defensive battle, TDs performed well, the only time they were used as doctrine intended. As the Allied armies spent 1943-5 on offense TDs ended up being used as tanks where their open turret and lighter armor proved a serious disadvantage (many crews welded scavenged armor on to create makeshift turret roofs). The US Army realized their doctrine had failed and they were better off upgunning tanks. With the 90mm armed M26 Pershing and improved variants of the Sherman in production there seemed little reason to keep the TDs in production and the Tank Destroyer force was disbanded after the war.

German TDs were also used as tanks, but out of desperation. They were good weapons, but the limited-traverse casemate mounts proved a serious disadvantage. But the net result was that tank destroyers as a group were largely abandoned at the end of World War II. For the expense and manpower required, most armies learned it was simply better to use another tank.

Cold War Tank Destroyers

After the war most of the big gun tank destroyers were abandoned, although the SU-100 and Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer served on into the 70s. West Germany and Britian developed big gun variants to match the mass of Soviet tanks they might face. The Tank Destroyer enjoyed a renaissance in the 1960s as guided anti-tank missiles began to become available. These weapons required a much lighter chassis then an effective high-velocity gun, allowing a jeep or an armored personnel carrier to serve as an effective chassis. In a sense many modern APCs, including all IFVs including the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the Russian BMP serve in the role of a tank destroyer. The M1128 version of the US Army's Stryker APC and other wheeled AFVs mount big guns which can prove quite effective against the older tanks often found in the developing world.

Today, most soldiers consider the best anti-tank vehicle to be another tank. The heyday of the Tank Destroyer came during World War II when thousands of TDs served but never lived up to the job that was expecting them. Instead of killing enemy tanks, they served as tanks themselves or mobile artillery, jobs for which tanks and purpose built self-propelled guns served better.

A World War II propaganda film for the M10 you may enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LL6vl0RCpOk
A brief documentary on the M18 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuL-WXPg_OY&feature=related

http://www.tankdestroyersociety.com/

A slideshow from the 612th TD battalion http://www.kodakgallery.com/gallery/sharing/slideshowFinishPage.jsp?token=728418826805:1288216411

A good site on all German vehicles http://www.achtungpanzer.com

A restored German Sturmgeschutz (StuG IV) running http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZwkJbTcjZI&feature=related

The MiG-15 wasn't the first operational Soviet jet fighter (the MiG-9 and Yak-15 hold that distinction, I think). It was, however, one of the first successful Soviet fighter jets - the first one that its opponents (at the time, the USAF and UN Forces Korea) feared. It was designed in response to a 1947 decree from the Soviet government. This decree called for a new jet fighter, but gave a deadline of approximately 8 months for its first flight. As a result, the Mikoyan design bureau based the design on a prior airframe, the MiG-9, rather than starting from scratch.

The two major differences between the MiG-9 and the resulting prototype were the engine (the MiG-9 used the BMW 003, a captured German axial-flow turbojet design from World War II) and the wings. The new design, in order to ensure better handling at high speeds, utilized a swept wing design. To cope with problems with the design and production of the German engines used in the MiG-9, it was equipped with an engine whose design had been purchased directly from the pro-Soviet British Government of the late 1940s1 - a variant of the Rolls-Royce Nene engine. It flew well, and a year later, it was selected for production over other designs. The first production aircraft designated MiG-15 flew December 31, 1948. A minor upgrade, dubbed MiG-15bis, followed and became the predominant variant.

Over 12,000 MiG-15s were eventually made in the USSR, with thousands more produced by licensed foreign factories. This makes it one of the most successful jet fighter designs of all time. It first saw combat in the Chinese Civil War, and then flew against UN forces (with Soviet Air Force pilots 'disguised' as Koreans) in the Korean War. Code-named Fagot by NATO, it quickly demonstrated its equality to, and in some areas superiority over the predominant American fighters of that war, the F-80 Shooting Star and F-86 Sabre. A MiG-15 is reputed to have scored the first jet air-to-air kill, against an American F-80, during that war (WikiP notes that the US claims that the victim in question was in fact downed by AAA). F-86s and MiG-15s went on to become famous opponents in the skies over North Korea, one of the last times that American forces would be unable to generally secure air superiority over an actual battlefield due to an air-to-air threat.

The MiG-15 design was iterated into the also highly-successful MiG-17. Despite sharing the same engine and basic airframe, the original MiG-17 was both more maneuverable and approximately 50 km/h faster. Later variants of the MiG-17 received Soviet jet 'firsts' such as afterburners and radar. The MiG-17, and hence the basic MiG-15 airframe design, was in production through 1958.

Although no MiG-15s remain in active service today, several survive as private aircraft, and excellent examples can be seen in numerous aviation and war museums. The MiG-15 of North Korean Lieutenant No Kum-Sok, who defected to the South in 19532, is on display in the USAF Museum in Ohio. According to the USAF, the US offered to return the aircraft to its 'owners' - the USSR - after flight testing, and the offer was ignored.

Specifications

  • Crew: 1 (2 in the MiG-15UTI trainer variant)
  • Wingspan: 10.08 meters
  • Length: 10.11 meters
  • Weight: Loaded - 4,960 kg; Max. takeoff - 6,105 kg
  • Speed: Max. 1,075 km/h (automatic airbrakes prevented overspeed in dives); Cruise 840 km/h
  • Service ceiling: 15,500 meters (higher than the F-86)
  • Armament: 2 x 23mm cannon, 1 x 37mm cannon (both in lower fuselage) with 80/40 rounds per gun.

1 Joan Beaumont: Trade, Strategy, and Foreign Policy in Conflict: The Rolls-Royce Affair 1946-1947. The International History Review, Vol 2, No 4 (Oct. 1980), pp. 602-618. (Citation available on JSTOR)

2 Lt. No Kum-Sok chronicled his experiences, culminating with his defection, in the book A MiG-15 to Freedom, published in the United States in 1996.

The use of double taps is a technique best reserved for someone with plenty of skill with a weapon. Skillfully employing a double tap requires more than simply pointing and squeezing the trigger. Over-zealous use of this method of firing can lead to unintentional casualties, i.e. killing people you didn't mean to. Note: See Blackwater.

To properly employ a double tap, rely on proper firing techniques. Most important, especially with pistols, is trigger control. Most people will encounter two problems when squeezing the trigger of a pistol:

1. Slapping - Slapping the trigger rather than squeezing it smoothly will cause the barrel of the pistol to pull to one side, usually towards the firing side. Even at short distances this will cause the round to miss the intended area, and in stressful situations this will be exaggerated.

2. Anticipation - Recoil anticipation is when the shooter anticipates the recoil of the weapon, causing them to grip the pistol grip more tightly. This will usually cause the barrel to drop down, throwing the round off drastically at even short distances.

Next, after trigger control, comes body position. The proper body position for combat shooting is to face your intended target directly. Square your body , meaning hips and shoulders should be facing the thing you would wish upon to layeth thy scunion. Next, firmly grip your pistol and grip your firing hand with your non firing hand. Your fingers should overlay, with one hand griping the fist of the other. Your arms (BOTH) should be firmly locked out, shoulders forward, head behind the pistol. Lastly, bend your knees, and lean forward as if you want to punch the target with your hand. Don't be afraid to squat over, but keep your back straight. All these things combined will give you proper body position.

If done correctly, when the round goes off, your good body positioning will cause the barrel of your weapon to naturally come back down on the original target. These steps are called recoil management, and without it you'll get kicked the hell out of country and be forced to change the company name cause you zapped a bunch of civilians you dumb bastards.

An armored personnel carrier (APC) is a vehicle designed to carry soldiers, weapons and equipment around the battlefield and to provide limited protection against weapons common to that battlefield. They are war's 'battlefield taxis" and are designed to move people about when the going gets rough. They come in all shapes and sizes and fill a multitude of roles. Heavily armed versions known as infantry fighting vehicles have turned APCs into mini-tanks. This writeup introduces their long history and development.

The true history of the modern armored vehicle begins during the First World War. The realities of trench warfare came as a rude shock to officers in World War I. Machine guns, barbed wire and trenches gave overwhelming superiority to the defense. The simple fact was men could not take a defended position without enduring hideous casualties, despite incredible artillery preparations from thousands of guns. In fact the artillery barrages proved part of the problem, they tore up the earth all around the battlefield, making it all but impossible to cross.

World War I came as a surprise in other ways. The cavalry had been the pride of the army, but the horse soldiers performed poorly in modern combat. The problems continued outside of direct combat. Horse-drawn and foot transport really wasn't good enough in the modern world. Armies didn't exactly get rid of the horse (in fact most German transport was horse-drawn at the beginning of Word War II) but horses were extremely vulnerable to fire, and the mud characteristic of trench warfare slowed them down a lot and stripped them of much of their load carrying capabilities. Men were better in mud, but not much, and could not march quickly enough. The imperatives of battle were such that soldiers had to be able to move in almost all conditions, and if breakthroughs were to be exploited, they had to move fast.

The ultimate solution reached was the tank. The track laying system could get soldiers across very rough and soft terrain, and armor protected them from most weapons. However tanks have their limitations. You can't see out of one very well without sticking your head out to be shot at, something most tankers don't do in heavy combat. A smart infantryman can easily sneak up on a lone tank, and if equipped with the right anti-tank weapon, put it out of action. So the most effective way to use tanks is with infantry, who can see quite well but aren't terribly resistant to artillery and gunfire.

The British realized this and in 1917 developed the first armored personnel carrier the Mark IX, essentially a redesigned and lengthened version of the Mark V Male tank of the period. The idea was to protect the infantrymen from machine gun fire until they got across the battlefield, when they could dismount and serve as the eyes and ears for the tanks. Because military operations rarely take place where paved roads are ubiquitous, it was realized that infantry would have to be mechanized in vehicles capable of crossing poor, undeveloped or no roads at all. The next generation of armored personnel carriers were half-tracks. Vehicles like the German SdKfz 251 and the US M3 halftrack served as the prime movers near the front during World War II. They steered like cars with the track system designed to provide traction under conditions of mud and snow. The vehicles were lightly armored (primarily against small arms) and usually equipped with a machine gun for air defense. Some were used to mount heavy mortars or to tow artillery to give the big guns the ability to keep up with the tanks.

These halftracks, like most APCs, provided fairly roomy armored hulls and load-carrying capability. Much military equipment is heavy, and if it is to keep up with the tanks it has to be mechanized. From the beginning APCs have been adapated to many roles, and come in many specialized variants. Room to spread out a map and operate many radios made them prime candidates for command vehicles. Specialized mortar and anti-aircraft vehicles abound. Troops need to be resupplied in combat and so they often serve as trucks where shooting is expected. There are electronic and fire control variants. There are about a dozen specialized standardized variants of the American M113, and that's not atypical.

The second problem was artillery fire, as guns had made quantum leaps in numbers, firepower and accuracy during the first half of the 20th century. Longer range guns could reach deep behind the lines to strike second echelon forces. During the war soldiers began to realize that the best time to attack an enemy combat force came before the enemy deployed for combat. Cold War doctrine for the U.S. Army stressed attacking Warsaw Pact units well behind the lines, as they were easier to hurt, and it was discovered such hits could produce predictable times of weakness that could be exploited.

This thinking drove the APC to its current form. An oustanding example that came from that period was the US M113. Essentially a box on tracks, it is armored to resist light machine gun fire (heavy machine guns from the front) and light artillery fragments. NATO officers have always respected the power and numbers of Soviet artillery. APCs are designed to survive near misses from artillery and keep their passengers safe from snipers until deployed. APCs are not armored to resist direct hits from heavy weapons, That much armor would render them too heavy and immobile. (The Israeli Achzarit is a notable exception, formed out of captured T-55 tanks and Israel's historic manpower shortages.) The sides tend to be lightly sloped and with heavy sloping on the front where more protection is often needed. Many APCs are amphibious to get across the many waterways found in the field, but most are poor swimmers requiring ideal conditions to cross. Most APCs are lightly armed - usually just a machine gun.

This "box on tracks" form is not ubiquitous. Nor are tracks mandatory. There have always been armored cars, but recent advances in wheeled technology have produced mobility very close to tracked vehicles, but without the enormous maintenance and other costs associated with tracks. Plus they don't need transporters for long moves. The price for this is armor, because little can be carried. Second, not all APCs are boxes. In Vietnam U.S. troops often rode on top of their M-113s because they were more afraid of RPGs and mines than artillery or gunfire. In the 70s South Africa noticed their Angolan and African National Congress opponents didn't have much artillery but they did have mines, so they designed the open topped and very odd-looking buffel to protect against them. APCs are often used in reconnaissance because their armor can protect them against the odd rifleman while searching for the bad guys.

The Russians took the next step and brought us the first infantry fighting vehicle (IFV). Their tactics drew on World War II experience and stressed offensive operations. Experience taught them to try and get through any breakthrough as quickly as possible to prepare for counterattack. The idea was to create a breakthrough so ideally you'd have to carry infantry past the front to exploit any opportunites. They also recognized the growing number of anti-tank weapons on the battlefield, and soldiers do not enjoy just hunkering down under fire, they like to shoot back. They figured that if an APC had to cross a battlefield it might as well be able to fight. The BMP-1 was the world's first infantry fighting vehicle. Armed with a turreted 73mm gun, Sagger anti-tank missiles and machine guns it was intended to pin down enemy soldiers while on the attack, and to support infantry with heavy weapons after they dismount. Heavy machine guns, cannon and anti-tank weapons are very heavy, often too heavy to be carried. Moving them onto the APC was seen as a way of giving the infantry more firepower and mobility. The IFV minimizes the historical fact that many military hybrids don't work very well, but IFVs do give a motorized unit a lot more firepower. History shows that if commanders have an armored vehicle available, they'll use it regardless of its intended purpose. In Vietnam, lightly armored M-113 APCs were often used in the assault role because tanks weren't available. At least the IFV carries enough firepower to breach many prepared positions.

Western soldiers looked at the new BMP and had a collective moment. They did notice that the IFV was packed with ammo which might go boom if hit with the right weapon, but it was also fast and low and most soldiers don't aim too well when they're being shot at. They also had another moment when they started counting Soviet tanks, all of whom are fast, low and well-shaped. Defeating armor in such numbers seemed a daunting process, and the profusion of Soviet APCs simply multiplied the problem. They knew they'd never get enough tanks to match up. So NATO commanders tried to saturate the battlefield with their own anti-tank weapons, particularly promising guided missiles like the TOW. However, guided anti-tank missiles come with their own set of issues. Most move rather slowly with the flight time counted with seconds and most produce a fairly distinctive back-blast that can be targetted. Since aim must be maintained during the entire flight it was decided to put the weapon (and others of its type) under armor in hopes that the gunner will take heart and keep his eye on the target. Given that NATO troops expected to fight on the defensive from prepared firing positions, the IFV might very well survive long enough to bring its weapons to bear.

NATO adapted many standard APCs yet the BMP inspired plenty of western imitators. The M2 Bradley was designed primarily to bust BMPs. To fight tanks designers gave it a TOW and put the operator under armor. The 25mm Bushmaster was intended to slice up more lightly armored vehicles like the BMP. When moving across the battlefield the crew was supposed to use socketed mini-M16s to keep enemy infantry off their back (the M231 firing port weapon). The M231 can't be aimed and hitting anything while racing across country is a very dim prospect. But you can bet the mounted infantry will use them just to keep busy and at first they'll keep enemy infantry down too. Like the BMP in combat it is supposed to operate behind its deployed infantry and bring heavy weapons to bear. And it's fairly heavily armored by APC standards. Reactive armor can make them rather RPG resistant, but dismounted infantry will want to keep a safe distance away from the competing blasts.

Armored personnel carriers are not going away. They can cross most terrain and protect their passengers against most threats. They can carry heavy stuff where needed and fill just about every role. And they're armored, and most soldiers believe you can't have too much armor around, so long as it's far enough away not to bring a bomb down on the nearby infantry. The combination of mobility, flexibility and armor is more than enough to keep around for the foreseeable future.

IFVs are also known as armored fighting vehicles or AFVs, the choice being personal preference.

Victory in war is often followed by relaxation. Being on the winning side of the Great War left America a bit complacent, and while like others the Army produced some noted advocates for armor-- namely Eisenhower and Patton the American army quickly lost all interest in tanks. So called 'real soldiering' (the Poor bloody Infantry) was seen as more honorable and, more importantly, cost a lot less.

Then along came a guy named Hitler. By 1939 war clouds had gathered over Europe and Japan was on the march in China. As this Hitler guy was on the losing side in World War I he took some of those new-fangled mechanization ideas a lot more seriously. The German Army, disarmed at Versailles, was building tanks. When the Germans took over Poland pretty damned quickly it was realized that victorious armies were mechanized.

The problem is when you need something in a real hurry you grab whatever's off the shelf. You've got a helicoil suspension available from the M2 Light tank (tanks were okay for scouting). Got a nice continental radial aircraft engine producing 400 HP. Got a 75mm gun. They designed a turret for it, put these off-the-shelf bits together and pronounced it a Sherman. And the Sherman wasn't too bad either, in fact in 1942 it was better than the Wehrmacht's best. But by then the Germans had visited the Russian front. To their amazement the Russians had built this thing called a T-34.

The T-34 was the best tank of the first half of World War II, and possibly the most influential tank design in history. Its Christie suspension and powerful diesel motor made it faster than any other tank. Russian designers were intimately familiar with General Mud so they gave it wide tracks which allowed their tank to operate on soft ground no other tank could cross. It was well armored, and the armor was well sloped multiplying the plate's effectiveness. It had a 76mm gun too, so it had lots of hitting power. While the T-34 wasn't perfect, it combined speed, mobility, heavy armor and firepower in a near beautiful balance. Add reliabilty to the mix and you had a special tank, good enough that T34's still serve today. At the time the Panzerkampfwagon III with a 37mm gun was Germany's primary anti-tank vehicle. Simply put no German vehicle matched up. German tankers begged Berlin for something that would. Germany responded with the Panther and Tiger. Germany dumped the Panzer III and started sticking long 75mm guns on the Panzer IV.

The Russians had warned America of the Panther and Tiger, but they didn't appear in numbers until late 1943, well after the Army committed to the Sherman. Now properly backed, American tank engineers worked on the tank they really wanted to produce, and paying close attention to combat experience around the world. The produced a number of prototypes, most notably the T23 whose turret found its way onto later models of the Sherman. In late 1942 the T26 was under trials. It was a heavy tank that would become the Pershing. But in 1942 the Sherman did quite well against the older German tanks in the Afrika Korps. It was in full production and retooling would have led to a short term drop in production during the build up for D-Day. The Sherman was there and it looked more than good enough.

Maintaining production was one reason the Pershing was left on the slow track. Another was that most American leaders thought most of the German heavy tank production would head East, where it was badly needed. The last, and possibly most imporant reason was doctrine.

The Army had recognized that enemy tanks might prove a problem. So they created the Tank Destroyer Force to deal with them. The force was a combination of specialized anti-tank vehicles (eg: M18 Hellcat, M10 Wolverine) and towed guns who were supposed to fight enemy tanks. Tank destroyers got better guns (the 76mm and later 90mm) and the lion's share of the hottest ammunition. Tanks were reserved for more important tasks like assaults and exploiting breakthroughs. Unfortunately the Germans refused to co-operate. Fearing a second front the Germans put most of their Panthers and Tigers in the west. Moreover, except for the Battle of the Bulge German armor was primarily in the anti-tank role or limited-objective counterattacks to contain allied thrusts. Shermans got into lots of fights with the good German tanks, and a lot of American tankers died because of it. The rule was that it took five Shermans to fight a Tiger and only one would come home.

By 1944 the Army realized its anti-tank doctrine was wrong. There were other issues. The Sherman wasn't heavily armored enough for use in the 'assault' role. The M4A3E2 "Jumbo" Shermans with very heavy armor filled that role temporarily, but would not do forever. Even the 76mm Shermans needed a bigger gun. The Army needed a tank capable of taking on a Tiger or Panther. They gave the go-ahead to start mass-producing the M26 Pershing.

The Pershing was the first true clean-sheet American tank design. It tossed out the helicoil suspension used on the M3, M4 and M5 and replaced it with a torsion bar suspension. They used an improved version of the Ford GAA V-8 used in the M4A3 producing 500 hp and mated it with a very new automatic transmission with a torque converter. The cast hull was lower, better shaped and thicker than the Shermans. It had lower ground pressure for greater mobility. The turret was enlarged and 90mm anti-aircraft gun adapted for use. That decision proved controversial. The Army dithered between the the 76mm used in the M10 and later Shermans and the 90mm. Given the inadequacy of the 76mm the 90mm seems an obvious choice, until you consider they expected more of the HVAP ammunition, and 90mm ammo was both much larger and more expensive (which meant the tank would carry less ammo). Finally they settled on the 90mm.

The resulting design was very modern indeed, all U.S. tanks until the M1 Abrams evolved directly from the M26. The well-shaped hull offered excellent protection for relatively light weight. The gun performed well. The tank had good mobility in soft ground, but it had one major flaw: the powerpack. First it was underpowered. The Ford GAF V-8 was reliable but produced no more power than the GAA and the M26 weighed 10 tons more than the M4A3. The transmission was not reliable. It made the tank easier to drive when it worked, but it broke regularly, and proved a maintenance nightmare. In 1948 a new powerpack was designed. Both engine and transmission were replaced and upgraded models were redesignated the M46 Patton.

The M26 enjoyed a good combat record. It was introduced in limited numbers (200 tanks) in January 1945. By then the German back was already broken, but it proved capable of going one-on-one with any tank in Germany's arsenal, something that could not be said about the Sherman. The Tiger II was considered better but at much greater weight and many times greater cost. Pershings fought well during the Korean War and in limited numbers the Pershing and its M46 upgrade destroyed over half the T-34/85s killed by American tanks.

The M26 is one of the least known tanks built in America, but because it set the pattern for 30 years of American tanks and because it performed well in combat it deserves a solid place in history. The M46 and M47 Pattons really are nothing more than upgraded Pershings, and the lineage is clearly visible in the later M48 and M60 series. Which shows they got the basic design right.

Specifications:

  • Weight: 46 tons loaded
  • Height: 109" to the top of the cupola
  • Length: 249" (6.3m) without gun
  • Armor: 4.5" mantlet, 4" front, 3" sides, 1" topv
  • Armament main: 90mm gun M3:
  • 1 .50cal M2 machine gung, 2 .30 caliber machine guns
  • Crew: 5
  • Speed: 25 mph.