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GEORGE FORTY
WORLD WAR TWO. ARMOURED FIGHTING VEHICLES & SELF-PROPELLED ARTILLERY

The BAZ amphibious armoured car had a distinctive boat- shaped hull and mounted a 37mm gun, plus two MGs. (TM)

Aerosans

The earliest of these Aerosans light sled type vehicles, first deployed in the Winter War against Finland (November 1939 to March 1940), were only constructed from plywood and powered by obsolete aeroplane engines. They were used for moving vital supplies over deep snow, which was impassable to normal wheeled or tracked vehicles. Some of the OSGA-6 (also known as the NKL-6) and KM 5 Aerosans were also used, fitted with a roof-mounted machine gun on a ring mount to support raiding parties (four or five men on the sled and four more towed behind on skis). Later, improved versions, known as NKL-16/41 and 16/42 were produced and these led on to the production of an armoured version, the NKL-26 armoured Aerosan, with 10mm armoured plate on the nose. Organised into battalions, with forty-five Aerosans divided into three companies, they were used mainly in the north on fiat ground (over frozen lakes and rivers) as the sled had difficulty ascending hills.

The NKL-16/41 Aerosan could be fitted with a machine gun for raiding, but was mainly used for transporting men or stores. (TM)

Self-propelled Artillery

From 1942 onwards, the Red Army produced a comprehensive range of SP assault guns and achieved major success, taking note of what the Germans had done, by keeping the number of different models to a minimum. They had begun development of SP artillery much earlier of course, in the 1930s, using tank chassis to mount a number of different weapons, ranging from 37mm anti-tank guns to 152mm ex-naval guns and even larger calibre howitzers. However, the muddled thinking of men like General Pavlov, combined with Stalin's savage purge of his real tank experts like Tukhachevsky, held back all development. It was not until the formation of the new tank and mechanised corps from 1942, that the desperate need for mechanised artillery to support them was fully realised.

The NKL-26 Aerosan was the armoured version used for raiding. It was normally fitted with a single DT machine gun on the roof. (TM)

The SU-76 self-propelled gun was known as the 'Suka' (the Bitch) by its crews as it lacked any overhead protection. A later version the SU-76B was better protected, but proved to be too heavy and did not enter service. (TM)

The SU-122 was a medium self-propelled gun. based on the chassis of the T-34 tank. It entered service in 1942. its main role was to support infantry (like the German Sturmgeschütz). (TM)

In fact, designing the first of these new mechanised guns had already begun as the armoured forces themselves had grown tired of the painfully slow progress being made by the Directorate of Artillery towards mechanisation caused in part, it has to be said, by the unreliability of many of the early means of mechanising the guns. In early 1942, development work had started on a light self-propelled gun using the T-60 light tank chassis and mounting the standard 76.2mm ZiS-3 divisional gun. It was called OSU-76 (Opytnaya Samokhodnaya Ustanovka - experimental mechanised mounting). The chassis was found to be too small, so work was transferred to the larger T-70 chassis. By moving the driver, engines and fuel tanks all to the front, it was possible to mount the gun on a slightly lengthened chassis, at the rear in a simple open-topped, box-shaped hull. Standardised as the SU-76 the first twenty-six were built in 1942. They were not a success, proving to be as unreliable as the early T-70 tank. This was mainly because of the engine arrangement, so it was decided to follow the same configuration as the T-70M, which had the two engines in line. Some hull modifications were necessary and the unproved SU-76M started to roll off the assembly lines in large numbers. It had only mediocre success in the anti-tank role, not only because the Germans started to use better armoured tanks, hut also because the effective range of the SU-76 was greatly reduced when tiring AP ammunition. In the infantry support artillery role, where it could use the over 11,000 metres range of the gun to full advantage, it performed much better. However, it was not liked by the crews, because of the lack of overhead protection. They called it Suka (Bitch). A version with better all-round protection was produced, the SU-76B, but this proved to be far too heavy and was not accepted into service. The gun could tire four types of ammunition: HE, APHE, HVAP and HEAT. Sixty rounds of ammunition were carried and the vehicle measured 16ft 8½ins long, 9ft 1¾ins wide and 7ft high.

In mid-1942, work commenced on designing the fitting of the 122mm M-38 field howitzer on the T-34 chassis, with all-round armoured protection. Everything went according to plan and the first SU-122 rolled off the assembly line at the end of 1942. It went into action in January 1943. From the outset it was not considered as an anti-tank weapon, the anti-tank HEAT ammunition round proving to be a disappointment. They even went as far as to produce a longer barrelled version (SU-122P), but this proved to be too long for the chassis and never entered production. So, it remained an infantry assault gun for direct fire support against defended localities.

Another dual purpose weapon was the SU-152, which mounted a massive 152 mm howitzer on a KV-1 chassis. It did exceptionally well in the anti-tank role, earning the nickname Zvieroboy (Animal Killer) as it could knock-out Tigers, Panthers and even Elefants. Twelve SU-152s were rushed to the Kursk battlefield, reinforced later with a further nine. It is rumoured that the SU-152s had been designed in less than a month.

Specifications

Model SU-122 SU-152 ISU-122 ISU-152
Weight (Tons) 31 45.5 45.5 46
Crew all five
Dimensions
Length: 23ft 2ins 29ft 10ins 32ft 10ins 30ft 7ins
Width: 10ft 10ft 10ins 10ft 2½ins 10ft 2½ins
Height: 7ft 8½ins 8ft 2ins 8ft 3½ins 8ft 3½ins
Main 122mm 152mm 122mm 152mm
Armament
Engine all powered with V12 V-2
Type diesels 500hp all 600 hp
Top speed 35mph 27mph 23mph 23mph
Range miles 188 206 both 138

The ISU-152 heavy self- propelled gun entered service in 1944, and provided long- range covering fire to support attacking formations. It was normally used in the direct fire role. (TM)

Two ISU-122s (the one in front is without a muzzle brake) are part of a Red Army raiding party which crossed into Transylvania, October 1944. (TM)

When production of the KV-1 tank ended in 1943, it was decided to use the IS-1 chassis as the basis for a new heavy assault gun, mounting the 152mm ML-20 howitzer. This gun had the advantage of using the same carriage and recuperator system as the 122mm A-19 gun. so it was possible to produce both an ISU-152 and an ISU-122, simply by changing barrels and re-organising internal ammunition stowage. On both these models, the crew compartments were enlarged, being higher, with less sloping sides, while the KV-type hatches were replaced with IS-type cupolas. The ISU-122 mounted the M-1944 L/45 A-19 gun with a wedge breech block and tired a 551b shell to a range of 13,000 metres. After a total of almost 2,500 had been produced the next series were fitted with the 122mm D-25S L/43 tank gun, with a large muzzle break, which had better armour penetration. The 152mm howitzer fired an HF shell weighing 96lb to a range of 8,960 metres and, despite its slow rate of tire, its 1071b AP round could start to kill enemy tanks at phenomenal ranges. The only drawback was the small ammunition load carried of only twenty rounds.

ZSU-37s in a parade on Red Square, Moscow. A small number were built between 1944 and 1945, but it was beset with problems due to poor turret traverse speed. (TM)

In mid-1944 the SU-100 was one of the best tank destroyers in service but was vulnerable as it was not fitted with defensive machine guns. (TM)

Artillery Tractors

Artillery tractors were somewhat neglected because of the pressing need to build tanks, the only one to be built in any quantity being the YA-12. This was based on the light tank series and designed to tow the 152mm howitzer. It was later re-engined.

SP Anti-tank Guns

Early in the war, two small sell propelled anti tank guns were used, both were based on armoured conversions of the Komsomolets tractor. The first the SU-45, mounted a 45mm gun (as on the BT-7 tank) in an armoured box-like turret inside of which the crew could stand. It weighed 6tons, had a crew of three and carried forty rounds of ammunition. The tractor's diesel engine (positioned at the front now instead of the normal rear position) gave it a top speed of 25mph and a range 156miles. The lighter 4-ton SU-57, mounted a larger gun. but had no crew-protection apart from a gunshield. Its speed and range remained the same as the SU-45.

Tank Destroyers

Attempts to mount an 85mm anti-aircraft gun on the T-70 light tank chassis got no further than the prototype stage as the gun was too long for the chassis. The design team for the new SU-85 was headed by S. N. Machinowa and included L. S. Trajanowa, a celebrated woman engineer. The new vehicle was built at the Uralmasz i Celabinski factory, the first one hundred appearing at the end of 1943 on the Dnepr and Ukraine fronts.

In 1944, as German heavy tanks were now- being met in ever-increasing numbers, it was decided to fit the more powerful 100mm gun, using the same chassis, the resulting SU-100 resembled the SU-85 in many ways, apart of course from armament. The well-sloped hull was of welded construction whilst the superstructure, housing the lighting compartment, had an angled front plate (including the glacis plate). The gun was offset to the right of centre, with the commander's station behind.

There was a cupola, with a hinged hatch cover, plus a second hinged hatch in the roof to the left of the gun. The driver's position was on the left, with the gunner immediately behind him, while the loader stood at the rear of the fighting compartment.

Specifications SU-85 SU-100
Weight (tons) 29.2 31.5
Crew four four
Dimensions
length 27ft 2ins 31ft 6ins
Width 10ft 10ft
Height 8ft 4ins 7ft 6ins
Armament: 85mm gun D5-S 100mm gun D10-S
Engine (both) V12 500hp V-2 type diesel engine
Top speed 30mph 30mph
Range 250miles 200miles

Tracked Anti-aircraft Vehicles

Despite significant armoured vehicles losses from air attack, the Soviets did not produce any really effective tracked AA guns, until well after the end of the war, when the ZSU-57-2 and ZSU-23-4 were developed in the 1950s. Instead, they depended on a mixture of lorry-mounted, light AA weapons (quadruple Maxim MGs or a 37mm gun on a GAZ AA lorry) or on American equipment such as the M15 and M17 multiple GMC on an M3 halftrack chassis, over 1,000 of which had been supplied under lend-lease.

An attempt was made to use first the T-60 light tank chassis, then the T-70, to mount twin 12.7mm heavy machine guns, but this project was shelved in 1943, in favour of mounting a 37mm AA gun on a modified SU-76 chassis. The resulting ZSU-37 was beset with problems, in particular concerning the speed at which the gun could be traversed, and only a few hundred were produced.

Armoured Trains

By far the largest armoured fighting vehicles in the Red Army's arsenal were their armoured trains. Despite being vulnerable to attack from the air or from tanks, they were used on various occasions, mainly to provide fire support to the attacking infantry. During the battles for Stalingrad, eight armoured train battalions were in action. The trains were mainly armed with tank turrets from T-34 or KV-1, although there were some special armoured trains, mounting AA guns and MGs, to provide vital railway shipments with mobile, on the spot protection. There were also armoured artillery trains, which mounted even larger guns.

Armoured trains of the Red Army were heavily equipped with a variety of different gun turrets. (TM)

CHAPTER SIX

France

Good, it somewhat old fashioned equipment, but used in an outdated way thanks to an all-pervading false sense of security.

The building of the Maginot Line had undoubtedly given France a sense of false security, nevertheless, just as the French Army had a reasonable number of good tanks in service in 1939, so also were they quite well equipped with armoured cars. Of the three types of French cavalry, the third the AMD - Automitrailleuse de Decouverte (long- range reconnaissace machine gun cars), was entirely the primary task of armoured cars, whilst armoured cars and halftracks were also to be found in the two other classifications of cavalry vehicles. Automitrailleuses de Reconnaissance (AMR) and Automitrailleuses de Combat (AMC), although they were mainly equipped with light and light medium tanks. In addition to those in Metropolitan France, some armoured cars and other AFVs were in North Africa, the Middle Fast and Far Fast, helping to maintain law and order in the French colonial empire. One source puts the figure at 200 armoured cars abroad. During the Blitzkrieg invasion of France in 1940, the French Army hi mainland France had over 400 inter-war armoured cars in service, including about 350 of their latest Panhard AMD 178 in reconnaissance units.

After the defeat a number of French armoured cars, together with various other items of military hardware, were taken over by the Germans. Others were clandestinely 'acquired' by the French Resistance or even manufactured by them from stolen parts! This unfortunately ended when a traitor informed on these covert operations. The Germans not only used the captured AFVs in their correct role, but also fitted them with other weapons - for example, mounting a 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun on the Lorraine carrier, was hut one of a number of adaptations. A few French armoured vehicles also later saw action with the Free French in North Africa against both the Italians and the Germans.

The French had made considerable use of artillerie d'assaut in World War One, when 400 each of their Schneider and St diamond (both mounting 75mm guns) Char d'assaut were built. There were plans in hand to mount larger calibre guns (194mm and 280mm) on the St Chiamond chassis when the war ended in 1918. Progress thereafter was minimal, due mainly to opposition from the entrenched 'horse artillery', backed by the Commander-in-Chief, so that when World War Two began the only SP artillery in service with the French Army was a handful of experimental models and prototypes.

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