Final stop

Go home Ivan, you’re drunk… A Soviet BT-7-2 has crashed into a phone pole, the driver having trouble controlling it after losing the track on the right side. The BT-7 was introduced in 1935, and got its baptism of fire against the Japanese at Khalkin Gol in 1939. It saw action in Poland and Finland later that year, the Finns capturing 56 of them and adding them to their small tank force.

Armed with a 45 mm gun, the tank was a so called “cavalry tank”, which sacrificed armor protection for speed. The Christie suspension (later seen on its successor, the T-34) gave it good cross-country characteristics. The tank in the photo is the 1937 upgrade with the T-26 model 1937 conical turret, the two round hatches making the Germans nickname it “Mickey Mouse”. A pair of headlights above the main gun were used for night fighting. The tank had a crew of three (commander/gunner, loader, and driver), which together with the lack of a commander’s cupola and radio made the commander’s task hard and dangerous.

About 2000 tanks – 40 % of the total number built – were lost in the first 12 months after the launch of Operation Barbarossa. Still, the BT-7 was still active on all fronts by the end of the war in 1945.

A bridge too far away

A Soviet KV-1 tank is abandoned, stuck in the riverside mud of some river during the fighting in the summer of 1942. As the Soviet tanks were generally superior to the German Panzers at the time when it came to armor and armament, most of the losses were due to mechanical breakdown, lack of fuel, or, as in this case, getting bogged down. Another disadvantage was the lack of radios; in most cases, only the platoon commander’s tank was equipped with a radio, and that was set to reception only, not transmission. Tank commanders had to signal each others with flags, something that exposed them to enemy fire.

The KV-1 Model 1942 (called KV-1C by the Germans) featured a cast turret, thicker armor, and a new main gun. Still, most Soviet tanks had crews of four men, with the commander also acting as gunner, which meant that he had to split his attention between the battlefield and the acquisition of targets. The lack of a commander’s cupola made that task even harder. The Germans had five man crews, where the commander could concentrate on the overall situation through his cupola, while the gunner kept track on targets. As all German tanks had two-way radios, they could coordinate much better than the Soviets, partly overcoming shortcomings in armor and armament. With the introduction of the PzKpfw IV Ausf F2/G in the spring of 1942, the Germans had a tank that could match the Soviet armor.

 

Thanks to Daniel Löwenhamn for correction and additional information.

Beutepanzer

Not the best photo, but one of a rather uncommon tank. A disabled Panzerkampfwagen 35(t) stands on the side of a street in a French Town. It belongs to the 6. Panzer-Division, one of 132 PzKpfw 35(t) fielded by that division. 62 tanks were lost during the campaign, either total write-offs or repaired once it was over. In the attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, the 6. PzDiv could field 160 tanks, but as they neared Moscow, they were lost in combat, or broke down in the freezing weather. As there were no spare parts to be had, knocked-out tanks were cannibalized for any usable parts. By the end of 1941, there were hardly any PzKpfw 35(t) in running condition.

When the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, they captured 244 Škoda LT vz. 35, which was a light tank armed with a 3.7 cm main gun, making it superior to the German PzKpfw I and II. They were modified to better suit German doctrine (like adding a loader to the original three-man crew). All tanks were sent to Panzer-Abteilung 65 and Panzer-Regiment 11 of the 1. leichte Division (which was redesignated 6. Panzer-Division in October 1939), and that is why the tank in the photo ended up in a street in France.

Famous members of the 6. PzDiv were Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and the panzer ace Generalmajor Dr Franz Bäke. A rather more infamous member was the author of pulp war novels, Sven Hassel, who claimed to have served in the German Panzer troops. The field mail number he mentions in “Wheels of Terror” is the same as that of the 1st company of the Panzer-Abteilung 65, and later first the 8th, then the 6th company of Panzer-Regiment 11. His claim is rather spurious, though, and should, in light of his other claims in books like “Legion of the Damned”, be taken with a truckload of salt.

50 Shades of Grey

This photo is pretty interesting. German soldiers, three of them Panzer crewmen, inspect the overturned wreck of a T-34. Eastern Front, 1941 or 1942, etc, etc. But what I want to show with this post is how several of the photos I post are enhanced. Most of them are about 5×9 centimeters in size, or three times smaller than a standard modern print. They were taken and developed some 75 years ago, usually by amateurs wielding a Leica under field conditions. Some photos can be very crisp and clear, with excellent contrast and balance, but many are like the photo to the left.

Most photos I post are somewhat cropped. If the horizon is askew, I usually right it. Contrast and clarity are enhanced. specks are removed, and any tears or other damage “repaired”. I don’t have the skill, nor the software, to turn a bland photo into something great (my wife could – she’s great at Photoshop – but she has her own blog). Anyway, I try to make the best of what I have, and present it in a manner I hope will inform the viewer.

Achtung Panzer!

Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. F (probably) rolls through the ruins of a French town in May, 1940. A swastika flag is draped across the engine deck in order to lessen the risk of misidentification and attacks by friendly aircraft. The crew is smiling at the camera. According to notes on the back of the photo, the man to the left was named Horst Schwalm. A search didn’t find him listed among dead or missing German soldiers, so it’s possible he survived the war. The tank belongs to the 2nd battalion of a tank regiment, and the number “541” stands for 5th company, 4th platoon, 1st tank (out of five in the platoon).

The Pz.Kpfw III was the most common German tank in the campaigns of 1939 and 1940, but despite being upgunned from 3.7 cm to 5 cm (Ausf. F onwards), it didn’t have the armor protection, nor the gun needed to take on Soviet tanks. The turret couldn’t mount a more powerful gun, so production was switched to the highly successful Sturmgeschütz III assault guns, and the Pz.Kpfw IV became the standard tank instead.

Drop by when you feel like it…

So how did that T-34 end up in the house? Did the crew try to hide from enemy airplanes? Did they look for a concealed position for an ambush? Was the driver drunk? Was it Germans who found it and decided to take it for a joyride? The soldier of Pz.Pi.Btl. 49 didn’t write that on the back of the photo. Anyway, I doubt the owners of the house were thrilled to see their bedroom turned into a tank garage…

Big Brother

Another photo by a soldier in Panzer-Pionier-Bataillon 49 (of the 10. PzDiv). This is a KV-2, an assault tank which was based on the same chassis as the KV-1. Armed with the 152 mm M-10T howitzer, the big turret made the tank heavier, slower, and with a considerably raised profile (4.18 meters!). The traverse mechanism only worked when the tank was on even ground. It isn’t likely that the tank in the photo has been knocked out by German fire; the crew probably left the tank after the drive line broke down, or they ran out of fuel. Production was halted in late 1941, and other, more reliable designs were adopted. The Germans used an unknown number of KV-2s under the designation (Sturm)Panzerkampfwagen KV-II 754(r).