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.

Royal visit

Orléans, France, late June 1940. The wreck of a French Potez 63.11, the reconnaisance version in the Potez family of twin-engined heavy fighters and light bombers, has ended up on the Pont Royal bridge. The bridge was renamed “Pont George V” after the war as recognition of Britain’s role in the war. The city of Orléans was a transport hub for the German occupation forces, and became the target of extensive bombing.

The Potez 630 family was the French equivalent of the German Messerschmitt Bf 110. While reportedly pleasant to fly, it was somewhat underpowered and not heavily armed. Its performance wasn’t impressive, and it suffered if faster enemy fighters were present.

 

Same same but different

Two knocked out Schwerer Panzerspähwagen (heavy reconnaisance car) Sd.Kfz. 231 8-Rad (left) and 6-Rad (right), France, 18 June 1940. The one to the left is the eight-wheeled version, while the other is the six-wheeled. Judging by the damage, the right one has burned extensively, and is a total write-off. The other has lost its tires for some unclear reason, as there aren’t any definite signs of fire damage.

The Sd.Kfz. 231 family of armored cars were produced with different armament and radio equipment options. The six-wheelers were produced until 1937, when the eight-wheelers were introduced, featuring better crosscountry capabilities. With a top speed of 85 kph on roads, it was a capable vehicle for armored reconnaisance. The armament, usually a 20 mm automatic cannon, wasn’t intended for attack, but for returning fire if the vehicle ran into opposition. The point of reconnaisance is return with intelligence, and not engaging enemies if avoidable.

The 6-Rad saw little frontline action after 1941, while the 8-Rad was in use until the last days of the war in the form of the Sd.Kfz. 234.

Junked Junkers

A crash-landed Junkers Ju 88, probably an A-4. The Ju 88 was a twin-engined multirole combat aircraft, which turned out to be one of the most versatile and successful airplane designs of WW2. This one didn’t enjoy much success, though, but at least the crew had a decent chance of walking away from the wreck.

The Ju 88 saw service in many different version, like a bomber, dive bomber, radar-equipped night fighter, torpedo bomber, reconnaissance aircraft, heavy fighter, and even flying bomb. In 1943, 105 Ju 88 A-4s were used in the attack on the port of Bari, one of the most succesful Luftwaffe attacks of the war, resulting in the sinking of 28 Allied ships. The Germans lost just one aircraft in the raid. One covered up effect of the attack was the release of mustard gas, which was carried on one of the sunk US ships, injuring hundreds of sailors, medical personnel and civilians, killing at least 83. One of the reasons the presence of chemical weapons was hushed down was that the Allies didn’t want the Germans to consider using gas on the battlefield. Hitler, who had been a victim of a gas attack during WW1, opposed its use (one of the few moral things he did), and if it had become known that the Allies had a ship full of artillery gas grenades, he might have reconsidered that decision.

Only two complete Ju 88s have survived the war. I’ve seen one of them, which is kept at the RAF Museum in Hendon, just north of London. The museum is a must to visit if one has an interest in combat aircraft of the 20th century.

Left behind

With the recent focus on Dunkerque thanks to the new movie “Dunkirk”, it might be of interest to see some of the equipment left behind by the retreating French forces. Several abandonded Renault UE Chenilette (“small tracked vehicles”) which were towing 25 mm Hotchkiss antitank guns are littering the road. As the tractors were too small to accommodate the gun crews, these had to walk behind, following the vehicles on foot. Instead of moving at the vehicle’s top speed of 30 kph, the movement rate was at walking pace.

In the nine days from 27 May–4 June, 338,226 British soldiers from the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) were evacuated, including 139,997 French, Polish, Belgian and Dutch troops, Two French divisions were captured while covering their retrating allies, buying them time. Much of the British equipment left behind – enough to equip 8-10 divisions – was pressed into German service, just like many of the French vehicles and guns like those in the photo. They saw action on the Eastern Front a year later, where they eventually broke down due to lack of spare parts.

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.

Upgunned

A rather poor but interesting photo of some German infantrymen who have improved the firepower of their squad. Dragging three captured Maxim PM M1910 machineguns past a knocked-out Soviet tank, it’s a question for how long they’ll want to schlep the 64-kilo weapons. The wheeled carriage helps, but it seems to be a hot day, as most of the soldiers wear the off-white Drillich linen work pants instead of the fieldgrey woolen pants. Still, the MGs will come in handy if they run into some Red Army opposition. As long as they have ammo, their squad will be fine. Their rifles appear to be longer than the standard Karabiner 98 kurz; it’s as if they are armed with the older Gewehr 98. This was used by second-line units until issued Kar98k.

ETA: My friend Daniel Löwenhamn pointed out that the tunics are the olive green Drillich tunics used for the work uniform. Later, the work uniform was changed to a reed green color and used as a summer uniform.