German vs. British tanks during Crusader

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Michael Emrys
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Post by Michael Emrys » 25 Nov 2007 04:15

Pips wrote:Wasn't the German tactic to avoid tank on tank? They left that to their AT forces to combat and defeat the oppositions tank force.


Often. But they fought plenty of tank on tank battles as well. And when they did, they tried to use superior tactics there too, particularly enveloping the flanks and seeking shots against the more vulnerable side and rear armor. Also they tried to keep their armor concentrated, giving them local superiority regardless of overall numbers in the theater. One of the things the British have been criticized for in the Desert battles is sending their tanks into battle a brigade at the time. Time and time again that allowed them to be defeated piecemeal.

Like almost everything in war, it's the man and his skill in using the weapon that usually is the deciding factor.


More often than not. But having more and better of everything can help.

Michael

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Re: German vs. British tanks during Crusader

Post by Jon G. » 25 Nov 2007 09:16

Michael Emrys wrote:
Jon G. wrote:It's interesting to see that the Germans identified the need for the short-barrelled HE-firing 75 mm gun also after they upgraded the Pz IV - first by mounting it in the Pz III (which was even evident in the early Tiger battalions), later by mounting it on various half-track and eight-wheeler chassis.


Wasn't this gun—or a slightly modified version of it—also mounted on the early models of the StuG?

Michael


Yes, true, the short-barrelled 75 mm gun was mounted on the early StuG B/C model. I believe that some StuG Cs were with Sonderverband 288 in Africa, but not sure if they were evident by the time of Crusader. Hollow-charge shells made the L24 more efficient against tanks but (again IIRC) those were only introduced in 1942.

Some of Lone Sentry's intelligence bulletins are pertinent to this subject:

German Methods of Warfare in the Libyan Desert (from July 1942)

Artillery in the Desert (from November 1942)

The latter article gives the effective range of the 2-pdr. as a paltry 300 yards against tanks - although it may have worked at longer ranges against 1941 vintage tanks, cf. the bulletin's date of publication.

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Re: German vs. British tanks during Crusader

Post by Andreas » 25 Nov 2007 10:52

Michael Emrys wrote:
Andreas wrote:I guess I am less convinced that bringing 2-pdr AT along to protect the moving tanks and provide a firm base, together with 25-pdrs for tearing apart infantry and German ATGs would have been a less workable proposition than what the Germans did.


In fact, that was the idea behind the "Jock Columns". These weren't organized until late in the battle though as somewhat of a desperate measure, but seem to have worked fairly well against light resistance. The Germans applied it on a larger scale and were better practiced in it of course.

Michael


I think pretty much everyone I read agrees that the Jock columns were a very bad idea, only excusable as acts of desperation. The whole idea of sending light columns hither and thither against an enemy who believed in concentration of force beggars belief. See e.g. Kippenberger's memoir and Tuker's 'Approach to battle'. Neither of them has any time for the nonsense that was embodied in the column ideas. Naming them 'Jock' columns can be regarded as an undeserved slight to their patron.

All the best

Andreas

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Re: German vs. British tanks during Crusader

Post by Andreas » 25 Nov 2007 10:54

Jon G. wrote:
Michael Emrys wrote:
Jon G. wrote:It's interesting to see that the Germans identified the need for the short-barrelled HE-firing 75 mm gun also after they upgraded the Pz IV - first by mounting it in the Pz III (which was even evident in the early Tiger battalions), later by mounting it on various half-track and eight-wheeler chassis.


Wasn't this gun—or a slightly modified version of it—also mounted on the early models of the StuG?

Michael


Yes, true, the short-barrelled 75 mm gun was mounted on the early StuG B/C model. I believe that some StuG Cs were with Sonderverband 288 in Africa, but not sure if they were evident by the time of Crusader. Hollow-charge shells made the L24 more efficient against tanks but (again IIRC) those were only introduced in 1942.

Some of Lone Sentry's intelligence bulletins are pertinent to this subject:

German Methods of Warfare in the Libyan Desert (from July 1942)

Artillery in the Desert (from November 1942)

The latter article gives the effective range of the 2-pdr. as a paltry 300 yards against tanks - although it may have worked at longer ranges against 1941 vintage tanks, cf. the bulletin's date of publication.


No Stugs in Africa before Tunisia, IIRC. Also, the 300 yards are against uparmoured, face-hardened armour variants of the German tanks, IOW well after Crusader.

All the best

Andreas

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Re: German vs. British tanks during Crusader

Post by Andreas » 25 Nov 2007 11:04

Jon G. wrote:
Andreas wrote:I guess I am less convinced that bringing 2-pdr AT along to protect the moving tanks and provide a firm base, together with 25-pdrs for tearing apart infantry and German ATGs would have been a less workable proposition than what the Germans did...


According to Gudmundsson - who I freely admit is not a fantastic source - the problem with the 2-pdr was that it was only effective at 600 yards and less. German tank-mounted MGs were very effective at that range, even if the British AT gunners managed to hold their fire until the tanks were that close.

Earlier you wrote that
...Panzer IVD
75L24 gun
50mm frontal armour...


The Panzer IV D only had 30 mm of front armour. The E retained the D's 30 mm turret front armour but added an extra 20 mms to the hull front. But then I don't think the L24 armed tanks were ever intended to engage enemy tanks. Rather, they were supposed to give covering HE fire to advancing Pz II and Pz IIIs from some hundred yards back the attacking tanks. It's interesting to see that the Germans identified the need for the short-barrelled HE-firing 75 mm gun also after they upgraded the Pz IV - first by mounting it in the Pz III (which was even evident in the early Tiger battalions), later by mounting it on various half-track and eight-wheeler chassis.

For mechanical comparisons the Germans clearly had the edge during the Crusader battles - not only were their tanks more reliable, they also had a superior maintenance organisation in place.

The Meteor engine (actually a de-rated Merlin aeroengine) of the Crusader tank had a chain transmission driving most of the tank's auxiliary systems, but whenever the chain broke or needed replacement (a none too infrequent incident in a sandy climate), you needed to lift the entire engine in order to re-connect the chain transmission.

What's the Rap on the Crusader III tank?
viewtopic.php?p=777165

BTW, Macksey identifies Jock columns as early as 1940 as an ad-hoc assembly of forces organised to patrol the gaps between Italian outposts in preparation for Operation Compass.


Couple of points - I think the 600 yards is certainly not applicable to late 41/early 42. The penetration of the 2-pdr is over 50mm at 1,000m, IIRC, so unless there were problems with the sights, they should be well able to aerate German tanks at distances well over 600 yards. I agree with Jon that 800m is a long distance in desert conditions, and a lot of combat would have been at shorter ranges.

The Crusader did not have the derated Merlin, IIRC. That was the Cromwell, and a very good engine that was. Crusaders had an aero engine called Liberty, IIRC.

[Offtopic]The L24 had an AT round and later in life came equipped with HC rounds. For early war enemy tanks that AT round may have been sufficient, but it was weak. That the Germans continued to use it may well have been for the simple reason of having them, and having the tanks to put them in, which were of no use anymore otherwise since the 50L60 had had its day in 1943 (I wonder how many IIIN were new builts as opposed to factory rebuilts of damaged tanks). The N was initially intended as an accompanying tank within the Tiger battalions, to engage AT guns. That turned out to be unworkable. They would probably have been better off using the IIINs as command and OP tanks instead, and giving the 75L24 guns they used in them to half-track recce forces. [/Offtopic]

Thanks for the correction on the Panzer IV armour (BTW - this is often referred to as a 'heavy' German tank by the British, which is quite laughable, considering both its gun and its armour.

All the best

Andreas

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Re: German vs. British tanks during Crusader

Post by Andreas » 25 Nov 2007 11:07

JonS wrote:
Andreas wrote:
JonS wrote:
* although in a closing battle with enemy armour there was only a window of some 3 minutes during which the 25-prs could fire and expect penetrations and before they came within range of the tank's MGs which then made PUFOing very problematic. So they had to decide early if they were going to PUFO, or stay and fight the tanks down to the muzzles. Plus, of course, the Germans had effective HE with which to engage an ID'd a-tk gun/25-pr with from beyond effective MG range.


So did the Commonwealth for engaging the 88s, except they were not mounted on tracks. ;)

Ah yes, but it is very much easier to co-ordinate that HE fire when the HE chuckers are right there, rather than some unknown distance to the rear, and on a different radio net ;)


What about the RHA formations in the Armoured Brigades - would they have been on a different radio net?

All the best

Andreas

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Post by Ironmachine » 25 Nov 2007 11:51

Andreas wrote:No Stugs in Africa before Tunisia, IIRC

On a side note, yes, it seems that there were 3 StuG.III Ausf.D in Sonderverband z.b.V 288. See http://stugiii.com/theaters/northafrika.html
Not that it have any importance for this debate, given the paltry number of vehicles present.

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Re: German vs. British tanks during Crusader

Post by Jon G. » 25 Nov 2007 12:02

Andreas wrote:Couple of points - I think the 600 yards is certainly not applicable to late 41/early 42. The penetration of the 2-pdr is over 50mm at 1,000m, IIRC, so unless there were problems with the sights, they should be well able to aerate German tanks at distances well over 600 yards. I agree with Jon that 800m is a long distance in desert conditions, and a lot of combat would have been at shorter ranges.


I've seen a lot of conflicting data on the performance of the 2-pdr. already. But if these tables can be believed, the 2-pounder would have struggled to penetrate Pz III frontal armour beyond 500 yards.

Tony Williams' web site yields these tidbits:

...The larger calibre, with its correspondingly larger case, gave armour-piercing performance well above that of most 37mm guns; penetration of 53mm or armour plate at 60 degrees at 450m was achieved, compared with 30mm for the contemporary German 37mm weapon...


And about the US 37 mm:

...Armour penetration in the M6 gun at 460m and 70 degrees impact was 53mm against face-hardened plate and 61mm against homogenous plate...


For AT gunners, the best way to distinguish between 'long' and 'short' range would probably be 'inside MG range' and 'outside MG range' respectively. And it does appear that the Axis (or at least the German) AT arm had a distinct advantage in that regard.

Andreas wrote:The Crusader did not have the derated Merlin, IIRC. That was the Cromwell, and a very good engine that was. Crusaders had an aero engine called Liberty, IIRC...


Right! Although the Meteor was tested in Crusader prototypes. The drawback of the Nuffield Liberty was that its cylinders were individually cast, then bolted together, instead of cast as a single engine block, which would cause the individual cylinders to work themselves apart under combat conditions.

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Post by Andreas » 25 Nov 2007 12:11

Jon

Note that all the figures you have there take angles into account, thereby significantly reducing penetration. The frontal armour of the III had much less angle than that, only 9 degrees on the driver plate, and 21 on the lower hull front. The turret front had 25 degrees, but only 30mm armour.

All the best

Andreas

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Re: German vs. British tanks during Crusader

Post by The_Enigma » 25 Nov 2007 12:17

JonS wrote:Still, this was the first British offensive against the Germans during WWII. Everyone has to start somewhere, and starting with a victory is a pretty good result ;)

Jon


How would you describe Battleaxe then? :?

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Post by Jon G. » 25 Nov 2007 12:56

Andreas wrote:Note that all the figures you have there take angles into account, thereby significantly reducing penetration. The frontal armour of the III had much less angle than that, only 9 degrees on the driver plate, and 21 on the lower hull front. The turret front had 25 degrees, but only 30mm armour.


Yes, but a) the 30 degree angle of impact seems to be standard for measuring a gun's penetrative power in any case, and b) it's only one set of data amongst several. Possibly tank-mounted 2-pdrs had lesser performance than free-standing 2-pdr. AT guns? The long-barrelled Pak 50 mm seems to have been slightly better than the otherwise similar KwK L60/50 mm - perhaps recoil was shorter for tank-mounted weapons? That might make the KwK L42/50 mm gun roughly comparable to the 2-pounder.

For a direct AT gun vs. AT gun comparison the 50 mm PaK 38 seems vastly superior to the 2-pdr. AT gun with 72/76 mm penetration at 500 meters and 30 degrees. Data on German guns lifted from Panzerworld.

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Post by Andreas » 25 Nov 2007 13:31

The 50L60 is far superior to the 2-pdr, but one would hope for that considering it had 25% more calibre, 50% more barrel length, and a projectile weighing about twice as much. ;) It also weighed 10% more without having the 360 degree swivel mount.

Considering this, it is in fact a bit surprising that the 50L42 is worse than the 2-pdr. It had a higher weight projectile and about the same barrel length.

The point about noting the angle of attack is that the German tanks did not have 50mm @30, and therefore you need to add (in the case of the driver plate considerably) to the penetration result to make it work in the real world. I am not sure there was a standard for measuring penetration, the numbers are therefore not quite comparable. For example, the definition of 'penetration' differs quite widely, AFAIK.

All the best

Andreas

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Re: German vs. British tanks during Crusader

Post by Kingfish » 25 Nov 2007 17:25

The_Enigma wrote:
JonS wrote:Still, this was the first British offensive against the Germans during WWII. Everyone has to start somewhere, and starting with a victory is a pretty good result ;)

Jon


How would you describe Battleaxe then? :?


Or Brevity?

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Post by Michael Emrys » 25 Nov 2007 17:31

Andreas wrote:The point about noting the angle of attack is that the German tanks did not have 50mm @30, and therefore you need to add (in the case of the driver plate considerably) to the penetration result to make it work in the real world.


On the other hand, I have read that the Germans were trained to approach a suspected or identified enemy weapon obliquely so as to give some additional angle-off and make protection better. I don't know if the British copied this tactic, but I rather think not.

Michael

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Re: German vs. British tanks during Crusader

Post by Andreas » 25 Nov 2007 17:33

The_Enigma wrote:
JonS wrote:Still, this was the first British offensive against the Germans during WWII. Everyone has to start somewhere, and starting with a victory is a pretty good result ;)

Jon


How would you describe Battleaxe then? :?


"A byword for blunder"?

My guess is that Jon forgot an adjective such as "Army-scale" or "large-scale" in his post.

All the best

Andreas

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