60mm Mortars Go Back to the Armscote for Good

A great article from Janes and unusually, free to access.

http://www.janes.com/article/29502/british-army-infantry-to-revert-to-81-mm-mortar

The article says some of the 60mm systems will be retained for RM/Para use but most will go into extended storage, which I suppose is better than being disposed completely.

Jed wrote a great article about future choices on mortars, well worth a read

[browser-shot width=”600″ url=”https://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2012/01/mortars/”]

Compare the old 2″/51mm

51mm Mortar

To the Hirtenberger 60mm

Hirtenberger 60mm Mortar

To the L16A2 81mm

British Army 81mm Mortar

As a very quick thought, given the size/weight of the Hirtenberger 60mm mortar, logistics issues, difference in lethality, availability of 40mm and other systems, and cost pressures, I can see the logic in concentrating investment on the incredibly effective 81mm.

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Jeneral28
Jeneral28
November 6, 2013 11:12 pm

Just so so long as they modernise the old..

as
as
November 7, 2013 1:36 am

talking of the 81 what happened to these
https://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2012/02/81mm-precision-mortars/

Jed
Jed
November 7, 2013 4:09 am

Thanks for the mention – glad they are at least keeping some of these in the hands of the light fighters !

tweckyspat
November 7, 2013 7:11 am

armscote is such a great word. the opposite of dovecote. from the days when the military lexicon was not just jargon and TLAs

Obsvr
Obsvr
November 7, 2013 8:09 am

I suspect manpower is part of the issue. A 60mm mortar needs a dedicated 2 man detachment, in each rifle platoon, that’s the way it was done with 2 inch in the 60s. I suspect all the flaffing about since merely confirmed this.

Of course light mortars are really only needed by light infantry. They’re merely desirable gold plating for armd inf.

120mm mors for inf are daft, the issue is ammo supply and the logistics needed to maintain it. Most pepole are clueless about large calibre ammo logistics, find a loggie and have an adult discussion.

Chris
Chris
November 7, 2013 8:46 am

Obsvr – I did a bit of thinking (dangerous I know) about the size & weight of rounds. I’m guessing the 81mm (3.5″ in old money) round is 400mm or so in length – that would be something like 7kg each? So it would be unreasonable to get an infantryman to carry more than 4 or 5 of them in addition to their standard kit. Others will need to carry the mortar itself. Not many rounds for a fire team or platoon really. But thinking of the 120mm? 500mm long plus fins & fuze? That would be over 15kg each round – two rounds would be each soldiers payload I guess, and the mortar probably needs more than two men to carry it even with the lightweight composite tubes. Why would you ever consider these for anything other than vehicle-carried?

I found a report written in 2006 that said 60mm mortars were ideal for infantry. Anything bigger needed taxiing around on wheels or tracks.

Observer
Observer
November 7, 2013 9:17 am

120mm for infantry is insane, you’ll break the poor infantryman’s back. You want 120mm for infantry, you need a mechanised system to carry it. Logistics are actually the same for 81 or 120. Comes in ammo crate/pallet, repacked to backpack frame, lug to location. Just more 81 crates to lug than 120. It’s the poor bloody infantry that is the limiting factor.

Obsvr, 2 men team? That’s pretty small. A 81mm team is already 4-6 men with the 3 bearers carrying a backpack frame of 5 rounds each for a total of 15(?). Not really spectacular ammo supply wise nor manpower efficient, which was why there is a push to mechanise fire support. Now the question is how to integrate mechanised units into normal leg infantry.

Anonymous
Anonymous
November 7, 2013 11:56 am

Isn’t it the case that the Mortar platoon is only within the Support Companies?

HurstLlama
HurstLlama
November 7, 2013 12:21 pm

I can’t see 81mm mortars ever being issued outside the Mortar Platoon. It is a specialist bit of kit that needs serious training to be used with any degree of effectiveness, and transport (motorised or mules) to lug sufficient ammo about.

What caught my eye about this announcement is that for the first time since at least WW2 the infantry platoon will not have its own mortar capable of delivering HE, smoke and illumination rounds. I can think of at least one action in Iraq where the possession of the 2 inch mortar probably saved a position from being over run. So I wonder if the 40mm grenade launchers have evolved to such an extent that they can replace the capabilities of the platoon mortar.

S O
S O
November 7, 2013 12:41 pm

Chris, here are specs for a 81.4 mm mortar bomb without auxiliary charges, fuze or the plastic packaging.

RO Defence L41A1 HE round
482 mm length
4.2 kg weight (relatively heavy for a 81.4 mm, and I think fuze is not included)
900 g RDX/TNT filling

I suppose 81.4 mm mortar teams can carry their stuff between their vehicle and a few hundred metres distant firing position easily. 120 mm mortar teams can carry and push/tow their hardware this far on permissible ground as well.
81.4 mm mortar teams should not regulalry carry their stuff; give them a llama or mule if they shall operate much offroad and without a vehicle. 120 mm mortar teams need such means for long missions away from their vehicle.
60 mm mortars are usually considered to be portable, but even then you shouldn’t expect them (and their helpers) to have much amo carried unless you employ pack animals or dedicated porters.

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
November 7, 2013 1:04 pm

“I found a report written in 2006 that said 60mm mortars were ideal for infantry. Anything bigger needed taxiing around on wheels or tracks.”

Agreed. Long thought infantry needed its support weapons mounted on a cheap, low maintenance vehicle. Something that assists in load carrying but doesn’t add too much to the infantry’s logistic/maintenance worries.

I like the idea of a new Universal carrier, although the ATMP is very close to that already. Another possibility is COTS… Toyota Hi-lux is good enough for the Taliban…

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
November 7, 2013 10:29 pm

Lol! I just marked my own comment down trying to figure out what the symbol in the corner was.

Obsvr
Obsvr
November 8, 2013 9:05 am

60mm are not a substitute or alternative for 81mm, only a very under informed journalist would think this. 81mm are not routinely man packable weapons in any realistic way for sustained ops. They need vehicles. 60mm are platoon weapons and very little ammo is carried, 81mm are for coys, and include such things are seperate fire controllers. A standard pallet or ULC will carry a lot more rounds of 81 that 120, but the rate of fire is basically no different, and plaease don’t tell me you need less 120, I know the theory and laugh.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
November 8, 2013 9:28 am

.

Isn’t 81mm still battalion level in the British Army? At what level was the bipod equipped version of the Hirtenberger 60mm issued? I have a hard job seeing that being issued at platoon level. Also, isn’t part of the reason for the continued popularity of 120mm the availability of guided rounds and the fact that the larger bomb delivers a bigger (but not too big for current RoE considterations) bang for the buck with them?

Tom
Tom
November 8, 2013 9:47 am

My understanding was that the 51mm mortar was issued 1 per Plt, used mainly for illumination and smoke, but also for limited fire support. 81mm was (and still is) a Battalion level weapon within the Support Company.

40mm UGL introduced, 51mm phased out as seen as unnecessary. Afghanistan shows the need for the platoon light mortar. 60mm M6-895 mortar purchased as UOR.

Army 2020 doesn’t allow the numbers for dedicated platoon light mortar. 60mm mortar phased out.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L9A1_51_mm_Light_Mortar
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M6-640

Observer
Observer
November 8, 2013 10:38 am

Problem with adding vehicles to a pure foot infantry unit, even if it was only the support platoon, would mean that you would need to add all the support structure needed to maintain vehicles, even of it was only for 2-3 mortar carriers, so for 3 or so vehicles, you add mechanic support, electronics support, petrol/oil/lubricants needs, vehicle maintenance needs (tyres, batteries etc). Not really efficient manpower-wise. It might be more efficient to go all mechanised or not at all, the neither here nor there approach isn’t a wise thing to do. Which goes back to the old problem. How do you give the foot infantry decent firepower and a decent ammo supply without breaking their backs?

Swimming Trunks

http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRf2sB9oBnilu12jW7JApCxz5zF6_CJZy8XaMKRnkBp7d46NxOs&t=1

http://www.army-guide.com/images/SRAMS-asd001.jpg

Still doesn’t solve the logistics problem, but the designs are there.

Chris
Chris
November 8, 2013 11:02 am

Obs – as I understand it, the lack of recoil mechanism in most mortars means the shock pulse impacting whatever the tube stands on when a round is fired is huge. Looking at the two vehicle images you found, unless those mortars do have soft recoil damping, I’d suggest you’d only fire them once before needing a new vehicle…

HurstLlama
HurstLlama
November 8, 2013 11:35 am

@Observer

You’re right but in the British Army the 81mm were, and probably still are, grouped in the Mortar Platoon of the battalion support company. Every infantry battalion, even light infantry, will have numerous vehicles so the systems to support them are already in place.

A Different Gareth
A Different Gareth
November 8, 2013 3:12 pm

Swimming Trunks said: “Long thought infantry needed its support weapons mounted on a cheap, low maintenance vehicle. Something that assists in load carrying but doesn’t add too much to the infantry’s logistic/maintenance worries.”

A not entirely serious suggestion: Bicycles. For carrying things while pushing them much more than riding.

You could even integrate the bicycle and mortar. Have the mortar tube running above the crossbar so that it passes on one side under the seat and the other side under the handlebars and is attached to the frame so that it can pivot. When you want to fire you lock the steering and swivel the tube round so that the bicycle provides the support. Use two or more bicycles to carry the tube, base plate and ammunition. Think something along the lines of the Vespa 150 TAP but quieter and more environmentally friendly.

Observer
Observer
November 8, 2013 3:38 pm

Llama, our 81mm are also purely allocated to a support platoon, but the vehicles are not organic to the unit (i.e loaned from transport units). Problem comes when your equipment is designed to be connected to the vehicle itself, so you have to uninstall/reinstall every time you get a new vehicle loaned to you or do some really strange reorganisation and put a mortar support platoon organic to the MT line. Not impossible, just really strange.

Chris, the mortar does have soft recoil damping. The UAE has it under the Agrab line and in service.

In use on a HMMV, the mortar only carries 12 rounds. On the Agrab/RG-31, it carries 58. They are up to the Agrab Mk II in the UAE this year.

Observer
Observer
November 8, 2013 5:10 pm

On a more practical note, I can’t help but think increasing the number and availability of 40mm GL for an infantry unit might be a good thing and a good replacement. If you can replace the normal infantryman’s hand grenade loadout with 40mm HEDP launched from a pistol like launcher, you might be able to increase the infantryman’s effectiveness.

Unfortunately, GLs can’t really be used in enclosed areas where foot infantry are most likely to end up fighting. Wonder if there is a possibility of a dual use grenade, with a friction ignitor for hand thrown and a percussion launcher for launching similar to the old Japanese Type 91 grenade. This could turn every infantryman into a grenadier when needed and the amount and flexibility of explosives would be nothing to sniff at. When it comes to room clearing, I’m a bit medieval. The safest way to clear a room is with a grenade. You might have to swap out your pistol for it though so I’m not sure if people are going to be happy such a change.

S O
S O
November 8, 2013 6:10 pm

Observer, look at the blast strength and frag patterns of 40 MM HE and HEDP. It’s weak.
HEDP has an especially poor frag pattern because of its base fuze and no fragments projected forward.
Neither are substitutes for a hand grenade in indoors combat.

Observer
Observer
November 8, 2013 7:35 pm

SO, the quoted lethal radii for most is 5 meters, more than enough for the job. It’s because they now use a fragmentation mesh instead of precut frag. It’s actually similar to the fragmentation “bars” used in aircraft missiles nowadays. It bypasses temporarily the inverse square law of energy dissipation if you use connected fragmentation instead of blast fragmentation, which increases the fragmentation radius.

Either way, 5m radius is good enough to clear a room.

S O
S O
November 8, 2013 7:59 pm

Continuous rod effect or not – there’s no fragmentation forward with HEDP (just a single shaped charge jet and slug) and none to the aft (juft fuze and base part flying back). The fragmentation to the sides may be lethal out to 5 metres, but 2 metres forward left or right or aft left or aft right it’s just a firecracker which makes ears go numb.

look at slide 20 for an example of non-unidirectional-ness of fragmentation:
http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2012armaments/Wednesday14069Shipley.pdf
I’ve seen much worse graphics, including computer simulations and actual frag spray on wood plank targets.

Still not perfect, but slide 6 here
http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/2011smallarms/WednesdayInter12330Hok.pdf
illustrates it a bit.
Base fuze HE is fine to sides and front.
Base fuze HEDP is good to sides only
Nose fuze HE is fine to sides and rear
ABM may be as HE (as in the link) or combine separate frag charges and shells fore and aft for near-all-round effect (still lesser to rear due to subtraction of grenade velocity from frag velocity).

xy metres lethal radius depends entirely on the direction.

Observer
Observer
November 8, 2013 8:51 pm

SO, then the solution is pretty clear isn’t it? Nose fuse and no AP.

After all, your main purpose for explosives is anti-personnel work, not take on APCs which I doubt will even be bothered by a 40mm. Seen the penetration of a 40mm HEDP on a steel plate before. It was rather pathetic. So go full HE-Frag with a nose fuse or straight out middle of grenade primer well timed ignited.

S O
S O
November 8, 2013 10:09 pm

That’s apparently where it’s moving. One might also use a small diameter nose fuze as on 20 mm HE, use a thin aerodynamic (ballistic) cap and give the frag shell behind some curve so some fragments can be projected about 60° forward. This would allow for some forward fragmentation when the round impacts on even ground.

40 mm would still be unsatisfactory as hand grenade, not the least because you would need to compromise the design a lot to add a screw-on fuze for hand grenade use. You would probably need to make the low pressure chamber and propellant removable and offer a hand grenade fuze as alternative screw-on part. Not worth the hassle.

By the way; there are actually some really lightweight hand grenades on the shelves. Example:
Austrian Arges Type HG 86 is an defensive (frag) hand grenade of 180 g weight with 17 g explosives.

Obsvr
Obsvr
November 9, 2013 1:36 am

Ah, I see we have some posters who are tactically challenged on the subject of mortars and think org = tactics, how delightfully quaint and naieve as far as UKA is concerned.

81mm mors have a max rg of 5km & a bit. In WW2 such range would give good support to a bn under almost all conditions. Subsequently the battlefield is often much more dispersed and a centralised mor pl may be unable to support a bn from a single mor line. Furthermore mor pls are specialists, and while the pendulum of concentration or dispersion of specialists for peactime purposes is in perpetual motion in the Brit Army, it is generally accepted that in bns 81mm mors should be in a centralised pl for peacetime admin and training.

However, the pl is organised in 3 sects (2 tubes peace, 3 when fully mobilised) and the normal tactical grouping is to assign a sect per rifle coy. The second reason dore disperison is that morsa are very easy meat for CB radars (they are deployed well forward, the fins give a lovely echo, and the trajectory is a doddle to backtrack to source) and it is not a good idea to all eggs in one basket. Mor pls do sometimes operate centralised, but normally they are decentralised for operations. Of course decentralisation does make the logisitcs of ammo reup more challenging. Whereas arty being deployed further back can drive their DROPS onto a gun position and drop a flatrack of 10 ULCs (170 155mm rounds) immediately behind each gun, the infantry tend to find this a tad tricky to do for a mor section within coee of a rifle coy.

Observer
Observer
November 9, 2013 9:18 am

Obsvr, it’s not a good idea to post when drunk.

On a more intellectual level, organisation DOES drive tactics, a classic example being the difference between the old German army of WWII vs the Allied armies. The German army was manpower light, mechanized heavy in comparison to the allies, which drove their tactics of the heavily mechanized blitzkrieg (i.e armour taking point) while the allied armies were manpower heavy but tank light with inferior tanks as well. This caused a more infantry heavy bias in the allies with tanks more being used as support guns instead. Not to say that the allies did not do breakthrough attacks with armour, but they did it less often, preferring to rely more on air and infantry power to push the lines back.

So yes, organisation does drive tactics.

wf
wf
November 9, 2013 1:55 pm

@Observer: your hypothesis has a small hole. During WW2, at the tactical level the German Army was mostly horse drawn: they were never able to fully mechanize the way we did in the 30’s. I believe in 1943 they actually implemented a crash program to bring back horses when they realised their losses to action and breakdowns exceeded their truck production by 400 a month :-)

x
x
November 9, 2013 2:28 pm

The French tanks were larger and more sophisticated than the German equivalents. And I think numbers were nearly the same too.

It is how the Germans employed their armour (in combination with other arms) that won the day.

Topman
Topman
November 9, 2013 2:54 pm

I believe in 1943 they actually implemented a crash program to bring back horses when they realised their losses to action and breakdowns exceeded their truck production by 400 a month :-)

I think it was from France mainly, they took them by the trainload.

Chris
Chris
November 9, 2013 3:07 pm

x – at my first company there was a QA man who had an obsession with the change in meaning of words over time. He kept a Victorian dictionary in his desk for reference; on a visit to his department I found him greatly amused by a definition in this book. “Did you know what ‘Sophisticated’ used to mean?” he asked, “It says here: ‘Sophisticated – unnecessarily complex; adulterated; corrupted’…” After that he fell back laughing again.

So. The French tanks were sophisticated? Very probably – corrupted from the point of view of lacking well balanced mobility, protection and firepower, and unnecessarily complex. The two worst things that can be done with the design of Armour.

At the outbreak of hostilities, the Panzer III and Panzer IV were well conceived balanced designs. They were successful weapons, much to the disadvantage of opponents and overrun civilians. As the war moved on, someone in Nazi high command (often rumoured to be Hitler) wanted sophisticated super-weapons that would crush opposition by their superior technology. Tiger was first, Panther a parallel development but smaller/lighter. Both were complex and complicated. Then there was the King Tiger – huge, complicated, thirsty – difficult to destroy by allied action but left alone they’d break or run out of fuel anyway. Finally, there was Maus. If anyone ever wanted to see a sophisticated tank, Maus was it – 200t, steel armour feet thick, hybrid electric drive, a monster 128mm main gun and 75mm coax – the coax being the same bore as the biggest allied tank gun of the time. The result – only two ever built because they were so complex and so large. One completely destroyed in the defence of Berlin and the other barged off the road into a ditch after being disabled.

Interesting to note that the German army when equipped with fairly simple well designed armour ransacked Europe, dispatching opposition without difficulty. By 1943 their weapons were much more potent, but complicated. The Soviet forces with the excellent simple basic T-34, and the Allies with the simple Sherman, managed to overcome their sophisticated foe. Partly its a numbers game – you can provide a swarm of cheap cheerful machines but not complicated expensive slow to manufacture ones. But its also a maintainability game – if a simple machine can be returned to the fight after 2 hours tender dressing with a 5lb lump hammer, but a sophisticated techno-wonder needs transport back to the factory for careful repair by watchmakers, the simple machine will have the greater effect. Simple is good. Large numbers are good.

All that being said, even now if you are faced with a Tiger pointing its gun directly in your direction, it is scary. It is still a tank of the most threatening presence – Leo2s, Chally2s and Abrams can’t match it for latent menace.

wf
wf
November 9, 2013 3:19 pm

@Topman: I hardly know what to think. Stay in France and be eaten, go to Germany and be worked to death. Methinks I’d stay home :-)

Topman
Topman
November 9, 2013 3:55 pm

@ Chris

‘But its also a maintainability game…’

I think I remember reading how good the maint crews were for the Panzer units. Even complicated machines like the Panther ? In the Western Desert the germans seemed to bring back a far higher % of abanded machines left on the battlefield back to service or recover them to use as a source of parts. I’ve seen and heard that story a few times from those that served then.

‘ By 1943 their weapons were much more potent, but complicated.’

I wonder if by and large they were forced to? The germans couldn’t out produce the allies so they had to go for quality. Although by all accounts their tanks were overengineered the Sherman had a 60 combat day life expectancy the T34 even less, so part quality was made with that in mind.

Stories abound of German tanks still being made with expectancy of years. Apocryphal story that a Panther left in a russian museum for decades outside with no maintainance, someone went to start it up started second time. Now whether is true or not I wonder how much they seed their own defeat in the numbers game?

S O
S O
November 9, 2013 4:12 pm

Cleaning up a bit:

By 1940 German tanks were neither numerically nor quality-wise superior to the French and British tanks encountered. They did have a similar good top speed, III and IV had a ground-breaking turret concept (three man turret) and all tanks were equipped with transmit/receive voice radios, though.
The difference was in how they were employed, down to details such as jerrycans and 2nd crews riding on trucks to keep them fresh.

The stories about Tiger / Panther / Tiger II being unreliable an expensive by design are partially exaggerated.
A Panther did cost little more than a Pzkpfw IV, while providing much better protection, mobility and penetration.
The running gear of all three German heavies was great on soft soil, and that was a necessity in the East where almost no roads were paved and both fall rain and spring snow melting time turned roads into mud trails after a few vehicles passed on them. The overlapping road wheels reduced the mean maximum ground pressure of the Tiger II well below that of a Leopard II, IIRC even better than Leopard 1.
All three heavies were developed in a hurry and had the typical teething problems of such hurried designs. Guess what? T-34 and KV tanks had lots of such issues as well.

Statistics show that the mass-produced heavies (Tiger, Tiger II, Panther) were well worth their expenses in construction and fuel consumption even though being on the strategic defence and lacking suitable recovery vehicles meant to lose many such tanks to repairable breakdowns.
The tanks which were not worth their expenses were the small production run special models; Sturmtiger, Jagdtiger, probably Brummbär and late production Pzkpfw IV. The latter were mere cannon fodder, sent on flank guard and scouting duties for Panthers to keep their losses low. Pzkpfw IV was unable to bear enough front armour to provide adequate protection.

In fact, the one tank Germany shouldn’t have produced 8assuming one wanted it to win) was the Pzkpfw IV. Its entire rationale was nonsense, as the III series was able to employ the 75 mm stub gun as well for which the IV was originally ordered. The mid-series of III already had a most modern torsion bar suspension and IIRC also the superior gearbox. Interestingly, the III series could have remained effective till war’s end if the PAW 800 hi-lo pressure gun had arrived by ’43 instead of by ’45.

Observer
Observer
November 9, 2013 4:49 pm

I was referring to the infantry/armour ratio of the US/UK armies, the French were a pretty much spent force since France got overrun. Was under the impression that the Allies had a much higher manpower to tank ratio than the Germans though.

Anyway, can I pass the baton to someone else regarding army organization driving tactics? Unless you guys all agree that the structure of an army is irrelevant to tactics?

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
November 9, 2013 4:54 pm

@SO – Interesting. I had always thought the IV as the mainstay of the German Panzer forces was actually very good – able to be up gunned with the HV 75mm guns, add armour and be more than a match for Sherman’s and T-34’s. The story I always encounter is the Panther was the finest tank of the war but was too complicatedb /expensive when all the Heer wanted was a simple T-34 copy.

I do, however, have a sweet spot for the III, and it did form the basis of the Sturmgeschütz.

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
November 9, 2013 5:00 pm

Anyway – back to mortars… sort of. Bearing in mind the criticism of 40mm rounds and the possibility of mortars not being available, is there a role/need/niche for the return of rifle grenades?

dave haine
dave haine
November 9, 2013 5:49 pm

@ SO

I think you’re kind of avoiding the basic issue with the german heavies, in that the interleaving wheels were actually a weakness on the very surface they were designed for. Stories abound of Tigers, Panthers and King Tigers, being disabled by mud clogging up the suspension and road wheels to the point where the tracks wouldn’t stay on, or the wheels turn and that’s without ‘General Winters’ efforts with ice. They were very elegant solutions that were over-engineered, compared to the much simpler ‘Christie’ suspensioned T34. Or indeed the ‘Comet’.

The same problem occurred with every interleaved wheel vehicle from the ‘Kettenkrad’ to the King Tiger, which may explain why unlike torsion bar, Christie and Horstman systems, it hasn’t been used since.

Chris
Chris
November 9, 2013 6:23 pm

SO – agreed on the smooth ride offered by the overlapping wheel arrangement – I saw film of a Panther on uneven terrain at moderate speed, and the suspension was so supple it looked good enough to fire on the move without the need for stabilization of the gun. But that’s when its all working well.

DH – very much agree the overlapping wheel arrangement brought more penalties than benefits. Consider a broken wheel rim on an inboard wheel – the wheels from three axles either side (or to the last axle if less than three) need removing to enable the busted one to be replaced. Wheel arrangement here: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e1/Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-635-3965-28,_Panzerfabrik_in_Deutschland.jpg

As an engineer I marvel at these German machines. I have no liking whatsoever for the regime for which they were built, but that’s not the tanks’ fault. Kept in a warm dry shed being cared for by experts they make very impressive show vehicles. But they are (to my eyes) far too clever, too complicated, too intricate for the mud-caked relentlessness of warfare. A bit like a builder wearing a Rolex or Breitling watch on site – it might be a beautiful watch but it would be much better to use a Timex – probably more robust in the world of knocks and dust of the building site, and much easier & cheaper to repair or replace when damaged.

x
x
November 9, 2013 6:39 pm

My favourite piece of German WW2 engineering was in Das U-Boats. Valve handles were tuned to make a distinct noise when struck with a tool so one could be told from the other in the dark.

@ Chris

I take your point. I like elegant engineering too. But look through my sources it seems my view that French tanks were more complicated and better armored and armed seems to be as I remember.

S O
S O
November 9, 2013 8:09 pm

Overlapping roadwheels wasn’t the problem. Interleaving them was probably excessive, but it was the key to make 40+ ton vehicles practical on soft surfaces without a good power/weight ratio.
Besides, overlapping roadwheels were used on many armoured vehicles of the period and complaints about them failing in mud are rare.
They weren’t necessarily expensive either. SdKfz 251 did cost a third of what one of the actually overengineered 8×8 heavy armoured recce vehicles did cost and about a fifth of what a fully equipped Pzkpfw III did cost.

The real technological marvels were elsewhere. The Americans introduced gun stabilization and had better gearboxes, for example. The one-piece cast tank hulls and one-piece cast tank turrets were quite astonishing as well. Same for the cast Mathilda II skirts.
Super-complicated suspensions … look at the Churchill or Mathilda.

The overengineering of German late-war tanks is in great part a myth (and the relative reliability of the crude Russian tanks is entirely a myth). One of its roots was in bureaucrats and generals blaming Hitler for everything, and they blamed him for overengineering as well.
The real nonsense such as Jagdtiger, Sturmtiger, Maus did only appear very late and in very small quantities, though.
Panther was actually vastly superior and hardly more expensive than the IV.
III and IV were technically not very sophisticated. They had a radio and a well-thought-out turret crew as well as quality optics, sure. But III and late-war IVs hadn’t even a powered turret (and the V had an insufficiently powered turret, VI and VII probably as well). The price for a Bf 109 fighter was about two to three times the price of a Pzkpfw III or IV. Imagine that – a mere 200 He 111 bombers less could have yielded a thousand more Pzkpfw III tanks by 1941.
The cost of producing the He 177 fail bombers was equivalent to about three times the actual Panthers production run’s costs.
(Guess why I’m no #1 fan of “air power first!”)

The Nazis were horrible at resource allocation (and almost everything else), that’s what sucked. The basic tank designs were quite OK, including the Tigers. The average Tiger easily killed its cost equivalent in T-34’s in addition to what else it did.

dave haine
dave haine
November 9, 2013 9:00 pm

@ SO

All the german tank crew accounts i’ve ever read, complained about the tigers and panthers wheels: about the amount of work required to change wheels, how the tracks could be ridden off the sprocket by mud and debris, how when they stopped for the night, they would have to clean the wheels, or suffer in the morning. Even high explosive shells could cause enough damage to jam the wheel sets.

The interleaving wheels were a clever solution that wasn’t thought through properly. At least 6 wheels would have to removed to replace one. The tracks often had to be blown off.

Apart from that the rest of the tank was superlative.

S O
S O
November 9, 2013 11:09 pm

I mentioned before; overlapping isn’t the problem. You only need to remove one or three road wheels to replace one with overlapping road wheels. Interleaving was what caused the mess if the repairs were not done on top of a ditch.
Besides; which tank crews do not bitch about maintenance?

Obsvr
Obsvr
November 10, 2013 2:04 am

@ Observer
It’s an even better idea not to post from your a’hole. Obviously I have to teach the underinformed some more, as ever I’m happy to oblige.

The relationship between organisation and tactics varies, but if anything tactics should drive organisation but this can be difficult to achieve. However, specialists are always the problem. This is why most armies are divided into different branches. Within these there is yet more specialisation in units and within units there is further specialisation. Training specialists, and their skills in peacetime is a challenge, because on the battlefield specialists tend to be needed all over the place, of course often all the different specialists have to work as a distributed teams.

The problem is that maintaining specialist skills of a handful of soldiers or specialist teams in a peacetime unit is a challenge, commanders’ time tends to focus on the majority and the specialists don’t get as thoroughly exercised as they should. It is therefore usually better to group specialists together for training and administration. The best level for this is often a bit of a compromise, but as far as mortars go a dedicated platoon seems to work OK, as long as it is organised to deploy as independent sections, ie both tactical need and training effectiveness drive organisation. This is what UK does, other armies do it differently.

The old Soviet army is an example where national resource allocation drove mortar tactics, since every soldier was a conscript and the NCO cadre weak, meaning independent mortar sects were unlikely to be effective. This national weakness limited their tactical options. That said, I also suspect the Sovs wouldn’t want independently deploying mor sects in any case because their tactics didn’t need them!

Observer
Observer
November 10, 2013 3:04 am

Obsvr, when your posts veer into a fair degree of incoherency and a marked uptick in spelling mistakes, what are we to conclude?

Anyway, what point do you specifically have a problem with? The allocation of vehicles to an originally non-mechanized unit drives up logistics? Or that the 120 is way too heavy for infantry? Or that if you used a dedicated mortar carrying vehicle, you either have to allocate an MT line to the company for in unit maintenance or shuffle it back to Transport because someone sure as hell needs to do the day to day?

On a more curious note, the light mortar is in the support platoon? Thought they were spread out to one per rifle platoon, attached to the HQ section in the UK organization, not concentrated in the Support Platoon. It’s the medium mortars (81mm) that I think were concentrated in Support. Or was there another reorg? Haven’t been keeping up to date on the small unit changes for the UK.

dave haine
dave haine
November 10, 2013 10:23 am

@ SO

I should imagine that to a tank crew, up to their knees in mud and s**t, with the opponents doing their best to ruin the day, any more work than absolutely necessary is an a**e-ache.
So clearing the wheel set every time you stop, and indeed stopping every so often to clear the wheel sets, to prevent track throw, or in the case of the Tiger 1, the tracks jamming, Removing more wheels than actually needed replacing. Not being able to recover a vehicle by the other wagons in the unit, must have been a bit of a bugger.

The thing I don’t understand about the german heavies, is the engines- they were always struggling to make the power, yet they never thought of modifying aircraft engines (the Jumo series would have been favourite), in the way that we (RR Meteor) and the americans did (Wright Cyclone). It’s not that they weren’t capable of lateral thinking, witness the use of the 88mm AA gun as an anti-tank gun (something we, possessed of a more powerful 3.7″ AA gun of similar weight and carriage, never even thought to do).

But…it’s certainly true tankies like to bitch like a cavalry officer in a navy mess.

S O
S O
November 10, 2013 1:26 pm

@dave; on top of that, Germany had a huge excess capacity for aircraft engine production by 1941, 20,000 fighter engines went unused till they were obsolete.

I’ll help you explain why no such move was done: Nazis. They sucked at resource allocation, and were cuddling with big business, handing out many monopolies. Maybach had the monopoly on tank engines, only the Skoda tanks got different engines. They were incompetent assholes, that’s why almost everything went wrong. Whatever worked well did so despite the Nazis. The motorway network? Begun and planned prior to Nazi rule. Army modernization and rearmament? Planned and begun in late 20’s. Et cetera.

Topman
Topman
November 10, 2013 1:47 pm

Although they were poor at sorting out resources and allocating them properly. Didn’t they improve through the war when Speer was put in charge? I’ve read his book and it does like you say, blows open the myth of a well organised machine. Good job he wasn’t put in charge earlier, seems he was a bit a whizz at organising and running the production machine.

S O
S O
November 10, 2013 7:14 pm

Speer’s impact is overrated. The output growth in ’44 was in part normal, in part due to “total war” measures and in part due to very much ramped up utilization of foreign labour and forced labour.

Some of his actions were outright disastrous. His refusal to produce a dual fuze for heavy AAA effectively destroyed many of Germany’s cities. Dual (PDSQ + timed) fuzes were up to three times as effective as normal ones. Bomber Command’s losses would likely have quadrupled (due to them using huge area wings and relatively low attack altitudes) and fire bombing would have become unacceptable with 4-engined bombers.

He also blocked a promising infantry anti-tank weapon (“Hammer” / “Panzertod”) only to give it highest priority in ’45.

Obsvr
Obsvr
November 11, 2013 8:05 am

@ Observer

I aim for brevity. My typing is crap unless supported by a spellchecker.

As far as I’m aware UK has never had support pls in rifle coys, although IIRC initially in WW2 2-in mors were in a coy spt sects but soon permanently devolved to rifle pls. I would oppose spt pls in rifle coys on the principle of too much trg mgmt load for the coy commander. As I keep emphasising it’s the centralise/decentralise pendulum.

120 have greater logistic overheads than 81 (ammo wt and vol) and as long as you have a fast and responsive arty system with effective control arrangements 81 will do the job.

PS I use s not z because I don’t speak septic.

Chris
Chris
November 11, 2013 9:27 am

Obsvr – ref -ise vs. -ize – disconflabulatory link follows: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2011/03/ize-or-ise/

Zaitsev
Zaitsev
November 11, 2013 10:09 am

Allied armies in ww2 had an artillery bias in ww2 not infantry. This lead to the germans complaing that the allies where cheating and only won on the technicalty that they had more artillary shells. The germans deserved to win becuase they had the best tanks and used exciting manovere warfare! The fact that the germans where using horses to pull there artillary and annumnition just shows there commitmant to proper warfare (didnt the germans bring more horses to russia than naploean?). Why build logistic trucks to haul artillary shells when you could be bulding monster super tanks that when driven by aryan super men can knock out hordes of russian pessants and spawn endless history channel epsiodes about there gloriaous tank aces!

In reallty the great german tank rushes of ww2 are as much to do with the incompetance of allied leadership as german blizkrieg tatics. During the invasion of france french high command was in tatters, litreally breaking down in tears in front of there british allies. during the invason of russia stalin refused to even achknolledge the germans had invaded. these are perfect conditons for the use of exsplotitive blizkreig tatics. Once the allies had got themselves sorted the germans obssesion with manovre armoured warfare proved too costly, and there constant attempts to counter attack in order to return to the armoured campaigns of 1940 wore there army down and plaid to the strengths of allied defencse AT fire, while the allied use of of heavy artillary bombardment allowed them to slowley grind down the german forces.

Mayby im overslimplyfing it but it seem that all to ofen the artillary in ww2 is forgotton and all any one can talk about is how much more advanced the german tanks where.

Chris
Chris
November 11, 2013 10:58 am

Zaitsev – ref all any one can talk about is how much more advanced the German tanks where – we were at the time only talking about the relative merits & handicaps of German tank development against others of the age, not the grand strategy of the conflict. I have no insight into the broader war (that needs a current or ex-military person’s perspective which I do not have). But I can pass an engineer’s mind over the machinery, so I did. I do not forget the impacts and contributions of any part of the armed forces of any of the nations involved, its just not the subject we were concentrating on, that’s all. However, to take heed of one of your points – the logistic trail behind the German heavy armour was evidently not insignificant – all the spares were big and heavy, the fuel usage must have been eye-wateringly high, the ammunition was very effective but its size & weight will have added to the logistics nightmare. If their high command were not taking logistics seriously then their tank crew ubermenschen could not be anywhere near as potent as the specification of their machinery would suggest.

As one of my friends (who worked in Integrated Logistic Support) described it, its all Loggie B*ll*cks. The front line fighting soldiers depend upon it but its not glamorous or sexy – not the stuff of legend. It is though vitally important and always has been.

On the subject of resupply, it was rumoured in GW1 the UK Challengers were regularly overtaken by squadrons of US M1 Abrams tanks – hugely fast powered by gas turbines – only to find them a few miles down track parked up waiting for the fuel tanker to drop by. I often wondered who was the braver, the tankie in his 60t heavily armoured heavily armed mobile fortress, or the young Lieutenant driving her unarmoured fuel tanker up to the front line to keep the brave tankies working…

S O
S O
November 11, 2013 11:07 am

LOL, they argue over grammar, so you decided to provoke them?

Chris
Chris
November 11, 2013 12:51 pm

SO – a little bit of mischief perhaps; just pointing out even on a subject as simple as spelling there are vagueries and inconsistencies – no right or wrong. Indeed until the 1700s I believe there was no such thing as ‘correct’ spelling – writing was phonetic and as long as the meaning was clear there was no issue. The village next to mine still has a name that is spelled (or spelt if you prefer) two equally valid ways. Old habits die hard.

But if spelling can be an inexact science, the art of defence is much more so – there might be better or worse, slick or inefficient, good value or expensive ways of doing things, but probably not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (unless people advocate total surrender at the first sign of a bolshy neighbour – that is either totally wrong or the Liberal Party manifesto). We all post opinions here; some have a depth of knowledge that adds weight to the opinion, but I doubt any have access to The Unchallengeable Truth…

S O
S O
November 11, 2013 1:14 pm

Quite likely everyone has access to unchallengeable truth once in a while.
The difficulty is to know when that’s the case.

Regarding platoon mortars; I’m yet again in awe how the anglophone world can pay attention to itself almost exclusively.
The French have the extremely impressive and most advanced LGI Mle F1, which is basically a ‘stealth’ mortar without noteworthy infrared signature or noise.
The British army commando mortars are primitive (and hard to tell from 1930’s equipment) by comparison.
Yet almost nobody ever discusses the French (and Belgian) mortar, which was copied in Georgia and China.

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
November 11, 2013 3:25 pm

@ SO – a variation of the Fly-k spigot mortar? Very interesting design but I don’t know if its superior to the L9a1- doesn’t the round have to be heavier and therefore shorter ranged and/or less explosive? Swings and roundabouts?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lance-grenade_individuel_Mle_F1_(LGI_Mle_F1)

http://defense-update.com/20070304_fly-k.html

http://pds15.egloos.com/pds/200906/16/96/c0066396_4a3797df875d5.jpg

http://www.rheinmetall-defence.com/en/rheinmetall_defence/public_relations/news/detail_1436.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mortar_(weapon)#Spigot_mortar

S O
S O
November 11, 2013 4:11 pm

Range is not very important with HE or SMK in commando mortars. You cannot hit something at 500+ metres with them anyway (with a satisfactory probability) and you did something really wrong if you think you need to place SMK with a 51mm at more than 700 metres. You should be able to manoeuvre well within 300 metres usually.

HE content 51 mm FLY-K (TN 208) : 140 g Comp B (63% RDX, 36% TNT), total weight 780 g
HE content UK 51 mm (L14) : 200 g RDX/TNT, total weight 1,100 g
140 g RDX/TNT is still more than 3x the normal 40 mm HE LV round’s content.

Illum is different; the newer-design FLY-K illum round is much brighter (3x to 4x) than the different UK 51 mm Illum rounds, but at least one UK 51 mm Illum round lasts about 50% longer (the other the same 30 sec). Now keep in mind the UK Illum rounds weigh 1/4 more (800 g instead of 650 g).

I suppose the differences are more of a choice than system-inherent.

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
November 11, 2013 5:34 pm

Looking a bit closer, the rate of fire is interesting:

L9a1 =8 rounds per minute

LGI Mle F1 = 30 rounds a minute.

Is that right?

Now I doubt there would be call for 30 rounds in a minute but that’s a serious difference in RoF.

S O
S O
November 11, 2013 6:05 pm

The significant difference is only in sustained RoF (due to barrel heating; FLY-K does not heat up) and that’s not so important because commando mortars don’t have much ready ammo around anyway.
It’s more notable that FLY-K is not a beacon to thermal sights after use, though.