Story of tank warfare

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Story of tank warfare

Post  Chromos on Fri Feb 28, 2014 11:31 am

As a general note about tank warfare.
Initiall tanks were thought of to support inf as a rolling bunker to fight down enemy strongpoints in trench warfare. I think all can agree here.
UK used as first country also a "medium" tank wich could be used for exploits of breakthoughs. IIRC that was the Whippet. French followed at the end of WWI with the famous light  FT-17, germans had "Leichter Kampfwagen" in testing.
Both french and german designs had already turrets wich hold the weapons.
Also the  first superheavy tanks were prototyed by UK("Flying Elephant", ~100tons) and Germany("K-Wagen/Großkampfwagen", 120 tons), but only Germany finished at least one at the end of the war, none saw combat though!
Ok so we see here one for direct Inf support and one for expolitation Cavalry like..

After WWI things split up:
UK and France stuck to the old doctrine while it was obviosly already then dated by some militarians who studied the batlle records. But as so often in history the old guard kept its powers and the existing doctrines where kept too.
Tanks were seen as "toys"(exaggerate here!) that could aid the Inf/Art but nothing more. Only in GER/SOV the thinking was a bit different.
That is tied to the way warfare was fought/though mostly. As both countries relied more on mobile forces as on steady Inf/Art conflicts. In the afterwar struggle in the Russian Empire, the mobile cavlary forces were of great value and big achievements were made by them. That lead to a similar way of basic thoughts on warfare. Germans had learned their lessons since Napoleon, while the french dismissed that experiences.
Look at the GER design "Sturmpanzerwagen Oberschlesien" at the end of WWI, it looks already like a "real" tank.
Also both countries shared secret training facilities in the interwar period in SOV.(For the effect of the purge see later comments further down.)

So UK went the way towards slow Inf Support tanks, with heavy armour and small calibre weapons. And some tanks that should play the role of Cavalry in expoiting the breakthrough.
Fighting other tanks was taken into consideration but speed was seen most important. So Armour was not that important in those designs. ->Cruiser tanks.
France went similar route but their Inf Support tanks were mostly light tanks wich had though a decent gun. Cavalry tanks were mostly light and some medium sized had better armour but were not as speedy as UK designs.
ALos they had some heavies and even super heavies build. But

Soviets had the same basic split with Inf-Support and Exploit, but had much heavier armed designs for the breaktrhough(Inf-Support) tanks like the T-28. This tanks could also move faster than Inf.
Noteworthy is here the technical problems this design had with early 30'ies technology with its supsension, gear and engine. This was only overcome in the late 30'ies.

Germans on the other hand envisoned that in a next war, tanks would have first and all to fight other tanks.
As if your tanks could fight off the other tanks, the other side could not use them at all.
Thats only logical thinking here. Tanks were initially used to support Inf. To counter that threat you need a similar weapon, wich is capable to survive a direct combat with the enemies tanks and is able to knock out enemies tanks at the same time.
So role of tank shifted towards an anti tank weapon. Also the german training of that time clearly showed that.
Inf was seen capable of fighting other Inf on their own.
Initial german tanks of pre-ww2 were the Neubaufahrzeug(a german interpretation of UK Vickers A1E1 Independent) wich was a multiturret tank wich was seen soon obsolete, and the PzI was a training tank, while PzII was an interims solution  until more PzIII/PzIV would be at hand.
The main design was PzIII as main combat vehicle to fight other tanks and to be accompanied by PzIV with got a 75mm short barrled "anti-inf gun" to help clear strongpoints wich would be hard to do with the AT-gun of the PzIII.
Naturally these tanks were to operate together on their own in a Divison with fully motorized support. There was no special training doctrine like Bitzkrieg set up though.
The germans used just that new weapon to its maximum effectiveness. Exploit the rear when possible, take the risk of  "neglecting" the flanks if the benefit seems worth it. All usuall battle trainig was just applied on that weapon tanks.
Even in WWI whole german Corps "neglected" their flanks if the opportunity was at hand. So now that was jusz  a basic german type of warfare applied to new technical possibilities.

Not like with FRA/ENG, where tanks where still under the control of Infantry or some Cavalry and were used either without Inf support(Cav) or with Inf and had to stay alongside of that Inf.

And only the Soviets had designed a whole new doctrine around tanks. They had also already radio equiped tanks and some good designs wich had some typical soviet problems like poor quality though.
Japanese troops found it not that hard to fight them. Nonetheless those early designs lead to the better T-34. Interesting read about that in reports about Battle of Lake Khasan/Khalkhin Gol. (Also about that poor quality..)
Anyway that soviet doctrine was later nullified by the purge as not enough officiers were trained anymore to conduct such warfare wich is more complicated than "storm the frontlines".
But it was the only real doctrine set around the tanks as weapon.

All other countries just used in their existing doctrines with different tactical role. And of those only Germany gave the tank its own branch and thus a much bigger operational role.
Not to mention the lessons learned from CAS-planes that were taken into consideration and training too.
That way the germans had command officiers could interact and share data between army branches/Airforce fast, while allies had hard times to get up to their command chain first and ask for orders etc..
That lost time often played into germans hand.

US had also neglected tanks for a long time and more open officiers tried to cover the usage of armoured vehicles as Cavalry. In fact US Cav was the only branch wich had armoured vehicles for a long time.
Read here for more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanks_in_the_United_States
So US started with tanks on the same lvl as germans PzI/PzII but developed quite quick up to the M4(Sherman). And also just after starting prodcution of M4 the T-20 was designed. That lead later to the M-26. So US could have had more devastating tanks with ease much earlier. Intersting read about the M-26 in the above wiki:
In combat it was, unlike the M4 Sherman, fairly equal in firepower and protection to both the Tiger I and Panther tanks but was underpowered and mechanically unreliable.
I just note that here becasue some allways write about the unreliable german heavy tanks, while those had only normal problems due to the weight of those. And all other countries that fielded tanks with the same weight had same problems..
Also the US had some speciality.
- The "TD-Doctrine". As after the fall of France ist was anticipated that big german tank breakthroughs would happen wich should then be covered by  highly mobile AT units that drive into firing positions and fight of the enemy. So according to that the first US TD's were SP-AT, an AT-gun mounted on a half-track..
- The "normal" tanks should accompy the Infantry and clear the path of fortifications etc., when enemy tanks were sighted the TD should rush in and fight the tanks off. "Hold on, the Cavalry is coming"..
- Amoured Cars and light tanks for scouting and exploiting as for giving mobile support fire where attached to Corps.(Cavalry)

It was only bad that the germans didn't went that route the US had envisioned. And while they learned from Battle of Kasserine and replaced M3-Light(Stuart) and M3-Medium(Lee or Grant) with M4, they didn't wanted to move on to a heavier vehicle until it was too obvious that one was needed after Battle of Bulge though.
Maybe it was the "shortage" of steel, as  a T-26 would have taken up 15 tons more and the available steel for tank production was already shifted towards building more ships. Even the US could not produce unlimited more from all ressources.

Next to that US was the only country to use turreted TD-designs. Allother countries used TD more because of  a shortage of real tanks. But soon TD- showed their worth. Even more as AT-guns weer growing bigger and got more inmobile for Inf.
With even bigger and better guns the TD's were obsolent shortly after the introdcution of the MBT in cold war though.

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