Category Archives: Support Weapons

Land Mines vs. Booby Traps vs. IEDs.

Those three are the most hated, if not always the most feared, enemy weapons. Much as WWII bomber crews loathed flak more than fighters (their gunners could shoot back at fighters!) the unattended (or command-detonated) explosive device is more loathed than direct fire. Tom Kratman nailed this in his military science-fiction novel, A Desert Called Peace, which we’re still reading.

“I don’t even like the idea of land mines,” Parilla muttered.

“No one does,” Carrera agreed. “Not until you have a horde of screaming motherfuckers coming to kill you and all that stands between their bayonets and you is a belt of land mines.”

How Armies Use Mines

In military usage, mines, which may be emplaced by combat troops or by specialist engineers, are used as artificial obstacles to hinder or channelize enemy forces, or as ambush initiators. It is good practice to initiate an ambush with the greatest casualty-producing weapon, or greatest shock-producing weapon, available to you, and the authoritative WHAM! of a Claymore is an excellent way to send a message to the enemy, when that message is: “Die, die, die!”

Note to national policymakers: If that’s not the message you’re trying to send as a matter of national policy, you may have selected the wrong tool when you chose the military as messenger.

In a well-executed ambush, the Claymore blast is followed by overwhelming firepower and then, very rapidly, by a lift and shift of fires from the objective to the enemy’s potential escape routes, while troops assault across the objective to ensure the total destruction of the target element, and to gather any intelligence that can readily be gained from their still-warm bodies and shattered equipment.

Just because enemy units are armored, there’s no reason not to initiate your ambush with a command-detonated mine. The Claymore has long had anti-tank equivalents in off-route AT mines, essentially a remote-command-launched rocket that you aim in advance where you expect the enemy armor to be. We don’t know how far these go back, but the first one we used to use was based on the old 3.5″ rocket launcher (the Super Bazooka invented in WWII and used in Korea after the 2.36″ one proved useless on T-34s). The US also has a set of shaped charges and platter mines that have a limited standoff capability. Most American troops never see or train with these devices; for whatever reason, they’re not a training priority, but they’re in the inventory.

The main use of mines, despite that long digression about ambushes, is to fortify positions. A minefield of this type has very limited utility if not covered by friendly observation and fire at all times; otherwise, the enemy can simply blow or lift the mines, something that, like mine emplacement, can be done “retail” by combat troops or “wholesale” by engineers. For this reason, the Hollywood trope of the patrol caught in the minefield is actually a very rare occurrence off-screen. You do not actually find your patrol in a minefield on a nice sunny day with the leisure to probe for mines with a stick (and please, not a bayonet). You find your patrol in the middle of the mines, usually a night in the foulest weather imaginable, and under accurate enemy direct or indirect fire.

In addition to mines that can be placed by troops, minefields can be emplaced hastily by engineer equipment, including sophisticated mechanical minelayers that lay mines in a ditch or holes the machines themselves dig, and pods that can scatter mines from aircraft, usually helicopters or (these days) UAVs.

Minefields emplaced by civilized troops for defensive purposes are, by international convention, marked with recognized international symbols. This is part of why mine, booby-trap, and IED warfare by irregular forces is often hated by regulars; the irregulars do not comply with these rules and norms, and so are thought to be fighting underhandedly. (The guerrillas, for their part, see it as merely doing what they can in an asymmetric fight).

The other part of forces’ loathing for enemies’ mine warfare is, as Tom’s character Duce Parilla seems to have internalized, you can’t fight back against a mine. The guy who killed or maimed your men is long gone. (Of course, you can fight back against minelayers, but the fight is indirect and requires you, too, to play to your asymmetric strengths). This feeling of frustration by mine-warfare attack (in this case, by booby traps that produced casualties) was a key ingredient, along with inadequate officer selection & training and bad leadership at all levels from corporal to Corps, in the misconduct of Americal Division troops that became known as the My Lai Massacre.  They were so tired of taking casualties by booby trap, and so badly led, that they took out their fear and frustration on enemy noncombatants instead.

As tragic as the outcome was for the simple peasant families of My Lai 4, the murders were a great victory for the Communists in the key center of gravity of the war — the minds of the American public and their elected leaders. It was part of an array of events that drove a schism between the military and the media that endures almost 40 years later.

So What’s the Difference?

Mines, Booby Traps, and Improvised Explosive Devices are three somewhat overlapping categories of (usually but not always) explosive weapons.

landmines_1

Mike Croll defines landmines as:

mass-produced, victim-operated, explosive traps.1

In American usage (Croll was a British soldier and, subsequently, NGO counter-mining expert), “landmines” also includes command-detonated weapons like the Claymore. It was once customary for patrols to use a Claymore wired with a tripwire and a pull or pull-release firing device to delay pursuit; this usage has been banned by American military lawyers who were, we are not making this up, inspired by Princess Diana.

Booby-traps are distinguished from mines by dint of not being made en masse in factories, but as Croll points out, “the difference can be academic,” and it’s certainly not significant to the victim. While no non-explosive victim-operated weapons are currently in production worldwide, non-explosive traps have been used since prehistoric times (Croll also traces the archaeology of caltrops and Roman obstacle fields in his book). In the early years of the Vietnam War, US forces did encounter Malayan Gates, punji pits, and other non-explosive mantraps; as the war ground on, the enemy improved his logistics and regularized his forces, and such bulky, hard to make, and easily detected traps gave way to explosive weapons.

landmines_2

Improvised Explosive Devices encompass everything that blows a fellow up, and that didn’t come out of the factory in the form in which it ultimately is used. The ED is often I from factory weapons that were not envisioned by their inventors as traps, command-detonated, or suicide mines. This definition of IED includes explosive booby traps, of course, as a subset. The many forms of suicide IED are also a subset; suicide weapons have approached mass-production status in Iraq and Iran, with such markers of production status as dedicated circuit boards.

We’ve provided a couple of Venn diagrams to help you sort ‘em out, but as Croll himself notes, there’s a considerable gray area. An AT mine can be fitted with a pull-release device or pressure plate and deployed as a massive overkill anti-personnel booby trap, for example. So perhaps instead of having solid borders, the circles should shade into one another.

But we’re with Parilla and Carrera. We hate ‘em, unless we’re behind ‘em and anticipating the banzai charge of the Third Shock Mongolian Horde.

Notes

1. Croll, p.ix.

Sources

Croll, Mike. The History of Landmines. Bromley, England: Leo Cooper, 1998.

Napoleon III was a Weapons Man

portrait_de_napoleon_iiiWell, OK. A Heavy Weapons man, perhaps — an artillerist who once sat down, while imprisoned, to  write an engaging and technical, five-volume history of artillery, with a title as comprehensive as his intent: The Past and Future of Artillery. Remembered today for little more than his army being pantsed in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Louis Napoleon was a remarkable, erudite, and intelligent fellow. When you marvel, today, at the beauty of Paris you’re marveling mostly at the nephew’s makeover of his capital city, not the works of his uncle or of the Bourbon dynasty (although Louis was careful to preserve the best of what came before). Those big “N” monograms on the bridges of the Seine? Not the victor of Borodino (pyrrhic though that victory was) and Austerlitz, and the vanquished of Waterloo; the nephew, who was captured with his army in a German encirclement, to the chagrin of all Frenchmen then and now.

Napoleon III also created the long-standing Legion d’Honneur, funding its stipends to recognized soldiers with money derived from the expropriation of the family of the Duc d’Orleans. (In 19th Century France, politics remained a contact sport).

Unfortunately for those of us who would read his whole treatise on artillery, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, as he was known at the time, did get relief from his prison stint in the 1840s and turned to the matters of state which would one day seat him on an imperial throne. He never seems to have resumed work on The Past and Future of Artillery, of which only the first volume was published.

napoleon-iii-at-paris-1867-granger

While we’re attempting to find an digital copy of the English edition of this volume (hell, we’d take in en français, and does anybody know if any of his notes and illustrations for the subsequent volumes survive?), we can offer the preface to you.

There are some remarkable insights in this short preface. For example:

Inventions born before the time remain useless until the level of common intellects rises to comprehend them. Of what advantage could a quicker and stronger powder therefore be, when the common metal in use was not capable of resisting its action ? Of what use were hollow balls, until their employ was made easy and safe, and their explosion certain ? Or what could the rebounding range, proposed by Italian engineers in the sixteenth century, and since employed with much success by Vauban, avail, when fortification offered fewer rebounding lines than now ? How could attacks by horse-artillery, attempted in the sixteenth century, succeed, when the effects of rapidity in the movement of troops on the field of battle was so little known that the cavalry always charged at a trot ?

There is a mutual combination which forces our inventions to lean on and, in some measure, wait for each other. An idea suggests itself, remains problematical for years, even for centuries, until successive modifications qualify it for admission into the domain of real life. It is not uninteresting to trace, that powder was probably used in fireworks several centuries
before its propelling power was known, and that then some time elapsed before its application became easy or general.

Civilization never progresses by leaps, it advances on its path more or loss quickly, but regularly and gradually. There is a propagation in ideas as in men, and human progress has
a genealogy which can be traced through centuries like the forgotten sources of giant rivers.

For a man who is commonly and popularly dismissed as one of the least brilliant of the crowned heads of old Europe, those are some remarkably insightful lines.

Or consider this excerpt:

Fire-arms, like everything pertaining to humanity, did not spring up in a day. Its infancy lasted a century, and during that period it was used together with the ancient shooting instruments, over which it sometimes was victorious, but by which it was more frequently defeated.

The Preface alone makes it crystal clear that Napoleon III was a comrehensive student of artillery and arms, and the history of them; and that his lack of completion of The Past and Future of Artillery is a very great loss to all students of weapons.

Napoleon III on Artillery OCR.pdf

Instant South American Revolution Kit

One gun jeep — looks dead butch, but needs work. (Starting/charging system has proven resistant to troubleshooting). Ian at Forgotten Weapons has reached that stage that all vintage-vehicle LTRs reach; he is so eager to be divorced from this 1946 CJ-2A Jeep (basically, a wartime Jeep with bigger headlights for the civilian market) that he’s throwing in the semi-auto 1919A4 and mount. Beats the hell out of the toaster oven they might throw in at the local Buy Here Pay Here.

Ians Gun Jeep

Where’s Dietrich and his half-tracks? Lemme at ‘em!

I love old guns, but it turns out I only like the *idea* of old vehicles – not so much the actual working on them. It’s time for the Jeep to go, and free up some space in the garage for a project I will enjoy more. And what the heck, I’ll include the Browning 1919 semiauto with it.

The Jeep was basically rebuilt from the ground up, and while it isn’t a looker, it is top-notch underneath where things count.

The engine is a fully rebuilt (professionally) Studebaker Champion flat 6-cylinder, 170 cubic inches. It gives about 50% more horsepower and torque than the stock Jeep engines did, and it bolts right up to the stock transmission. That’s enough extra power that the thing can basically drive up trees, but not so much that it requires making the rest of the drivetrain beefier.

The transmission and transfer case are are the stock type (3-speed stick shift, with a 2-lever transfer case), and were both professionally rebuilt as well. The axles and diffs were in good shape, and have the original 5.38:1 gear ratio.

The ancillary equipment was all replaced or rebuilt – water pump, carburetor, radiator, radiator shroud, all the wiring, alternator, starter, and fan. It has 11″ drum brakes all around (in place of the stock 9″ ones), and a dual master brake cylinder. It also has an electric fuel pump. In addition to the stock 10-gallon gas tank, I replaced the passenger side toolbox with a second 10-gallon tank, and there is a switching valve on the dashboard so you can choose which tank to use at any given time.

The suspension was also replaced, with a set of Rancho 1″ life springs and new shocks. It has standard 16″ rims with some really cool looking narrow tires. The roll bar has the socket for the gun, and also has a gas can mount on either side, allowing you to carry a can of water and a can of gas.

via Want to buy a Jeep with a Browning 1919 on it? « Forgotten Weapons.

Don’t suppose he’d take a 1996 Impala SS in partial trade?

The counterweight to all that good stuff and sensible improvements is the dodgy electrical system. (Well, you could just paint it green, put a star on the hood, hang a Left Hand Drive placard on it and tell people it’s a British Jeep — no one would expect the electricals to work). $9,500, pick up in Tucson.

For more details (including the ones on the 1919, which is something that goes for $2k or so on its own) and to see two of Ian’s videos, one on the installation of the 1919 on the roll bar, and the other a Rat Patrol parody, or maybe tribute, go to Ze Link. But for Ian, ze voor in ze dezzert is over.

And hell, there are countries in South America that you could overthrow and govern better than the caudillo doing it now.

Wait, did we say South America?

Seen For Sale: Granatenwerfer 16

So on this weeks W4, there’s an interesting ad for an interesting weapon: a Granatenwerfer 16. The Granatenwerfer 16 is an update of an earlier device (Granatenwerfer 15).  The example in the next photo is not the Sturm sales offer; this one was captured by the Australian 13th Battalion at Morcourt on 8 August 1918, during the sanguinary 1918 Somme offensive, it rests in the Australian War Memorial, and, it’s worth noting, the Sturm example is more complete and in better shape.

australian war memorial granatenwerfer

The bare gun like that leaves one puzzled at how it works, but when you see a grenade slipped over the “barrel,” which is really a “spigot,” it starts to clear up. These devices work on the unusual “spigot mortar” principle. This is most familiar to students of small arms, perhaps, from the late-WWII British PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank) which used the spigot mortar principle to launch a Monroe Effect shaped charge. (If you only have reference to movies, it’s the AT weapon the paras use to defend their bridgehead in Arnhem in A Bridge Too Far).

PIAT

While the US and German forces went to rockets (and the Germans, also, to a projected grenade from inside a tube) some bright British spark remembered the spigot mortar principle from World War I (it was also used on by the WWII Brits on Naval weapons, like the Hedgehog antisubmarine weapon, and on some bizarre creations for the Home Guard).

The Blacker Bombard was one of those bizarre Home Guard weapons of World War II.

The Blacker Bombard was one of those bizarre Home Guard weapons of World War II. It never faced the Wehrmacht, fortunately for the men who crewed it.

Today, we have come to assume that the Stokes type muzzle loaded mortar is the infantry standard, and it seems always to have been. Nowadays, it is used by all the nations of the world. But in World War I, there was no assumption or guarantee that this would be the ideal, simple, cheap infantry support weapon. What soldiers did figure out very quickly is that, with enemy forces sheltered in trenches, pillboxes and other field fortifications, a small weapon that could deliver high-angle fire would be idea. This caused the development of a wide range of weapons, all around the world, from Japan’s light grenade projector that would be known to her Second World War enemies as the “knee mortar”; to a wide panoply of small pack artillery pieces, little jewels in small calibers; to the trench mortar itself… Stokes and Brandt deserve their own posts at Weaponsman.com some time soon.

But the Imperial German Army covered the dead zone between bayonet and hand-grenade range on the low end, and the danger-close limits of artillery on the high, with a special spigot mortar, which they called with the Teutonic love of compound words a Granatenwerfer — “Grenade Thrower.”

Granatenwerfer 2

This name has caused some internet sources to conclude that this threw ordinary German stick grenades, and one post that made us laugh suggested that its ammunition was the Stielhandgranate 24, as in 1924. But in fact, it shot its own ammunition. Ian at Forgotten Weapons has a post with some photographs of another example, and the German manual (a .pdf that requires you to read not only German, but the old Fraktur alphabet). There’s a post at Gunboards (you need to be a member to blow up the pictures) but at a glance this looks like the same example of this weapon that Ian had photos of.  It’s a pretty beaten-up example compared to the Sturm for-sale item.

There’s lots more information and photos at Kaiserscross.com and some history at BulgarianArtillery.it.

Here’s the text of the Sturm ad:

granatenwerfer7

For sale is a W W 1 German Granatenwerfer in mint condition. It is in it’s original factory box with all tools, spare parts, original manual, etc.

Granatenwerfer 3

 

Data plate in lid completely intact.

2 dewat projectiles included. Rebuilt / restored baseplate in perfect working condition with all data plates intact.

2 original ammo crates in excellent condition, all hardware present, working and intact. 1 crate has original paper munition label inside in perfect condition.

Granatenwerfer 4

The other crate is lined with Berlin newspaper circa 1922.

Granatenwerfer 6

Not on BATFE destructive device list, no special license or transfer fee required. Buyer responsible for pickup, too heavy to ship. Serious inquiries only, will not part out. This is a museum grade grouping that is impossible to upgrade. Payment with certified funds.

It’s one of the most complete and best ones we’ve ever seen, but like you’d expect from a museum-quality live weapon, it has a museum-worthy 6-figure price. But if you’re planning on reenacting Capporetto next year, you just might need it.

The Granatenwerfer 16 worked like this: an ordinary 7.92mm x 57mm Mauser cartridge with its bullet removed was inserted in the fragmentation grenade — way up inside the tube, there’s a sort of chamber for it. In effect, it is a blank cartridge with no crimp. The tube slips over the spigot, the face of which is a de facto breech, with a firing pin at center. The firing pin is released by a trigger. The cartridge fires, and launches the grenade… then it falls off the spigot, leaving room for the next loaded grenade.

We want it.

Developments in Steel Armor

Some time ago we covered the types of Armor available to vehicle designers through World War II and explained why penetration of Rolled Homogeneous Armor, then state-of-the-art, is still routinely used as a standard measuring stick for armor penetration. But while RHA was the tank skin of choice in 1945 (with cast armor used for specific purposes, and face- (aka flame-) hardened armor on the way out), armor developments didn’t stand still then.

By the 1970s, British research had produced composite armors that were more effective, especially against Monroe effect shaped charges, than RHA. The British armor and its American derivatives (British government researchers shared their discoveries freely with US Army engineers and contractors on the M1 Tank and M2 Bradley contracts) were developed under conditions of great secrecy and remain, in detail, classified. You can find generalities about how they work online and in specialty books.

But the development even of steel armor did not stop with RHA. Since the end of World War II, steel makers and AFV engineers have pursued harder armors, called in English High Hardness Armor (HHA) and Dual Hardness Armor. These armors are challenging to produce, because increasing armor hardness risks embrittlement of the metal. Recently, a Swedish steelmaker has gone further in developing Ultra High Hardness Armor (UHH).

HHA is described by the military standard MIL-DTL-46100E, and offers a hardness range of 477–534 Brinell hardness number (BHN).

DHA is described by the military standard MIL-A-46099C. DHA is produced by roll bonding a 601–712 BHN front plate to a 461–534 BHN back plate; this gives the armor an extremely hard layer bonded to a hard-but-tougher layer. (That is, of course, reminiscent of WWI and early WWII face-hardened armor, where a more ductile, less hard, metal panel would be hardened to 500-700 BHN, but just a few millimeters deep). By fusing two different hardnesses of steel into a single plate, they produce a heterogeneous armor plate with both the ability to resist penetration by a hit (which comes from hardness) but also, without cracking (which comes from ductility).

UHH describes monolithic (probably. homogeneous) armor plate of greater than 600 BHN. The Swedish firm, SSAB Oxelosund AB, has developed two commercial grades of UHH, one, Armox 600T, offering Brinell 600 hardness, and an even harder plate called Armox 600 Advance offering an extrapolated BHN of over 650. (For those of you comfortable with the Rockwell hardness scale, Armox 600 Advance equates to RC 58-63. The armor production process for Armox seems, to the limited extent the Swedes have released it, conventional.

ssab_hha_armor_production

Despite their conventional-appearing production process, these armors are remarkable. To achieve penetration half the time, of 8mm (!) of Armox 600 Advance set at a 30º angle, a .30 caliber AP projectile must be traveling ~860 m/s — which is faster than the muzzle velocity of most .30 firearms (a 7.62 x 54 mm PKM is about 820-825 m/s). It protects against a .50, half the time, to about fps; to protect against .50 AP to 820 fps you need to step up to 12mm (.465″) plate. These are WWI tank and WWII light-tank thicknesses of armor, with much better defensive performance than the RHA and FHA of that period.

7mm Armox 600T stopped 4 of 7 .30 rounds.

7mm Armox 600T stopped 4 of 7 .30 rounds from any penetration, and the other three’s penrtration was nugatory.

 

Another way of taking a broad view of the performance of UHH is that across the board, there is an advantage of about 120 m/s or 400 fps difference in the velocity of impact that this armor will shrug off, vs. the MIL-STD for HHA.

Cal. .50 AP had its way with 8mm 600T -- half the time.

Cal. .50 AP had its way with 8mm 600T — half the time.

There is an excellent report from 2008 on DTIC (clicking downloads .pdf) on the evaluation of Armox 600T and Armox Advance, Ballistic Testing of SSAB Ultra-High-Hardness Steel for Armor Applications. The purpose of this evaluation was to help set up a MIL-STD for Ultra High Hardness Armor; one outcome of that is the detail standard, MIL-DTL-32332 (MR) 24 July 2009. Detail Specification: Armor Plate, Steel, Wrought, Ultra-High-Hardness (link to everyspec.com).

Note spalling on Armox Advance. It was also somewhat prone to cracking, if the edges of the plate weren't properly dressed.

Note spalling on Armox Advance, which would create secondary fragmentation in an armored vehicle. Advance was also somewhat prone to cracking, if the edges of the plate weren’t properly dressed.

Soviet ATGMs and October, 1973 (Long)

So far in this series, we’ve looked at the development of US and Western European anti-tank guided missiles, from their origins in a German WWII design program to their introduction to combat — just in time to encounter Russian missiles designed along similar lines — in the Vietnam War. (The Russian missiles got the first kill, by a couple of weeks). Today we’ll extend the story of early ATGMs by discussing how the Russians developed their missiles, and how Russian missiles figured in Arab planning for in the Yom Kippur War (the Ramadan War, to the Arabs, and the October War to the strictly neutral) of 1973. Unlike the Vietnam offensive of 1972, where they were only locally decisive, the robotic tank-killers decided battles and nearly won the war. We’ll have more about the war in a future installment (this one is already over 2500 words — oversized for a web post).

AT-3 Sagger (this one an improved Chinese copy).

AT-3 Sagger (this one an improved Chinese copy with a much larger, stabilized sight and SACLOS guidance).

Russian Missile Development

Compared to Germany, which was  working on them in 1945, and France and the USA, which were in development from the earliest 1950s, the Soviets were a little late to wire-guided ATGM development, beginning only in the late 1950s. It’s unknown whether they had as a basis any foreign technology. Certainly they could have used captured German technology, French or American technology acquired by espionage, or they simply could have applied robust Russian engineering to problem solutions that they knew their Western rivals had already accomplished. It’s probable that all three were part of missile R&D, with the heavy lifting being done by Russian engineers. The Russian product, by 1973, was a missile that was combat-ready and had several advantages over its Western counterparts.

AT-1 Snapper live fire, somewhere in Europe. This is the BRDM-mounted version.

AT-1 Snapper live fire, somewhere in Europe. This is the BRDM-mounted version.

As with SAMs, Russian engineers passed through numerous experimental iterations of ATGMs (Anti Tank Guided Missiles), and they delivered to their Arab friends the first and third version that they operationalized. The first missile was a bit of a turkey; fired from a converted GAZ-69 jeep, the 3M6 Shmel (NATO coded, AT-1 Snapper) flew fairly slowly, had an enormous launch signature, and was vulnerable to the obvious countermeasure of blowing away the jeep and its crew, including the missile aimer who could not fire from a remote or dismounted position, but sat in a seat facing backwards looking at the target through a periscopic sight. The gunner had to continue to aim at the tank and steer the missile throughout its flight, which could be 15-20 seconds — a lifetime, literally, in armored combat.

It is very hazardous being on a tank battlefield wearing less than a tank. A cotton Army shirt, or a sheet-metal jeep, provide no protection and if that’s what you have, cover and concealment are vital. The Snapper couldn’t be fired from cover (except in its BRDM version, which put a bare 15mm of armor between the operators and the great outdoors), and it negated its own concealment by launching from the control station.

The third missile, though, the 9M14 Malyutka, better known by its NATO reporting code AT-3 Sagger was a hit, no pun intended. The Sagger, while having a great resemblance to the French missiles the Israelis had played with and a family resemblance to the Snapper, was small. It came packed in a plastic “suitcase” half of which served as the base for its simple rail launcher, and the other half as a base for its reusable sight. One man could carry one all day on his back, and two, suitcase-style, in his hands for short spurts. In true Russian tradition, the missile was sturdy and reliable, and made no superhuman demands on its operator. True, it was a MCLOS (Manual Command to Line of Sight) missile, at least in these early versions, and operator training was vital, but along with the missiles, the Soviets had developed operator and maintenance training, including mobile missile simulators that could travel with divisional logistics elements and keep operators sharp. These they furnished freely to the Egyptian and Syrian armed forces (among others). It was the Egyptians who would make the best use of these missiles.

The Sagger and the Tank Sack

Soviet doctrine had long taught the anti-tank ambush under various terms (the image-rich “tank sack” is one that springs to mind), and they’d used it deftly against the Germans, whose armored warfare worked splendidly against Russian tanks, and not so well against concealed AT guns attacking the Panzers’ vulnerable flanks.

Chinese improved Sagger live fire.

Chinese improved Sagger live fire.

The modern variation of the use of AT guns was to follow leading tanks closely with infantry antitank teams. Soviet tanks would have their flanks guarded by infantry, something comforting for any tanker, but these infantry would be well-equipped with AT weapons, principally long-range Saggers and short-range RPGs. A Sagger crewman needed intensive initial and recurrent training, and the Russians developed an innovative series of portable simulators to keep their missileers sharp without expending vast quantities of costly missiles. The well-trained Sagger crews dug in and/or located on reverse slopes, with their missiles displaced to the limit of their cords (about 15m) and only their periscopes showing. This protected them better than their unlucky mates in the Snapper jeeps.

The Soviet-designed weapons had a minimum effective range, but more to the point their maximum effective range was 3,000 meters, on the ragged edge of the effective range of the West’s 105mm tank gun. Moreover, a tank gun’s accuracy against a moving target depends on accurately ranging and leading the target, and so, a tank gun’s accuracy declines with range, and declines precipitously with range on fast-moving targets. This period US chart NOTE 2 brags up the improvement in a pH from Sherman to Pershing to M60A1 days:

post_wwii_tank_cannon_improvement

But a missile under human guidance, like the Sagger, can track a moving target even if the target changes direction or speed. The general rule of thumb is that the first hit decides a tank fight; Sagger had a near 90% probability of hit at all ranges from 1,000 to 3,000 meters.

sagger_first_round_ph_small

 

A hit gave the Sagger a very high pK as well: the warhead was among the most effective in the world at the time, penetrating the equivalent of 17″ of rolled homogeneous armor at 0º obliquity (engineering speak for “square on”). US testing of captured Saggers and computer probability analyses assigned the Sagger a .67 pK at a mean engagement range of 2,500 meters.

Combined with the T-62’s 5000+ fps tank guns for the midrange and RPGs for the knife fight, the Sagger meant a Soviet-style (including Egyptian or Syrian) antitank ambush was potentially lethal from 3,000 meters to zero.

soviet_weapons_ph_all_weapons

American soldiers and engineers were very impressed with that graph.

Soviet technology made the combined arms army of 1970 very different from the victorious horde of 1945, Unlike the Western Allies, who had advanced under an umbrella of air power, the Soviets chose not to depend on their powerful Air Forces and Frontal Aviation, but to give their tank and motorized rifle units an umbrella of surface-to-air missiles overhead and a screen of anti-tank missiles to the front. They equipped every tank with night vision, choosing to spend now on active infrared rather than wait for the costs of image intensification to come down (the West, mostly, made the other choice, to delay purchases now and skip a generation of night equipment). This would also shock Israel, when her enemies (especially the Syrians, who had trained with the night sights and lights very extensively) could see at night, and their army could not. The IDF was heir to a tradition of night-fighting from 1948, and its leaders firmly believed that Arabs were too frightened and superstitious to fight at night, just as they believed that Arabs couldn’t operate and maintain sophisticated missiles.

The Sagger Countermeasures of 1973

Before the war, the Israelis didn’t take the Sagger seriously. They knew about it from desultory US reports and from occasional firings during Suez skirmishes — inconsequential firings that encouraged them to disrespect the missile. It was just one more anti-tank weapon, and when their own forces wanted anti-tank weapons, the Deputy Chief of Staff told them, “You already have the best one: a tank!” The qualitative change in the battlefield produced by a long-range, accurate, tank-killing weapon was completely unexpected.

[Military Intelligence] printed booklets about the Sagger’s characteristics based on information received from the United States, which had encountered the missile in Vietnam in 1971. The armored corps command had even developed tactics for dealing with the missile. But neither the booklets nor the suggested tactics had yet filtered down and few tank men were even aware of the Sagger’s existence.NOTE 3

How to answer the Sagger attack would become a major question for the Israelis (and by extension, for anyone who might have to fight Soviet-style forces). The US also studied this, before and after the war. While defenders worked out some countermeasures, they were imperfect; but a decade later, American tankers were still using “Sagger drills” developed by surviving Israeli tankers after their counterattack of 7 October 73 was savaged by infantry anti-tank teams using Saggers and RPGs.

Reshef’s operations officer, Lt. Pinhas Bar, who had accompanied Bardash’s force, assembled the tank commanders and explained the techniques developed in the past few hours for coping with the Sagger. Such impromptu lessons would be going on all along the front as new units took the field alongside tankers who had survived the day.

The Saggers, the “veterans” explained, were a formidable danger but not an ultimate weapon. They could be seen in flight and were slow enough to dodge. It took at least ten seconds for a missile to complete its flight—at extreme range it could be twice that—during which time the Sagger operator had to keep the target in his sights as he guided the missile by the bright red light on its tail. From the side it was easy for the tankers to see the light. As soon as anyone shouted “Missile,” the tanks were to begin moving back and forth in order not to present a stationary target. Movement would also throw up dust that would cloud the Sagger operator’s view. Simultaneously, the tank should fire in his presumed direction, which itself could be sufficient to throw him off his aim.

It was clear to the tank crews that something revolutionary was happening—as revolutionary, it seemed, as the introduction of the machine gun or the demise of the horse cavalry. Tanks, which had stalked the world’s battlefields for half a century like antedeluvian beasts, were now being felled with ease by ordinary foot soldiers. It would take time, in some cases days, before the implications of this extraordinary development would be grasped by higher command. Meanwhile, the tankers would have to figure out for themselves how to survive. NOTE 4

Most of the countermeasures relied on spotting the backblast of the launch and directing fire in that area. The US noted with alarm that the M60A1 tank needed to close to 1000-1500 meters to get its pH up to 50%, and by that point it was well within the range fan of the Sagger. 

The Sagger remains in use, here in former Yugoslavia. Note the "suitcase" halves for scale.

The Sagger remains in use, here in former Yugoslavia. Note the “suitcase” halves for scale.

Other Sagger countermeasures included laying suppressive fire on likely lurking spots, something the US Army had forgotten since World War II and Korea; exploiting terrain, or as the Army put it, “every fold of ground”; keeping formations loose and non-geometric in order to complicate a Sagger gunner’s second-choice if he lost his first target; keeping moving, or firing from hull defilade; and using infantry for close-in protection of tanks. The US had a few advantages, too: its similar suite of missiles, guns and unguided rocket AT weapons had fewer minimum-range problems and generally superior accuracy and reduced training demands.

Even after the war, the Israelis struggled to find countermeasures. Uzi Eliam remembers:

Egyptian infantry infantry forces with Saturn missiles constituted a serious threat to our tanks. Maj. Gen. Albert Mendler, commander of the Southern division (the 252nd) in the Sinai Peninsula, was hit by a Egyptian antitank missile and died of his injuries…. NOTE 5

[Deputy CGS Israel] Tal was extremely concerned about the threat of the Sagger missiles which he himself had not completely understood before the war. During the years of the War of Attrition along the Canal, our observation posts had observed closed train cars arriving at the front lines. Each time such a train car reached the position of an Egyptian military unit, a long line of soldiers would form near the door, and the soldiers would enter the car one at a time. At first, we made jokes about the train cars, referring to them as mobile sexual service units similar to the kind operated by the Syrian army before the Six-Day War. However, we quickly realized that the train cars contained training simulators for Sagger missile operators.

At R&D, we thought about different ways of addressing the threat with the American developed Mk19 40 mm grenade machine gun. This machine gun was vehicle mounted, and had a firing rate of 350 grenades a minute and a range of 1500 m. … The proposal to add the system to our armored vehicles was decisively rejected by Operations Branch Chief Tal. According to his dogma, what he called “foreign elements” could not be introduced into tank battles.

Although we started searching for a technological solution to the SAG or missile about 10 days after the outbreak of the war the moment the first missiles fell into our hands, we were unable to find a shortcut or a quick solution…. Tal now invoked his authority as Deputy CGS… [with others]… he put all his energy into finding a solution to the problem. The solution he selected involved positioning net fences and coiled barbed wire around tank encampments in order to cause early detonation of fired Sagger missiles before they hit the tanks themselves. NOTE 6.

Despite our best efforts it took more time to develop responses to the Sagger missile. Many ideas were tried… including the possibility of disrupting the missile command system in midflight, misdirecting the missile navigator, and physically obstructing the missile with a steel net in close proximity of the target. The simple Russian missile was not susceptible to our disruption efforts, and we only found a proper solution to the threat posed by the Sagger missile years later. NOTE 7.

But of course, the Russians were not sleeping, and they had better weapons on the drawing board, already. But that’s another story, perhaps for some other day.

Meanwhile their 1973-vintage missiles were a key to the Arab nations’ hopes to recover territory, and pride, lost in the calamitous defeat of 1967. That’s the next, and we think last, installment of this story, the story of early ATGMs.

Notes

  1. Eilam disagrees with this, noting that US policy was only to provide new technology to Israel once the Israelis had shown themselves capable of producing their own, in order to discourage “escalation” and an “arms race.” These are diplomatic (i.e., State Department) terms; while the US DOD then strongly slanted towards Israel, State was then (as now) a hotbed of antisemitism and anti-Israeli feeling.
  2. All these charts come from US Army, TRADOC Bulletin 1u, and were originally prepared as briefing view-graphs (powerpoint before there was powerpoint).
  3. Rabinovich, Kindle Locations 653-655
  4. Rabinovich, Kindle Locations 2092-2108.
  5. Eilam, p. 108.
  6. Eilam, pp. 138-139.
  7. Eilam, p. 148.

Sources

Kelly, Orr. King of the Killing Zone: The Story of the M1, America’s Super Tank. New York: WW Norton & Co., 1989.

Eliam, Uzi. Eliam’s Arc: How Israel Became a Military Technology Powerhouse. Sussex University Press, 2011.

Rabinovich, Abraham. The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

US Army, Training and Doctrine Command. TRADOC Bulletin 1u: Range and Lethality of US and Soviet Anti-Armor Weapons. Ft. Monroe, VA: TRADOC, 30 September 1975. Retrieved from: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a392784.pdf

State of The Art(illery): 1884

This cannon wasn't made at Watervliet, though. It was captured from Johnny Burgoyne!

Watervliet Arsenal, where this cannon was once displayed, comes up in this story. But this cannon wasn’t made at Watervliet. It was captured from Johnny Burgoyne!

In the last quarter of the 19th century, it sank in to the American military that important advances in gun manufacture had been taking place in Europe, while the US is heavy gun development and stagnated since the Civil War. The War Between the States was the last war in which the United States had needed a lot of artillery, and not surprisingly, it had been the last time the Army and Navy had spent significant money on artillery technological development. Since 1865, most fighting had taken place against Indian tribes, and these light, mobile counterinsurgency battles didn’t implicate heavy weaponry. After all, Custer had famously left his cannon — and Gatlings — behind, making a judgment that gave priority to the mobility of his cavalry force. That it is now one of the more thoroughly second-guessed judgments of all military history is small consolation to Yellow Hair: as he would no doubt say if we could interview him, “It seemed like a good idea at the time!”

Of course, the heavy weapons that Custer had in 1873, and that his successors would have had a decade later, were little improved from those of the Civil War. The Artillery Branch’s focus had been on development of heavy artillery for siege and especially for coastal use, and if one attended the Artillery School at Fort Monroe, VA in this period, he’d learn, along with a heavy dose of theory, the following guns: 3-inch, 8-inch, and 21-pounder, along with the 4.5 inch siege gun and a couple of Seacoast Mortars.1

Meanwhile, the Germans and Austrians (actually, the Austrians’ Czech gunmakers) had invented the recoiling gun carriage and the armies of Europe were rearming with a new generation of highly accurate breechloaders, made of steel and not iron.

So our Army and Navy thought it best to take a systematic look at their needs for artillery, how the Europeans had met similar needs, and how the US might equal them. This required an act of Congress in 1883, and a report to the President (do you know who was President? Neither did we. Chester A. Arthur) in the next year. One copy of that report, which was approved by Arthur in February, 1884, was filed in the library of the Infantry and Cavalry School in October of that year, and is now available in .pdf from the school’s successor, the Combined Arms Reference Library.

Results: a little over 10 years later, these buildings, and guns like this, emerged from the report's recommendations.

Results: a little over 10 years later, these buildings, and guns like this, emerged from the report’s recommendations.

The board comprised six officers who traveled to government arsenals and private factories in England, France and Russia. They also corresponded at length with Friedrich Krupp, who in the end declined to host them at his plant in Essen. The original book contains the Krupp correspondence in its appendices, all of which unfortunately are missing from the truncated .pdf version available in Sources below.

The report noted the parlous state of US Artillery at the time. After listing the arsenals and contractors that produced the Union’s artillery in the Civil War, then nearly 20 years in the past, it noted how scant American postwar developments had been:

Since the termination of the war the Fort Pitt Foundry has ceased to exist. The South Boston Iron Works Company has manufactured a few experimental guns, and with the West Point Foundry has executed some small orders of the Government in the conversion of cast-iron smooth-bores into rifle guns by inserting and rifling a coiled wrought iron tube.

None of the companies mentioned above have ever made steel guns, and virtually the United States is destitute of a source from which such, an armament as the age demands can be supplied.

Before the introduction of rifled cannon and the use of steel as the material for their construction, the United States boasted of her Dahlgren and Rodman cast-iron guns, which were the models for imitation and the standards for comparison of all nations.

While the rest of the world has advanced with the progress of the age, the artillery of the United States has made no step forwards. Its present condition of inferiority is only the natural result of such want of action.2

The report describes with remarkable concision the economics, location, and process of manufacturing artillery in the nations that cooperated, and goes on to describe the guns themselves and their technology in great detail.

Whitworth’s Works

Other English firms reported that Sir Joseph Whitworth, the eminent inventor and engineer, was quite as secretive a Krupp himself, but Whitworth invited the officers to visit his factory — under the condition that they only do so after seeing all the others. That seemed like a small enough concession, and so they did just that, only to find that Whitworth really was doing something remarkable.

The other factories were well ahead of the Americans’ home industries: they were casting breech-loading gun tubes, and making hoops for them, of steel. But what Whitworth was doing blew the Americans’ minds:

In speaking of the Whitworth establishment at Manchester as unique, and of the process of manufacture at that place as a revelation, reference is specially made to the operation of forging. As to the assorting of ores, and the treatment of metal in the furnaces, there is no intention to draw distinctions; but as to the treatment of the metal after casting there can be no doubt of the superiority of the system adopted by Sir Joseph Whitworth over that of all other manufacturers in the world. The process here adopted has been kept singularly exempt from scrutiny. Even in the offices of the chiefs of artillery there can be found no information, within the knowledge of the Board, which is at all satisfactory upon the subject. Whatever knowledge there is seems to come from hearsay—-none from personal observation—and it is only from personal observation that the merits of the system can be fully appreciated.

The system of forging consists in compressing the liquid metal in the mould immediately after casting, and in substituting a hydraulic press for the hammer, in the subsequent forging of the metal.3

The exact details of the process follow, and then the conclusion:

The Board witnessed the operations of casting followed by that of liquid compression, the enlarging of hoops, the drawing out of cylinders, and the forging of a solid ingot. The unanimous opinion of the mem­bers is that the system of Sir Joseph Whitworth surpasses all other methods of forging, and that it gives better promise than any other of securing that uniformity so indispensable in good gun metal.

The latest exhibition of the wonderful character of the Whitworth steel has attracted great attention, and may be stated as indicating the present culmination of his success. From a Whitworth 9-inch gun, lately constructed for the Brazilian Government, there was fired a steel shell, which, after perforating an armor-plate of 18 inches of wrought iron, still retained considerable energy. The weight of the shell was 403 pounds, the charge of powder 197 pounds, and the velocity about 2,000 feet. The shell is but slightly distorted. The tests of the metal of which it was made show a tensile strength of 98 tons per square inch and a ductility of 9 per cent.4

They were very favorably impressed by the Russian factories, which seemed to borrow eclectically from Whitworth and Krupp alike, and relied on excellent Russian ores. They noted an accident that demonstrated the strength of Russian artillery design:

A recent accident gave a severe test to the system of construction adopted for Russian artillery. In experimenting with gun-cotton for use in shells, one of the latter, containing 40 pounds, exploded in the chamber of an 11-inch gun when the charge of gunpowder (128 pounds) was fired. The rear part of the breech was blown off at the weak point of the Krupp system. The trunnion-band was broken, throwing off a fragment; and the diameter of the chamber was enlarged 1 inch. The admirable quality of the metal, and the good adjustment of the strength of the several parts is evident from this statement.5

That would have been unpleasant for the gun crew, we suspect.

The Russian guns were also unique in being designed with a thin liner that allowed artillery to be rapidly and economically overhauled.

The operation of inserting one of these lining tubes in a field gun was witnessed at Aboukhoff. The difference of their diameters was very small. The fitting of the slightly conical surfaces by measurement be­fore insertion was done with precision.

When ready for insertion the lining tube was lubricated and intro­ duced by hand. It was forced by hand levers until the end was nearly flush with the breech; hydraulic power then applied by a hand-pump was gradually increased to a pressure of 180 atmospheres, although no motion was apparent after it had reached 100 atmospheres. The rear end of the lining tube forms the recess for the Broadwell ring.

The Russian officers claim that these tubes can be renewed in the field, and cited instances of two 9-inch mortars, weighing 5½ tons each, needed for use on the Danube during the late war. Being too heavy for the available means of transportation they were forwarded in three pieces— a tube, a breech-jacket and a muzzle-jacket. The two latter were screwed together, and the tube was inserted by a jack on the spot; both mortars did excellent service.6.

Consequences of the Report

The Report made several recommendations:

  1. That the Government build its own artillery, rather than purchase it or enter into a public-private partnership, or, as they put it, “The Government should establish on its own territory a plant for the fabrica­tion of cannon, and should contract with private parties to such amounts as would enable them to supply from the private industries of the country the forged and tem­pered material.” The officers thought that the provision of private profit increased Government costs. (They might have been artillerists, but they weren’t economists).
  2. That the Army and Navy have separate facilities. “This has al­ ways been the custom in France, producing good results; the reverse has been the practice in England, producing bad results.”
  3. That the Army construct its factory for artillery tubes at Watervliet, New York, where plentiful hydraulic power would enable manufacturing.7
  4. That the Navy build theirs in the Washington Navy Yard.
  5. And of course, the officers asked for money:

The facts that the United States is destitute of the means of fabri­cating the modern guns so urgently needed for national defense, and that at least three years will be required to complete the tools, construct the shops and establish the plant, would seem to demand an immedi­ate appropriation of the amount ($1,800,000) estimated for the estab­lishment of the proposed gun factories.8

So it was written; and, quite remarkably, so it was, more or less, done. The US still makes its artillery tubes at Watervliet Arsenal!

Notes

  1. Daugherty, p. 13.
  2. Foundry Board Report, p. 39.
  3. Foundry Board Report, pp. 14-15.
  4. Foundry Board Report, p. 16.
  5. Foundry Board Report, pp. 37-38.
  6. Foundry Board Report, p. 38.
  7. Watervliet once had a decent museum on base, but it closed in 2013 in a Provost Marshal’s blind security panic, and will never reopen; the exhibits are to be shipped to distant Army museums, stored and forgotten, or, in the case of heavy and bulky exhibits the Army Center for Military History doesn’t want to pay to ship or store, scrapped.
  8. Foundry Board Report, pp. 50-51.

 

Sources

Daugherty, Leo J. III. Pioneers of Amphibious Warfare, 1898-1945: Profiles of Fourteen American Military Strategists. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

Simpson, et. al. Report of the Gun Foundry Board: Organized by The President in Accordance With the Act of Congress, Approved March 3, 1883. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1884. Available at http://cgsc.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p4013coll11/id/722 or here at WeaponsMan: Report of the Gun Foundry Board 1884.pdf (10.5 mb PDF).

ATGMs Go to War, Vietnam, 1972

In 1972, ATGMs had been in military inventories for 20 years, since France’s adoption of the SS-10 circa 1951. But they’d never fulfilled their original mission — destruction of enemy tanks in combat. Sure, some of the French missiles might have been popped off an insurgent sangars in Algeria, and Americans shot a couple of Entacs at bunkers in Vietnam. And a dozen missile models had blown hell out of obsolete tanks on a firing range. But nobody had shot one at a hostile tank containing a hostile crew.

1972 was the year that the wire-guided anti-tank missile got its cherry popped, in Vietnam conflict. Before the next year was out the missiles would prove almost decisive in tank-on-tank combat — and be employed on both sides. If the weapons world of New Year’s Eve, 1971, had its issues with anti-tank guided missiles — and the US had such gadflies as the Project on Military Procurement (whose funding and control was shadowy) and the Soviet-line Center for Defense Information trying to force cancellation of ATGM programs — the weapons world of New Year’s Day, 1974, had shaken off all doubts. Missiles were here to stay.

Those wars were the 1972 NVA conventional invasion of South Vietnam and the Yom Kippur War, both of which saw missiles used, in the first experimentally, and in the second in great quantities.  Here is an overview video of TOW missile attacks on North Vietnamese armor.

Click “more” for the details about Vietnam. The Yom Kippur War story will be told in the days ahead.

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Anti-Tank Missiles — America’s Early Years

We’ve discussed the original German developments on wire-guided missiles, and the way the US Army didn’t pick uo on them until it was imagining its ultimate tank-killer in the late 1950s. That missile program was rolled into one of Robert S. Macnamara’s grandiose schemes, the international MBT-70 tank, that was going to be the best tank in the world by such a margin that all NATO would adopt it. (Instead, it wound up being a bitter, painful and costly learning experience for the US and Germany).

A Note About Interational and Combination Programs

International programs always have great appeal to deskbound defense intellectuals like Macnamara. It’s an instantation of a set they can’t resist, making one general thing replace two or more specialized ones. Therefore it’s always easy to sell DOD suits on something like the M14 replacing the M1 rifle, M1 carbine, M3A1 SMG, M1918A2 automatic rifle, and M1919A6 squad machine gun, all in one fell swoop.  The problem is, of course, that the M14 was okay to replace the rifle and maybe the carbine, but couldn’t quite do what the grease gun and the BAR did, and was not even in the same game, capability-wise, as the light machine gun. This is not a criticism of the M14, it’s a criticism of the boneheaded idea that a general-purpose rifle can replace something developed for another general-purpose entirely. From the beginning the M14 was intended to replace the M3A1 as well as the M1 rifle, but it wound up being longer and bulkier than the M1, something many people don’t understand because of the M14’s clean, attractive, carbine-like lines.

While the graveyards of defense procurement are rich in “not just a toaster, but also a blender!” false starts, the problems of neither-fish-nor-fowl procurement are compounded by international programs. Now you have to deal with different requirements that are rooted in different doctrines and even concepts of war. The MBT-70 was the compromise hellchild of incompatible American and German concepts of what a tank was for. The Americans envisioned a tank so good it could fight and win despite being grossly outnumbered, and that fired missiles. The Germans, having tramped that road to its logical conclusion in WWII, wanted a tank they could afford to build in such quantity that they wouldn’t have to fight grossly outnumbered, and they saw the tank-gun-missile-launcher as the boondoggle it was. NATO politics forced both nations, whose armies had a tradition of mobile, offensive-oriented tank fighting, onto a war plan comprising static defense in place. So the best tank minds of two of the world’s top five tank-fighting nations poured themselves for years into a project whose demise was written in its congenital deformation.

As a rule of thumb, odds of failure of a given military procurement project increase by the exponent of the number of armed services involved.

Meanwhile, Back in La Belle France…

While the Americans and Germans tied themselves into knots trying to make a Ronco does-everything tank (and the Americans, to build a missile it could launch), something interesting happened in France. French engineers picked up where Dr Kramer left off with his wire-guided AT missile. Within a few years, they had a design for one that would work, and they showed it off to their allies, hoping for some help. So, about 1951, French officials showed American officers the experimental SS-10 missile. It was a small, barely man-portable or jeep-launched missile that could deliver a whopping hollow charge onto a tank with precision, given a well-trained operator.

SS-10 in US service in 1961. With its ends popped off and propped up with a built-in monopod, the box became a launcher.

SS-10 in US service in 1961. With its ends popped off and propped up with a built-in monopod, the box became a launcher.

Nord Aviation (the French manufacturer) missile ad, 1959.

Nord Aviation (the French manufacturer) missile ad, 1959. Click to embiggen.

The SS-10 incorporated Manual Command to Line of Sight or MCLOS guidance. A sodium flare in the missile’s tail let the missileer steer the weapon, which he flew onto target with a joystick. (This was generally how Kramer’s system had worked). The weapon came to American attention in 1951, according to a once-classified US history:

The French SS-10 missile evolved from the German RuhrstahZ, or X-4, a single-wing, wire-guided, roll-stabilized missile originally developed as an air-to-air missile late in World War 11. The Germans were ready to begin mass production of the Y-4 early in 1945, but their plans were interrupted by costly delays in acquir- ing suitable solid-fuel rocket engines and by the relentless bombing of research and manufacturing centers by Allied planes. Recognizing the potentialities of the X-4 as a surface-to-surface antitank weapon, the French continued-its development after the war ended.lO The resultant product was the SS-10, a ground- launched, cruciform-wing missile about 34 inches long with a 30-inch wing span. It had a gross weight of 34 pounds and carried an 8.9-pound shaped-charged warhead for an operational range of about 1,500 yards. Like the X-4, the SS-10 was an optically-guided, wire-controlled missile — features later incorporated i n the DART guided missile system.

The Ordnance Corps became interested in the SS-10 a s a potential antitank weapon late in 1951 and subsequently supported the development program with primary emphasis on procurement, test, and evaluation of the system. Early in 1952, 500 SS-10 missiles and 3 sets of ground equipment were procured from the French Government for use in evaluation tests by the Ordnance Corps at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the AFF Board No. 3 at Fort Benning, Georgia, and the U. S. Marine Corps at Quantico, Virginia. The evaluation program began in December 1952 and continued until October 1953, when it was discontinued because of unfavorable test results. Members of the AFF Board No. 3 recommended that the SS-10 missile, in its current state of development, be considered unsuitable for use by the U. S. Army, and that future French development of the missile be carefully observed with a view to reconsideration of the weapon if an improved model should be produced before a comparable American weapon became available.

Click “more” to continue with the Comparable American Weapon — a dead-end — and America’s return to French missiles for the 1960s, and developments to the early 70s.

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The Dawn of the ATGM

In 1945, Allied investigators pouring over the ruins of German missile research programs found enough information that France, America, Britain and Russia would launch programs of their own. One unexpected discovery was that Germans had taken an functional approach to missile control from a launch or near-launch station via trailing electrical wires. These wire-guided missile technologies were used in both developmental and deployed weapons by the Germans.

The German problems were inferiority of naval surface forces, and loss of superiority in the air, so it’s not surprising that wartime German precision-guided missile programs addressed these problems. The Naval PGMs were the Henschel Hs293 “Schmetterling” glide bomb (some versions of which had rocket assist), designed by Dr Herbert A. Wagner, and the Ruhrstahl SD 1400 “Fritz X”, which was a wire-guided solution. The Fritz X  was extremely successful, sinking the Allied battleship Roma (Italy) and cruiser HMS Spartan, and damaging the battleship HMS Warspite and cruisers HMS Spartan, USS Philadelphia, and USS Savannah. The Hs293 was used quite widely, and after early successes (sinking armed sloop HMS Egret in August, 1943) its radio-guidance was subject to meaconing by Allied ECM. Subsequently, it too was rebuilt for countermeasures-safe wire guidance. (There were also television-guided versions, cutting edge for 1944). In addition to these antiship weapons, there were experimental antiaircraft weapons, notably the Ruhrstahl X-4, an air-to-air weapon that was never operationalized.

X-4 in a museum. Note pod on upper fin from which guidance wires unspool.

X-4 in a museum. Note pod on upper fin from which guidance wires unspool.

The control wires for the X-4 uncoiled from spools in pods on the tips of two of its four swept cruciform forward fins. The fins were swept at about 35º in keeping eith the then-latest German aerodynamic research.

The X-4 seems to have been the last version to be reduced to hardware, at least hardware that survives today. But a follow-on, the X-7, seems to have been the root of postwar wire-guided ATGMs. Here is a description of the X-7 project:

It was certainly natural and reasonable that a ground-to-ground version of the X-4 was also developed, as an anti-tank weapon, in addition the the successful Panzerfaust. This new cousin missile was called the X-7. The X-7 was navigated and stabilized by a gyroscope and guided by wire, like the X-4, but it contained a hollow charge warhead armed with an impact fuze which could penetrate over 200mm of armor within 1000 meters. It was driven by a two-stage, solid-fuel rocket motor and weighed 22lb.

The Ruhrstahl AG company of Düsseldorf developed the X-series of missiles. However, like many other German wonder weapons, none of the versions were perfected to proceed to production stage before the Reich surrendered. But it is only fair to give credit to the company and its scientists for being the inventors and developers of wire-guided anti-tank missiles. Today, the anti-armor missiles are very similar to the original blueprints of X-7 and are popular among many nations.

x-7-anti-tank-missile-2

X-7 Rottkäpchen, general arrangement

 

Ruhrstahl’s designer Dipl.-Ing. Max Kramer, is the true father of all wire-guided antitank missiles. This other site includes some images of the missile, which it calls X-7 Rotkäppchen (“Little Red Riding Hood”) and a different development history: it even alleges combat use, which seems unlikely.

The X-7 Rotkäppchen (Red Riding Hood) was a anti-tank missile. Designed and developed by Ruhrstahl AG in 1943, After the Heereswaffenamt (Army Ordnance Board) placed an urgent order for anti-tank missiles, this project was under the leadership of Dipl.-Ing. Max Otto Kramer.

The X-7 Rotkäppchen (Red Riding Hood) This weapon was intended to be deployed against tanks and armoured vehicles. Dipl.-Ing. Max Otto Kramer had been experimenting since early 1938, with remote control freefalling bombs, and in 1940. Kramer joined Ruhrstahl AG.

The X-7 Rotkäppchen (Red Riding Hood) was shell shaped body had two wins at its aft end with parabolic leading and trailing edges and two small pods for the wire link spools were attached to the wing tips, spoiler control was simplified on the X-7 Rotkäppchen by the installation of only one spoiler on an extended curved arm. The rocket motor used was 1 × WASAG 109-506 solid fuel rocket engine producing up to kg of thrust. The wire link control system was employed for the X-7 Rotkäppchen which used Düsseldorf FuG 510 transmitter and the Detmold FuG 238 receiver, also a radio controlled system was planned for the X-7 Rotkäppchen using the FuG 203/230h. detonation was achieved by use of an impact fuse.

A few hundred X-7 Rotkäppchen were produced at Ruhrstahl AG Brackwede factory however there were unconfirmed reports of the X-7 being used operationally on the eastern front, and it appears that this missile was extremely effective. Even against the heavy armoured, Stalin tanks.

At war’s end, Wagner and Kramer were among the Operation Paperclip relocated scientists. (Kramer would work in the US Aerospace industry, receive US citizenship, and retire in California). Wolfgang Samuel writes:

Among all the “stuff” brought home to Wright Field in 1945, stored in Building 89 and carefully inventoried by Capt. [Bob] Strobell, were the Hs 293 air-to-surface glide bomb designed by Dr. Herbert A. Wagner, and the SD 1400 Fritz X free-falling armor piercing bomb designed by Dr. Max Kramer. Wagner and his design team or among the first brought to the United States by the U.S. Navy in May 1945. Navy interest in those weapons Wayne after the Japanese surrender; Army Air Force is interest apparently never developed. It was an unfortunate and costly oversight. 1

The US Tried to Make It A Tank Weapon

But while the US may not have followed up immediately on wire-guided missiles, other nations did. And their results caused the US to rethink the wire guided missile entirely. By 1957, a rosy US report on the potential of guided missiles as tank killers had a profound impact on the development of American tanks, driving the development of the Philco/Ford MGM-51 Shillelagh missile, and the ill-fated German-American tank that would have fired it from a complex missile/gun system, the MBT-70.

Surviving MBT-70 prototype at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Surviving MBT-70 prototype at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The three-man crew all were in the turret. Yes, the hydropneumatic suspension of this one is defunct.

The missile was the first completed Semi-Automatic Command to Line of Sight (SACLOS) missile deployed. On earlier weapons, like the French SS-10 and SS-11, and Soviet SS-1 Sagger, like the original X-7, a gunner with a joystick observed the flight of the missile and flew it on to the target. (missile acquisition was often assisted with a flare, after engine burnout). On the Shillelagh and its followers, a gunner merely had to keep the sight on the target — the computers would guide the robot to the aimpoint.

The missile/gun (XM-150 in the MBT-70 and M-81 in the Sheridan and M60) fired caseless cannon ammunition, at least in theory, from a rifled barrel (at first, no ammunition development apart from the missile was done). Because spin, so helpful to the accuracy of unguided shells, can screw up fin-stabilized guided missiles, the gun had an additional, longitudinal slot cut in it, in which a shoe on the Shillelagh rode to guide the missile straight. The slots caused the barrels to burst when the 152mm shell was fired. The missile guidance gear turned out to be unable to withstand the effects of firing a gun shot, too. The missiles were stripped out of the Sheridans before they deployed to Vietnam, where the caseless-ammo gun revealed more weaknesses: unburned propellant filled the turret with noxious fumes, and without the protection of a casing, the ammunition was prone to flash fires.

The MBT-70 project was a spectacular failure, but the missile/gun continued development and was shoehorned into two tanks: the M551 Sheridan, and the M60A2 “Starship.” They were failures, too, although the Sheridan continued in service as an air-droppable tank, for lack of any alternative, until the 1990s. Some of the problems (cracking barrels) were solved, some (reliability, incendiary effects of stored ammo) never were. But this was all the Army had.

MGM-51_Shillelagh_Sheridan

The Shillelagh missile was of no earthly use to an infantryman facing tanks, who might not have a tank platoon in his back pocket. In due course the spotlight came back on to that lonely soldier. But that’s another story — and one that will take us back to the X-4 and around the world, before ATGMs will prove their utility nearly simultaneously in wars at opposite ends of the Asian continent.

Notes

  1. Samuel, pp. 436-437.

Sources

Cagle, Mary T.History of the TOW Missile System. Redstone Arsenal, AL: Army Aviation and Missile Command, 1977. Retrieved from: http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf&AD=ADA434477

Kelly, Orr. King f the Killing Zone: The Story of the M1, America’s Super Tank. New York: Berkeley, 1989.

Samuel, Wolfgang W.E.. American Raiders: The Race to Capture the Luftwaffe’s Secrets.

Starry, Donn A. Mounted Combat in Vietnam. Washington D.C.: Department of the Army, 1978

Uncredited. Remote Piloted Air Vehicles, Germany. Retrieved From: http://www.ctie.monash.edu.au/hargrave/rpav_germany_hr.html