People have been wondering exactly how the crew is laid out and works together in the new Russian T-14 Armata tank. Here is an answer, as what appears to be a pick-up crew (test crew? journalists?) sets up and fires the Armata’s main armament. Some comments after the brief video.
They’re going to have to go a lot faster than this in combat, but see comments on the crew above the video. A well-drilled crew, comfortable with live-firing the tank, should slam through this. These guys are leisurely, relaxed. “Ogon?” (Fire). (pause) “Ogon!” (pause). FOOM. Those pauses go away with practice.
The high level of automation in the Armata is evident here. It’s a well-thought out tank, and with the whole crew in the same can, crew coordination is simplified. In the flight-training world, there’s a general consensus that it’s easier and more effective to teach in a side-by-side environment. Curtis LeMay himself threw a wobbler when Boeing prepared a jet for him (the XB-52) with a tandem crew as in the previous jet (B-47), and he made Boeing change it for the production jets. Putting the TC, gunner and driver side-by-side has the same benefits in a tank that it does in a jet bomber.
We’re a little concerned about the idea of touch screens in a combat vehicle. Again in aviation, we’ve discovered that two things are problems with touch-screens in aircraft. In turbulent conditions, it can be hard to hit the button you want. And worse, it’s possible to hit a button you don’t want. Now, this is not an insuperable problem. The avionics makers have worked out some solutions and/or work-arounds, including backup manual knobs, user-controllable delays on keys (i.e. you have to hold it for a half-second to activate it), and even environmentally adaptive delays (the delay increases if the accelerometers in the Air Data and Altitude/Heading Reference System see accelerations characteristic of turbulence). So if they can solve it for an airplane moving at hundreds of kilometers an hour through three-dimensionally through a moving, changing medium, the Russians can solve it for a tank juddering over the ground at a max of dozens of K and taking the occasional hit.
The touch screens of the Armata look like COTS computers running application, not a bespoke interface. This has both pros and cons, something the Russian engineers certainly understand.
Tanks normally operate best opened up and lose considerable situational awareness when combat forces them to button up. NATO tankers in particular like to fight their tanks from open cupola. But the Armata seems designed to give its TC best situational awareness when he’s reclining in his couch, not head up out of the turret. This is in keeping with Russian/Soviet tank doctrine that expects tanks to operate on a battlefield swept not only by small arms, tank, and mortar and indirect fire, but also by billowing clouds of chemical and biological weapons. In that environment, the TC in an climate-controlled compartment with the rest of his crew is miles ahead of the guy who might be out of his turret, but sweating in a MOPP4 suit and squinting through a gas mask, or in any US tank where NBC protection is an afterthought.
Finally, this is a tank that exists in platoon or maybe company strength. It’s still a test article. It could evolve in other directions. The Russians are not going to send these to their sheep-dipped units in eastern Ukraine, let alone their “USA is nutless, so we might as well” expeditionary force in Syria. When they do sell them to allies that might use them in combat — probably, Iran, and probably, soon, because they want foreign sales to subsidize Russian Army production — the allies will not get the full version. Of course, a tank that is so very dependent on software makes the production of what Soviet guys back in the day used to call their “monkey model” for export relatively easy.
It also enables a couple of logistic things that haven’t been done quite this way before. For example, Russian Army tanks could be very quickly reconfigured and flown to an ally in extremis, as the USA did with Israel in 1973, and also, Russian crews could be rapidly airlifted and fall in on an ally’s monkey-model tanks, flashing them to full Russian Army standard with a firmware upgrade. This would be an improvement on the US’s Cold War REFORGER prepositioned unit sets, by getting the allies to store, maintain and exercise the unit sets unless and until Ivan needs them.
Even if this tank is never produced in more than limited quantities, it is a revolutionary tank that must be taken seriously. We expect to see some of these concepts influencing future Western developments.
Archaeologists are always surprised to find that historical information from contemporary sources, pamphlets, or news stories is confirmed by the results of a dig (probably because they read the New York Times and watch TV news and assume today’s media is fabulistic, in the tradition of yesterday’s). The latest unexpected discovery is this cannon shard which from a New Jersey dig which seems to confirm some details of the October, 1777 Battle of Red Bank, a small but dramatic Continental victory, in which attacking Hessian mercenaries suffered extreme casualties under an artillery and small arms barrage, and the American casualties were light, comprising primarily a single gun crew slain when the gun exploded.
Historians who studied the Battle of Red Bank in 1777 have long known the tragic story of an American gun crew.
It was one of several defending Fort Mercer against a much larger army of Hessian soldiers, who were trying to dislodge them and open up the Delaware River for British ships to supply the Redcoats occupying Philadelphia.
The crew loaded a massive cannon, lit the fuse, and fired – but the breech exploded, killing a dozen members of Rhode Island regiments who were manning the gun and earthworks.
The battle, while a Continental victory, took place amid a series of strategic setbacks and defeats. Washington’s objective had been to cut off Philadelphia as he had in the previous year cut off Boston and forced a British defeat, and much as later in 1776 the British had forced him out of New York. To that end, the campaign that began with the upset of Hessian forces at Princeton and Trenton in December ’76 gave way to a plan to ring Philadelphia round with a number of fortifications. But Washington was in a weak position; he had to be strong at every fort, and he just didn’t have the men. The British, on the other hand, could use the Royal Navy to bring overwhelming force to one fort at a time, as they were not placed well for mutual support.
Hessian Map of the Battle Area. Fort Red Bank at lower right. As was customary in the 18th Century (under Vauban’s influence), the map’s legend is in French, which both the English and German officers could understand.
The fortifications at Red Bank were part of this ring around Philadelphia, which British forces had been rolling up through the summer and fall of 1777. A fort named Fort Mifflin stood on a rather insubstantial island in the Delaware called (appropriately) Mud Island, toward the Pennsylvania side; the fort on the Jersey side (in or just south of modern Camden, NJ) was called Fort Mercer (named after Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, a doctor turned warrior who died of wounds from the Battle of Princeton in January, 1777), but not knowing that name, the British called it Red Bank. The forts guarded water obstacles, chevaux-de-frise, and covered those obstacles with the observation and fires necessary to prevent English engineers from dismantling the blockages. To achieve Lord Howe’s strategic objective of the relief of Philadelphia, these forts had to go.
The enemy having intrenched about 100 men at Red-Bank, upon the Jersey shore, some little distance above Fort Island, Colonel Donop, with three battalions of Hessian grenadiers, the regiment of Mirback, and the infantry, Chasseurs, crossed the Delaware on the 21st instant to Cooper’s Ferry, opposite to this town, with directions to proceed to the attack of that post. The detachment marched a part of the way on the same day, and on the 22nd in the afternoon was before Red Bank; Colonel Donop immediately made the best disposition, and led the troops in the most gallant manner to the assault. They carried an extensive outwork, from which the enemy were driven into an interior intrenchment, which could not be forced without ladders, being eight or nine feet high, with the parapet boarded and fraized. The detachment in moving up, and returning from, the attack, was much galled by the enemy’s gallies and floating batteries.
Colonel Donop and Lieutenant Colonel Minningerode being both wounded, the command devolved upon the Lieutenant Colonel Linsing, who after collecting all the wounded that could be brought off, marched that night about 5 miles towards Cooper’s ferry, and on the following morning returned with the detachment to camp.
Colonel Donop unfortunately had his thigh so much fractured by a musket ball, that he could not be removed; but I since I understand there are some hopes of his recovery. There were several brave Officers lost upon this occasion, in which the utmost ardour and coverage or displayed by both officers and soldiers.
Contemporary woodcut of the Battle of Red Bank.
On the 23rd, the Augusta, in coming up the river with some other ships of war, to engage the enemies gallies near the Fort, got a-ground and by some accident taking fire in the action, was unavoidably consumed; but I do not hear there were any lives lost. The Merlin sloop also grounded, and the other ships being obliged to remove a distance from the explosion of the Augusta, it became expedient to evacuate and burn her also.
These disappointments, however, will not prevent the most vigorous measures being pursued for the reduction of the Fort, which will give us the passage of the river.
I have the honor to be, &c.
PS I have the satisfaction to enclose to your Lordship a report just received a very spirited piece of service performed by Major-General Vaughn and Sir James Wallace up the Hudson’s river.
We’d planned on stopping the excerpt here, because Vaughan’s report doesn’t bear directly on the Red Bank fight and the attempted (and ultimately successful) relief of Philadelphia by Crown forces, but we know you guys would ask, and it’s a brief report, and illuminative of Vaughan’s character so here it is:
Copy of Major General Vons report. On board the friendship, off Esopus, Friday, October 17, 10 o’clock, Morning.
I have the honor to inform you, that on the evening of the 15th instant I arrived off Esopus; finding that the rebels had thrown up works, and had made every disposition to annoy us, and cut off every communication, I judged it necessary to attack them, the wind being at that time so much against us, we could make no way. I accordingly when did the troops, attacked their batteries, drove them from their works, spiked and destroyed their guns. Esopus being a nursery for almost every villain in the country, I judged it necessary to proceed to that town. On our approach they were drawn up with cannon, which we took, and drove them out of the place. On our entering the town they fired from their houses, which induced me to reduce the place to ashes, which I accordingly did, not leaving a house. We found a considerable quantity of stores of all kinds, which shared the same fate.
Sir James Wallace has destroyed all the shipping except an armed galley, which run up the creek, with everything belonging to the vessels in store.
Our loss is so inconsiderable, this is not at present worthwhile to mention.
I am, &c.
Esopus, New York, burned by Vaughan’s forces, was the initial capital of the state in rebelliion, so Vaughan’s irritation with the town was on solid ground. The name dated to Colonial Dutch times; when the city was rebuilt it was (and is) known as Kingston, NY. The Esopus fight was much more a British victory than was Red Bank, despite Lord Viscount Howe’s spin in his report above.
At Red Bank, the Hessians drew up and demanded a surrender, threatening no quarter. The militia in the fort, under the command of Colonel Christopher Greene, defied the threat and informed the Hessians that no quarter would be given to them. (In the end, it was, and the militia did not murder their prisoners).
The colonials at Red Bank retreated in good order and their primary losses were the gun crew killed by the explosion of the gun; the Hessians suffered hundreds of casualties. But Red Bank was the exception; one after another the British forces levered the Yankees out of their positions and opened the sea roads to Philadelphia.
The Reduction of Fort Mercer at Red Bank. Modern sketch from a period Hessian sketch by Capt. J. Ewald. The New Jersey militiamen escaped to the left of this sketch (southwest) after killing and wounding 325-400 Hessians. On withdrawal, the Hessians abandoned their wounded who joined other Hessians as prisoners, also.
Howe’s report is full of spin. He tends to minimize casualties; for example, Colonel von Donop of the Hessians was in no way on the path to recovery, and he shortly died, and while he lists officer casualties in detail he evidences little interest in enlisted casualties, especially among the German mercenaries and local auxiliaries that were the bulk of his force. And he probably knew well that the two ships he lost were lost because of Continental obstacles, and the Augusta (a 64-gun ship of the line) was burnt by American fireships.
The house the Continentals used for their headquarters and hospital, and in which von Donop was treated a prisoner, still stands and is part of the Red Bank National Historic Site. (Von Donop was removed to another house, where he expired from his wounds three days later).
The surviving Hessians, beaten back by musketry and cannon fire, exfiltrated overland to Woodbury, leaving their casualties behind. The question of Hessians that died with their boots (and heads) still on was one of the things that motivated the modern archaeologists, who descended on the popular park this summer, and they did find buttons and bone fragments that indicate that they may have found a mass grave of the unfortunate Germans. (More analysis of the bones is required before that can be stated as fact).
But the most interesting discovery is a large fragment of a cannon breech, taken as being the one that exploded during the battle (we would need to see more documents to make sure the Hessians did not capture and blow up guns also, as it could have been one of those). Still, the archaeological team was not expecting such a historic find.
In the end, Howe kept coming, and he occupied Fort Mifflin on 16 November and Fort Mercer — finally abandoned by the Americans after the fall of Mifflin — on 20 November, 1777. The defenders had bought time, bled the occupying army, and most of them had slipped away to fight another day. Before they could do that, the privations of their winter in Valley Forge lay ahead.
That means, keep your musket clean, powder dry, and hatchet scoured — and buy this 1851 Mountain Howitzer. If Johnny Reb comes marching up your driveway, give him a whiff of the grape!
The gun’s a replica, but a very well made one. It has the perfect gestalt of a Civil War era artillery piece, to be sure.
As you can see, the details, like these trunnion brackets, are visibly high quality.
The gun is designed to be a live shooter. Here’s what the GunBroker auction says about it:
1851 Mountain Howitzer Cannon built to exact spec’s. 3″ bore. Wood is all white oak. All iron work is hand made then blued. Museum quality shootable cannon. You won’t find one nicer than this one.shipping available.
Like any firearm, it carries the DNA of the technology of its period. We find the details beautiful.
Personally, if we were preparing a redoubt for When They Come®, we’d want at least a battery of these things, but one’s a start.
These US Civil War and contemporaneous worldwide conflicts saw the last gasp of muzzle-loading, mostly smoothbore, blackpowder artillery, guns that had changed little ashore or afloat since the Napoleonic Wars or the 30 Years’ War. The Civil War saw the emergence of steel barrels, rifling as standard, and breech loading. In the next 50 years artillery would be revolutionized by the recoiling gun-carriage and much more powerful smokeless powders. By the turn of the 20th Century, guns like this would be fit only for guarding sleepy courthouses, village squares, and veterans’ halls; tens of thousands of them would be melted down in 20th Century scrap drives.
As a muzzle loader, it is considered an antique (even though it’s a recent replica). That means it’s exempt from regulation in many civilized nations (although local regulations, and regulations relative to the storage of the industrial quantities of black powder necessary to making it go bang, may be another matter entirely).
It’s not as cheap as a replica of something smaller, like an 1855 Springfield. The auction starts and $9k and buy-it-now is a stiff $14,000 or so. There is a small community of hobbyists, reenactors and dealers who trade in these remarkable pieces.
On the other hand, if you have a big family, you can develop the kids’ self-esteem by drilling them until they master period Service of the Piece drills.
And you can always be That Guy whose house people gather at on the 4th of July, just for the cannon blast. There is that.
Well, that’s going to make conducting our planned M203 class hardimpossible. The ATF, pushing the limits of what can be done with a stroke of the pen, is declaring previously approved illumination and training-practice rounds (the orange chalk marking rounds) to be “explosives”. They’re following this up with trips out to individuals to confiscate the ammunition for their approved, stamped Destructive Device 40mm launchers, unless the owner happens to have an explosives license and an ATF-approved bunker.
Ammunition they have confirmed they are confiscating is M992 infrared illumination and the M781 training practice round (seen below on the range, as featured in a WeaponsMan.com story last year).
The practice round has a plastic shell and contains a day-glow orange (and naturally degradable, environmentally friendly, even) chalk filling. It’s supposed to be a ballistic match for the HEDP round.
Apparently the 40mm M992 IR flares are considered to be a explosive round. This is news to me. They got my name from the dealer I purchased them from, apparently they didn’t know either. Any one have any info on this. I’ve been googling it for a couple of hours now and can’t find anything.
He left his card on my front door. He said he was going to bring a copy of the explosives tech branch ruling.
The follow-up after the ATF visit, emphasis ours:
Ok so a update. The agent that showed up was an actual bomb tech. I surrendered the rounds under protest per the advice of a attorney. The bomb tech was a really cool guy. He agreed that it was pretty stupid and he hated to do it but he was being forced to help out with the case. He did also tell me that they had sent him out to take 40mm chalk rounds under the same case. I walked out to the truck with him and watched him place the rounds in the explosive magazine in his truck. When I told him I was surrendering the rounds under protest he looked at me and said “good I hope you can fight it and get them back because this whole situation is stupid.” I’m not sure if I will go to court over it or not. I’m not out enough money for it to be a big deal but it’s an issue that has me concerned. I know there are not enough people out there with registered DD M203’s for this case to ever become a big deal but it is really shitty that as far as I can tell all 40mm rounds are considered to be Low Explosives and can not be owned unless you have a explosive licence.
Note that the “explosives tech branch ruling” has not been furnished, although this letter is circulating. It was addressed to the original Arfcom poster’s dealer, the one that had sold him the rounds.
And, a comment in the same Arfcom thread by a different user:
I just contacted my Senator and OMB concerning this. My Senator is very concerned and OMB’s response was interesting in that they say ATF is citing one section of law while ignoring others that define what makes a DD. OMB believes that ATF may be outside of the law on this and will be contacting my Senator tomorrow. After a nice discussion with an investigator there, it appears ATF is fudging the language of the applied section of code to make a determination to allow them to confiscate. The investigator with OMB believes that this may warrant action against FTB in BATFE. We shall see what happens if anything. But there is absolutely no doubt that BATFE is deliberately incorrectly interpreting the section of code and is pursuing illegal action.
Meanwhile, another user’s comments show that ATF’s capricious volte face on this ammo is having the desired chilling effect:
This is some terrible news. I just got my 40mm LMT launcher approved last month and have been looking forward to getting chalk rounds and illumination. I guess I will have to wait and see what happens next. Total bummer.
Our friends inside ATF say that the initiative was conceived and planned in the Chief Counsel’s Office. That way, managers have explained to the rank and file, they won’t have to answer questions to the public, press or Congress “because everything is under lawyer-client privilege.” They seemed to split on whether Acting Director Thomas Brandon initiated this policy or merely signed off on it. “It wasn’t his idea,” one told us flatly. “He’s not that bright. It came from the lawyers, or from DOJ through the lawyers.”
The Chief Counsel’s Office is in an unusual position in the ATF org chart, coequal on the chart (but more powerful in practice) than the Chief of Staff, and superior to the Deputy Director/Chief Operating Officer.
Jim Schatz, former HK USA manager (during the period of peak Because-You-Suck-And-We-Hate-You customer service, actually) always has one of the most interesting presentations when he’s up at an NDIA1 conference. The slides from this years’ NDIA are up (here), and Jim’s presentation, interesting as ever, is up here (.pdf). Jim wants us launching bigger bullets, to longer ranges.
Jim’s basic beef is probably best encapsulated in this quote from an SF team sergeant:
Few enemies would even consider taking America on in a naval, air or tank battle but every bad actor with an AK will engage with U.S. forces without even a second thought.
To boil down his argument to a single-sentence thesis: The US lacks small-arms overmatch, and only changing cartridges can get it for us. He defines overmatch by effective range. As he sees it, this is what the world looks like today:
As a former infantryman, Jim knows that weapons don’t square off one-against-one. On the battlefield, units from corps to squad size all maneuver to bring their organic, attached and support firepower to bear on the enemy (who is doing the same, inversely). It’s a common fallacy that (for example) because every squad in the Ruritanian army has a designated marksman, our squads should have one too. (Maybe they should, but not directly because of what the Ruritanians are doing). As you can see, Jim’s focus on range leads him to pair off sniper rifles with light machine guns, weapons which have similar effective ranges for completely different reasons, even when they fire dimensionally identical ammo.
As far as his 1000m effective range of the SVD is concerned… he must have shot one?
Here is one of his proposals for overmatch. There’s a few things screwy here (the SVD has grown an even-more-ludicrous 500m of range, to 1500m), but that’s not important. What is important is the argument that going to an Intermediate Caliber Cartridge (something like the 6.5 or 6.8 or something all new in the 6-7mm neighborhood) for rifles and to .338 for support weapons will provide significant range overmatch.
The increased ammo weight can be made up in part by polymer or semi-polymer (i.e. with a metallic base) cases.
Jim at least partially neutralizes the cost-in-times-of-drawdown argument by suggesting that the new weapons go only to the tip of the spear, the guys whose mission it is to produce casualties, and take and hold ground, with these weapons. That’s only about 140k actual shooters out of the much larger service. A finance clerk needs a rifle, sure, but he or she can live with the latest-but-one.
Bear in mind that the target set is also not static, while we’re developing all these new weapons the Russians, the Chinese, and even the ragtag insurgents of the world (who have definitely, like Russia, pushed more 7.62mm weapons down to squad-equivalent level than heretofore) are acting, adapting, and changing, too. We don’t need to overmatch the enemy today with the weapons we’ll have in ten years. We need to overmatch the set of weapons the enemy will have ten years from now, in ten years.
Men can disagree about how best to get there. Assuming we stick with the M16/M4 platform, Our Traveling Reporter would have us go to the 6.8 x 43. (It was news to him that the Saudi Royal Guard has adopted this platform, in LWRC carbines, or that military 6.8 is in production for export now by Federal — formerly ATK). We would probably go with the 6.5 (x38, although the length designator is seldom spoken aloud) Grendel for its lower BC and higher sectional density (=longer effective range, flatter trajectory, more energy on target). The 90 grain Federal load in the 6.8 is very effective closer in (the 6.8 was developed with SF input as a CQB cartridge).
Some current contenders — M855A1 5.56; 6.5 Grendel; 6.8 SPC; 7.62 NATO. From an excellent article by Anthony Williams setting out assault rifle ammo in historical context, including many old, obscure, and outright forgotten attempts. Shape of the 6.5 suggests a superior BC. The 6.8 is compromised by its 5.56 ancestry and packaging (bolt head size/overall length).
This is not an entirely new or novel idea. As mentioned in the caption to the photo above, British researcher Anthony Williams has a very fine article on Assault Rifle History with lots and lots of ammunition comparison photos. Back in the 1970s, a guy whose business was called Old Sarge, based in the highway intersection of Lytle, Texas, made a quantity of 6 x 45 guns and uppers. Based closely on the 5.56, these guns (most of them were built as what we’d now call carbines) were completely conventional, but like today’s 6.8 SPC the intent was to create superior terminal ballistics. We don’t know what happened to him or what seemed to be, when we stopped in, his one-man business (he talked us out of a mod he’d done for others, an M60 bipod on an XM177).
If we have a serious criticism of Schatz’s work here, it’s that its focus solely on range as an indicator of overmatch understates the problem. Hadji with his AK and mandress has a lack of fear of our troops that stems only partly from his belief that range makes him safe (and only partly from his paradise-bound indifference to being safe). His feeling of impunity stems from a belief he won’t be engaged at all, won’t be hit if engaged, and won’t be killed or suffer significantly if hit. We need to increase the certainty that our guys will fire back, not just increase our pH, and we need to increase our pK as well. The first of these is far outside the scope of weapons and ammunition design, but it is, in our view, the most serious shortfall of US and Allied forces.
We have another beef that’s not specific to this, but that arise with any attempt to pursue range or other small-arms overmatch: it never works. There are only two ways pursuit of overmatch can finish. Either your new weapon does not constitute an overwhelming advantage, or it does — in which case everybody copies it most ricky-tick. Mikhail Kalashnikov died bothered by the fact that he never got royalties on any of the millions and millions of AKs made outside of his homeland, but the guys who really got copied were the engineers who built the StG.44. (True, the AK was better adapted to Soviet expectations, traditions, manufacturing capabilities, and training modes, but it was certainly inspired, conceptually, by the first assault rifle). It was a good idea. It was exclusive to Germany for mere months (of course, that they were losing the war may be a factor, but that the war ended was certainly a factor in slowing the adoption of assault rifles in Russia (a little) and the West (a lot).
In all seriousness, if you look at the history of firearms, you see a punctuated equilibrium. For centuries the flintlock is the infantry weapon, then the percussion lock sweeps the flints away in a period of 30 years or so (faster for major powers, or anybody actively at war). Then the breechloader dethrones the percussion rifle-musket in a couple of decades… to itself be overthrown by repeaters in 10 to 20 years. Calibers go from 11-13 mm to 7-8 mm to 5-6 mm at the same time all over the world. We’ve had a very long period now of equilibrium around the SCHV (Small Caliber, High Velocity) concept. Is it time for that equilibrium to be punctuated? Schatz says yes.
NDIA: National Defense Industrial Association, a trade and lobbying group for defense contractors. Formerly the American Defense Preparedness Association (when Your Humble Blogger was a member, and they were fighting a rear-guard action to preserve a defense industrial base during the Clinton disarmament/drawdown cycle), and before that the Ordnance Association.
As a kid in the sixties, you couldn’t get away from ’em. Turn on Combat with Vic Morrow, and there’d be one in every few episodes, hauling American infantry up to the point where they’d start walking. A couple years later, The Rat Patrol stuck German Balkankreuz symbols on them and made ’em the bad guys. Around that time, they made the TV news, too, carrying long columns of hard Israeli troops to victory over Egyptians, Jordanians and Syrians with more modern weapons. Our cousin’s friend Charlie even owned one and drove it on parades — and to winch State Troopers out of snowbanks in blizzards. The White M3 half-track troop carrier, and its variations, were everywhere. It, and its foreign competitors, had considerable mindshare and were intensively developed from about 1930 through 1945, but none were made after war’s end. By the time the Israelis stormed Jerusalem, the armies that developed the halftracks and used them in WWII were all out of them — they’d surplused them, and when there were no surplus takers, towed them onto gunnery ranges, where the bones of a few remain.
Why did half-tracks go from invention, to ubiquity, to obsolescence in 15 years? Why did they hang on another 20 in places like Israel? These are interesting questions, and the answers begin in World War I.
World War I Prime Movers’ Limitations
While everyone thinks of World War II as the first mechanized war, the forces of all nations saw the potential of internal-combustion motive power early, and they all built thousands and thousands of prime movers. (Germany, Britain and the US were experimenting with artillery tractors even in the 19th Century). None of these was quite like the ones that would be used in the next war. There were several ways to put power to the ground, and by 1918 several competitive ways were in use. These included:
Full-tracked vehicles like the US Holt (later Caterpillar) tractor;
Steel-tired wheeled vehicles
rubber-tired wheeled vehicles. In 1918 this often meant solid rubber tires.
Each of these vehicles came with its own set of pros and cons. Grossly simplified:
Full-tracked vehicles had superior off-road and broken-field mobility, important in the morass of the Western Front. But they were slow, had high fuel consumption per unit of work, were prone to breakdown and demanding of high maintenance (even more than other 1918 machines), and the metal tracks interacted harshly with prepared (especially macadam) roads. The complexity of the steering arrangements was a key factor in shortening tracked prime-mover life.
Steel tires had fair mobility (expecially given all-wheel-drive, a new development) but had some of the same problems with roads.
Rubber-tired vehicles had the worst traction of the bunch, especially given the early 20th Century’s skinny (and often solid) tires.
Every army that employed powered prime movers, which certainly included the British, German, French and US, knew two things by Armistice Day: motorized prime movers sure beat horses or laying railroad track, and they wanted a vehicle that combined the cross-country mobility of the Holt tractor with the lower maintenance of conventional tracks.
The half-track idea was simple and logical: use the tracks for power, and wheels for steering. In fact, before Holt worked out differential steering, the earliest Holt tractors had a single wheelbarrow-like “tiller wheel” out in front. Semi-tracked steam tractors had existed even earlier, but the internal combustion engine made it possible to make one light and efficient enough for military purposes.
A French engineer named Leon Kégresse took the idea and ran with it. He was working for Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and so the first halftracks were Russian vehicles; he developed a kit that could be fit to touring cars, adding a suspension with small road wheels and return rollers, and a large driving wheel and idler wheel, driving a continuous rubber track with or without metal grousers. The contraption was steered by front wheels, or, given Russian winters, skis. After the Revolution, Lenin used such a vehicle, but Kégresse left Russia. The Putilov factory, which built Austins under license, made an armored vehicle based on an Austin truck chassis with Kégresse running gear and home-grown armored skin. These saw combat in the Civil War and in the Soviet-Polish war.
Putilov Kégresse knocked out and captured by the Polish forces. It is named “Ukrainets” (“Ukrainian”) and bears the slogan “All Power to the Soviets!” It looks like the Poles read the label and delivered plenty of power to the thinly-armored machine.
The three biggest halftrack developers were France, the USA, and Germany, and each took a slightly different approach. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, backed away from its early enthusiasm for halftracks.
France developed and showed off several generations of Citroën halftrack, based on Kégresse’s improvements to his own design. Like all things Citroën, it was somewhat weird and woolly in its industrial design — it worked, but it wasn’t like anything the other powers put together. The vehicles were used in some celebrated explorations, like in Africa and in this ill-fated one in Canada, now represented by a beautifully restored halftrack:
France was one of the earliest adopters of the halftrack, with a Citroën model being standardized in 1923 and other Citroën and Panhard models following.
The interwar French Army lagged its peers in mechanized-force development, and they never standardized an armored troop-carrier version of the Citroën. The armored versions, like this one, were more like half-tracked armored cars; they were discontinued a few years before the war. La Belle France had the Maginot Line, so why worry?
The USA licensed Kégresse’s patents and designs and from about 1930 worked through many iterations before arriving at the familiar White halftrack. It was a lightly armored box with pretty standard American truck running gear, except for the Kégresse-derived tracks and suspension.
Original caption: Treads for Army halftracks, fresh from the curing press of a large Ohio tire plant [BF Goodrich, Akron OH]. Grooves are buffed on the ends of the track section.” Office of War Information official photo by Alfred Palmer.
Almost 50,000 of these vehicles were made in many variants, and they were delivered to many US allies, including France and the USSR during the war, and many smaller nations postwar. The most common versions were troop carriers — with a single small door in back and no overhead cover, the M2 and M3 halftracks — and self-propelled light anti-aircraft vehicles, especially the quad .50 version, the M16 halftrack.
The Germans were initially determined to pursue versatility.
They made vehicles which could convert from wheeled to half-tracked; Krupp, Dürkopp and Horch all made experimental vehicles. These included machines that could operate on road or standard-gauge railways, and also machines that could run on wheels but then lower tracks like an airplane’s landing gear, and then raise them to revert to wheel drive. The Reichswehr term for it was “R/K Schlepper” for Rader/Ketten Schlepper,” in English, Wheel/Track Transporter.
This is the Maffei K/R Schlepper design. Note the similarity of the trackes to the Kégresse design. From Spielberger, p. 56.
Maffei made one about the size of a US WWII 3/4 ton truck or weapons carrier, that achieved series production. Except, this was series production at Reichswehr production totals: 24 vehicles. Here are pictures of the Maffei MSZ 201 in street (wheeled) and off-road (half-tracked) modes. The tracks stowed above the rear wheel wells.
MSZ 201 set up for road travel. Spielberger, p. 58.
…And for cross-country travel as a half-track. Spielberger, Ibid.
By 1933 the Germans were done fooling around with these modified Kégresse designs, and had developed an interleaving suspension that would be used on all their combat and support halftracks, as well as on some of their best tanks.
1933 interleaved design prototype.
In the end, the Reichswehr and later the Wehrmacht developed a wide range of vehicles based on this principle, from ultra-light halftrack motorcycles to massive tractors, and a parallel line of armored combat halftracks. While the US standardized on one chassis, the Germans built several different size-optimized chassis.
The Soviet Union, undergoing a cataclysmic process of forced industrialization with an emphasis on heavy and military industry, also developed prime movers, but they went for full-tracked or fully-wheeled vehicles. They experimented with halftracks — after all, it was originally a Russian thing — but they didn’t find them as reliable as their robust tractors based on tank running gear. During the war, they’d receive and use thousands of Whites via Lend-Lease, but they never saw any of the Lend-Lease weapons as anything but a wartime stopgap.
The End of the Halftrack
The US and Russia developed high-speed, reliable artillery tractors from a basis of tank automotive components. These full-track vehicles had superior off-road mobility to halftracks. With proven components in the parts bin, designers no longer feared differential steering and halftracks would be all over as military vehicles.
Surplus ones fought on. Indeed, the Israelis still have some on hand. But when the Jewish state developed its own infantry fighting vehicle, they went with a full-tracked configuration.
The half-track may not be entirely dead, but it seems to be pining for the fjords. The concept of tracked propulsion and forward steering faded from military inventories, but it did get a new lease on life — in the snow, thanks to Canadian manufacturer Bombardier. But that’s another story.
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.
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.
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.
1. Croll, p.ix.
Croll, Mike. The History of Landmines. Bromley, England: Leo Cooper, 1998.
Well, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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. 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.”
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.
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.
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.
The other crate is lined with Berlin newspaper circa 1922.
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.