A Look Inside A Heavily Damaged M3 Grant

I recently attended the We Have Ways of Making You Talk podcast’s history festival and one of the most striking things on display was a very rusty, heavily damaged M3 Grant! 

The tank, T24193, was one of the first M3 Grants to arrive in Britain in 1941. It was used for cross country and gunnery trials before later in the war it was used as a range target. The owner was kind enough to share some photographs of the tank before it was salvaged.

The tank was salvaged from Pirbright Ranges in Surrey in 2003 and restored mechanically but its external damage is going to be retained as a visual display of its history as a range target. According to the tank’s owner the M3 was used to test captured German Panzerfaust and Panzershreks and has approximately 100 10mm diameter holes from Panzershreks and nearly 400 12-13mm diameter wholes from Panzerfausts fired at the tank. There also appears to be larger holes, perhaps some HESH round damage and lots of small arms strikes or spalling marks.

Here are some photos of the tank:

I would love to read the report on that testing to see what they were trying to find out – a possible research project for the future. The Panzerfaust (capable of penetrating up to 200mm) and Panzershreks (capable of penetrating up to 160mm) definitely penetrated the M3 Grant’s 2 inch frontal and 1.5 inch side armour. 

With the tank on display I couldn’t resist getting some video of it, the surreal sight of light coming through both sides of the tank’s hull becomes sobering when you consider that Allied tanks faced the weapons which made the holes, in actual combat.


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Walkaround: Bovington Tank Museum Vehicle Conservation Centre

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of being able to take a stroll around the Vehicle Conservation Centre at the Tank Museum at Bovington.

The VCC was built in 2013 to ensure the vehicles not on display were stored undercover and there are some real treasures in there including rare tanks from the First World War onwards.

Thank you to the Tank Museum for letting me take a walk around the VCC. Can’t wait to visit the museum again!  Check out their website here.

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Beutepanzern

During the First World War Germany struggled to produce its own tanks, with no more than 20 A7Vs being built, instead the Imperial German Army made liberal use of captured allied tanks. In my recent video looking at the British No.44 anti-tank rifle grenade I briefly touched on German use of capture tanks or ‘Beutepanzern’.

The German Army form ed its first Heavy Tank Detachments in late 1917, three of these were equipped with German-built A7V, but the rest were eventually armed with captured British MkIVs. Many of the British tanks were captured following the Battle of Cambrai. Little was changed on MkIVs except for armament with German quick-firing 57mm Maxim-Nordenfelt guns and MG08 machine guns replacing the British 6 pdrs and .303 chambered machine guns for ease of logistics. Though some Lewis Guns pressed into German service were reportedly used aboard the captured tanks.

A Beute MkIV in the field

In this footage from a German newsreel, we see some of the British tanks captured at Cambrai, as well as German soldiers examining the tank and demonstrating how it works. Finally the Kaiser watches a demonstration of the captured vehicle during a visit to the front.   

German workshops converted most captured machine gun-only armed ‘female’ MkIVs into gun and machine gun armed ‘males’. They also added a 13mm T-Gewehr anti-tank rifle in place of their British tank’s forward Lewis machine gun. Some also had one of their sponson guns replaced with a T-Gewehr. An escape hatch was also added to the tank’s cupola-roof. Externally the Beutepanzern were simply painted with Iron Crosses (Eisernes Kreuz) for recognition purposes. Repair workshops were set up to repair and salvage captured British tanks including one near Charleroi (Bayerischer Armee-Kraftwagen-Park Nr. 20).

A Beute MkIV in the field

In terms of doctrine the use of tanks didn’t fit well with the Stormtrooper tactics used in 1918. The slow and cumbersome tanks weren’t ideal for keeping up with the rapidly moving stormtroopers but the tanks did see action throughout 1918. The captured tanks first saw action in March 1918, during Operation Michael, Germany’s Spring Offensive and later during the Hundred Days Offensive. The use of the Beutepanzern also lead to the unique situation – and the first instance of it happening in history – where the same type of tank engaged one another. MkIVs reportedly clashed near Mont Neuve Farm during the second Battle of Cambrai in October 1918.

Alongside battle losses the reliability of the Beute MkIVs also meant attrition of the captured vehicles was high. By September 1918 most of the German Army’s tank detachments had lost all of their vehicles.

Bavarian Army Motor Vehicle Park No. 20 (Bundesarchiv)

The British MkIV was the most commonly used captured vehicle, although a small number of Whippet Light Tanks were captured as well as were various types of French tanks. Several MkIVs appear to have also been used during Germany’s internal strife in 1919.  

While the use of captured tanks was far from ideal, the familiarisation with MkIVs did lead to them to influence German design thinking and a rhomboid layout was used on the A7V-U which was being developed at the end of the war.


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Bibliography:

Beute Mark IV, Landships, P. Kempf, (source)

Beutepanzern, Weapons and Warfare, (source)

British Steel, Iron Cross, Britain at War, (source)

Beute-Tanks, R. Strasheim, (2011)

Britain’s First Anti-Tank Weapon

The British Army’s first dedicated anti-tank weapon was a rifle grenade. The No.44 Rifle Grenade was developed towards the end of the First World War to take on the emerging threat of German tanks.

A British officer firing a No.3 Mk2 Rifle Grenade (IWM)

The No.44 could be fired from a Short Magazine Lee-Enfield MkIII rifle, the British had developed a plethora of rod and cup discharger based rifle grenades but the No.44 was the first specifically designed with tanks in mind. 

By 1918 the German Army had responded to the threat of British and French tanks by developing their own, the A7V, albeit in small numbers, and by fielding captured allied tanks. 

The A7V was a leviathan at over 3.3m tall and more than 30 tons. It would be crewed by at least 18 men. It was decided that the infantryman needed an effective means of taking on tanks.

A German A7V (US National Archive)

Sources suggest that the grenades were developed by the by the Royal Engineers Experimental Station with input from the Tank Corps. The No.44 was largely based on the earlier No.24 rifle grenade. The British Army had been using rifle grenades with rods since February 1915 with the No.2 rifle grenade. 

No.44 Anti-Tank Grenade (IWM)

A myriad of grenade designs were developed during the war with dozens of designs entering service between 1915 and 1918. Eventually the British Army moved away from using rodded rifle grenades, because of the implications of barrel wear from the friction of the rods, and focused on discharger cup based designs. The No.44’s spiritual descendent, the No.68, introduced in 1940, would follow this trend and be fired from the same discharger cup used by to fire No.36 grenades fitted with a gas check.    

The No.44 grenade itself is made up of a pair of pressed tin plate pieces which make up the top and bottom of the bomb with a rolled sheet of tin making up the central body. The parts were soldered together with a filling plug also soldered into the top of the grenade. The grenade itself contained either Amatol 80/20 or Amatol 83/17 explosive, sources suggest about 11.5 ounces. While externally it may resemble later shaped charges, it was not, the explosive filled the space around the central detonator assembly.

Sectional diagram No.44 Anti-Tank Grenade

The ignition system was essentially a .297/230 cartridge case and a detonator. On firing a release socket moved to allow the retaining bolts to release the striker (or needle pellet) it had been retaining. The striker was then simply held back from the detonator by a spring. When the grenade struck its target inertia cause the striker to over come and compress the spring, allowing the striker to ignite the detonator and set off the grenade’s main filling. Given mass of the bomb and the type of detonator used the No.44 was probably intended for use at very short ranges.

Soldiers firing rod rifle grenades (IWM)

To use the grenade the firer would remove the wire fastening around the grenade to free the canvas vane. This would also allow access to the safety pin. The top plug could be undone and the detonator inserted. The rod was then slid down the muzzle of the user’s rifle. The safety pin could then be removed. A blank cartridge would be loaded into the rifle and when the trigger was pulled the was grenade launched by the gases from the cartridge pushing the rod out of the barrel. The No.44’s flight would be stabilised by the canvas skirt or vane.    

There’s no mention of the grenades in the British Army’s Small Arms Committee Minutes so its development must have been documented elsewhere. It does, however, appear in the List of Changes and is known to have been issued from April 1918 onwards but further primary research is needed to find out more about its development, designers and testing.

No.44 Anti-Tank Grenade (Matthew Moss)

The No.44 remained in service into the inter-war period but does not appear in any of the post-war Small Arms Training manuals. Several were published during this period, the first in 1924 and a second in 1931 – the No.44 appears in neither of them. The final pre-war Small Arms Training pamphlet on grenades, published in 1937, is confined to just the No.36 grenade. According to Ian Skennerton’s book on British grenades there were no No.44s remaining in stores by April 1931 and it was declared obsolete. 

Sources disagree on the number of No.44s manufactured with some suggesting just under 100,000 while others suggest between 125,000 and 150,000. According to Skennerton 9,800 were issued between April and November 1918. A very small amount when compared to the hundreds of thousands of other, more widely used grenades held in stores at the end of the war.  

The German A7Vs were first deployed in March 1918, but only saw their first action the following month. With only 20 A7Vs built and the design proving relatively impractical the Allies had little to fear from German tank attacks. Sadly, there are no readily available records of the No.44’s use or its effectiveness.

British solider firing a cup discharger rifle grenade (IWM)

The A7V’s armour consisted of 5 to 30mm of steel plate depending on location on the tank. This steel plate was not hardened which may have increased the No.44’s effectiveness against it. It may be that the No.44 would have had to have been fired at close range and strike a vulnerable point on the attacking vehicle to have the most effect.

While not the only anti-tank grenade to be developed during the period, the French also developed several rifle grenades, and not as famous as the German T-Gewehr, it does represent Britain’s first dedicated infantry anti-tank weapon. 


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Bibliography:

An Introduction To British Grenades, I.D. Skennerton, (1988)

British Grenade Rifle No. 44 Anti-Tank, AmmunitionPages, (source)

Grenade, Rifle No 44 A.T. (Anti Tank), Imperial War Museum, (source)

Grenade, Rifle, No 44 Anti-Tank (Sectioned), Imperial War Museum, (source)

British No.24 Mk.II Rod Grenade, Inert-Ord.net, (source)

Men Against Tank, J. Weeks, (1975) 

The Covenanter Bridgelayer

In this video/article we will examine some rare footage of the Covenanter Bridgelayer in action. The footage is available to watch on the BFIs website and originally comes from the Wessex Film and Sound Archive. The 16mm film was filmed at some time in August 1942 but little else is said about locations in the BFI archive entry for the footage.

The Covenanter Bridgelayer being demonstrated (IWM MH 3674)

The tank’s hull number is visible as T.18434 which I think would make it one of the earliest English Electric-built Covenanters. The covenanter was developed in the late 30s as a cheaper cruiser tank. It entered service in 1940, but saw limited active service – instead being largely used in training roles. The bridge element of the vehicle was a Scissors Bridge 30ft, No. 1. – it was deployed and recovered by a clutch and 2 to 1 reduction gear, it was powered directly from the tank’s engine.

Cruiser Mk V Covenanter III (A13 Mk III) (IWM KID 778)

A US report on the Covenanter Bridgelayer explains how it worked:

“The opening of the bridge begins after the launching mechanism has begun to pivot on the rollers of the launching frame. Since the cables are of fixed length, they act to open the bridge as it is pivoted about the rollers.
Having been laid across the obstacle, the bridge is disengaged from the prime-mover [the tank itself]. The bridge is then ready for the passage of other vehicles.
To retrieve the bridge, the prime-mover crosses the bridge to the far side of the obstacle, hooks up to the bridge, pulls it back to the traveling position, and is then ready to proceed to the next obstacle.”

The bridge had a span of 34 feet and vehicles up to 30 tons could cross it. It could be deployed in under 3 minutes and in total the bridge and the system which launched it was 3.5 tons. The vehicle had a two man crew, with a driver and a commander.

Above is a British Pathe newsreel that gives us a closer look at some of the Bridgelayer’s mechanism at work.

The US report also noted that “In one case 1,200 successful launchings and recoveries were made by one vehicle without undue maintenance.” The system was only mounted on a small number of Covenanters. One source suggests 20 Covenanter I and 60 Covenanter IV tanks were converted into Bridgelayers. Far more Valentines were equipped with them and subsequently the Churchill AVRE became the British Army’s primary bridging tank.

A later Valentine Bridgelayer in action in Burma, 1945 (IWM)

No location is given for the footage but the presence of a number of barrage balloons to the rear is intriguing! It may have been filmed at the Royal Engineers Establishment at Christchurch or at another demonstration elsewhere. Scissor Bridges, with similar basic designs remain in service with numerous militaries around the world today.


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Bibliography:

‘Covenanter: Reservist Tank’, Tank Archives, (source)

‘A Home Guard parade and an inspection by the Duke of Kent’, BFI, (source)

Tactical and Technical Trends, No.15, Dec. 1942, Military Intelligence Service, War Department, (source)

Panther vs M3 Lee

I came across some intriguing newsreel footage while doing some archival digging that shows an Allied M3 medium tank pitted against a German Panther! What do you think?

Bibliography:

Deutsche Wochenschau newsreel, August 1944, via United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives & Records Administration, (source)

Gurkha Battle in the Imphal Area, Indian Inter-Service Public Relations Directorate via IWM, (source)


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Behind the Scenes at the Tank Museum

Here’s a behind the scenes look at the filming Matt did at The Tank Museum for the upcoming ‘Rhineland 45 – Decision in the West’ documentary being produced by Realtime History, the guys behind The Great War!

Panzerfaust & Panzerschreck (Matthew Moss)

Be sure to check out the project here.

More behind the scenes footage coming soon with a look at the Vickers Gun shoot!

Cold War British Army Threat Recognition Guide

It’s the 1980s and the British Army Of the Rhine is still stationed in West Germany facing down the USSR’s forces. The Cold War has gotten hot and the 3rd Shock Army is approaching your dugout but how do you differentiate a BTR from a BMP? This handy British Army THREAT Recognition Guide booklet gives you everything you need to know about the Soviet armour, infantry and aircraft you’re facing!

Continuing on from our earlier look at a British Army threat Recognition Guide to Iraqi Ground Forces issued during the Gulf War, we dig into the TAB reference collection again and take a look at this Threat Recognition Guide looking at Soviet air and ground forces facing the British Army of the Rhine in the 1980s.

The Group of Soviet Forces in Germany (GSFG) in East Germany throughout the Cold War were an ever present threat to West Germany and NATO. This recognition guide covers all of the USSR’s main battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and infantry fighting vehicles, as well as artillery systems and some of the close support aircraft which would have accompanied the attacking Soviet forces.

The pages of the recognition guide include photographs, diagrams, basic specs and recognisable features of the various enemy vehicles. It was put together by the Intelligence Directorate of BAOR’s 1 Corps.


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Gulf War: Operation Granby Iraqi Weapons Recognition Guide

In this video we’ll be launching a brand new series where we’ll look at period small arms and light weapons manuals and other ephemera like infantry tactics handbooks and recognition guides.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of what the British Army called Operation Granby, better known as Desert Storm or the Gulf War.  So I thought taking a look at a Recognition Guide to Iraqi Ground Forces issued during Granby would be a good place to start!

Chapter page for Main Battle Tanks (Matthew Moss)

Britain deployed more than 53,000 personnel during the operation, which began in August 1990, just after the invasion of Kuwait, with the arrival of 2 squadrons of Tornados in theatre. The first ground forces, elements from 7 Armoured Brigade began arriving in October. With no ready reaction force a division strength force was cobbled together from units deployed in Germany and the UK. Huge logistical constraints were overcome to provide a full armoured division, consisting of two brigades, for the liberation of Kuwait.

The guide’s entry for the AMX 155 F3 (Matthew Moss)

During the ground phase of the operation (Operation Desert Sabre), which began on 24th February 1991, British armoured and mechanised forces, part of VII Corps, provided the left-hook of the allied assault. The division’s two armoured brigades leapfrogging one another quickly taking successive objectives and sweeping west through occupied Kuwait, towards the Gulf Sea, neutralising Iraqi positions with relative ease. During less than 100 hours of ground combat British forces travelled 180 miles and destroyed approximately 300 Iraqi vehicles while allied forces as a whole captured an estimated 80,000 Iraqi troops. A total of 47 British troops were killed during Granby. A ceasefire was declared on 28 February with Iraqi forces collapsed and Kuwait liberated.

The guide’s entry for the T72 tank (Matthew Moss)

The guide was compiled by the Recognition Materials Cell at the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (or JARIC). Formed in 1953, from the Central Interpretation Unit and based at RAF Brampton from 1957 to 2013, JARIC was the UK’s strategic imagery intelligence provider – providing analysis of aerial and later satellite photography or enemy assets.

With war with Iraq looking imminent and substantial British forces deployed from the UK and Germany, JARIC were tasked with putting together a recognition guide covering Iraqi and Kuwaiti ground assets captured by Iraq during the invasion of Kuwait.

The infamous SCUD (Matthew Moss)

This included everything from main battle tanks, reconnaissance vehicles and armoured personnel carriers to self-propelled artillery, mortars, artillery and multi-barrelled rocket launchers. It also included anti-tank missiles, surface to air missile systems and anti-aircraft assets as well as engineering equipment. All of which might be encountered during upcoming operations to liberate Kuwait. Let’s take a look.

The guide sadly doesn’t have a scale of issue list so it’s difficult to know how many were printed or  which units received them. But the first page does give us some indication of the material’s sources – noting they are from unclassified and restricted sources – giving the book a restricted classification overall.


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Bibliography

The Gulf War 1991, A. Finlan (2003)

Hot War, Cold War, C. McInnes, (1996)

‘Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (JARIC)’, National Collection of Aerial Photograph, (source)

‘Unit History: Joint Air Reconnaisance Intelligence Centre’, Forces War Records, (source)

US Medium Tanks of the 1920s

I recently came across some archival footage which gives some glimpses of some quite rare US medium tanks developed in the 1920s. The footage features the M1921, the T2 Medium Tank and a Christie Tank.

An M1921 Medium Tank (US National Archives)
An M1921 Medium Tank (US National Archives)

The US tank arm subsequently abandoned the various medium tank designs they’d been working on and shifted towards cheaper light tanks. Always special finding archival footage, hope you enjoy the video.

Check out our other videos on early tank here


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