Monday, 20 November 2017

Battle of Cambrai November 20-December 7, 1917

On this day 100 years ago the Battle of Cambrai began (November 20-December 7, 1917), and was an Allied attack followed by the biggest German counter-attack against the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) since 1914, in the First World War. Cambrai, in the département of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, was an important supply point for the German Siegfriedstellung (known to the British as the Hindenburg Line) and capture of the town and the nearby Bourlon Ridge would threaten the rear of the German line to the north. The massed attack of 476 Mark IV tanks of the Royal Tank Regiment punched a gap 19km (12 miles) wide and 6km (4 miles) deep into the Hindenburg Line at Cambrai. This breakthrough was in conjunction with an artillery barrage, and it was the first time that the tank had played a dominant role (although the tank had made its combat debut on September 15, 1916, when 32 tanks were employed along a five-mile front).
American troops played a slight role in the fighting on 30 November, when a detachment of the 11th Engineer (Railway) Regiment, working on construction's behind British lines dug reserve trenches at Fins; they were later engaged in combat and had 28 casualties
Of the 476 tanks which had taken part in the breakthrough at Cambrai, 179 were lost. The breakthrough may have been decisive if the supporting infantry (tanks can't move without infantry support) had not stopped to reduce each strongpoint in turn, instead of driving ahead in depth. The attack petered out into a stalemate, and the German's sealed the breach in their line.Some accounts claim five were knocked out by an artillery officer, Theodor Krüger Feld Artillerie Regiment 108. Field Marshal Haig's dispatch praised the gunner's bravery in his diary.
When the Battle of Cambrai ended on December 7, 1917 the Allies had suffered 44,000 casualties, and the German's 45,000.

Monday, 13 November 2017

If German armour was so good why did they lose the War?

This is a question I've been asked a few times. Well the answer is that the German's sacrificed speed for armour and armament. Unlike the Allies who sacrificed armour and armament for speed. Also the Allies built in quantity, so it was a case of quantity over quality. The two most mass-produced Tanks the Allies fielded during WW2 were the T34 and the M4 Sherman, of which 84,070 were built of the former and 49,234 were built of the latter. Whereas the German's didn't build in such quantity, as their most mass produced tank of the war, the PzKpfw IV only 8,553 of all variants were built. And the Tiger I, the most feared German tank of the war only 1,347 were built. And the King Tiger or Tiger II only 492 were built.
Another reason the German's lost the war was because they were overstretched and the Allies could afford to replace their armoured vehicles which had been lost, whereas the German's couldn't, so it was definitely a case of quantity over quality. Also another reason was that the Allied bombing offensive of the war also put a serious delay on Tank production in Germany. It was only until May, 1945 that the British got a decent Tank which could have squared up to the Tiger and King Tiger on an equal footing and that was the A41 Centurion (4,423 built), which were deployed too late to see any action during WW2. And the only Tank that the US Army equal to the Tiger and King Tiger was the M26 Pershing (2,212 built), and only 20 M26s were deployed to the European theatre as part of the Zebra Mission (a program to get newly developed weapons into combat situations). The 20 M26s fielded during the Zebra Mission were T26E3s (early development versions of the M26).

© Darren Greenwood 2017

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Kurt Knispel 1920-1945 Germany's greatest Tank ace

This weekend 72 years ago the greatest German tank ace of them all was killed in action in Czechoslovakia, just a week before the end of WW2.
He was born on September 20, 1921 in Czechoslovakia in a small town called Salisfled. When he was of age he joined his father in an automotive factory, but this didn't suit him so volunteered for the Wehrmacht in April, 1940.
Knispel began  his basic training at the Panzer Replacement Training Battalion at Sagan. After his basic training he went on to Panzer training, learning to operate the PzKpfw I, II and IV. In October he went to the 3rd Kompanie of the 29th Panzer Regiment, 12th Panzer Division to finish his training as a gunner/loader on the PzKpfw IV. Although demonstrating exceptional abilities as a gunner at the training school at Putlos (he had a gift of three-dimensional vision as well as extraordinary reflexes, but alas he was to remain a loader.
Knispel got his first taste of action in August, 1941 in a PzKpfw IV, and during Operation Barbarossa he quickly rose up to be gunner under the command of Leutnant Hellmann. In January, 1942, Knispel returned to Putlos for training to be a gunner on the new Tiger tank, and also at this time he already had 12 enemy tank kills to his credit.
He then went to the 1st Kompanie of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Division, which was equipped with the Tiger. He took part in the Battle of Kursk as flank cover to the 7th Panzer Division. From there he went on to command a Tiger II with the 503rd.
Four times Knispel was recommended for the Knight's Cross, but was to never receive it. Although awards did not bother him as he was not driven by fame or decorations. Knispel's records list 168 confirmed tank kills, but when unconfirmed victories are included, the total adds up to 195, which still makes him the most successful tank ace of WW2.
One of these kills was against a Soviet T-34 at a range of 3,000 metres.
Knispel was awarded the Iron Cross First Class (15 kills), and also the Tank Assault Badge in Gold for more than 100 tanks destroyed. After destroying 126 tanks he received the German Gold Cross, and was the only NCO to be mentioned in the Wehrmacht communique in WW2.
Knispel also credited other people with kills which had been his own. He also shied away from this kind of argument and was known for his affable nature.
Knispel was a natural tank commander, and at times he faced superior numbers alone so as to give the units he was supporting the best chance to advance or retreat.
Knispel when he was on the field of battle never abandoned anyone whatever the situation was.
His final battle was in Wostitz, where he was fatally wounded on April 28, 1945 at the age of just 23.
Due to his lack of authority to higher ranks his progression through the ranks was slow. He even slapped an officer who was mistreating Soviet PoW's. He had longer hair and a goatee beard and a tattoo on his neck. But above all he was well liked by his fellow comrades in arms.
His final tally was 168 kills, which makes him the Greatest Tank Ace of WW2, beating Wittmann who scored 139 kills, and Otto Carius who scored 150+.
On April 10, 2013 Czech authorities discovered Knispel's remains (he had been identified by the tattoo on his neck).

List of high scoring tank commanders (courtesy of Wikipedia)

NameCountryRankUnitTankNumber of tanks credited withNotes
Kurt Knispel GermanyFeldwebel503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion12th Panzer DivisionTiger I168Destroyed 168 tanks, the highest number of tanks destroyed by any tank ace. Knispel was the top tank ace of World War II [
Otto Carius GermanyOberleutnant502nd Heavy Panzer BattalionTiger I / Jagdtiger150+Published post-war memoirs Tigers in the Mud; described as a "Panzer ace" in his English-language obituary
Johannes Bölter GermanyHauptmann502nd Heavy Panzer BattalionTiger I139Destroyed 139 enemy tanks. Referenced in Wolfgang Schneider's "Tigers in Combat, Volume 1" 
Michael Wittmann GermanySS-Hauptsturmführer101st SS Heavy Panzer BattalionStuG III / Tiger I139Destroyed 138 tanks. 
Karl Körner GermanyHauptscharführer503rd Heavy Panzer BattalionTiger II102
Ernst Barkmann GermanyOberscharführerSS-Panzer-Regiment 2Panzer III / Panther tank82Destroyed 82 tanks. His action was referenced in Christer Bergstrom's "The Ardennes, 1944-1945" 
Willi Fey GermanyOberscharführerSchwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 502Tiger I80+
Emil Siebold GermanyLeutnant2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich
1st Panzer Division (Wehrmacht)
T-3469Though German, Siebold's unit was equipped with captured Russian T-34s. He used one to destroy 69 enemy tanks
Dmitry Lavrinenko Soviet UnionSenior Leutnant1st Guards Tank BrigadeT-3458Most successful Russian and allied tank ace in WWII. 
Gerhard Brehmer GermanyOberfeldwebel1st Company, Panzer Battalion 52Panther51
Kurt Ohler GermanyUnter-OffizierStuGAbt. 270StuG III47
Weerts Johann GermanyObersturmfuhrer4./SS-Panzer-Regiment - 5. SS-Panzer Division "WikingStuG III39+Had destroyed 39 tanks by the time he was awarded German Gold cross in 1944, likely his total tally was more by end of war. 
Wolfgang von Bostell GermanyFeldwebelPanzerjäger-Sturmgeschütz-Kompanie 1023
Panzerjäger-Abteilung 205
Tiger I28
Zvika Greengold IsraelCaptain188th Armor BrigadeCenturion (tank)20Personally claimed 20 enemy tanks destroyed, but others credited him with up to 60.

Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters CanadaBrigadier GeneralSherbrooke Fusilier RegimentSherman Firefly18
© Darren Greenwood 2017

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Hello and welcome.

Hello and welcome to this new blog where I shall endeavor to tell the history of military vehicles from WW1 to the present day. I don't claim to be knowledgeable as Mr David Fletcher or Steven Zaloga. I'm just an amateur historian who does in depth research for my model builds as I find research the best bit of any model I build. I also enjoy finding out the subject as I build it. Anyway enough waffling and please enjoy my blog.