How were tank destroyers (the turretless variety) employed? Were they more often used to flank tank formations or as defensive weapons?
Also can someone direct me to some reading on general armored strategy? Google only gives me video games and stuff.
Keep behind the main defensive line and congregate to the site of any potential breakthrough, to stop the enemy cav charging through it?
Suvorov seems to mention putting AT guns at the flanks of your own breakthrough, to make sure your exploiting troops in that salient don't get cut off and encircled by enemy armour trying to re-close the gap.
Actually, the TD was developed by General Patton while serving at Ft. Bliss and assigned to help study the German Blitzkrieg (Lightening war) tactics that had so shocked the world in 1939 and 1940. The tactic of leading a major advance with non-infantry supported armor was unheard of and had not previously been considered a practical method of asserting a wide front assault.
Military planners worked several war games and had not found a proper solution to the lightening warfare tactic. Patton realized the Germans had been successful due to three primary factors...first, they had devised a new way for tanks to coordinate with tactical aerial support...that is the Stuka dive bomber being used more like instant rapid advance artillery, blasting opposition forces and then the tanks taking highly risky advances through the strike zones. 2) the Armored units in the advance had radio sets in every tank. This was practically unheard of at the time...and gave the German units the ability to capitalize rapidly on every enemy weak spot. 3) the rapid strike forces were not hindered by highly detailed battle plans that had so limited advances in the first war. When the plans failed early, the whol plan collapsed...but in lightening war, small unit commanders were encouraged to work flexibly, keeping to the general line of advance and maintaining coordination through highly mobile divisional command posts.
These advances in war tactics had not been considered before because of the spotty nature of the technology previously available to military commands. Tanks were thought to still be somewhat unreliable and ****e to success only in shorter range assaults. Infantry was still the primary unit and so infantry were equipped to fight other infantry and given very little to repel tank assaults. Battles were supposed to be fought fairly....and many generals were still thinking about the last war...thinking trenches would again bring the momentum of any advance to a stalemate.
the Germans had decided on a rather unorthodox tactic, in putting tanks forward, with little support. They realized the great risk they were taking and many German generals actually anticipated tremendous failure of such "damn the flanks...full speed ahead" tactics. But, the Panzer Grenadier divisions were built to provide highly mobile infantry to keep up with the tanks...much of how we operate today...with the development of the APC and infantry trained to operate in conjunction with armored mobility.
However, Patton, quickly realized the Germans had actually taken a very fool hardy approach that had worked once and then twice in quick succession. The problem the Germans ignored was that any army, equipped with enough anti-tank weapons and properly trained to stand against the tanks could very quickly blunt the advance. The solution to Blitzkrieg was plenty of AT weapons and excellent communications, to move equipment to the points in the line of advance and to harden any shoulders at the point of contact. Initially, Patton used trucks towing AT guns and crews trained in camouflage and proper use of the guns. But, this was a stop-gap designed to take advantage of the equipment available at the time. He had written about the need for highly mobile self propelled heavier caliber anti-tank guns...that is, tank destroyers... early in his working on the problem. Also, the British tolled the bell on the Stuka...toward the end of the battle of France, British fighters were taking a heavy toll on any unescorted Stukas and later, during the battle of Britain, the Stukas days were clearly numbered...they could only operate in areas where the Germans had total air superiority. Later, the Russians drove the last nail into the coffin of the tactical dive bomber as they gained momentum in their rapid advances back to the Vistula.
The natural evolution of the TD was finally worked out...it was planned to be only a mobile gun carriage...with a high velocity weapon and a very fast undercarriage...designed to get it into position fast and out of harms way fast. It was never intended to fight tanks set-piece. It owed it's high mobility to it's almost total lack of armor. In fact, when you look at the stats of the M-10, the famous American Tank Destroyer, you see it was only designed to stop small arms fire and some lighter shrapnel, with most armor only 1/4" thick. The turret was open topped, just like most mobile guns of the day. It had very good long range optics and it's gun was designed to take out practically any enemy armor at distances the moving tanks could not hope to respond with. The TD was supposed to shoot three or four times from hidden positions and then quickly scoot away, find new a covered position and do it again. It did not have a gyro stabilized gun...it had to be stationary to get a good bead on the enemy. As it turned out, the TD's were often initially assigned to infantry units to support them against tank assaults...but, area commanders were seldom trained in the proper use of the TD's and basically, tried to use them like tanks...this got a lot of them destroyed and killed many crew until commanders were brought up to speed on the proper uses of them. They looked like tanks...so they were thought of as tanks. But, they most certainly were not tanks. But, basically, the proper plan was just to have the TD's be used very much like the old towed versions of the AT guns...just faster to deploy and relocate.
As it turned out in actual use, the M-10s did a great job until they were faced with German Panthers and Tigers, and the 3" (75mm, high velocity) At gun was shown to be inadequate. Later, the American TDs were deployed with the 90mm that was sufficient to knock out just about anything on the battlefield...but, of course by then the M-26 Pershing Tanks were about to be deployed with the same gun. So, the TDs' were pretty much becoming obsolete.
Probably the most feared TD of the war was the British Firefly, which was an up gunned and under armored Sherman M-4. Other British equivalents were the Wolverine and the Achilles, with the famous British 17 pounder.
This weapon really displayed all the blatant weaknesses of the Blitzkrieg warfare. Old hand generals were really right in their distrust of such tactics against well equipped and trained armies. However, Blitzkrieg warfare gained an undeserved reputation due to many misconceptions about modern war that had given the French their foolish dependence on static forts (which had totally been proven erroneous in the first war by the German reductions of the Belgian forts). Also, the French started the war with the best tanks in the world (arguably, I admit) with their very well designed Soumas...But, their tank tactics were antiquated, still designed all around supporting infantry...tanks were distributed loosely and very few were equipped with radios. The one time during the battle fo France they were used as a coordinated armored force, under the command of DeGaul, they very nearly turned the tide...but, by then, of course, it was too late.
Eventually, it was realized the best tank destroyer is another tank. The Russians were probably the first to come to this proper assessment...developing the great IS (Joseph Stalin) tanks...heavy tanks that were supposed to withstand any enemy shell...this turned out to not be fully practical, due to the poor mobility of the IS tanks (they were slow and very heavy). But, the KV's and the T-34's proved to have the right stuff and demonstrated the concept quite well as they closed with Germany proper. In fact, some M-10s were given to Russia in lend-lease and apparently the Russians thought poorly of them, there is no record of how they were used or their battle history (that I am aware of).
The US was a bit slower on the uptake of this concept. But, the development of the highly successful medium tanks, like the M-26 (even with it's many shortcomings) and M-47's and many variants eventually phased out the concept of the TD. And the bazooka, panzer Faust and various shoulder launched AT weapons and their evolutions finally did the same to the anti-tank gun.
A great deal of info on TD's and their tactics can be found on the net...just type in British Firefly, M-10, Wolverine Tank Destroyer...etc,
Last edited by Mastermind; 10-11-2008 at 08:39 PM. Reason: spelling errors
Good stuff MM
Because Panzerjägers were not to be used as tanks due to their limited traverse gun and near-total lack of protection, they could not be deployed in the attack, at least without disastrous results. So the Germans formulated a novel tactical doctrine for Panzerjägers. Under this theory the Panzerjägers were to be held behind the lines in a single group. Once the enemy tanks appeared and made for a specific location, then the Panzerjägers would rush forward to counter them. They would then take up hidden pre-scouted firing positions and wait to fire until the enemy tanks had come within range. Once they did, the Panzerjägers would fire a few shots each, then retreat to avoid retaliatory fire. This tactical doctrine was similar to NATO's 1980s war plans to counter Soviet armor in Western Europe if WW III broke out.
One major problem with this theory was that the Panzerjägers could not get up to the front before the enemy tanks had overrun it, due to the fact that Soviet tanks often just overran any German position encountered. Because of this they got caught advancing to their hidden firing positions and they were destroyed in the ensuing 360-degree combat, for which they were not suited due to their lack of main gun traverse. Even if they made it to the front line they were often unable to hide and wait for the enemy due to their high silhouette. Despite the failure of the theoretical use of Panzerjägers, they were still effective in defense and in support of true tanks, and from 1943 on the Germans were perpetually on the defense.
But yeah basically they were mainly used 'ideally' in ambush tactics, like in the Bocage in positions they would put their heavy frontal armour towards the enemy and withdraw before being flanked or spotted for arty or air.
As previously pointed out by Desktop Stug's served duel AT and Inf support role where as Hetzers, Jagdpanzer IV's, Jagdpanthers etc were used at primarily anti armour and as a way of recycling damaged tanks quickly.
I would be interested in assault gun tactics too, how they were used for direct fire support of infantry units... Must've got quite close up when in urban areas as well.
Interesting that the role of tank destroyers, assault guns and also recce all seem to have gone to the light cav today. Or AFVs carrying ATGMs - inf Anti Tank Platoon's or cav Guided Weapons Troops? Obviously MBTs take on other tanks/AFVs, do direct fire support, and could recce in force or by fire; but light cav seems a bloody versatile unit to have, when you consider all these roles, that they can act mounted or dismounted, and that they can also act as armour/tanks themselves (as long as there aren't any enemy MBTs around, I should imagine!). We should probably be looking at developing new light cav vehicles rather than the umpteenth different wheeled airmobile LAV-a-like APC...
Distinction has also to be made between what were tank destroyers and what were direct artillery support.
Of example many vehicles were designed to provide heavy direct artillery support for tank units. Looking at the Su-100, which was a high velocity 100mm gun mounted in a T-34 chassis, it is pretty clear it is a tank destroyer. The Su-76 on the other hand with its open top was a support vehicle. The Su-122 had a short 122mm barrel and was also direct artillery support. The ISU-152 however came in two models, both with 152mm guns, but one with a long barrel and one with a shorter barrel.
Most US tank destroyers were called GMC or Gun, Motor Carriage... literally towed anti tank gun mounted on a tank chassis, often a light tank with an open top turret.
I'm guessing a tank destroyer and an assault gun could step in for each other at times though?
Surely the TD would've carried some AP shells in case of infantry attack and the AG would've had some AT shells in case of armoured attack...
Yes and no. Some assault guns had very low velocity guns that fired a big slow heavy HE shell that was excellent against infantry positions or pill boxes, but useless against heavy tanks. The ISU-122 for example had a very short 122mm gun. The ISU-152 could take on tanks through shell power, but the SU-100 had a very high velocity gun that had better armour penetration than even the 122mm long gun fitted to the JS-2 and JS-3.I'm guessing a tank destroyer and an assault gun could step in for each other at times though?
Looking at British weapons for example the 17 pndr was a very effective anti tank gun with enough calibre to allow a decent HE shell to be carried too. The 25 pndr however was not a high velocity weapon but fired a better HE shell.
Ah, got you. For me (no armoured background at all), both TDs and AGs are lumped together under the 'tank surrogate/tank substitute/tankette' category in my mind, so it is good to hear the technical realities and limits.
I have also wondered about the possibilities of actual use of motorized..or sp guns and TDs. I am sure, in a pinch, the SP gun would step in nicely. I think no matter what tank you are in of the 1944 era, a 152 HE smacking into the turret is going to do a very nasty bit of damage...it will most certainly rattle your hat carrier.
I knew an old tanker from WWII several years ago and he told me they had taken several direct hits to the hull...and fortunately, for him, none got through. But, one event he shared in particular stuck in my mind. He said they took a direct hit to the side of the turret, adjacent to his gunner and that the hull actually glowed red hot inside the tank right where the hit had taken place. Scared the crap out of all concerned. I imagined that was an HE hit. He said the tank was basically ok afteward but that the optics on the gunner sight were off and had to be recalibrated. I didn't doubt him.
In watching the 152's in action in VN I never did really see how they could properly aim a gun like that at a moving tank. Also, the powerless traverse and elevation on the old M-10 would have really necessitated a stationary platform for any degree of accuracy. I'm not sure about the open top turret, either...seems very vulnerable.
I also have to apologize to LimaT...I rather ignored the part of the question regarding the "turretless" TD. Sorry. I just saw TD...and dashed forward.
Does any country still employ gun-armed tank destroyers? Or towed AT guns for that matter? Or have we all pretty much moved on to ATGW-armed APCs and such?
Oh, and MM, would you consider the Ontos (believe that was Vietnam era) a TD? Even though it was recoilless I believe?
The Ontos was a very effective weapon. But, with only six shots and then you have to get out to reload, it proably was not one of those weapons you would like to crew in a very hot tank to tank or tank to TD engagement. But, the Marines I worked with absolutely cherrished the Ontos...and watching an Ontos company in action was a sight to behold.
The one big draw back to the RR was the huge back blast that would certainly give your postion away to any tank. Your life expectancy would probably be pretty short in a heavy fight. Your only hope would be to shoot and scoot ASAP.