Thursday, 28 June 2018

Lethality in Berlin

Some interesting data from the 2nd Guards Tank Army gathered during their fighting in Berlin. Analysis of tanks that were badly damaged enough to have to be written off from their unit was performed at the repair base. There, a decision was made: either the tank is irreparable and is destined for the scrap heap or is salvageable, but only after refurbishment, and is thus sent to the factory. Unfortunately there are no notes that tell us why each specific type of tank typically became unsalvageable, but only a general rule of thumb: if the ammunition rack is hit, the tank blows up and is a complete loss. If the ammunition does not go off, then the tank will probably be suitable for refurbishment, even if there was a fire.

Type
Total
T-34
IS-2
M4A2
SU-76
SU-85
SU-100
ISU-122
Irrep.
Maj.
Irrep.
Maj.
Irrep.
Maj.
Irrep.
Maj.
Irrep.
Maj.
Irrep.
Maj.
Irrep.
Maj.
75 mm shell
39
6
8
-
-
3
16
2
2
-
2
-
-
-
-
88 mm shell
27
7
3
7
-
4
4
-
-
-
-
1
-
1
1
100 mm shell
9
2
2
3
-
1
1
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
22 mm AA gun
5
-
1
-
-
4
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
Artillery total
80
15
14
10
-
12
21
2
2
-
2
1
-
1
-
Faust
47
16
2
2
1
13
8
3
-
-
-
1
-
1
-
Aircraft
4
-
-
-
-
-
2
-
-
-
-
-
-
2
-
Mines
4
2
-
-
-
-
-
-
1
-
-
1
-
-
-
Total
135
33
16
12
1
25
31
5
3
-
2
3
-
4
-


Compared to T-34s, Shermans are fairly repairable. About half of T-34s lost to artillery can be repaired, but nearly two thirds of Shermans. The Panzerfaust, however, evens the playing field. Once you count that in, the total loss rates are about even. Interestingly enough, the total number of tanks lost is also about even, even though the army marked 123 T-34s and 53 Shermans as losses. It would seem that a lost T-34 is much more likely to end up falling into the medium and light repairs category. There is little information on other tanks, but it would seem that IS-2s are all or nothing (with only one Panzerfaust-struck tank being repairable), with one other tank being subjected to only medium repairs, or just 14 losses in all.

A remark is made that the enemy typically aims at lower hull plates or the turret at point blank distances, opting to avoid the angled armour of T-34s. Hits on the front of the tank are rarer, and hits in the back are very rare.

10 comments:

  1. One other (perhaps obvious) conclusion: Panzerfausts are damned effective in an urban fight. They account for about one-third of tank losses in this sample and certainly did not cost one-third as much as the tanks and towed AT guns that are listed.

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  2. Questions and observations,

    1) What does the '100 mm' gun refer to? AFAIK, The Germans had no such caliber AT gun; was it the 105 mm artillery piece? I assume the '75 mm' is just the Pak40 (or could it include the Kwk42?). Also, the data for the 88 mm isn't additive, I count 28 individual tanks and the total cited is 27.

    2) Did the Shermans in the Red Army have wet storage? If so, that explains the fact that a lower fraction of Shermans lost to gunfire compared to T-34s were write-offs.

    As for the IS-2 'all or nothing' data, it's clear that if something penetrates and starts a fire which detonates the ammo, the power of those 122 mm rounds going off will likely destroy the tank. It would be interesting to know how this hypothesis would fare using data from larger dataset plotted against the total explosive power (size of rounds, number of rounds) held by each type of vehicle.

    3) It also would be interesting to know if such a plot in any way is predictive of crew losses (probably not, I'd say).

    4) Interesting note about what was struck; just because this is late war, the T-34's hull armor's thickness was superb in 1941 but is long in the tooth by 1945 and using kinetic energy rounds it is badly overmatched against 75 mm and 88 mm guns hitting it, more like just 90 mm of effective armor against these. The turret of the T-34/85 has more effective thickness (about 115-120 mm). Seems like you'd aim for the hull if shooting from the front (though there is that large driver's hatch, 75 mm, which would be quite tough).

    In 1945, stat cited by Zaloga (Armored Champion) reported the chances per hit to knock out a T-34 was over 80 %. This likely was due to a great many tactical factors--by 1945, the Germans had greater troop densities and could construct more defenses-in-depth; the terrain offered more obstacles to lines of sight (urban environments, more woods, etc) which closed likely engagement distances to very lethal ranges (where the first hit is likely a kill); there were more fortified areas encountered, etc. But the T-34's rather-thin hull armor by 1945 standards didn't help. It's why the T-44 upped the hull armor to 80 mm.

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  3. It is interesting to note that there is a 100mmm shell (also in the original documentation). Perhaps they were referring to the 128mm.

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  4. I have often seen German's refer to their 105mm guns as 10cm. Skoda also built some 100mm guns for Czechoslovakia. But I doubt any survived by 1945.

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  5. Going to the photo in the original article, not only do you see some T-34s (foreground) two Shermans, an ISU of some sort, but you also see a Panther and what appears to be two King Tigers at the very back sitting amongst the wrecks. That would have been an interesting repair depot; it would be interesting to have data on what killed those "cats" and from what angle.

    From the T-34 hits

    27 hit the side armor
    27 hit the front armor (8 hit the turret, 2 the turret ring, the rest hit the front hull, so here indeed what I said about the T-34's hull armor becoming less-than-optimal for 1945 weaponry seems to hold true)
    8 hit the rear
    8 hit the top?? (How? I may not be reading the color code right, are those panzerfausts and 20 mm?)

    From the Sherman
    58 hit the side
    24 hit the turret front, 16 the front upper/lower hull. The turret here seems more vulnerable than the hull.

    For the IS-2, all hits were from the sides, only the most potent weapons, 88 mm/"100 mmm"/panzerfausts, achieved kills.

    Interesting.

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    Replies
    1. Top hits were not at all unusual in urban combat, as infantry quite liked to attack the thin roof armour from upper floors if at all possible. (The Soviet AT grenades were pretty useful for that kind of thing, for example.) Avoiding that kind of thing was one of the many reasons infantry normally went ahead to clear out houses while tanks hung back providing close fire support, but ofc in actual combat things didn't always go so neatly for any number of reasons.

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    2. Indeed, it didn't always work out that way, for reasons good and bad.

      In Eugini Bessenov's book, Tank Rider, he tells of a case in the Berlin fighting where his infantry unit was pinned down by German SPGs (probably StuGIIIs). While he and others hid behind what little cover there was (a tree, I recall!) one of his comrades ran back and got an IS-2 to risk itself and come up to the very front, and the IS-2 demolished both SPGs with a single hit going through both.

      OTH, in Baryatinskiy's book on the IS tanks, the 81st Guards Heavy tank regiment was supporting the 144th rifle division's attack in the Gumbinnen operation, and the 144th's commander thought the IS-2s could care of themselves, so they went ahead out in front. The 81st lost 4 tanks burnt out and 4 damaged while trying to gee the sluggish infantry of the 144th division to come up. The attack was repulsed.

      To my thinking, both stories illustrate an important point. US army doctrine pre-WWII envisioned armored and infantry divisions alike a mere organizational starting points, the ideal would be to take the necessary units freely from wherever they might be and form something like the German "kampgruppen" for whatever task needed done; a system that maximized the efficient use of resources. In the actual fighting, this didn't happen; a 'less efficient' (on paper) system developed where (infantry divisions in particular) ended up having their own armor and tank destroyer battalions plus other units more or less permanently attached. An 'augmentation' approach, if you will.

      But was this 'augmentation' approach in fact 'less efficient'? I don't think so. What you're pointing out is that it's important for all arms to cooperate with each other in battle. This often involves a willingness to risk your own neck for the other guys. If the "other guys" are strangers, you're going to be less likely to do that than if they're considered part of "your guys", people you know.

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    3. A sort of "plug and play" philosophy seems to have been fairly widespread in the period in general. I've a suspicion that like the excessive division of labour witnessed in AFVs of the time - infantry tanks, cavalry/cruiser tanks, howitzer tanks, specialised tank-hunters, overabundance of light tank types, you name it - it ultimately stemmed from a quite logical and understandable but rather misguided attempt to apply the principles of industrial organisation and planning in the context of modern war. The infamous US system of feeding replacements directly into frontline can probably be taken as just about the most dysfunctional manifestation of this trend.

      Alas, as we now know (and has been to some degree understood ever since people started writing things down inbetween spearing their neighbours for phat lewts) psychosocial factors are of vital importance at the sharp end - the troops need to have established a certain degree of trust and familiarity with each other to work together effectively. They need to know if the other guys will do their part to cover their ass if they stretch their necks out, so to speak, and what the next platoon over can(not) be trusted to do. "Esprit de corps", unit cohesion and all that.

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  6. Interesting how all the SU-85s COULD be repaired, but all the SU-100s got completely knocked out. I thought the SU-100 was more resiliant because it had more armour, but because of the bigger gun was more cramped. So maybe the tank got knocked harder because the shells that hit it did more internal damage.
    "Artillery" is a pretty vague term, arty could rever to a little 75mm He round from the 1897 French arty piece, but also a 155mm.

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    Replies
    1. The SU-85 may be conflated with the SU-85M which has the same extra armor and larger superstructure as a SU-100 (effectively being the same vehicle sans the gun). Those were a thing by that time, though it would be interesting to see how many SU-85s were SU-85Ms
      That leaves the theory that maybe 100mm rounds were simply more volatile.

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