14 May 2017

Sturmgeschutz III Ausf A

ALTHOUGH it was latterly famous as a tank hunter, the StuG began life as an assault gun; providing direct-fire support to infantry attacking defended positions. The concept was birthed in the trench warfare of the First World War, where it had been noted that Stoßtruppen lacked the firepower to tackle fortified strongpoints.  (Then) Colonel Erich von Manstein was a major advocate of the concept of Sturmartillerie ("assault artillery"), that is light artillery pieces that could advance alongside infantry on tracked platforms, and promoted it to his superiors. A June 1936 memorandum by the 2nd Department of the General Staff of the Army defined the use of such a weapon as thus: 'The task of the Stumartillerie is to destroy enemy machine-gun (MG) positions. This task will be performed within the scope of the infantry attack and at firing ranges of maximum 4km. Thus it is a weapon of the infantry and does not have to perform artillery duties. Therefore, there is no need for shooting ranges of 7 km or being fitted with indirect sighting devices.' That same month the Heereswaffenamt tasked Daimler-Benz AG and Krupp with creating a prototype based on these stipulations. Daimler AG used the chassis and other components from the new Panzer III Ausf.B  and Krupp provided the short-barreled 75mm StuK 37 L/24. The resulting prototypes met with approval. Following some modifications, between January and May 1940 36 production models were produced by Alkett - titled the Sturmgeschutz III Ausf A. These retained the main armament, but were based upon the Panzer III Ausf.F chassis, with  the frontal armor increased to 50mm and the sides 30mm - making it the most heavily-armoured German tank at the time. Interestingly the prototypes were open-topped, a vulnerability that had been addressed by the time it reached production. There was no secondary weapon, so the vehicles were entirely reliant on infantry to protect their flanks. Twenty-four Ausf As were issued to Sturmartillerie Batteries 640, 659, 660 and 665 in time to see service during the French Campaign. Each battery was comprised of three platoons, each equipped with six vehicles. Feedback from the front was favourable and the model's future assured. Miniature is from Pithead Miniatures.

21 March 2017

Sd.Kfz.221/2 & Sd.Kfz.231 6-rad

I MUST confess to being rather partial to German WWII armoured cars, particularly those of the 'early war' period. With their sleek, elegant lines and angles I consider them to be just as iconic as the panzers of the same era. This may in part be because they seemed to be a regular fixture in the Warlord, Commando,  Battle Picture Weekly and War Picture Library comics I eagerly read as a lad - usually as transport for a dastardly German officer, who would at the end of the strip perish with a cry of 'Gott in Himmel!' on his lips! Naturally I have used my 1939-40 project, of which this blog is a chronicle, as a chance to procure several models and variants to represent the Aufklärungs-Abteilungs (Reconnaissance Battalions) belonging to the panzer divisions, which were used to locate and probe enemy positions. Certainly from the histories I have been reading (I shall compile a bibliography shortly), it would appear that the motorcycle combinations and armoured cars of these formations were usually the first enemy forces encountered by Allied troops. 

First up we have two Leichter Panzerspähwagen, an Sd.Kfz. 221 and Sd.Kfz. 222. Born from the need for an armoured car with off-road capabilities, work on the Sd.Kfz. 221 was begun secretly in 1935, with 340 being delivered between 1936-39. The vehicle had excellent range (186 miles), speed (50mph on road) and reliability, but its off-road ability was quickly found insufficient on the backwards road infrastructure of the Soviet Union during the autumn-winter of 1941-42. In 1939 frontal armour was increased from 8 to 14mm, whilst sides and rear sides remained at 6mm. Handled by a crew of two it was initially armed with a single MG 13, although from 1938 this was upgraded to an MG 34. This armament was soon realised to be insufficient, so in 1936 work began on an improved model, the Sd.Kfz. 222. The engine was moved from the front to the rear and the chassis was completely redesigned, resulting in a heavier, but more durable vehicle. The internal structure was enlarged to fit three crew, as was the turret so that it could mount a 2cm KwK 30 L/55 autocannon, alongside an MG 34. The former, which was also the main armament of the Panzer II, gave the 222 the ability to engage enemy armoured cars as well as increasing their anti-personnel potency. Between 1936 and 1943 almost 2000 Sd.Kfz. 222s were produced, making it the Heer's most numerous armoured car. Later developments included increasing armour and upgrading the main gun. 

Next is a Schwerer Panzerspähwagen, more specifically a Sd.Kfz.231 6-rad. Built upon the commercial 6x4 truck chassis of a number of manufacturers (the Magirus M-206, Büssing-NAG G-31 and Daimler-Benz G3.6) development started in 1932 and continued until 1935, with some 123 vehicles being delivered alongside 28 radio versions designated Sd.Kfz.232 6-rad. It had a crew of four, similar operational range and speed as the Sd.Kfz. 221/2, and could be steered from either end, allowing for hasty withdrawals. The vehicle is instantly recognisable by its long sloping glacis plate, that ran up to turret  fitted with a 2cm KwK 30 L/55 and coaxial MG 13 (again later upgraded to a MG 34). As with most armoured cars of the period, armour was designed to deflect small arms fire and shrapnel and was between 8 and 6mm. Before the war broke out the off-road limitations of 6-wheeled vehicles was already apparent and by 1937 the Germans had begun producing models based on the Büssing-NAG 8×8 truck chassis, which resulted in the Sd.Kfz.231 8-rad. And I need to get one of those! All models from Pendraken Miniatures

05 March 2017

Pz.Kpfw. 38(t)

DEVELOPED by Czechoslovakian engineering company ČKD as a replacement of the earlier LT vz.35, production on what was then designated the LT vz. 38 was interrupted by Germany's annexation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Impressed by the design, the Germans introduced some small alterations before continuing manufacture, rolling out almost five hundred Ausf.A-Ds between May 1939 and November 1940, although there were little visible differences between these variants. Initially re-designated the LTM 38, in January 1940 the Germans changed this again to Panzerkampfwagen 38(t).  Boasting as main armament a 3,7cm ÚV vz. 38 gun, it was both better-armed and armoured than German Panzer I and IIs and had a reputation for reliability, so-much-so that its chassis was later used for the famous Jagdpanzer 38/Hetzer tank destroyer. Some 57 Panzer 38(t)s were used in the invasion of Poland and 237 during the invasion of France and the Low Countries, with 91 of these serving in Rommel's 7th Panzer Division. It's undoing was in the east, where it was no match for the increasing number of T-34s and by 1942 it had been removed from front-line service. Models are from Pendraken Miniatures.