Saturday, January 03, 2015

"Fury" (Rage) film, Sherman and T-34 battle tanks in WW'2

Dear Readers,

"Fury" movie, has already became a new cult masterpiece. It contains scenes difficult to watch. It is not for everyone, since the brutality of war is very difficult to watch. Battle tank manufacturing is within mechanical engineering discipline. Automotive is the highest point of mechanical engineering as the excellence of science of art. You must keep the driver and the crew safe at all times. Tank should be the leading deterrent of attack power. You should be able to drive on off-road terrain at least 50-60 km an hour. You should be able to identify the enemy quickly, aim/ shoot/ hit the enemy while your tank is in motion. You should produce that capacity all within 5-6 million US dollar budget per tank in today's prices. These are not easy tasks, but we have to fulfill that capacity in order to survive in our geography.

The major character in US production "Fury" (rage) movie film was the Sherman tank, which was nick-named by the soldiers in time of war as "death trap", when hit, burning quickly, and killing the crews inside by fire. In order to kill a German Tiger tank, at least 4-5 Sherman were spared. Burn to death was the fate of tank crew in WW2. It was sad story of American soldiers entering into the tank by accepting the death by burning from the start.

In fact, the choice of Sherman tanks by American generals at the start of WW2 was a wrong decision. Anyhow wrong or correct, the decision was taken, and Sherman tanks were manufactured in 5-different plants in war almost 50,000 units. It had initially 400 hp petrol firing rear engine, easy to get burned when hit. Due to these dissatisfaction, production is stopped right after the war, the rest were sent to other countries.

We must learn the story of the legendary T-34 tanks of our northern neighbors. Wheel suspensions, and walking pallets were copied from American "Walter Christie" design. Sample Caterpillar tractors were secretly exported to Russia in the 1930s. Tank transmissions were copied from American tractor undercarriage. Tank engine was at the rear, it was water cooled, diesel fuel firing, BMW of German design. T-34 tank had easy maintenance easy repair, with no major operation problems. They had easy maneuver capability in field rides. Cold start of the engine was excellent but transmission was disaster. Their inclined armor were covered with special alloy for protection. Bullets were bouncing on inclined armor and bullets did not work. Two spare fuel tanks externally mounted on tank body rear, needed to pass long distances. During fighting with enemy, fuel tanks were immediately dismantled from the tank body.

Design and early production of T-34 tanks were kept top secret. First bunch of 1000 units were ready for fight against the invading German forces for the first time in Kurtz tank war. Germans were expecting their enemy to have inferior poor design tanks, but just the opposite have happened. German tanks faced with new design, powerful, fast, durable, technological monsters on the war theater. Germans suffered in a great surprise.

Germans thought that their enemy had poor, inferior, undeveloped technology which could be beaten easily. It was happened just the opposite in war theater. Germans were defeated heavily in the clash with new design T-34 tanks. T-34 tanks were invulnerable, so strong so powerful. Later in time, Germans improved their tank design to catch up but their production capability and replacement were not in line with growing war destruction. T-34 fabrication plants were too far away from eastern front, so that German war planes could not reach to bomb. T-34 tanks were manufactured in 5- different fabrication plants each too distant from each other, so that fabrication was continued uninterrupted. During WW2, 84,000 units were produced and design improvements continued for better armor, bigger and powerful guns, more fire power. There were no radio communication in the early versions, so that tank crew communicated with flags between each other, in later models, radio was installed for fast communication.

T-34 off-road speed could reach to 50-60 km per hour in open war theater, whereas German tanks could go maximum 30-40 km per hr. It was a great fighting advantage for T-34 in war clashes. Hitler once said, "If I had known about the T-34 tank's strength in year 1941, I would not have attacked.". That is called deterrence today, T-34 tanks became war hero of the Eastern Front in WW2, which played a major role in winning the victory.

"Michael Koshkin" was the young design engineer of the first prototype T-34 battle tank. In order to prove applicability of the new tank design to decision maker war generals, he drove the first prototype T-34 battle tank from the plant to Moscow army command center in harsh cold winter conditions passing 2000 km off-road fields. He caught pneumonia and soon after the his lone test drive, he died. After receiving the permission, all over the country 5- different plants started to fabricate non-stop during war time 24 hours 7days, with 50% women, 25% young boy labor force, since all men were drafted.

During Stalingrad war, plants had even no time to paint the tanks, so that some of the T-34 tanks were sent without external final paint to battle front, to fight the invading enemy forces, that was an incredible history.


In 1942, in North Africa on Libyan desert, tank battles were very important in WW'2 the history. American Sherman tanks have encountered first time with German Panzer tank divisions on hot Libyan desert. American Generals has selected Sherman tanks although Shermans were weak, smaller and with short-range gun capability, but fast.

General Patton has once said, "The important thing in tank battle is whether Shermans could move rapidly to the back of the German Panzer and hit them back," That was the practice of ancient times, he learnt from "Roma- Carthage" wars. The way to defeat the war elephants of Carthaginians, the foot soldiers would give away to heavy war elephants to the front, then they move to the back of the beast, and they have to spit the elephant with spears behind at the weakest point. These tactics have worked in ancient times. Sherman tanks have also tried to apply the same tactics, but they did not work. In order to hit a German tank, it would be causing the destruction of 4-5 Sherman tanks in fire.

Anyhow low altitude flying aircraft and anti-tank artillery have helped Shermans to overwhelm German Panters. German tanks were stopped by lack of fuel, since the German fuel ship had been sunk in the Mediterranean by the British war ships. Also trucks to transport drinking water were bombed by war aircraft. German tanks left with no fuel, unable to move and lost the desert war. German General Rommel saved himself, by flying back to Germany. But his soldiers were surrendered. Total 340 thousand German POW soldiers were sent by ships to America during WW'2. They picked cotton in Southern cotton fields throughout the entire war. Meanwhile Alabama blacks were enlisted in American army, and they were sent to Europe to save white people.

First encounter of new untested T-34 battle tanks with their German counterparts on the Eastern Front is the best war story. Young Russian tank designer Michael Koshkin drove the first T-34 prototype to prove tank durability all alone 2000 kms from fabrication plant to Moscow and died from pneumonia he got during test drive. It is the saddest human cost of this main battle tank design story. Our Northern neighbor then have produced a total of 84,000 units T-34 battle tanks in WW2 as a series of 5-separate factories. Designers continuously improved design during the war, armor thickened, raised the gun fire power. T-34 tanks of 50,000 have been destroyed in the war, but the rest have the key fighting power to win the war on the Eastern Front.


Sherman tanks were generally weaker than German Tiger and Leopard battle tanks. Their guns were smaller, gun range were shorter, they had thinner armor plates. But these battle tanks could be manufactured in large numbers during WW'2 to beat the capability weakness with high numbers. While Tiger or Leopard tank fires on one of them, other Sherman tanks would circle and hunt the German tank. The same tactic was applied to T-34 versus German tanks. Comrades in the 5-different fabrication plants have produced large number of T-34 battle tanks non-stop, and also improved tank design, tested gun power on captured German tanks on field.

New anti-tank weapons were designed to put fire on battle tanks and kill the tank personnel inside. Armor -piercing explosive projectile bullets with explosive nozzle cone toward the tank interior have worked better in time, keeping battle tanks idle, inactive in the war. They created high flame beam to explode the armor shields. At that point, by melting armor and there were a few thousand degrees Celsius flame exploded into the tank, the crew was burned to death. If ammo was also ignited in the tank, they all suddenly exploded completely. The anti-tank weapons are among those with armor-piercing bullets, as sharp as pencils with tungsten drill bits. Bullets hit the armor, armor is pierced by tungsten pen, enters tank interior, helps blasting ammunition. Today tank designers decorate the tank exterior with high explosive resistant panels. Armor-piercing bullets stand out, giving explosion outside with early response, armor-piercing bullets trigger with early discharge. Providing armor work outside to keep bullet away from entering interior, and therefore are cutting blast effect.

Today, battle tank impact in fighting is limited, due to increasing impact of anti-tank planes A-10, helicopters and land mines. You will recall the pictures of obsolete destructed scrap on the roadside old design armored vehicles and tanks in Iraq war. Saddam's tanks were demolished by helicopters easily. The effects of T-34 battle tanks were ended during Korean war by anti-tank weapons which were effectively and widely used by food soldiers. So new designs were introduced with better armors. War is cruel, inhuman, but one should be strong enough to be deterrent in our environment to survive.


From open sources we understand that the local MBT (main battle tank) design and tests are not yet completed for full scale production. Driving tests are satisfactory. Tanks nee electronic radar shelter against air attacks, electronic camera surveillance systems, land mines detection equipment are to be mounted on tank body and tested. Real war tests are not completed in war conditions. We would expect to test at least one prototype in a war zone, such as in Afghanistan. Coalition forces do not participate into war in Afghanistan just to bring peace to that land. We all know that armies go there to test their new fighting equipment, whether they are battle tanks, or heavy rifles, or helicopters.
British, German, American tanks are being tested there. Test sites of Russian tanks are currently in Chechnya, Ukraine and Syria. Let us know well about the power of Syrian tanks and talk about them. Syria has a total of 4850 units of T-55-62-72 Russian tanks which are obsolete in todays terms. But the latest model T-90 could be given to Syria when suppliers feel necessary, then our new generation battle tanks have to cope with the latest T-90, as well as Abrams of Iraq in future disagreements.

There are only 4- each MBT prototypes in development. 4-batch series fabrication each with 250 units will be initiated from 2016 on. Unit budget price per standard MBT is estimated to be USD 5-6 million. Battle capacity with total 1000-tanks in the region will be a serious show of deterrent force. We need to investigate the neighboring dangers in times of disagreements. Syria has T-55-62-72 obsolete Russian tanks but they could have T-90 tanks in future. Israel army has their own design war tested Merkava M4 battle tanks with front mounted powerful engine. Merkava tanks are the only battle tanks with front engine, all other tanks have rear engines. Iran has some American M60 Pattons, and their own design new battle tanks. American Abrams battle tanks are left in Iraq, however some of them in north military bases were captured by new islamic insurgents. Battle tanks should have electronic remote self destroying capability, which could be activated in case of captures. We understand that those Abrams tanks had that immobilizing capability to make themselves unusable.

New generation main battle tanks should have radar shields against hostile air and land attacks, and should have missile capability against helicopters. Tank also should fix its gun electronically to the enemy target and it should stay steady, shoot and hit while moving at high speed. In the latest models, tank crews are reduced to three personnel since most of ammo loading are organized earlier. Cyber security is also very important since battle tanks are now full of computers almost for each and every task to carry out.


Towards the end of the WW'2, "Giant Tiger" was designed and fabricated by the direct order of Führer. They were very large tanks. They were sent to France front. 70-ton giant battle tanks could not succeed in real war conditions.

Because the roads were narrow, they were unable to maneuver within the settlements , could not make turns or returns. They were too heavy. They could not pass the bridges, you had to make a special bridge. So there is a limit to the size of the tank. At the beginning of the WW'2, German battle tanks were a military success in the Russian steppes. German tanks could hit enemy within 1 km range with high accuracy. The initial hitting range of early T-34 tanks were 500 meters. Therefore they should get close to the German tanks. However, the number superiority, better survival capability difficult winter conditions, easy operation, higher field speed, easy refuel to the remote war theaters, better repair and maintenance capability, all had increased T-34 survival rate at war.

Our land forces used various updates of American M60 and German Leopard tanks in the past. There is no T-34 tank in our list. Starting from year 2016 on, we shall produce 4 batches each with 250 tank units. Although the prototype is designed and produced by one company, we understand that there are three different private companies in the competition to get the order. In fact it is better to distribute the fabrication order to multiple suppliers in Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara, even we should look for more fabrication centers in organized industrial zones of cities like Sivas, Eskişehir, Malatya, Antep.

We have gathered above article with available open intelligence sources through internet web pages, mainly from Wikipedia. If you have any comments, corrections, or advise, you can always write to me,
My E-mail; halukdireskeneli at gmail dot com

We wish all of you and your families a Merry Christmas/ Happy Holidays, and all the best for the New Year 2015.

Prinkipo, 25 December, 2014

Haluk Direskeneli is a graduate of METU’s Mechanical Engineering Department (1973). He has worked in public and private enterprises, US-Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP, Entergy), and in fabrication, basic/detail design, marketing, sales, and in project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as a freelance consultant/energy analyst of thermal power plants, and utilizing his basic/detail design software expertise for private engineering companies, investors, universities, and research institutions. He is a member of METU Alumni and the Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.


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