Tag Archives: militariana

On the 140mm Tank Gun

Let’s talk some more about the 140 mm tank gun, that late cold war weapon that never was. Perfect for killing Soviet Supertanks that never were. And making your new tank way cooler than everyone else’s. The fastest way to get more armor penetration is to just build a bigger gun with more muzzle energy. A lot more.

As you might imagine, a 140 mm round is quite a bit bigger than a 120mm round. Let’s take a look, because these numbers are damned hard to find:

First, a typical 120 mm APFSDS round for the era, the American M829A1. The legendary Silver Bullet that slaughtered the tanks of Saddam’s Republican Guard. Some variations in length and weight are to be expected amongst 120 mm rounds. Newer rounds are a little heavier, but the size is constrained by ammunition storage racks and the existing chambers. The M829A1 is also the round that was in service while the 140 mm was under development.

M829A1 120 mm APFSDS
* Length: 984 mm
* Weight: 20.9 kg (46 lbs)

And now, the round to replace it. Producing 23 MJ at the muzzle, more than double that of the 120mm. The mighty 140. Dimensions were fixed by the NATO countries that were all developing their own versions of the round.

140mm tank round

XM962 140 mm APFSDS
* Length: 1,482 mm
* Weight: approximately 40 kg (88 lbs)

The length and weight of the 140 mm stand out. This round would have been a royal pain to handle. It’s also a bit fatter, so autoloaders could handle fewer rounds. This explains why the K2 Black Panther, otherwise similar to the Leclerc, can only hold 17 rounds in its autoloader compared to 22 in the Leclerc. The K2 is ready for 140 mm, needing only a barrel change. Interestingly, the round count in the Black Panther matches those for the M1-CATTB prototype, which had a similar, belt-style autoloader in its bustle. Don’t worry, we’ll talk about the CATTB in a future article.

NATO-standard 120 mm rounds like the M829A1 are unitary rounds. One big piece, like an oversized version of the cartridges you load into your guns at home. Because of the large size of the 140 mm rounds, these were made as two-piece rounds. Unfortunately, while I can find dimensions for the round’s overall length, I don’t have dimensions for the pieces. Until I can find one to measure myself, we’ll have to make do with some pixel counting/scaling, which yields a length of about 1,024 mm for the upper part of the round, and about 461 mm for the lower part. Which is still big and annoying for autoloader development. Length of the upper part of the round is heavily influenced by the length of the APFSDS projectile. This also would affect a design using a carousel autoloader like the TTB, since carousel (and therefore hull) height and turret height are constrained by the requirement to lift and rotate the rounds into position.

Based on the standards of the day, the 140 mm gun made more than twice the energy of the 120 mm at the muzzle. Of those 23 MJ of muzzle energy in the 140 mm, 14 MJ goes to the penetrator. Running the numbers meant that the 140 mm APFSDS could punch through more than 1,000 mm of RHAe at a ‘battle range’ of 2 km. For comparison, we’ll pull some open source estimates for M829A1, which give it a penetration of 700 mm of RHAe1.

Now, those are some really good numbers2. Of course, there’s a price to be paid. Even with the two-piece construction, everyone working with the 140 mm designed with autoloaders. Which meant significantly reworked turrets for the British, the Germans, and the Americans at a minimum. Plus, ammunition capacity would drop.

Upgunning to a 140 mm round was the simplest way to get a lot more armor penetration capability into a tank. At least from a weapon/projectile design standpoint. It would have required some serious reworking of then-extant designs, but such is life. When the Soviet Union imploded, the armored threat of the projected Future Soviet (super)tanks evaporated, and the 140 mm gun projects were quietly shelved. 120 mm rounds are continuing to get more development and the latest are quite a bit more effective than the M829A1. Lower cost, likely lower capabilities, but this decision makes sense given the circumstances.


  1. There’s some variation in this estimation depending on source. Open source disclaimers apply, etc. 
  2. They’re also a trifle disingenuous. Nobody is armoring their tanks with a meter of rolled homogenous steel. Literally nobody. A more advanced penetrator design can exploit effects on the not-steel that people actually armor their tanks with. Similarly, the armor might be designed to radically degrade (read: break up) the penetrator, which can be sort of but not really captured in RHAe estimations. So the RHAe numbers don’t actually tell the whole story on either side of the design puzzle. Oh, and the numbers themselves are the usual open-source estimates3, so they’re probably all wrong. 
  3. If you’d like to try your hand, start running through the Odermatt equation. And then remember that Odermatt wrote for tungsten-based penetrators, and M829A1 is depleted uranium, so you’ll need to tweak it. 

M1 TTB

The M1 Tank Test Bed (TTB) was a late-80s prototype to test unmanned turret design concepts and compare them to a modern, manned-turret design: the then-state-of-the-art M1A1. The TTB was not necessarily intended to be what the next MBT would look like, but it was intended to shake out some design concepts and see if they were worth considering in the future. So let’s take a look.

m1 ttb

Some of you may notice a resemblance to the T-14. Both use similar unmanned turret design concepts. Such designs have been kicked around since the 1950s by many different groups of tank designers, and all for similar reasons of being able to reduce protected volume (and hence reduce design weight for a given standard of protection). The M1A1 weighs about 57 tonnes. The TTB, with a similar protective standard and the same 120mm gun (and a similar ammunition capacity) was reckoned to weigh about 15% less, for an approximate TTB weight of 48.45 tonnes. Interestingly, this is very close to the published weight for the T-14.

TTB also, of course, reduced crew to three men and put in an autoloader for ammunition handling. The design was intended to improve crew safety by completely isolating the crew from the ammunition. The autoloader itself was a large carousel, holding all ammunition below the turret ring. Let’s look at some pictures.

ttb autoloader

It’s sort of like the autoloader on the T-80, though NATO 120mm ammunition is one-piece, and is therefore a little more annoying to design an autoloader for. The autoloader built for the TTB held 44 rounds and this could be expanded to 48 or even 60 rounds with minor design changes. All of the ammo was stored in a ready configuration because the crew would be unable to move ammunition from a reserve magazine to the autoloader’s ready magazine (as on the Leclerc for example). The TTB autoloader was extensively tested, and could manage a rate of fire of one round every 12 seconds. Spent case bases or misfired rounds were ejected out a small hatch the back. The autoloader could be supplied through the rear hatch, and also had an unloading mode where it could slowly present rounds for removal. The autoloader weighed about 1,400 lbs. empty.

Some might question the vulnerability of such a design. However, statistically the vast majority of tank hits occur to the turret. Tanks like the T-72, for example, ran into trouble because of the ignition of their unprotected reserve ammunition stowage in the turret, not hits that set off ammunition in their autoloaders. And again, complete isolation from the ammunition should keep the crew relatively safe.

The TTB program was dialed back with the end of the cold war and was finally cancelled in the mid 90s. The autoloader design was used in the M1128 Mobile Gun System version of the Stryker.

As for the TTB prototype, it’s at the National Armor and Cavalry Museum at Fort Benning, and has recently been restored and repainted.

SOCOM, the USMC, and the Glock 19

The Glock 19 is Glock’s “Compact” pistol. It’s got a barrel length of just over four inches, has a height of about five inches, depending on sights, and holds 15 rounds in a magazine. It’s a great compromise between concealability and fightability, since it’s about as small as a pistol can be and still allow the vast majority of adults to get a full grip on the gun. The Glock 19 is a strong seller in the US civilian market, but it is also popular in SOCOM. They’ve even type-classed the Glock 19 Gen4 MOS. And the USMC has just ordered a large number of Glock 19Ms. And all this despite SIG winning the US Army’s Modular Handgun contract.

SOCOM has been the big user of Glock 19s for years in the DoD, so let’s look at them first. They’ve type-classed the Glock 19 Gen4 MOS with threaded barrel as the Mark 27. Type classing assigns a national stock number and makes it easy to order more in the future. SOCOM is a big user of the Glock 19, and this shows an eye towards the future of pistol sights: micro red dot optics. SOCOM’s current pistol red dot of choice is the Leupold Deltapoint Pro. While they could have selected a custom-milled solution, choosing the MOS model gives them something that can be ordered direct from the factory, and it allows them to easily switch optics in the future if desired.

The choice of Deltapoint Pro may be noteworthy, if only because it’s not the RMR that’s so commonly seen for duty-type applications. The RMR has significantly better battery life, and may be a bit tougher than the Deltapoint Pro. The Deltapoint Pro’s larger window makes it a bit easier for shooters to get used to, since there’s a larger area where they can see the dot. The biggest advantage of the Deltapoint Pro is that one can replace the battery without having to remove (and rezero) the optic. This more than makes up for the less than ideal battery life. Batteries can be easily swapped before missions or training sessions, without having to then verify the zero of the optic.

The Marines have opted for the same Glock 19M that the FBI adopted. Of course, the FBI also adopted the Glock 17M, and the reader may be wondering why not that pistol? Let’s consider the intended users. The Marines may espouse the concept of ‘Every Man a Rifleman’ but there are some jobs where this just doesn’t work. Pilots for example. A pistol also gives the option of carrying concealed, which is great for criminal investigators, and those conducting interviews. Or those that need to be around questionable allies. It allows the soldier to be armed without appearing to be armed. So the Marines are coming at it from the same way so many concealed carriers are: the Glock 19 is just about the perfect size. Smallness helps concealment, especially with respect to the “height” or “length” of the grip. And the Glock 19’s grip is about as small as it can be and still allow the user to get a full grip on it (i.e. no fingers are hanging off to be curled below it). The Glock 19 doesn’t give up much to the Glock 17 as far as shootability goes, but it’s quite a bit more concealable. For those who aren’t needing concealment, the pistol is still a secondary weapon system. A smaller, lighter pistol is easier to fit on their gear in a cockpit with all the other stuff they have to carry. Or on their belt for SOCOM.

The reader may also be wondering “Why not the P320 Compact?” Well, the Marines do have a history of working a lot with both SOCOM and the FBI, and they both like Glocks. Also, the MHS program was not as thorough as the FBI’s tests were as far as high round count reliability tests are concerned. The full-size MHS entrants (P320) went through 12,500 rounds to check reliability and establish an MRBS of 2,000 rounds with a 90% confidence level. The compact entrants (P320C) only had to go through 1,500 rounds of evaluation. The FBI tests included 20,000 rounds for each of the full size and compact entrants. So the Glock 19M has verified reliability in a way that the P320C doesn’t.

Avenger II SHORADs

As mentioned earlier, the US Army is concerned with short range air defense systems again. And they’re looking at various versions of COTS systems to fill this need. We’ve looked at the new Bradley SHORAD vehicle. Now, let’s take a look at one based on the Stryker, called the Stryker Mobile SHORAD Launcher (MSL).

stryker msl

What GLDS has done is cut off the back portion of the regular Stryker to make something flatbedded. Then, they added the turret off of the M1095 Avenger and then Boeing modified that turret.

The M1095 Avenger is a 1980s vintage SHORAD system that put a pair of quadruple Stinger launchers on a turret, and mounted the turret on the back of a HMMWV. Putting the turret on the back of a Stryker gives the turret better all-terrain capability, as it matches the mobility of the rest of a Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Crew protection should also be better. On the other hand, it will be more expensive.

Like on the Bradley SHORAD, the newer Avenger turret is more versatile. Options for each side include the regular quadruple Stinger box, a set of launch rails to accommodate four Hellfire missiles, or a set of launch rails to accommodate three AIM-9X Sidewinders. It also has an improved IR imaging system, which has a laser to guide the Hellfire missiles.

As before, there’s no radar. Both of these launch systems will need some degree of external cueing. A lack of radar does keep the cost down. Depending on expected threats and usage, this may or may not be a severe handicap.

One further usage is on the HMMWV successor, the JLTV. You can still mount this newer, multiuse Avenger turret on light tactical trucks like the JLTV, as seen here at the AUSA expo:

JLTV Avenger

This version has an M230 LF gun instead of one of the missile boxes.

US Army Next Generation IFV Prototype Solicitation

The US Army has started looking for a new IFV to replace the Bradley. Again. They’ve requested a couple demonstrator prototypes to play with. Right now, this is a very early assessment, but the US Army has a few requests.

Things that the Army is looking for in the design include a crew of two, capacity for six dismounts, and a 50mm gun. It will be interesting to see what the design team comes up with.

We’ve been here before. Twice. And we failed both times. The Future Combat System and the Ground Combat Vehicle were both failures. Both programs were hugely ambitious. Future Combat System was supposed to be a massive family of vehicles with lots of commonality and lots of advanced fire control and propulsion systems. Ground Combat Vehicle was supposed to be a big IFV with a number of significant improvements, including a variety of high-end electronics, an advanced propulsion system, and a full squad’s worth of dismounts, i.e. 9 men. Both had huge, unsurprising cost overruns, and both times Congress scored dreaded budget kills on the projects.

Six dismounts keeps the size down, which will keep the weight down, which should help keep the cost down. The GCV had an increasing weight spiral as protection requirements and systems kept changing. A crew of two probably indicates an interest in a remote turret system. Unfortunately, this might also indicate some advanced fire control system needs, which would drive cost up. I’m still impressed that Big Army compromised on something like dismount numbers out of the gate.

Overall, we have something that looks very similar to the German Puma. While it’s an expensive IFV, it has excellent protection. And, the General Accountability Office rated it as cheaper for the Army than either the notional GCV or a Namer APC with appropriate US Army electronics. And that didn’t have the desired firepower.1

Speaking of firepower, that might also strike you as something that stands out. A 50mm autocannon would pack some serious punch, both as far as HE Capacity and armor piercing capability. I would expect something like a modernized 50mm Supershot to be the gun of choice, and the US Army is testing something similar.

Going back to the Puma connection for a moment, SAIC is the prime contractor for the prototypes, and they were also the prime contractor in the GCV evaluation with a design that was a substantially reworked Puma. Perhaps the US Army is also a fan of the Puma.

What do I think, keeping in mind that this is a rough sketch? I really like the sketch. Something like the Puma as far as protection and capacity but with a proper gun would be awesome. I’d prefer it with nine dismounts. But I’d prefer a lot of things. I like that they’re starting with something which seems semi-reasonable on the face of it. I want a high standard of protection and survivability, and if I have to accept six dismounts to keep cost reasonable and avoid the total budget kill, so be it.


  1. I can’t really verify GAO’s work on cost estimates, because the GCV and alternatives comparison report doesn’t go through their methodology. However, their Puma cost estimates match up pretty well with the Puma’s price in the Czech IFV competition, once we account for inflation and currency conversions. In light of anything better2, I’ll stick with GAO’s estimates. 
  2. Primary sources or documented estimates, please. Ideally I’d have budget statements, but I haven’t been able to find those for the IDF or the Bundeswehr. As a side note, I have been able to find them for the US Armed Forces as well as the French Armed Forces. Thanks, Lafayette. 

M1 Abrams Gets A Trophy

I’ve commented here that the M1 Abrams should really get a hard-kill active protection system (APS) fitted. And I’ve held that view for years. I have said this to Fishbreath many times. And each time, I’ve pointed to a certain, existing hard-kill APS as my unit of choice. Israel’s Trophy.

Of course, I’m just an armchair strategist. But I’m not the only one saying this. For many years, the US Army had responded to questions on the APS front that they were working on their own American-made design with a number of manufacturers. And that it was going to be better. Faster. Safer for nearer infantry. Etc. Etc. Made here. Well, millions of dollars in research budget and tons of tests later, no dice. Nothing is ready. Nothing has been mounted on an actual tank for any kind of serious testing.

Screw. That.

Kornet missiles and RPG-29s aren’t going to wait in mid flight and have a couple shots of Stoli while you figure this stuff out. And Big Army has finally come around to the fact that maybe the perfect is the enemy of the good enough, and maybe, just maybe, they should hurry up and get something fielded. Maybe from some staunch ally of ours whose tanks are regularly shot at by Russian ATGMs?

Trophy isn’t a perfect system. But it’s available. Today. Right now. And it’s been proven in combat. It has shot down actual missiles. It works. It’s in production. It’s even reasonably priced.

For the low price of just $350,000, let’s see what we get:

M1 Abrams with Trophy front

And another view:
M1 Abrams with Trophy side view

It’s not a perfect mounting. Those sponsons stick out quite a bit. On the plus side, they might be removable for transport, which would be good. And this is way cheaper than tearing apart the turret and mounting them inside. Unfortunately, I don’t know how much they weigh. Oh well. I really don’t care too much about the weight. Clearly it’s vitally important that the Abrams eats more hamburgers and takes the heavyweight title away from the Challenger 2 TES(H). Turret drive and suspension upgrades are probably long overdue anyway.

Bradley Linebacker Return

If you’ll recall from our earlier discussion of Bradley variants, there were a couple of versions that had short-range air defense (SHORAD) capability. One carried eight of the excellent ADATS missiles in a purpose-designed turret with a mechanically-scanned radar and some new optics for sighting the missiles. When ADATS wasn’t procured, an alternative version was chosen. This one simply replaced the normal box launcher for a pair of TOW missiles on the regular Bradley with a box launcher for four Stinger missiles. This version was called the M6 Bradley Linebacker, but the lack of aerial threat led the US Army to return these to the standard Bradley configuration with TOW missiles.

Of course, recent events in the Donbass have reminded everyone that yes, there is a conventional threat out there, and it might have some aircraft or UAVs that need shooting down. And so a new Bradley Linebacker configuration has been proposed by the cool people at BAE. Behold!

bradley linebacker 2-1

bradley linebacker 2-2

Let’s review the changes. Or the changes beyond the regular M2A4 set. The gun has been switched out from the 25x137mm M242 Bushmaster cannon to the 30x113mm M230LF cannon. This provides an airburst fuse option. There are plenty of airburst-capable 30mm rounds, but none in the 25mm caliber. At least not for autocannons.

The quadpack Stinger launcher has returned. Other options available include a twin AGM-114 Hellfire launcher or a twin AIM-9X launcher. And yes, the AGM-114 can be used in an antiair role; it’s simply a matter of pointing the laser or radar guidance at the airborne target. The twin AGM-114 launcher can be seen at the right of the second photo.

We can also see that this vehicle now has its own radar. These are the four round drums on the corners of the turret. This new Bradley will be able to acquire aerial targets on its own. The radars are configured to handle both search and fire control duties. In addition, the new Linebacker 2 can be connected into an air defense network for target cueing.

Finally, we can see a really tall new array of stuff mounted on top of the turret. This is the British Anti UAV Defense System (AUDS). It combines an additional radar optimized for detecting very small targets, an electro-optical system for observation and identification of said targets, and a directional RF jammer for downing UAVs. Additionally, the 30mm airburst rounds should also be very effective against drones.

All in all, it’s a worthy heir to the Linebacker name, and it should be a very effective SHORAD vehicle.

Night Vision Equipment

History is a great thing to learn from. And one of the details that we can look to history for lessons on is the basis of issue: how many of what things a given unit should have. This is often hard to work out without any kind of experience, so let’s look to some troops with experience. The following is based off of notes from Marines in Iraq circa 2003 or so and the related Marine Gunner’s Conference, so some of the equipment may be a little out of date. I’ve noted alternatives where applicable. These marines saw combat and used their equipment heavily. The overall base unit here is a rifle company (182 men), so the numbers for items will be referenced on that basis.

PVS-14 (Night Vision Monocular): These should be issued one per man (182). Monoculars are liked because they allow one eye to remain open for peripheral vision or shooting if another optic is mounted on the weapon. PVS-14s are Gen 3 light amplification devices and are still pretty good. There are alternatives that integrate thermal at present. One other thing noted in the report: helmet mounts are required. The strap mounts aren’t very good, and don’t work well with helmets.

3X Magnifier: None of these were listed on the table, and our veterans differed a little. The 3X magnifier is a useful observational tool, especially in the desert. The panel recommended at least enough magnifiers for stationary gunners and forward observers (40), if not enough to also equip the fire team leaders (67). A handheld magnifier is useful for observing without necessarily orienting one’s weapon toward the target. Note that there are also 6X magnifiers available at present.

PEQ-2 (IR Laser sight): The PEQ-2 is a laser sight to aid in aiming with night vision devices. The findings were that every weapon that could mount a PEQ-2 (i.e. basically everything that wasn’t a pistol) needed a PEQ-2, which works out to 176 units. The PEQ-2 is heavy and bulky. It is outmoded, if not obsolete. Much better choices exist today, including the DBAL, ATPIAL, and the MAWL. The MAWL is best of breed as I write this.

VLI (Visible Light, i.e. flashlight): The standard flashlight, capable of being used in the hand or being mounted on a weapon. The findings were that every rifle needed a light, especially for urban operations. This works out to 134 lights. Additionally, the marines agreed that the VLI itself was too big, too heavy, and needed too many batteries. They requested a smaller, lighter flashlight. The Surefire M600 Scout Light comes to mind as an excellent long gun weaponlight choice today.

If you’re curious about IR illumination for use with night vision devices, there are variants of the M600 (and other flashlights) that can output infrared in addition to white light. Also, many laser sighting units come with a built-in IR illuminator.

PVS-17B (Night Vision Weaponsight): The PVS-17B is a dedicated night vision weaponsight, complete with reticle and 2.5X magnification. This was found to work well on support weapons, including the M-249, AT4, and SMAW. This works out to 39 PVS-17Bs. It was not favored on rifles, because a PVS-14 could be mounted in front of the RCO, giving similar capability for less weight and hassle. The PVS-17B is pretty heavy and bulky. These days, the PVS-22 is often preferred. The PVS-22 is designed to give night vision capability to an existing optical sight rather than replace it like the PVS-17B. However, given that the PVS-17B is also a 3rd Generation light amplification unit, it’s not outmoded.

PAS-13 (Thermal Weapons Sight): The PAS-13 is a thermal imaging weapon sight. The original model was quite heavy and bulky. It was favored by the committee only for machine guns (M-249 and M-240 gunners), which works out to 33 units. The committee did suggest that machine gunners carry both PAS-13 and PVS-17B sights. Since Operation Iraqi Freedom, newer versions of the PAS-13 that are significantly lighter and less bulky have come out. The PAS-13G is even reasonably sized to mount on a rifle.

RCO (ACOG): The Marines RCO of choice is the ACOG. They favor the TA31F, which has the red chevron reticle with fiber optic and tritium illumination and fixed 4X magnification. Marines love ACOGs, and the Gunner’s Committee was no exception. The magnification is very useful for target acquisition, identification, and discrimination. They sought one per rifle, or 134 ACOGs for the company.

IR Beacons: This is a little blinking IR light used for identification. While none were on the allocation table at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, they are very useful for helping identify friendly units and avoid blue-on-blue incidents. The committee figured every fire team and every platoon sergeant should have an IR beacon, which comes to 5 per platoon, or 25 per company.

Laser Boresight System: Not a combat weapon, this is used for boresighting. Duh. It is also useful for boresighting the aforementioned night sights and rocket-type weapons like the SMAW or AT4. Every squad needs to be able to boresight its stuff. They figured 20 boresighters per company would work well.

PEQ-4: This is a powerful IR laser pointer. For pointing while using night sights. It’s powerful and can be distinguished from the PEQ-2 lasers. PEQ-2s aren’t really able to be seen well by vehicles or aircraft if they’re not right on top of the user. The committee recommended 10 per company for platoon leaders, company leaders, and machine gun leaders. The aforementioned laser sights that have replaced the PEQ-2 are also a lot more powerful, and have obviated the need for these.

M-24 Mini Binoculars: Not night vision equipment. These have 7x magnification. Despite having ACOGs on their weapons, squad and team leaders found binoculars to be very flexible and useful. The committee recommended 27 per company.

The committee also realized that the above recommendations are not without their own issues. These devices add quite a bit of weight to the Marine’s rifle. These devices have their own switchology that requires training, require batteries (other than the RCO–ACOGs don’t need batteries), and add maintenance requirements.

The Armored Squad

Like many armchair strategists, I like thinking about questions of organization. And this includes examining some unconventional ideas from history. Today, we have a really neat one: The Armored Squad. For reasons that will become clear shortly, I have also dubbed it the “Super Squad” in conversations with Fishbreath.

This squad idea comes out of World War 2, and the question of tank-infantry cooperation. Tanks and infantry are better together, which leads to questions of how this should be organized in order to promote unit cohesion. Some American units organized into Armored squads, where an M4 Sherman tank was paired with an infantry squad in an M3 half track. This gave a tank, with all the armored firepower that entailed, plus ten dismounted infantry who had their own transport to keep up with the tank. On paper the Sherman had a crew of 5, and the M3 half track had a crew of two: one driver and one machine gunner, so this is a total of 17 men.

This wasn’t an ad-hoc formation; particular tanks and particular squads were paired together for training and were kept together. They ate together. They fought together. In the Hurtgen Forest, the tankers took turns in the foxholes with the infantry, and the dismounted infantry got turns in the vehicles to warm up. Training together meant that infantry and tanks were much more intimately familiar with their respective counterparts’ limitations.

Moving up the organization table, we have five armored squads per platoon, and three such platoons per company. There were three of these tank-infantry companies per “Combat Command”, which is another organizational curiosity of the US Army in the Second World War. In brief a Combat Command was basically a brigade sized unit comprised of companies and platoons. There was no battalion-level organizational structure, and this was thought to increase flexibility. So, in the combat commands in question, there would be three tank-infantry companies plus a host of supporting units.

The advantages are the obvious increase in firepower over a regular mechanized squad, and it provides a tank with much more effective close-in protection than it would have otherwise. The disadvantages are on the logistics side. There’s a much larger fuel burden, plus there are two dissimilar vehicles that need maintenance, which increases the burden for maintenance personnel. Where a normal tank or mechanized infantry company would only have one sort of vehicle to maintain, with one set of spare parts to stock, the tank-infantry company has two.

In combat, the armored squad and associated units built from it were very effective. The 5th Armored Division was organized along this model, and it suffered notably fewer casualties than either 6th or 7th Armored Divisions (which were more conventionally organized), all of which were deployed to the European Theater of Operations at about the same time. 6th Armored went in on July 27th, 5th Armored went in on August 2nd, and 7th Armored went in on August 14th. Each division was deployed for the duration. 6th Armored took 5,194 casualties and lost 196 tanks, 5th Armored took 3,043 casualties and lost 116 tanks, and 7th Armored took 4,781 casualties and lost 360 tanks. Combat situations are, of course, not identical, so we should be careful not to read too much into these numbers. But it might suggest some tactical improvements by putting tanks and infantry together for the duration.

We can also see a very similar organization almost 60 years later. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, aggressive divisions driving on and into Baghdad often organized their forces to combine a pair of Abrams tanks with a pair of Bradleys. The force could fit down most streets with the Abramses in the vanguard. The Bradleys and the dismounts provided effective cover for closer threats, or for higher threats the Abramses couldn’t tackle. The Abrams tanks could also use their guns and fronts to breach buildings, which would then be cleared by the dismounts. Plus, putting the Abrams tanks forward meant that they drew the ambushes, and they were much harder to kill with RPG-7s than Bradleys.

In 1944 and again in 2003, the concept has been proven in combat in a variety of environments. To be sure, there is an increased logistics, maintenance, and training burden. But we made it work in 1944 with a conscript army. So we can make it work now with a professional army from a training standpoint. And if the US Army’s long drives with Abrams tanks have taught us anything, it’s that the correct answer to logistics is more trucks. The TO&E should reflect how we fight. And we should train like we fight.

I really like this organizational setup. I’d probably go with three tank-infantry teams per platoon, and three tank-infantry platoons per company. I’m usually a triangular organization kind of guy.

TO&Es for ’44!

Last time, we looked at the result of the German combat testing of the StG-44, and how they thought it compared to the MG-42. Their conclusions were that the StG-44 was very good, but could not completely replace the MG-42.

I’ve chosen to look at the relevant tables for 1944 because at that point (or at least when the tables were written) the situation wasn’t so desperate as to put economy uber alles. Lots of the ’45 tables do just that. Also, keep in mind this is what the planners envisioned, which wasn’t necessarily what was fielded in great numbers.

The difference we’re interested in happens in the infantry platoons. The previous table had squads of nine men: one leader and eight soldiers. It also had one MG-42, and there was a designated gunner and assistant gunner. The gunner and assistant gunner both also carried P-38 pistols for personal defense. The squad leader had an MP-40, and the other six men had Kar 98ks. Moving up the table, each platoon had three squads. It also had a command element consisting of a platoon leader, two message bearers, and a litter bearer.

For the standard rifle squad, total ammunition allotment (i.e ready and reserve rounds) was as follows:

Member9mm Parabellum Rounds8mm Mauser rounds
Squad Leader1,536
Gunner99
Assistant Gunner993,450
Rifleman 199
Rifleman 299
Rifleman 399
Rifleman 499
Rifleman 599
Rifleman 699

Of course, the assistant gunner’s ammunition was in 50 round belts, often carried in drums, and a good portion of his allotment might be distributed to the rest of the squad or left on any vehicle the platoon might have. The gunner was the one who got to carry the MG-42, of course.

The table of ammunition allotments for the new squad was quite a bit simpler:

Member9mm Parabellum Rounds8mm Mauser rounds8mm Kurz rounds
Squad Leader720
Gunner720
Assistant Gunner720
Rifleman 1720
Rifleman 2720
Rifleman 3720
Rifleman 4720
Rifleman 5720
Rifleman 6720

(I’ve left the titles as-is from the previous table for comparison’s sake, but they don’t quite fit when everyone has an StG-44.)

Readers who are interested in the soldier’s load will note that this is a savings of about 13 lbs over the previous one in terms of total load carried for the entire squad.

The new assault platoon had two such all-StG-44 squads. The third squad contained all of the long range support weapons, including two MG-42s and three rifle grenadiers. This support squad consisted of eight men altogether, including the squad leader. Snipers were concentrated in the company headquarters squad.

This new organization was pretty easy to command, a bonus for the Wehrmacht Heer as its supply of well-trained veteran squad leaders dwindled.

A few more things stand out to me, looking back seventy-odd years later. First is that we could replicate this platoon pretty readily with three IFVs that each have a six mount capacity, if we used the IFVs themselves as a “support squad”. While this would be a small, easily commanded platoon, it does tie the IFVs closely to their dismounts, and perhaps that is not desirable.

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment briefly on what the 1944 tables said about the Panzergrenadiers. Panzergrenadier platoons consisted of three identically-equipped squads. Each squad was made up of ten men, including vehicle driver and assistant/gunner. No StG-44s were assigned at this time. Instead, the eight dismounts had two MG-42s, with a third MG-42 remaining in the halftrack.