AFV Alphabet: N is for Nahuel

DL-43

The Nahuel (“Tiger” in Mapuche, an aboriginal langauge) was an Argentinian World War II medium tank, designed in 1943. Although the design was indigenous, it was influenced by the US M4 Sherman. It was armed with a 75mm gun, with co-axial 12.7mm machine gun, and three hull-mounted 7.65mm machine guns. Its armour was up to 80mm thick, and well sloped. It had a top speed of 25mph and a range of 150 miles.

Production stopped after only sixteen vehicles had been built, as in 1946 Argentina bought cheap M4 Shermans from the US and UK, some of which were the British Firefly variant, mounting 17 pounder guns.

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AFV Alphabet: M is for Maus

Metro-maus1

The Maus was a World War II German tank design, the result of a May 1942 demand from Hitler for an “indestructable” super-heavy tank. Most German generals considered the project a waste of time and resources, but Hitler had something of an obsession with “wonder weapons” of all types. The original plan was that a prototype, weighing around 100 tons, would be ready by mid 1943. In May 1943, a wooden mockup was ready, and presented to Hitler. By this time, the projected weight had increased to 188 tons. Maus’ tracks were driven by electric motors, which in turn were powered by a large diesel engine coupled to an electrical generator.

A turretless prototype was ready by the end of 1943, and tests were carried out with a mock turret. The extreme weight meant that Maus could not cross bridges, and so an alternative solution had to be developed. Its huge size meant that it could ford relatively deep rivers. For others, a snorkel was developed that allowed it to cross rivers up to 45′ (13m) deep – when snorkelling, a second Maus would provide electrical power through a cable. Maus was armed with a 128mm gun, with a 75mm co-axial gun and a 7.92mm machine gun. Speed was only 8.1mph, with a range of 99 miles on roads, dropping to 39 miles off roads.

At the end of the war, the hull of the second prototype was extensively damaged, but the turret was relatively intact. The Soviets fitted the turret from the second prototype to the hull of the first prototype, and carried out testing on this configuration. Once the testing was complete, it was moved to Kubinka Tank Museum, where it is still on public display.

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Commonwealth Day: Britain Did Not “Stand Alone” in 1940

Today is Commonwealth Day. It seems like an appropriate day to remember that Britain didn’t stand alone in 1940. The Commonwealth, and a few other countries, stood with her. So I’m marking the day by re-posting the following:

Seven British empire military personnel in uniform

Lest we forget … that Britain was not alone

On Remembrance Day 2013 I wrote, “I consider Remembrance Day to be a time to remember everyone that has been harmed by war. Any war, any nationality, civilian, military, whatever.

I still believe that, but it occurred to me recently that there is a commonly-held belief that after the fall of France in 1940, Britain alone opposed Nazi Germany. This is a myth. I don’t know where the “Britain stood alone” idea came from, but it seems likely that it comes from Churchill’s famous “Their Finest Hour” speech. However, to his credit, Churchill recognised that there were countries other than Britain fighting Germany. He didn’t speak of Britain fighting alone, he spoke of “Britain and the British Empire”, and the “British Empire and its Commonwealth”. Even that wasn’t quite true, since countries such as Nepal and Oman, which were neither members of the Commonwealth nor parts of the Empire, had declared war against Germany in 1939.

After France surrendered in 1940, Germany was still at war with Britain. They were also at war with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Bahrain, Nepal, Newfoundland, Oman, and Samoa. None of these countries were covered by the British declaration of war, but had made their own distinct declarations during the first weeks of the war. More countries, including India, were covered by the British declaration of war, since they were part of the British Empire.

These countries made very real contributions to the war effort, even before the entry of other countries such as the USSR and USA. In December 1939, HMNZS Achilles, a New Zealand cruiser, was engaged in the Battle of the River Plate, which led to the sinking of the German pocket battleship Graf Spee. New Zealand pilots fought in the Battle of Britain, and an army division served in North Africa. It’s notable that the only man to win the Victoria Cross and Bar during World War II was a New Zealander. The Royal Canadian Air Force made a major contribution to the Battle of Britain, and her navy fought in the Atlantic. Two Indian infantry divisions fought in North Africa. South Africa provided many pilots during the Battle of Britain, and South Africans fought in North Africa.

When people say that “Britain stood alone” against Nazi Germany in 1940, they’re doing a great disservice to the countries, and the many thousands of men, that fought and died alongside the British. Their contribution and their sacrifice deserves to be remembered.

I will remember them. Will you?

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International Women’s Day: Pink is for Girls, the SAS, Spitfire pilots…

Today is International Women’s Day. I’ve decided to mark it by re-posting one of my earlier blog posts, about the unexpected colour of military badassery, as a friend put it.

Pink Panther Land Rover

A “Pink Panther” Land Rover – not just for girls

Recently, I mentioned my AFV Alphabet series of posts to my wife and son, and they asked what I was going to write about next. My reply, “The Carden Loyd tankette“, confused my wife. Thinking she hadn’t heard correctly, I repeated the “Carden Loyd”, but apparently it was the “tankette” label that confused her. As she pointed out, the -ette suffix tends to mean feminine as well as diminutive, and has connotations of soft and fluffy. “It sounds like it should be bright pink, possibly with a bow on top”, said my wife. The Carden Loyd tankette is small, but it’s neither soft nor fluffy. It’s a serious military machine.

This got me thinking. I have a six-year old son and a two-year old daughter. My wife and I are constantly frustrated that the whole world seems to think that our daughter should wear bright pink dresses and play with dolls and toy kitchens, while our son should wear blue and play with trains and cars. Both children play with all those things, and if they enjoy them, why shouldn’t they? Why should pink be a girl’s colour and blue a boy’s colour? When she grows up, my daughter will be able to get a job driving a train, a heavy goods vehicle, or an attack helicopter, so why shouldn’t she play with the toy versions of those things? Equally, my son could become a chef, a nurse, or a care worker, so why not play with dolls and toy kitchens?.

The idea that pink is only suitable for girls is ridiculous, and this becomes even more obvious when you look at the use of the colour pink in the military. Back in WWII, some low-altitude photo reconnaissance Spitfires were painted pink. Apparently it provides effective camouflage against cloud, and given the hazardous nature of the mission, anything that helped the pilot survive was a good thing. Until the 1980s, when the SAS operated in the desert, they painted their Land Rovers pink (they’re still known as “Pink Panthers”, even though the colour scheme has changed), because it was considered an effective camouflage colour. These same Land Rovers bristled with machine guns. Whatever the colour, Pink Panther Land Rovers are neither soft nor fluffy.

Photo: Army pink land rover by Paul brown, via Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

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AFV Alphabet: L is for Light Tank, Marks I to VI

IWM-KID-333-Light-tank-MkIII

Although “light tank” can be a generic term, in this case it refers to the series of light tanks (Marks I to VI) produced by Vickers for the British Army in the inter-war period. I’m not including the Mark VII Tetrarch or Mark VIII Harry Hopkins, as they were significantly different from the earlier versions, and would warrant separate posts.

The Mark I Light Tank was developed from a design by Carden-Loyd, by then part of Vickers-Armstrong. Only about 9 or 10 were built, but experience gained was used in development of the Mark II, and then the Mark III and Mark IV. These first four versions were armed with a single 0.303″ Vickers machine gun, and had around 14mm of armour. The Mark V added a 0.50″ Vickers machine gun, giving the tank some measure of capability against other light tanks, and increased the crew from two to three (commander, gunner, and driver). The additional crewman made this version significantly more effective, since the commander was freed from having to operate the gun and radio.

The Mark VI was the only version produced in significant numbers, with production running to 1,682 vehicles. The Mark VIA and Mark VIB variants had the same armament as the Mark V, but the Mark VIC increased armament again to one 15mm Besa machine gun and one 7.92mm Besa machine gun.

All models saw were widely used for imperial policing duties in the British Empire, particularly India. When war broke out in 1939, more than 80% of the British Army’s tanks were Mark VI Light Tanks. Most tanks used by the BEF during the Battle of France in 1940 were Mark VI Light Tanks, and they made up more than half the tank strength during the battles against the Italians in North Africa during 1940. Mark VI Light Tanks also fought in the battles of Greece and Crete.

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