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"Increased Protection on German Tanks" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. military report on spaced-armor and improvised armor (sandbags and spare track) on German panzers in North Africa was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 14, Dec. 17, 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


Recent Middle East reports point out that the Germans are taking considerable pains to provide additional protection for their tanks. Thus far, the measures employed for this purpose may conveniently be considered under two main headings, namely, spaced armor and improvised protection.

a. Spaced Armor

More detailed information than that previously submitted on the Mark III tank indicates the extent to which these improvements have gone. The accompanying sketches, based on actual photographs, illustrate typical arrangements of spaced armor on this tank and throw some light on these developments.

Figure 1 illustrates the general appearance of the tank when fitted with spaced-armor; figures 2 and 3 are side views of spaced-armor arrangements on the front superstructure and gun mantlet; and figure 4 is a perspective view with the spaced plate of the gun-mantlet assembly removed.

The arrangement of the spaced armor on the gun mantlet appears to be more or less uniform in all the photographs so far received. In all cases the additional plate on the mantlet is curved, as shown in figure 3, and forms the front wall of a box structure, the rear wall of which is constructed of the 50-mm front shield of the gun mantlet, and the sides, top, and bottom are formed by thin sheet-metal plates arranged as shown in figure 4. In one example recently examined in the Middle East, the additional plate was 20-mm thick and was separated from the mantlet proper by an air space of approximately 120 mm (4.7 inches), the air space being somewhat larger than this at the top and somewhat smaller at the bottom.

The spaced armor on the front superstructure is arranged in at least two different ways, the sides for the air space sometimes closed, and sometimes open.

In this tank, the sides of the space between the front of the superstructure and the additional plate were closed by thin sheet metal, the only purpose of which was apparently to keep out the dust. The additional plate was fixed parallel to the 50-mm front plate of the superstructure, from which it was separated by an air space of 100 mm (3.9 inches). It was 20 mm thick and of machinable quality, Brinell hardness tests giving a figure of about 350 on both sides.

In another tank recently examined in the Middle East, the air space in the front superstructure assembly was open-sided. The space plate, which was again 20 mm thick and of machinable quality, was bolted to angle iron supports at the top and bottom; those at the top were welded to the roof of the superstructure, and those at the bottom, to the front sloping top plate of the hull. In this case the additional plate was arranged at an angle to the basic plate as shown in figure 2; the space at the top measured horizontally 108 mm (4.25 inches), and at the bottom 195 mm (7.68 inches).

[Spaced Armor -- German Mark III Tank]

In every case the additional plate on the front of the superstructure is formed with two openings, one to accommodate the driver's visor and the other for the hull machine gun. It is reported that these openings are such that the fitting of spaced armor does not seriously affect the traverse and elevation of the machine gun and does not in any way impair the driver's vision.

Although, in these two tanks, the additional plate was of machinable quality, a sample from a third tank appeared to be face-hardened, the Brinell value of its front surface being 468, against 359 on its rear surface.

So far, spaced armor has only been reported on the J series Mark III tanks with 50-mm basic frontal armor and the new long 50-mm gun. Since, however, the fitting of spaced armor is probably at present in an experimental stage, it may be found on other models of the Mark III or even on the Mark IV. If it proves a success, it will no doubt be standardized in due course.

b. Improvised Protection

Middle East also reports that German tanks are now frequently provided with improvised additional protection in the form of sand bags attached wherever possible, and lengths of track secured over vulnerable parts. (See Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 13, p. 33).

It is common for some of the sand bags to be arranged on the roof of the superstructure in front of the turret so as to shield the turret joint and the space below the bottom of the gun mantlet, and others around the front and sides of the superstructure. Precautions are taken so as not to obstruct the driver's vision or the free elevation and traverse of the ball-mounted machine gun.

Lengths of track are usually attached across the upper and lower noseplates. They have also been found secured on the front of the superstructure between the driver's visor and the machine gun, as well as draped over the top of the turret and gun mantlet.

The length of track across the lower nose-plate is generally held in position by means of a transverse bar welded to the plate at its ends, while that on the upper nose-plate has been found attached by S hooks to the air inlet cowls of the track brake cooling system.


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