Main battle tanks deployed as artillery

GoodGuy

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The following is my translation of an excerpt from Johann Huber's book "So war es wirklich - Das letzte Kriegsjahr an der Ostfront" ("That's the way it really was - The last year of the war on the Eastern Front").

Huber, a reserve officer applicant who mainly served as gunner in a Pz.IV, a Jagdpanzer IV and a Jagdpanzer 38 in Courland, in East Prussia, West Prussia and (his last deployment) in the bridgehead Gotenhafen.
The book was written in diary form, detailing (almost) every day of the last three quarters of the last year of the war. Since he was mostly at the very front and in the thick of events, he has a lot to tell.

Johann Huber , page 96 and 97, my notes in "(...)" brackets:

Johann Huber said:
"When the city of Memel was surrounded by the Russians, there was an ammunition shortage. However, plenty of tank HE grenades were found. Therefor 4 Panther tanks were ordered to be deployed in an artilleristic manner. It was a difficult undertaking, since a Panzer did not have the quipment for indirect levelling (or elevation?). Oberleutnant Penselin was tasked with organizing and executing the fire mission, as he - as a former member of a Recon Bn - was trusted to possess the required knowledge.
First, Captain Kortekar from Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 78 and Penselin searched for a suitable firing position at a reverse slope.
After that they first had to determine the exact horizontal position of the tank guns (artilleristic specialist term: "Libelle 300").
An aiming circle on (from) one of the Panthers - which was selected as "roving gun" -

(My explanation: the roving gun was used to zero in and the values/results were then transfered to the other guns in the battery. The Germans used to put the roving gun apart from the battery group, so that - in case the enemy reconnoitered the gun during the zero-in process - only that gun was targeted/destroyed and the main firing position spared.)

was formed right at the level of the gun's core, called core axis (pivot?). Then at the "gun's" basic direction, still at the reverse slope, a pole was driven into the ground and with the aid of the aiming circle the exact horizontal line was transfered to the pole, which matched the center of the gun elevation. Afterwards, the gunners in all (4) Panthers could put their guns into the "basic position" by aiming at a mark carved into the pole (iam guessing that every Panther got its own pole :p).

But how could the values for the fire commands be ascertained? Captain Kortekar and Penselin drove to a FOB of the artillery, who received them with scepticism and also feared that the visit of the two in broad daylight would give away his position.

The roving gun then received a radio order from the FOB: 10 turns (elevation wheel?) barrel up, fire 1 round.
The 3 guys could not see the impact, the shot went too wide. New order: one turn down ! The procedure continued until the impacts could be observed and the distance to the point of impact calculated by looking at the map. The lateral values were determined with the same method.
With this, nothing would keep these 4 Panthers from being deployed in an artillery role.
The fire direction was then executed by that FOB, with for tankers curious commands like "whole battery, HE rounds, 10 shots, single fire, 2 and 1/4 turns left, 3 and 1/2 turns up, FIRE!".
After short familiarization, the firing went well. The FOB was enthusiastic about the accuracy performed by the tank guns. He was not used to such accuracy anymore, with the worn barrels of "his" real artillery batteries. The tank "battery" even received a barrage box (or harassing) fire plan, especially for the night hours. This improvisation helped to strengthen the defensive power of the bridgehead Memel significantly.
These fire missions were quite feared by the Russians, because the shells landed before the gun reports could be heard - due to the high muzzle velocities of the shells- , instead of landing some time after the gun report, which was characteristic for regular artillery fire.
The Russians were always surprised and had no time to get to cover.

During this time, intercepted Russian radio calls prematurely revealed that on a certain day all enemy units in our sector had ordered those soldiers who were earmarked for a decoration to attend an award ceremony at a farm right in front of our sector. Even the exact time was figured out (or learned) by our intelligence branch.
During the course of the next few days our (tank) batteries zero'ed in inconspicuously on the meeting site area. At the key moment, the farm was zapped with a concentrated attack. The award ceremony was terminated (by the tanks), before it had even started.
This case was also an example for what kind of serious consequences the enemy yielded, with his careless radio communication
."


Documents from November 20, 1944, from the General of the Artillery (I am guessing that this is the corresponding position to the General of the Panzertruppen, which was pretty much like an inspector of say the Army nowadays.), discussing "Problems of the assault artillery", also refer to a Führer order that said that all (main battle) tanks can be deployed in an artillery role. After the reference, following sections discuss how this could be implemented with assault guns and what details would have to be improved (to achieve this).

Thomas Anderson, in his book "Kampfpanzer Tiger: Geschichte – Technik – Erfahrungsberichte" (there's an English reprint on Amazon, just called "Tiger"), points out that Tigers could be deployed in an artilleristic fashion, to some extent, but he stresses, that this kind of deployment found very limited use. According to Anderson, the Heavy Bn 503 (schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503) used a special pitch attachment for the gun, which allowed its tanks to fire aimed artillery shots at max. ranges of 8000 meters, during a combat training excercise.

The "Tigerfibel" (the Tiger's field manual, that could be found in every Tiger), encouraged crews to perform high(er) arc shots to bombard static defenses at 3000 - 3400 meters (AT gun positions, MG nests, etc.)

Excerpt from the Army regulation "Leadership and combat of the assault artillery":

"IV. No. 31:
"The 10.5 cm Sturmhaubitze has the same ballistic characteristics and performance as the le. F.H. 18 (light Field Howitzer 18)."

While the following sections do not formulate how (means with what procedure) the gun could be set up to perform artillery missions, and while the regulation does not recommend to employ such assault gun in an artillery role, it is still a hint to let the troops know that such use is feasable.

Part II of the manual "Truppenführung" ("troop management" or "commanding troops") from 1934 states under point 745, that tanks should be deployed as static guns or MG platforms in exceptional situations only.
This led to confusion among researchers, as it did not necessarily mean, that main battle tanks could not be employed in an indirect fire role. Some researchers suggest that this regulation refers to tanks moved to (prepared) fixed positions (dug-in/hull down) on the frontline, as such tanks were supposed to focus on attacking enemy tanks.

Fact sheet 75a/20, the provisional set of rules for the deployment of the Jadgpanther, explicitly prohibits the use as artillery, as it states that:
6. The Jagdpanther is not an AT gun in a fixed position. The tank is unsuitable for safeguard duties.
7. The Jagdpanther is not an artillery on a self-propelled platform.
Firing HE rounds at unarmored targets are only justified if there are no enemy tanks, other heavy weapons are absent or damaged, and if the ammo supply situation allows for using HE.

It seems like either a number of Jagdpanthers had been "misused", or that the leadership tried to prevent the development of "bad habits" from the get-go, hence the leaflet.

Excerpts from war diaries of tank regiments and Bns:

Two examples from the Anzio-Nettuno bridgehead:
  • April 11, 1944 - Several Tigers (schw.Pz.Abt.508) are deployed in an artillery role
    • (Source: Schneider, "Tiger im Kampf I")
  • End of March, 1944:
    Single artillery mission performed by a few Panthers to fake presence of light artillery batteries in the Ardea area
    • (Source: war diary of the 1. Bn, Pz.Rgt.4)

An example near Lublin, Poland:
  • July 22, 1944: Once again, artillery mission, then decampment in the direction of Lublin (Tiger I's of the schw.Pz.Abt.509).
    • (Source: Schneider, "Tiger im Kampf I")

I am not suggesting that the artilleristic deployment of tanks was a standard procedure.
I just found these bits and pieces to be interesting, if not almost amusing.
It also shows how much effort was put into creating regulations and manuals, to either encourage, or prohibit certain behaviours.
 
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The following is my translation of an excerpt from Johann Huber's book "So war es wirklich - Das letzte Kriegsjahr an der Ostfront" ("That's the way it really was - The last year of the war on the Eastern Front").

Huber, a reserve officer applicant who mainly served as gunner in a Pz.IV, a Jagdpanzer IV and a Jagdpanzer 38 in Courland, in East Prussia, West Prussia and (his last deployment) in the bridgehead Gotenhafen.
The book was written in diary form, detailing (almost) every day of the last three quarters of the last year of the war. Since he was mostly at the very front and in the thick of events, he has a lot to tell.

Johann Huber , page 96 and 97, my notes in "(...)" brackets:




Documents from November 20, 1944, from the General of the Artillery (I am guessing that this is the corresponding position to the General of the Panzertruppen, which was pretty much like an inspector of say the Army nowadays.), discussing "Problems of the assault artillery", also refer to a Führer order that said that all (main battle) tanks can be deployed in an artillery role. After the reference, following sections discuss how this could be implemented with assault guns and what details would have to be improved (to achieve this).

Thomas Anderson, in his book "Kampfpanzer Tiger: Geschichte – Technik – Erfahrungsberichte" (there's an English reprint on Amazon, just called "Tiger"), points out that Tigers could be deployed in an artilleristic fashion, to some extent, but he stresses, that this kind of deployment found very limited use. According to Anderson, the Heavy Bn 503 (schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503) used a special pitch attachment for the gun, which allowed its tanks to fire aimed artillery shots at max. ranges of 8000 meters, during a combat training excercise.

The "Tigerfibel" (the Tiger's field manual, that could be found in every Tiger), encouraged crews to perform high(er) arc shots to bombard static defenses at 3000 - 3400 meters (AT gun positions, MG nests, etc.)

Excerpt from the Army regulation "Leadership and combat of the assault artillery":

"IV. No. 31:
"The 10.5 cm Sturmhaubitze has the same ballistic characteristics and performance as the le. F.H. 18 (light Field Howitzer 18)."

While the following sections do not formulate how (means with what procedure) the gun could be set up to perform artillery missions, and while the regulation does not recommend to employ such assault gun in an artillery role, it is still a hint to let the troops know that such use is feasable.

Part II of the manual "Truppenführung" ("troop management" or "commanding troops") from 1934 states under point 745, that tanks should be deployed as static guns or MG platforms in exceptional situations only.
This led to confusion among researchers, as it did not necessarily mean, that main battle tanks could not be employed in an indirect fire role. Some researchers suggest that this regulation refers to tanks moved to (prepared) fixed positions (dug-in/hull down) on the frontline, as such tanks were supposed to focus on attacking enemy tanks.

Fact sheet 75a/20, the provisional set of rules for the deployment of the Jadgpanther, explicitly prohibits the use as artillery, as it states that:
6. The Jagdpanther is not an AT gun in a fixed position. The tank is unsuitable for safeguard duties.
7. The Jagdpanther is not an artillery on a self-propelled platform.
Firing HE rounds at unarmored targets are only justified if there are no enemy tanks, other heavy weapons are absent or damaged, and if the ammo supply situation allows for using HE.

It seems like either a number of Jagdpanthers had been "misused", or that the leadership tried to prevent the development of "bad habits" from the get-go, hence the leaflet.

Excerpts from war diaries of tank regiments and Bns:

Two examples from the Anzio-Nettuno bridgehead:
  • April 11, 1944 - Several Tigers (schw.Pz.Abt.508) are deployed in an artillery role
    • (Source: Schneider, "Tiger im Kampf I")
  • End of March, 1944:
    Single artillery mission performed by a few Panthers to fake presence of light artillery batteries in the Ardea area
    • (Source: war diary of the 1. Bn, Pz.Rgt.4)

An example near Lublin, Poland:
  • July 22, 1944: Once again, artillery mission, then decampment in the direction of Lublin (Tiger I's of the schw.Pz.Abt.509).
    • (Source: Schneider, "Tiger im Kampf I")

I am not suggesting that the artilleristic deployment of tanks was a standard procedure.
I just found these bits and pieces to be interesting, if not almost amusing.
It also shows how much effort was put into creating regulations and manuals, to either encourage, or prohibit certain behaviours.
Today's tanks do have a quasi indirect fire mission included in their operational profile.

As the size of weapons mounted for direct fire from a turret increased to the size of tubes used for indirect fire, the ability to fire non line of sight missions using standard high explosive (rather than high energy shaped charge for armor penetration) was an opportunity that couldn't be passed up.
 

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