Home > Ftr news > Ensign’s Q&A #23

Man, it’s been a while since the last one of these. Let’s see what’s clogging up the ol’ mailbox.

Q: Several sources state that Soviet tank crews were forbidden from opening their hatches in combat and had to fight while buttoned up, reducing their ability to observe the battlefield. Is this true?

A: Not entirely. TL;DR: Soviet tank crewmen must observe their surroundings with open hatches out of battle. When contact with the enemy is made, they must close the hatches, but may reopen them if the target is lost. In urban combat, hatches must remain closed.

Q: Is it possible to ignite a T-34 by shooting at external gas tanks?

A: External gas tanks were either emptied or removed when entering combat, so their presence would be unlikely. Even if the vehicles were attacked mid-march, the fuel tanks are not connected to the fuel system, and if one catches fire or explodes, it will not destroy the tank.

Q: Do you have any information on reclamation of tanks and weapons? I heard that the Soviets didn’t start cleaning up the battlefields until the 1970s.

A: Soviet recovery teams searched battlefields immediately after the battle for tanks that could be towed back to recovery areas (SPAMs) and either repaired there or sent to back to a factory for refurbishment. However, tanks stuck in forests or swamps that were lost without a trace remained there for ages. Some are still there to this day.

Also, there was a significant drive to recover steel after the war, so it’s unlikely that perfectly good materials would be left for decades. I’ve talked to people that were born in the early 40s, and they recall playing in salvage yards filled with rusted tanks and guns in their childhood, which would put the start of massed recovery efforts into the late 40s or early 50s.

Q: What is a good guide for ranges at which German tanks could penetrate Allied armour?

A: For nice colourful diagrams, there is always the Tigerfibel. For other vehicles, Osprey books have tables of how far tanks have to be from each other to penetrate various parts of their armour, but I haven’t looked into how accurate they are or whose sources they use.

Q: PzIII, PzIV and Panthers had side skirts to protect their side armour. How effective were these modifications?

A: The side skirts protected from only anti-tank rifles, and were ineffective against any cannon caliber. I’ve read reports that the side skirts were extremely unwieldy, especially when driving in wooded areas, and would always get caught on things, but were useful in urban combat.

Q: How is an HE shell’s performance evaluated? I thought that a bigger caliber HE shell would perform better.

A: Effectiveness of shells is evaluated by the amount of lethal shrapnel produced, and how far it flies. Bigger shell does not necessarily mean better HE action. If you put too much explosive in a shell, it will explode into dust, generally having a poor fragmentation effect. Too little, and the shell will crack open into only a few fragments, barely killing anyone at all. A good HE shell has a balance of explosive substance.

The material the shell is made of also matters. American research showed that Soviet HE shells made of cast iron fragment better than American made shells of similar calibers, but are restricted to lower muzzle velocities.

As for the standards of effectiveness, the Soviets define an area of effect as a rectangle in which at least 50% of the targets are struck by lethal shrapnel. The British define this area as an area “on which the average density of throughs and deep strikes on vertical wooden targets is 1 per 10 square feet”. I haven’t come across German or American standards, but even these two show that the evaluation of HE varied from country to country, as did standards for AP penetration.

Q: You mentioned you had a table of ranges at which the T-34 can penetrate a PzIII. Can I see it?

A: Certainly. Digits cut off by the scan are shown as Xes.

Armour component


Angle to vertical

Distance for complete penetration

90 deg. 80 70 60 50 40 30
Upper front plate 40 48 800 800 700 560 370 230 xx
Lower front plate 40 15 1900 1800 1630 1360 1040 720 35x
Turret platform front 50 8 1860 1970 1940 1720 1380 890 50x
Turret front 50 10 1900 1970 1940 1720 1380 890 50x
Upper rear plate 50 5 1800 1940 1940 1760 1380 940 50x
Middle rear plate 50 0 1680 1900 1940 1760 1380 940 50x

That’s enough for today, I suppose. Don’t hesitate to send more questions to tankarchives@gmail.com.

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