Discussion in 'Armor and Armored Fighting Vehicles' started by the_diego, Feb 27, 2019.
In North Africa, that is.
By not being hit...
Some successfully un-hit chaps in Africa, enjoying an 88:
A captured 88 mm in Happy Valley, North Africa, 1942 (c) | Online Collection | National Army Museum, London
With, I think, a pretty succinct assessment of the weapon in that theatre.
Impressive device in many ways, but essentially just another gun, and not one that could easily or quickly leg it.
Mainly in the way that many tactical problems are solved - proper coordination of all arms. Artillery was often the best way to suppress anti-tank guns, but for much of the North African campaign the British failed to effectively cooperate or to bring all their available combat power to bear. Armoured brigades included little if any artillery or infantry, and the British tended to operate by brigades, which often allowed Rommel to chop them up one at a time with the concentrated strength of the Afrika Korps.
The Germans often used 88s or other anti-tank guns like the 50mm in close cooperation with tanks, which could lead the British to assume that the hits they were taking were from tank guns and that the solution was to close with the enemy armor. Sometimes the German tanks would fall back and draw their opponents onto the guns.
One of Montgomery's key reforms was simply to insist that the army fight as a team, which seems like simple common sense but had not been happening up to then. If you look at the orders of battle for Operation Crusader or Gazala, the British had had ample strength, but in the field they too often allowed their units to fight, and be defeated, piecemeal. That was the sort of thing Monty put an end to.
Another factor was the 75mm guns on the Grant and Sherman, which could fire effective high explosive shells. Antitank guns were actually quite vulnerable unless dug in, with only a light, barely bulletproof shield on the front. The 88s used in North Africa, AA models on four-wheeled carriages, also had a high silhouette. HE bombardment from tanks or, better yet, artillery was the way to degrade or defeat them.
p.s. the Italians had a 90mm AA gun similar to the 88 which Rommel used in the same way, for example on the second day at Gazala when British armor threatened to cut off his spearhead.
Once tank cannon became large enough to fire a decent explosive charge the game was pretty well over for towed AT guns. Guderian acknowledged this when he recommended that all AT guns become armored and self-propelled (i.e: stug III). When an AT gun goes off there's a pretty good flash and often an accompanying dust cloud that pinpoints their position. The only thing a PAK-front could do was temporarily hold up an attack, but seldom could it hold out for long. Their only hope was to score at very long range where they might get several shots off before being discovered.
Towed guns still had a role in defense if they could be dug in or camouflaged, as in the Normandy bocage or the Battle of the Bulge, where towed guns, including the 57mm of the infantry, inflicted significant losses on German armored spearheads like Kampfgruppe Peiper. However the towed TDs also suffered heavy losses, which led to the force being made mainly SP.
I think this may have been an overreaction. The loss of guns is traditionally considered a disgrace by artillerymen, and by the time one decided it was time to pull back, it might not be possible to bring up a prime mover to evacuate a heavy gun like the 3"; but would it be so bad to sacrifice a gun if by doing so it could destroy another enemy tank or two? As long as the crew got away and the gun was rendered unusable, it might a worthwhile exchange - all the more so for a material-rich army like the US.
Good point. Don't know if it was communicated to the troops or even considered but looking back trading a 57mm towed gun for any sort of German vehicle was probably worth it. If you could get two the "probably" can be removed.
Of course if you can relocate and do it again it's even better. When and who makes the call is a good question.