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Tanks! Why tank stories make great tech myths

Me again! M Harold Page, but you can call me "Martin" (I use my very fine middle name to differentiate myself from the folk singer and the French YA writer).

I've just published Swords Versus Tanks 1: "Armoured heroes clash across the centuries". It even has a cover quote from Charlie ("Holy ####!").  So now I'm here to shamelessly plug my new book (click through and take a look at the cover... Go on! You know you want to!).

However, you're a sophisticated lot, so call the above "A word from our sponsor" and let me tell you why I think tank stories make great tech myths.

First some examples...

We all know the one about the Panther and the T34. The Panther is the better tank, when the Russian mud hasn't knocked it out, when it doesn't need shipping to Czechoslovakia for repair, when it's not being spammed by cheap and cheerful T34s.

That's a story that ought to be taught to engineers and software developers. Sometimes perfect means "delivered now". It's reputedly the Duke Nukem Forever story, but that's just the most anecdotal example of chasing perfection at the expense of practicality. I'm sure you guys have others.

Then there's the farce of under-gunned early WWII tanks on all sides unable to actually harm each other except by ramming - though, in North Africa, a driver did dismount mid battle and single-handedly capture a squadron of Italian tanks. They had no radios and communicated by runner, so all he had to do was rap on the hatch of each, then point his revolver at the commander... (We'll come to tanks and radios).

The example of the under-gunned tanks is a rich one.

It's a good example of how, when like competes with like, it's all down to strategy and resources. Note how MS Word gradually displaced its very similar rivals. 

It also highlights the need to consider a good range of use cases - do you really expect your tanks not to face other similar tanks? I don't know about you, but I've worked on software that was fine only as long as you adopted the workflow envisaged by the developers. The old RoboHelp, for example, forced you to plan everything top down and didn't leave much room for second thoughts. 

One reason that the tanks were undergunned is that they were shoehorned into old paradigms - the eternal curse of the AFVs, e.g. modern being armour optimized for set piece battles and evolving painfully in contact with asymmetric war.

In 1939, the issue seems to have been twofold:

First, the one we all know. Allied tank doctrine was based around the infantry attack, with the heaviest tanks designed to be deployed in penny packets to support infantry but not fight each other. "We" knew this was a bad idea as far back as the dawn of tank warfare. However, the institutional momentum was on the side of the older arms.

Second, and less well known, tanks were specialised -- Light, Medium (Cruiser), Heavy -- according to a WWI paradigm. This quickly turned out to make no sense on the modern battlefield where the artillery had such a long reach, and where in the chaos, tanks would blunder into situations for which they were not designed, e.g. fighting other tanks.

The lesson is not only that old paradigms have their own momentum due to vested interests, but also that it's hard to see outside the box. It reminds me of what that happened when computers appeared in organisations. The PCs went first to the secretaries, because, after all, computers were just glorified electric type writers. Job conscious secretaries resisted handing over the resulting files, while middle ranking staff resisted aquiring computers, because typing was what secretaries did. In other parts of the same organisation, databases sat on special computers, as did Internet access when it arrived, all because, historically, different activities required different physical spaces - the card index, the mail room... it just made intuitive sense.

Finally, we come to the radios.

Even in 1939, it was common to have only one radio per armoured unit, then communicate by semaphore or runner. This is the military equivalent of the funny little chappy with the red flag scurrying along in front of your automobile. Why so few radios? Perhaps it was hierarchical thinking - radios are for the unit commanders. Perhaps it was a failure of vision - the older heads could not conceive of a fluid warfare where tanks, even if initially massed, could end up operating independently.

The price for the French might well have been their nation. Supposedly, there was a moment when a French tank unit stumbled on a weak flank and the Nazi blitzkrieg could - perhaps - have been brought to an abrupt halt.

Not equipping all your tanks with radios is like letting your teenager go to a party but have to be home at 2230! You might as well save yourself the parental taxi trip (or is that the point? Hmm...).

The obvious Aesop here is "For want of a nail the kingdom was lost..." The less obvious one is that it's rarely enough to tick the boxes.  Remember the Dotcom Boom when everybody was putting up flashy Flash-laden websites and nailing "e" to their business name? I'm sure you tech-savvy denizens of the comment thread have better examples...


I think tanks stories make great tech myths because they are *not* IT stories. You can't dive into the detail to justify people's actions. Nor do they hit hot buttons about operating systems and open source. Better yet, the outcomes are usually both photographable or at least easy to visualise and memorable because, in hindsight, ignoring the tragedies, they are darkly funny.

Of course, there's plenty of dark humour in Swords Versus Tanks 1: "Armoured heroes clash across the centuries". 1930s-style quasi-communists have invaded their own past, not realizing that the magic works. It follows that a knight with a rune-etched sword can take on a tank.  (There's more to it than that, of course. The moderns are not necessarily the bad guys.)

You can download my book from Amazon (UK, US, CA, AU). You can also get Swords Versus Tanks merchandise, including mugs and - I jest you not - shower curtains. (Somebody has already bought pillow slips. Really.)



Do the runes also work on tank gun barrels?


WWII vehicle radios were (and still are, you can buy them on Ebay, search for "No. 19 set" some time) large, heavy, power-hungry, difficult to operate and they broke with monotonous regularity when mounted in vehicles traversing rough country as tanks did. They also required a specially-trained operator to make them work which cut into what the existing three-man crew (commander, gunner, driver) packed into a very small fighting compartment could manage.

Beyond that, netting a group of vehicles, providing a command-and-control system through the radios and allowing a soft fallback when they broke took a lot more training and planning than was readily available back in the early days of WWII. That's before the concept of black operators and jamming (as applied with aircraft later in the war) would be added to the mix.


Now you're spoiling the myth! Next you'll say Santa Claus isn't real.

I got the radios story from Tanks: A Social History. I do take your point about bulk, power and reliability.

However, had interwar tank development been more realistic, wouldn't a higher premium have been put on radios? Perhaps tanks would have been that bit bigger, with more power for the radio and so on.


Do the runes also work on tank gun barrels?

Why don't you read the book and find out..?

Seriously, though, I designed my level killing field with great care.

The runes tend to be specific and traditional, so there isn't a rune you could use to improve the gun's accuracy.

However, the same runes that make the knightly armour bullet proof would also work on the tanks. The snag is, that all rune etching is done in the Rune Isles, an ersatz viking kingdom far in the north across the ocean. So first you'd have to get your tank there.


"...when everybody was putting up flashy Flash-laden websites and nailing "e" to their business name?"

I occasionally wondered whether my idea for a site specializing in selling chewing gum to Northerners might have been profitable:


Or, of course, the story about the Flak-36 crew in Normandy, who were left to hold a narrow pass.

Next day, they reported at HQ, and when asked why they'd left their post replied "We'd run out of ammunition, but the Amis still had Shermans left!"


I think you would have run in to an inverse square problem: making the tanks bigger to accommodate an additional crew member plus the radio plus spare tubes would have meant a lot more weight which would have required a bigger engine which would have needed more fuel, etc....

The internal combustion engine was pretty new when tanks started arriving on the scene. They were advancing rapidly, but their power/weight ratio was nothing like what we have now with Abrams, reactive armor, etc. Not to mention our advances in solid state electronics.

Still, I'd like to see a dragon vs a tank. Their main guns wouldn't elevate enough to effectively engage it and their cupola machine guns would only annoy it and expose the person behind the gun directly to dragon breath.

Sounds like a neat read, I look forward to it!


Like is USian, and pile of dry sticks only?


Which link? I linked the titles to the US Amazon, but provided the other Amazons in brackets.

If you go to and click the big picture of the cover, that should give you your own amazon.


I was thinking interwar era, not WWI. I mean, a few years in and tanks had radios as standard, so the potential was there if people decided to throw money at it.

Nojay - if you're reading this - could the development of radios be speeded up?

Sounds like a neat read, I look forward to it! Thanks! Episode 1 is of course up. Episode 2 to follow in the next couple of weeks - it's all written, just a matter of cop edits and covers.


I think something similar happened at Omaha - except it was the gun barrels overheating.

What was it for Tigers and Shermans? You needed 4, I think, and would lose one. However, resource-wise, the Tiger was worth many many more shermans.


Operation Market Garden suffered from lack of reliable radios. The troops on the ground in and around Arnhem were unable to talk to the units advancing up the roads or to send messages back to England to divert subsequent waves of reinforcements and supplies to alternative landing grounds.


Didn't they drop the valves separately and so lose them, or something similar?

The life lesson is: pack a change of underwear in your hand luggage.

Not sure what the tech one would be?


"The runes tend to be specific and traditional, so there isn't a rune you could use to improve the gun's accuracy." This is why it's always handy to have research wizards. I'd suspect it's not so much that there isn't a rune to improve the accuracy, but that no-one has found the correct one yet. I'd be getting my minions to look at the ones the archers use, and the ones that get carved on the arm of a trebuchet, and try variations of those.


The German military industrial complex got totally suckered by covert Allied sympathizers straight facedly selling the decision makers on ridiculously expensive (but sexy) miracle weapons.

Even the Tiger was a maintenance nightmare. The Germans were hoist by their own self indulgent ideological petard.

As for communications between tanks, I see the expense of early radios, but why didn't they go to the old standby for battle communications: horns? Sure tanks are noisy, but you can make loudspeakers noisy too, and you don't have to unbutton in order to communicate. Sure the coms would have been in the clear, but there could have been rudimentary codes for secure meanings.


"Didn't they drop the valves separately and so lose them"

It's been a while since I read A Bridge Too Far but I think it was a case of flakey equipment and poor propogation conditions though some gear had either gone astray in the drop or been damaged by lithobraking.


Covert Allied Sympathizers? Joke or seriously? Seriously is interesting indeed. Do tell.


Ah yes, you'd think that.

The snag is... well let's just say that the challenges with that kind of thing are part of the story.


Radios were improved during the war -- the classic No. 19 vehicle set was first deployed in 1940. It weighed about 45 kg and took up quite a lot of space. It was, of course, filled with fragile thermionic valves as solid-state was still a few years off. It got tweaked during the war to enhance the tank-to-tank capabilities in low-power VHF but it still had the longer-range AM radio TX/RX capability, something a tank squadron commander needed to contact Division.



So what if, in, say, 1930 somebody had envisioned the new tank warfare and tossed money at radio development?


"well let's just say that the challenges with that kind of thing are part of the story."

That's why research wizards need minions. Disposable, easily replaced minions...


Right. But in this setting the Church has more or less eradicated the magic, except for the runes on knightly war gear. It's a bit like if you, I don't know, had major military budget cuts then suddenly had to fight a war in the middle east.


Ah, or renaming the Magic Research Agency to something with infinitley more Q's than U's in the name, then selling it to someone who promptly moves the good bits to a different jurisdiction and shuts down the rest?

I must stop reading places that talk about books I might like. I have a TBR pile for the first time in 40 years and need to sort out how to flag read status in Calibre


I presume that it would have turned-out nicely then, wouldn't it?


I am cynical, having grown-up on stories of how after the war apparently noöne my father met going circuitously from Leipzig to Paris had ever been a Nazi, but I can't shake the bias toward guessing that it was only after the Allies won that the persons referenced had been covert Allied sympathisers all along boring from within.


Yeah that's about right, and the issue was that North America was turning out 6 Shermans for each Tiger the Germans made.


German pre-WW2 tank design had the huge advantage that the design goals were written on a single sheet of paper by one man, and that man was Heinz Guderian. If said so himself.

British tank doctrine, and hence tank designs was a huge mess. It took years of learning the hard way to get a reliable state of the art medium tank into front line service.

Early war models weren't exactly undergunned. The 2pdr main armament could kill any German or Italian model in service at the time it was introduced. What it couldnt do was engage soft targets with high explosive rounds, a fatal flaw when faced with anti-tank artillery.

There was also a disconnect between tank design and main armament development. As the arms race developed, tank designs sized to carry the compact 2pdr could not easily be modified to the 6pdr. Then as the 17pdr was brought into service as towed artillery....

There's an excellent polemic on the issues with British tanks in WW2, "Death by Design"

Death by Design: Peter Beale: 9780752453705 ...


It's not too big a leap. The Nazis had essentially staged a coup that they convinced themselves was a popular uprising. But they set new standards for setting a high price on compliance. Germans had been a moral people, by and large, and there were many who saw what needed to be done. They absolutely played along and, in whatever walk of life, they took actions that seemed, on the surface, to be fanatically in support of the Nazi agenda. But these actions actually undermined the war effort in ways the self filled Nazi's were blind to. Werner Von Braun was actually suspected of this by the high command, but had his evil boss convinced and thus the V2 program went on. "The V-2 consumed a third of Germany's fuel alcohol production and major portions of other critical technologies: to distil the fuel alcohol for one V-2 launch required 30 tonnes of potatoes at a time when food was becoming scarce. Due to a lack of explosives, concrete was used and sometimes the warhead contained photographic propaganda of German citizens who had died in Allied bombing." For an individual with (1) disdain for the Nazis and (2) a pragmatic temperament, this strategy was twofold, like a fork in chess. If Germany won they would be in good with the winners, suspected only of ardor. If Germany lost, they would have helped bring it down by urging it to spend its resources in wasteful display. In that case they themselves would be hated only by the kinder Allies. They would be either gratified materially or morally, a win-win situation. I don't propose that this complicity was in any way coordinated, especially with the Allies. It was all done through silent understanding, like soft power. Similarly nonviable extremist candidates are often supported politically as a way to sabotage a party from within without looking like anything less than a zealot.


I'm too busy editing to check right now, but I think the tanks not hurting each other incident probably involved light tanks with machine guns.


You could manually add a "read" tag to the book's record? I'm unaware of a canonical method, but I am using an out-of-date version.


That seems about right, particularly the bit about Guderian.


The problem is that "A Bridge Too Far", while well researched, also carries on some simplifications.

The adjutant of the Divisional Signals unit (Lewis Golden) wrote a paper which analysed the communications nets in action during the operation; which ones worked, and which ones didn't. A lot of it was apparently down to operator training; the Artillery nets remained "up" throughout, as I understand it.

Here are two articles which back him up; basically, the failures were in the processes, tactics, and logistics - not in the technology or reliability.

"Assessing the Reasons for Failure: 1st British Airborne Division Signal Communications during Operation Market Garden" - Major John W. Greenacre British Army

"Airborne Communications in Operation Market Garden" - David Bennett


As for communications between tanks, I see the expense of early radios, but why didn't they go to the old standby for battle communications: horns?

Nope, they went for flags. The USSR was still using them all the way through the Cold War; between that and traffic regulators, it's a simple and effective way of conducting movement during radio silence / jamming. Commander stands up in turret of the lead vehicle, and gives signals. If the commander has to get inside the tank and shut the hatch, it's fairly moot point - by definition the enemy knows where you are, so you can start using radios again.

Don't worry about controlling tanks at night, because in WW2 the answer is simple - you didn't try to fight tank battles in the dark. Take a look at the high-power searchlights and night-vision equipment that appeared on 1950s and 1960s tanks (generally a big box on one side of the turret for western vehicles, and a smaller lamp next to the main armament on Soviet vehicles).

Again, this is something levelled against XXX Corps on their move to Arnhem; that they stopped at night. While infantry can carry on in the dark, armour couldn't (driving towards enemy anti-tank guns with your headlights switched on, being hazardous to your health).


If it was a British or Canadian Sherman Firefly, the Tiger to Sherman ratio fell to 1:1

Jagdtiger after being hit by 17 pdr AP shell.

The Israelis put the gun from the AMX-13, and the French 105mm gun in their Shermans, so it was more down to US inflexibility over the Sherman's main gun that was main problem.

And the majority of Wehrmacht tanks weren't either Tiger I or IIs, nor Panthers.

Of course, tanks, like nuclear weapons, are best used against soldiers and civilians that don't have them


Here are two articles which back him up; basically, the failures were in the processes, tactics, and logistics - not in the technology or reliability. Ooh, ta. Tucks them away for later perusal. I've had a radio amateur licence for nearly 40 years now, though inactive for the last 20, so interested in historic use of radio.


It's a joined up system annoyance mostly. Years ago I started writing a book log website, then Goodreads turned up which killed the enthusiasm to develop it further, but I still log most of my reading locally (Goodreads doesn't think anyone ever rereads a book and wants to retain past history) though I need to work out a way to handle stuff that doesn't have an ISBN. Ideally I want my Nook to be able to report back to Calibre or my website, and Calibre to show a last read date. I can dream.


The price for the French might well have been their nation. Supposedly, there was a moment when a French tank unit stumbled on a weak flank and the Nazi blitzkrieg could - perhaps - have been brought to an abrupt halt.

Even if French troops had radios on the frontlines, by the time the situation had got to the high command it would have been too late.

I re-watched 'The World at War' last year (I recommend the original DVD release and not the "remastered" version that crops the footage for widescreen) and was not surprised that telephones were strictly forbidden af HQ, the generals at the top preferring to receive dispatches by messenger...


On the other hand, von Braun pushed for the rockets to be built underground by slave labour, and those underground factories became so horrible that there is a SS report questioning whether they are killing skilled inmates too quickly. Its documented that von Braun visited the camps producing his babies, and that some of his henchmen helped to manage the camps. This website seems decent but books are better


Hey Martin- did anyone in your story attempt a combined arms approach (I noticed in the free sample that your tanks arrived without the benefit of infantry support)? Rune-sword weilders deployed in line ahead of the tanks, and/or in column behind them, supporting each other the way they would have (more or less) back in the 1930's?

I could see the tanks firing at range, say 500 meters, while rune-wielders on foot tried sneaking up on the opposition.


French tanks had several successful engagements with German Panzers in 1940.

It was just the Luftwaffe kept turning up (largely unopposed) and spoiling the fun.

Tank by Patrick Wright 9780571192595 is full of the mythology of armoured warfare.

Polish cavalry on horseback captured several Panzer I and IIs crews, and Goebbels counter-propaganda won again, as it did over Dresden.

During 1941, the country that produced the most tanks was NOT the one that invaded the USSR, but Britain.

(Britain outproduced Germany in terms of tanks every year of the war except 1944, by which time it didn't matter)


Supposedly, there was a moment when a French tank unit stumbled on a weak flank and the Nazi blitzkrieg could - perhaps - have been brought to an abrupt halt.

Could you be remembering the Battle of Arras in 1940?

A sequence of cockups, but 7RTR managed to break up SS-Div Totenkopf, and were stopped eventually by 7 PzDiv, by Erwin Rommel and some retasked 88mm anti-aircraft guns.

I can highly recommend Len Deighton's book "Blood, Tears, and Folly" - it has some detail about the absurd French command and control arrangements. It also notes that the French favoured one-man tank turrets; the commander didn't just direct the tank, or indeed the rest of the tank troop, he also had to load and fire the main armament (this is a three-person job in UK/US tanks, and a two-person job in those French/Russian designs with an autoloader).

To their credit, the British Matilda II and French S35 / B1 tanks were largely immune to German tanks and small/medium anti-tank guns. Most of these allied tanks were casualties due to mines, breakdown, and heavy guns in an anti-tank role.


Harold wrote: First, the one we all know. Allied tank doctrine was based around the infantry attack, with the heaviest tanks designed to be deployed in penny packets to support infantry but not fight each other. "We" knew this was a bad idea as far back as the dawn of tank warfare. However, the institutional momentum was on the side of the older arms.

As other people have pointed out regarding radios, you are looking at the problem from a modern perspective. No we did not know.

In 1918 the Allies won with a mix of many small tanks armed with light automatic weapons and a few larger (and slower) tanks with artillery guns. It worked, so everyone kept using it. German tanks were designed to the same doctrine - in 1939. Small Mark 1 and 2 tanks with automatic weapons were an updated version of the Renault 17, Mark 3 and 4 carried heavier guns but, especially the Mark 4 in 1939, were mobile artillery.

In 1918 the Germans had also been able to fight back against tanks using artillery firing solid shot on a flat trajectory. Right through WW2 the most effective anti-tank weapons were mines and guns lurking in ambush, not other tanks. Post WW2 the guns have largely been replaced by guided missiles.

Tank vs tank battles on a large scale were a new development in WW2. As it turned out, it was important enough for tanks and doctrine to be changed and that has continued to today. But even so, tanks spent most of their time in WW2 doing the same infantry support job as they had in WW1.

The military get slammed for being conservative, but they have to be. If you introduce a new idea in business and it doesn't work, you go broke. If you introduce a new idea in the military and it doesn't work, you and lots of your colleagues may die, your family and friends may die or be conquered, your whole society is at risk.


"Hey Martin- did anyone in your story attempt a combined arms approach (I noticed in the free sample that your tanks arrived without the benefit of infantry support)? Rune-sword weilders deployed in line ahead of the tanks, and/or in column behind them, supporting each other the way they would have (more or less) back in the 1930's?

I could see the tanks firing at range, say 500 meters, while rune-wielders on foot tried sneaking up on the opposition."

The rune guys are the ones carving up the tanks, but the priests who can negate the runes are not to be trusted.

Yes, there are combined arms fights. The initial political problems will eventually be... ironed out. The thing bedevilling the Egality is the politics. They are basically the revolutionaries in Life of Brian but with a big 1920s style army and time machines.

Other workarounds become possible. The moderns aren't stupid. However, it is also a Heroic Fantasy tale, though, so plenty of derring do and Frazetta moments.


I agree about the military's need to be conservative.

However, tank-focussed tactics were demonstrated in WWI, and advocated by the brighter minds.

In the British military at least, there was a track record of pro-cavalry staff trying to game wargames against tanks. They didn't want to test and discover, they wanted to hold onto their martial culture.

That's how people are, I guess.

I heard about a Cavalry regiment in the 1970s in which the officers spent as little time as possible in tanks, and as much as possible on polo ponies.


Anyway, bedtime for me. In case you were wondering, as of right now, Swords Versus Tanks 1 is Number 9 in Amazon's "Hot New Releases In Steampunk Fiction"

Indy publishing is like gate crashing a performance of male strippers and yelling "Look at the size of my tackle". I have therefore been grateful for the well informed and interesting comment thread.

My only complaint is that this would have been more fun over beer.


How romantic are tanks for non-Western Europeans?

I think the attraction of tanks setting forth to battle the enemy for Western Europeans is because it invokes medieval images of knights in battle. In our military history the armoured knights who dominated warfare became cavalry regiments and then today's armoured forces. (Yeah yeah there were centuries when noble cavalry didn't actually matter that much - we ignore those because it doesn't fit into the myth.)

How do Russians, Chinese, Japanese feel about tanks?


heard about a Cavalry regiment in the 1970s in which the officers spent as little time as possible in tanks, and as much as possible on polo ponies

Caveat: I used to live next door to a Cavalry Regiment in the 1970s and early 1980s...

The limiting factor was money. The MoD hasn't always run its logistic support with the greatest of efficiency - given the choice of spending money on fewer tanks and more spare parts, or more tanks and fewer spare parts, you can guess how it went (and by day three of any shooting war against 20 Guards Tank Army, you're going to have rather fewer tanks to share the remaining spares). In 1991, they had to strip Germany of spare parts to put a single Division into the field in Iraq.

Running tanks is also hideously expensive - they wear out quickly. fifty to seventy tons of metal is no small thing to throw around the countryside. It's also why you carry them around the countryside on the back of Tank Transporters; the Mean Miles Before Breakdown is not a huge number.

So; the "big thing" when trying to control BAOR costs in the Cold War was a limitation on track mileage. The Regiment had a budget, and it had to plan its training appropriately (that included the big exercises each summer). It basically means that you aren't driving your tank around every day, because it just isn't affordable; which begs the question "what do you do with your training time". After the vehicle maintenance (because they were held at units, ready to "crash out" if there was an alert) and low level skills training, it meant a chunk of time for Wednesday afternoon sport, and Adventurous Training. That, and the feeling that livers are naughty, and must be punished.

Unsurprisingly, given the history of Cavalry Regiments... having some horses around (at individual rather than taxpayer expense) was an unsurprising outcome.


"Don't worry about controlling tanks at night, because in WW2 the answer is simple - you didn't try to fight tank battles in the dark. "

... except when you did. Montgomery kicked off the (2nd) battle of Alamein with a night attack, admittedly with mixed results.


The British Army has had more horses on charge than tanks for a few decades now - tanks make a real mess of the Mall and the grounds of Buckingham Palace...

Another major factor in limiting tank development in the inter-war period would be the "10 year" rule imposed by the treasury - as war is not foreseeable in the next decade (rolling start point for decade) so very limited budgets for tank design / acquisition. Some interesting design idea come put of this period - the Vickers Independent for example.

For my money, the Soviets love tanks, they are a key symbol of how far the revolution has come in updating russia from the Revolution, only planes are sexier still - by the mid-thirties they have the biggest tank pool in the world. There are a couple of movies on youtube which show how they thought these would be used...

Tankisti - exploits of a light recconnaisance tank and its crew.

My youtube fu can only locate the catchy theme to "If Tomorrow Brings War"...


Arthur C. Clarke has a short but classic story called Superiority about this topic.


Actually, coordinated action with Infantry remains one of the key missions for armored vehicles. And after leaving out the telephone on the back of the vehicle on the M1 (Shave a few dollars off the program cost), they have put them back as part of the Urban Combat upgrade....

I understand the Challengers always had such a fixture.

The phone is hooked to the Vehicle Intercom, so the Infantry can talk to the vehicle crew from cover (behind the tank) and the tank crew can stay buttoned up.

Currently, only the US military is fielding (testing?)a battlefield internet; Putting the equivalent of a smart phone in every soldiers hand (or wrist).


More on Panzers in WWII (another strange attractor); The Panzer I & II were intended as proof of concept training machines; The Panzer III was supposed to be the "Main Battle Tank" armed with .... a 37mm Gun. (Panzer IIIE in France, some still in service for Barbarossa in 1941).

It sounds like the British WERE investing in the communications technologies, or they would not have had the "Classic No.19" set entering production in 1940. Most of the Panzers (even in 1941?) probably only had receive only Radio Sets, only the Platoon leader (thru 1941) having full two way capability. This is one of those cases where it is very hard to pin down actual capabilities from the secondary literature, and not sexy enough to draw much academic interest.

The Allies were fortunate that when America was first planning for mass production of Tanks in late 1940 and 1941, there was British Purchasing Commission prepared to share their experiences in France; Thus the (Fortunate) initial emphasis on the Lee/Grant, and the ability to replace it in production with the Sherman.

See David Fletcher, the Great Tank Scandal.

It's more complex than simple Treasury Cheese Paring.


Although that one also gets richer when you look at it closely. There is an old narrative which builds on Plan 1919, the handful of "tank advocates" in the UK in the 1930s, and the German conquests of 1939-1941 to tell a story about wise prophets being ignored leading to disaster. For a few decades now people have been asking whether the allies would have had the equipment to implement that plan in 1919, whether rushing limited resources into armour before they could afford enough motor vehicles and before the technolgies were mature would have been prudent for Britain, and that while Sturmtruppen and Blitzkriege have glamour, both World Wars were won by methodical planned offensives where the armour and air forces supported the infantry and artillery.


The story I heard was that the officers affected to hate the tanks, and didn't spend much time with their crews either.


"I think the attraction of tanks setting forth to battle the enemy for Western Europeans is because it invokes medieval images of knights in battle."

Possibly. For me it's two fold.

With my grown up hat on, I remember my grandfather's missing kneecap, courtesy of a German shell circa 1916. A WWI tank feels like a water in the desert, some escape from the madness (whatever the tactical necessity was).

With my overgrown schoolboy hat on: Tanks! Rah!


Did Goebbels pro-actively invent the story or did he just take advantage of an Italian journalist's over-active imagination?

There's got to be a joke in here somewhere: 1939 vanity tag: my other horse is a motorized anti-tank gun.


Ah, yes. You could set your website up as Calibre's sole metadata source, forward on the actual metadata query and maintain a UID/read pair? Which is basically reproducing a chunk of Calibre functionality for very little net benefit. Oh, for open systems that actually interoperate.


"Actually, coordinated action with Infantry remains one of the key missions for armored vehicles."

And always has been, right from the word go. Cambrai: tanks trundled off into the wide blue yonder while infantry couldn't keep up and so what ground was gained was immediately lost again.

Indeed, lack of tactical coordination is probably the most pervasive theme when it comes to analysing "stuff that went wrong in WW1", right the way through. Once an attack was launched any communication between troops and command, or between individual units, was highly unreliable and limited to a few bits per hour in any case. (Pigeons were the best for capacity, but unidirectional.) So as soon as what actually happened began to deviate from what had been planned out beforehand, which only took a few minutes at most, everything started to fall apart and there was no way to put it back together. My personal choice for the standard "take an item of technology back in time and change the course of a conflict" scenario would be taking walkie-talkies back to WW1.


Wasn't Maj. Gen. J. F. C. Fuller (of Fuller Memorandum fame) big on tank tactics and tanks? FWIW & IIRC a friend of my dad who worked on tank radio design during WWII said one of the major problems was the sheer volume of background noise in the tank, which didn't help with verbal radio commands. Always seemed a bit odd to me...


"Fury" was an awesome movie. Does everyone agree that "Fury" was an awesome movie? And "Inglorious Basterds" as well. Brad Pitt in WW2 just rocks. Also if you haven't seen "Kelly's Heroes" that was a favorite of mine. "I don't fix 'em, I just drive 'em."


Liddell Hart and J. F. C. Fuller both had considerable influence on German WWII tank strategy

Defeat tends to make one open to new ideas while victory tends to solidify the old ones. Humans are funny that way

Radio was a very important technology that was getting plenty of money thrown at it in the 30's. It spawned an entire dependent industry that moved pretty fast. "Throwing money" at it would not have helped


That's not how I recall reading about Cambrai. The ground was lost when the Germans counter attacked the next couple of days in overwhelming force, it sucked in several divisions of their reserve troops, but the allies hadn't prepared for such an assault.


Some of my best friends are tank commanders...

Cavalry officers affect a lot of things. Red trousers, floppy hair, Golf GTi or similar, and annoying accents :) Yeomanry officers are the same, but try even harder to act the part :)

In reality, under the affectations, you will generally find some quite capable types. You don't climb into a small metal box with three other people for a week, and not get to know them (and they you) rather well. They may refer to them as "Panzers", and pretend that they don't know how they work, but don't mistake that for incompetence. There's no space for a passenger in a four-person crew; and not a few young officers have had the reality of their error pointed out to them by their Sergeant. Possibly even (for the more deserving) with "punctuation"...


I was hoping to see the story of tanks continued to post-WWII, because I find that to be the interesting part.

In the Cold War, the West and the East built up huge collections of thousands of ever heavier tanks culminated in the West with the M1A at 72 tons each - too heavy to deliver by C-130, too heavy to cross European rail bridges or civilian road bridges, too wide to drive down narrow streets in urban areas unobstructed or through narrow mountain passes. Vietnam established that the tank was far less effective in the jungle than it was on the plains or in deserts.

The decisive moment was the Gulf War in 1991 when we learned that anti-tank missiles on AFVs, missiles on helicopters, and missiles on A-10 FGAs were all better at killing enemy tanks than the tanks were at killing them. Some enemy tanks were killed by friendly tanks, but they made only a modest share of the total kills, and the tech that favors aircraft based missiles relative to slow moving bullet throwing tanks has only accentuated the trend that was made obvious ten. High accuracy missiles made mobility more important than passive defensive armor. Aircraft and missiles were established as the best way to engage enemy tanks.

As a result, the tank has been restored to the role it was envisioned for pre-WWII, as an asymmetric superior opponent to infantry and mechanized infantry that is impervious to mines and small arms and has the firepower to take down fortifications. Tank v. tank warfare is now almost entirely the stuff of war games and not plausible real life conflict scenarios.

In the wake of the Gulf War and the conflicts that followed, the former Warsaw Pact countries and the U.S. have dramatically reduced their compliment of tanks, retiring or putting in inactive storage something like 80%-90% of them. Bradleys, Strykers, amphibious AFVs and MRAPs (basically heavier and lighter AFVs) predominate over tanks now in the part of the U.S. military likely to be deployed anywhere on short to medium notice. Some of the latest tanks such as a new one designed by South Korea are lighter than the M1A, and the U.S. Army abandoned an effort to build a next generation tank a few years ago.


1) Tanks are our modern cavalry. I am still fond of the Haunted Tank comic books from the 1960s, even if the ghost was that of the traitor JEB Stuart.

2) Radio transmission was a real power sink until the transistor came out. Boston was one of the first cities with radio police cars in the 1930s, and officers wanting to transmit had to race their car's engine to get enough power to call in.

3) Actually, tanks really aren't like cavalry any more. They are really only useful working with infantry. There is a recent Youtube video of an ISIS tank wandering through a Kurdish city with various folks popping up and skulking after the tank as it passes down the street. It's rather obvious that the guy recording the video is just standing out there in the middle of the street after the tank has passed. The tank was destroyed by an RPG shortly after. Think of an RPG as an enchanted sword if you ever want to be a tank hunter, assuming the tank lacks infantry.


Recent (as in Gulf parts 1 and 2) tank(er) history and biography says that USian and UKian tanks were used primarily as direct fire artillery against infantry units rather than in "tank battles", to the extent that some UKian units were carrying only HE and HESH, and no APDSFS rounds.

Accordingly, it's not particularly surprising that most "red" tank kills were achieved by anti-armour missiles or LGBs.


1991 didn't IMHO prove what you suggest. You could argue that it showed the lessons of 1940 and 1944/45; if you fight without air superiority, you lose. Badly.

Take, for instance, the A-10; can't operate in anything other than a benign environment (hence it being scrapped). The AH-64 was held back from Kosovo in 1999 for the same reason; a proper air defence network will chew up both types. Look at the results of an anti-helicopter ambush in Iraq in 2003 or so; the US Army had a large number taken out of action, even if they weren't destroyed. Look at the number of tanks actually destroyed by NATO air forces in Kosovo prior to the Serbian withdrawal - heavy use of decoys and camouflage, ISTR the number was one, the ultimate "single figure"...

Compare it with more evenly matched conflicts; Georgia, the Ukraine. Tank on tank, operating as part of a combined arms operation. Even peacekeeping in Bosnia (look up Operation Bollebank, the Danes in white tanks taking on the Serbs in Green ones). As ever, it's swings and roundabouts. The armies backed by credible air power are still using armoured vehicles (although we British have managed our tank fleet with stunning incompetence - haven't spent enough in staying ahead of obsolescence, and as a result are now left without the money or industrial base to upgrade or replace them; the next British tank is likely to be the Leopard 3 in about a decade or so).

Frankly, they're sodding terrifying. Having seventy tons go thundering past you on exercise alone, is scary. A well laid obstacle plan, mines, concealed flank positions for the ATGMs, and a nicely-timed fire plan so that they don't know what hit them... You can't tell I was learning to be an infantryman, can you?


WW1 was most certainly not an example of a lack of tactical coordination "right the way through". Go and look up the "Last Hundred Days" - the Commonwealth Armies were hit hard, pushed back, and then held the March 1918 offensive of Operation MICHAEL. Two months later they showed how it should be done, when they broke through successive German lines, and advanced towards the German border as fast as they did in 1945. It just took two years to train up a British Army of four million men while fighting a World War...

The Armistice didn't happen because both sides wore each other out; it happened because the German Army had just been utterly defeated in the field, and Germany sued for peace rather than be invaded.


" A well laid obstacle plan, mines, concealed flank positions for the ATGMs, and a nicely-timed fire plan so that they don't know what hit them..."

Tanks, like submarines benefit from aggressive "drivers" who will push them through a defensive screen and get into the Other Side's ill-prepared backfield. That means having the infantry supporting the armoured spearhead being aggressive too, not something most infantry commanders are trained for. Defence is their bag, working with a well laid obstacle plan, mines, concealed flank positions for the ATGMs, nicely-timed fire plans and the like which don't mean a lot when the armour is five kilometres behind you and on a road race to Brest.

I wonder what happened to the new-school armour proponents who were talking up lighter wheeled replacements for the MBT? I saw some nice pictures of mockups and prototypes of 40-45 tonne air-transportable vehicles with 120mm direct-fire main guns and 6 or 8 independently driven wheels -- at least one design had a gas turbine generator powering individual electric drive motors, an interesting conceit borrowed from modern Naval technology. The two-man crew (commander/gunner, driver) sat in individual compartments, everything else was automated up the wazoo. One major advantage to such designs was that they were very low to the ground making them more concealable on the basis that in a modern war if you can be seen you will be killed.


... Heavy use of "Movement light" (point searchlights at the cloud base to produce twilight) not to mention illuminant rounds fired by the artillery, the use of tracer on fixed and pre-planned lines to indicate direction, etc.

Look up the total tank strength of the DAK immediately prior to El Alamein, I think you'll be surprised how small the number was. As the apocryphal Russian once put it, "A big tank battle? How many Army Groups were engaged?"


I wouldn't call Armoured Infantry "unaggressive" - they train very hard for it... And aggressively.

As for medium armour and wheeled vehicles, the Laws of Physics have so far defeated all attempts by PowerPoint to defeat them, no matter how cool the pictures and graphics. Centauro has for the most part a 105mm gun, as does Stryker MGS. Rooikat has a smaller gun... Sticking a full-power 120mm smoothbore gun, and letting fly with 10MJ on a twenty-ton vehicle will make it "bounce around somewhat".


"Take, for instance, the A-10; can't operate in anything other than a benign environment (hence it being scrapped)."

The A-10 is the most heavily armored and robust in the face of hostile fire aircraft in military service anywhere in the world today. It is a ground attack fighter designed for close air support where hostile forces on the ground are firing back, and the Air Force is trying to scrap it because close air support is a mission that the Air Force isn't interested in having in its portfolio since it benefits another military service (and because guided munitions and how powered optics make it less necessary to get within anti-aircraft weapon range).

"The AH-64 was held back from Kosovo in 1999 for the same reason; a proper air defence network will chew up both types. Look at the results of an anti-helicopter ambush in Iraq in 2003 or so; the US Army had a large number taken out of action, even if they weren't destroyed."

This speaks to the foolishness of using helicopters to do the job of fixed wing close air support aircraft, since helicopters are much less robust in the face of damage from enemy fire and much more prone to mechanical failure due to lack of maintenance because they are so much more complex.

"Look at the number of tanks actually destroyed by NATO air forces in Kosovo prior to the Serbian withdrawal - heavy use of decoys and camouflage, ISTR the number was one, the ultimate "single figure"..."

Another reading of that situation is that the Serbians withdrew immediately once anti-air defenses were compromised and the tanks had become sitting ducks.

"Compare it with more evenly matched conflicts; Georgia, the Ukraine. Tank on tank, operating as part of a combined arms operation."

While tanks have been used by both sides against infantry in particular engagements in both the Ukraine war and in the roughly one week long Russo-Georgian War, there has been only one tank on tank battle in the entire war in Ukraine (the Battle of Yampil on June 19, 2014) (in which a cease fire has been in place since February 2015), and there was not a single tank on tank battle in the entire war in Georgia. Artillery, IED, RPG and ground attack aircraft attacks on tanks were all far more common.


"Sticking a full-power 120mm smoothbore gun, and letting fly with 10MJ on a twenty-ton vehicle will make it "bounce around somewhat"."

Recoil handling has come a long way, even from the days of WWII Heinkels armed with 15" low-velocity cannons and it's probably something that could be worked on. Besides the wheeled-MBT concepts I was talking about weigh in at 35-45 tonnes with much heavier composite armour than the 20-tonne scout/destroyer armoured vehicles you mentioned. The extra mass helps cope with the shock of firing a 120mm gun.

The reduced crewing and full automation of the gun in these wheeled MBT concepts is only a step towards an uncrewed and remotely piloted "drone" tank. How it would actually work in a real fight is another matter.


The A-10 is still a plane and can't be armoured enough to survive in a modern AA defensive zone. It's OK for stomping wogs with no C&C or radars armed with heavy machine guns in the back of technicals at best but its original raison d'etre, shooting up medium armour (BMPs and the like) and other vehicles in a West German battlefield is long gone.

Frankly it's a dog's breakfast of a plane and if wog-stomping is going to be a permanent part of the US Global Domination strategy then it would probably be best to build a new airframe to do the job without that anti-armour Dick-Waving Exercise of a gun weighting it down. Lots of stand-off Hellfire and Maverick missiles to provide stand-off support well outside return fire range, extensive comms and sensors so it can uplink and downlnk to the grunts on the ground properly and avoid all those embarrassing friendly-fire incidents it's been famous for in the past, long stooge times to keep it on station so it can be there when it's needed and not an hour out somewhere else. Cheap would help, disposable would be useful. And so the Reaper is born...


The Armistice didn't happen because both sides wore each other out; it happened because the German Army had just been utterly defeated in the field, and Germany sued for peace rather than be invaded.

I suspect that Germany running out of food didn't help their cause any either.

I've read / seen in several places that the hulking, slow, poorly designed, barely usable tanks from the UK at the end of the war helped push the allies over to the win. As poor as they were they allowed the allies to cross the German trenches for the first time in years. And stay. And having something like 4000 to the German's 20 or so was a big advantage.


This blog is like the opposite of youtube comments; everyone knows what they're talking about and can reference their claims.

It's too early for that.

Harold. I'm currently plowing through Blackout/All clear and it's a slog. I want something that keeps me entertained and occasionally giggling without too much effort. Will your book do that?

I assume it will be good. I generally buy anything plugged by Charlie or his guest bloggers, and I have yet to be disappointed.


Ah, you see you're phrasing it wrongly. The tanks were in fact large and scary, the large ones moving at the right speed to shelter the infantry, the small ones moving like lightning and causing fear and mayhem behind the lines (Look up the Whippet tanks); they were sufficiently well designed and effective that by August 1918 they were the key to destroying the German lines.

Other big advantages the Allies had were numbers, more food etc.

The GErmans went down one route, which in spring 1918 could almost if everything had gone well and the generals known what they were doing, helped them win. That was infiltration by stormtroopers, allied with artillery etc. That enabled them to break into and through the allied lines. However their pushes ran out of steam over time. Liddell-Hart wrote that what helped them run out of steam, apart from the difficulty of marching for day after day after day with little support (Obviously the top brass hadn't learnt much from 1914) was that they found the well stocked back areas of the allies and drank a lot of wine and alcohol and gorged themselves on the food, which caused their forward march to stop for a while.


This is why it's always handy to have research wizards.

The thing about fantasy, which distinguishes it from science fiction, is that there's little original research. There may be exegesis, or other ways of rediscovering what was lost and previously known in some former golden age, but nothing truly new, no one is discovering new things — the milieu inhibits it, it's simply not how things are done.

If the golden age never came up against tanks, no amount of exegesis will conjure up the knowledge.


A current Japanese manga/anime, "Gate" has a modern multi-arm military organisation in the form of the Japanese Self Defense Forces come up against a classic fantasy Empire complete with wyverns, orcs and magic users. The result is so one-sided it's almost not funny.

Lelei, one of the magic users gets to spend some time shopping in downtown Tokyo and returns to her world laden down with science books and a laptop to become that world's first true "scientific wizard".

from 6:44 onwards.


The reason guns and cars aren't used in worlds with magic isn't because technology doesn't work, it's because complicated tech is ludicrously easy to disable with even the lowest level magic.


The A-10 will live longer in a contested environment than anything else trying to do the same job. Yes it's old and fugly, but I'd want to see an actual, realistic replacement before it's retired, and I haven't seen such yet. I'm also remembering an anecdote of what F-5s would do to F-15s, once they ran out of missiles... good for them it was just a game.


(Puts Radio hat on and has a think.)

During WW1 there was a lot of rapid technological advance, Artillery started using indirect fire (requiring accurate mapping and aerial survey - not easy with biplanes), the whole field of Artillery Location was created, beginning with Flash Spotting (to locate the enemy artillery by their muzzle flash) and moving on to Sound Ranging, using the low pressure waves from the muzzle blast). By the end of WW1 this had become so accurate (and fast) that the Germans prohibited any use of individual artillery - they had to use multiple guns firing nearly simultaneously - because the Allied counter battery guns would be returning accurate fire before the German shells had landed. (Several seconds, see "indirect fire".)

Tank communication in WW1 began with semaphore (movable arms on the tank top and flags), almost certainly the daylight signalling lamp, and carrier pigeon (rotate the gun fully to the rear and there's a port in the armour through which you could release a pigeon). There were experiments with spark transmitters (the MA, MB and MC sets).

At the end of WW1, development didn't quite stop, but was reduced to a bare minimum. The Artillery Location development effectively ceased, and Wireless was reduced to effectively prototype and small scale trials sets. There simply wasn't any money available.

Eventually (re-armament), things got moving again, and the "power rating" wireless sets (20 watt set, 250 Watt Set, etc.) from WW1 were superseded by the "letter" sets, beginning with "A" for the set closest to the enemy and proceeding along the alphabet the further away from the forward troops it was used. This was revised in 1929 with the policy of having the "numbered" range, initially of six sets, as follows:

Short Range, Brigade/Battery/R.A. Brigade set. (No.1 Set) Short Range, Division/Brigade set (No.2 set) Medium Range, Corps/Division set. (No.3 set) Medium/Long range, GHQ/Corps set. (No.4 set)
Long Range, Base/GHQ set (No.5 set) World-wide Army Chain (No.6) set

(There were two No.6 sets built, installed at Aldershot and Hong Kong. )

In the late 1930s, new requirements led to:

No.7 set (interim AFV set to replace the signalling lamp in tanks) No.8 set (Infantry battalion manpack set) No.9 set (AFV set)

Also, new versions of the "role" set would be denoted by a preceding digit.

In 1948 they had to change the nomenclature system again, partly due to role changes but also because they were running out of numbers - the No.8 set had spawned the 18,28,48,58,68 manpack sets and the smaller 38, 78 and 88 platoon/section radios.

Back to WW2. The W.S.7 had been developed in 1933 and 50 sets were ordered for 1936 - production proved difficult and only a few sets were delivered. It was not very successful and the best features were incorporated in the design of the W.S.9.

The W.S.9 was huge, heavy and power-hungry (17 x 43 x 13 inches, 230 lb, 12 Volts @ 30 Amps on transmit) and was very difficult to fit into armoured vehicles

The W.S.19 specification was issued in December 1937 but little was done on it until early 1939. Pye Radio Ltd produced a set that was easier and cheaper to produce but did not come close to meeting the War Office specifications. Pye's designe was selected on the basis of trials and delivery began in 1941. It combined the long range set (though lower power than the No.9) with the VHF W.S.24 for inter-tank communication, and an intercom for use by the tank crew (now all wearing headsets which cut down on the noise level somewhat - the W.S.9 used loudspeakers inside the tank).

It was much smaller than the W.S.9 (24" x 8.5" x 12.5"), lighter (70 lb.) and had a third of the power consumption. It could be mass-produced on production lines unlike earlier sets, and after initial problems with faulty components went on to be a great success. (Despite complaints that the 'B' (VHF set for inter-tank comms) was useless and it was better to open a hatch and shout. Someone always complains, and it was only intended to have 300 - 1000 yards range in open country.) Manufacture was spread around, and the sets were built in the UK, Canada, the USA and Australia. It remained in service into the 1960s (possibly later in India).

Where were we?


Keith Laumer...


Referring, of course, to the BOLO series. Almost any endeavor can be made entertaining, but at the time we needed people in tanks to man the Fulda gap. Which had nuclear claymores under it, so we didn't really need them, except to lead chase.


The Reaper and similar unmanned drones can do most of the A-10's job better today and without putting a pilot's life at risk. In extremis they can be sent into contested and well-defended airspace and expended in order to complete a fire support mission. For an A-10 that's what's called a "suicide" mission.

There are manned replacements for the A-10 already being developed; see the Airland Scorpion for an example. It's a two-seater -- the A-10 had problems with the single-pilot workload of flying low and avoiding threats while trying to sort out friends and foes and this has resulted in numerous blue-on-blues in the A-10's chequered history. A back-seat ordnance and comms operator would be very useful for such a role. There are other off-the-shelf possibilities such as the Tucano; a ground-attack aircraft doesn't need to be fast, after all.


Well, the "Last Hundred Days" of a four-year war is only a little bit of it :) The German forces (helped by the increase in numbers arising from the collapse of the Eastern front) achieved a massive success at first but it then ground to a halt as their supply lines became overstretched - having to cart everything across the belt which had been so devastated in the preceding years of fighting not being any help. At around the same time the state of the Entente forces began to greatly improve as the massive influx of troops and supplies from across the Atlantic finally began to get properly into gear. Germany's position on the other hand was getting steadily worse and they remained undersupplied even as they were pushed back, their problem shifting from moving supplies to the front to simply not having them in the first place. Then their morale began to collapse as it became generally realised that while they might be near starving the other side had plenty of food, with instances of large groups surrendering simply so that they would get fed. Had it not been possible to so effectively deny Germany access to external resources things might have been very different. To cut it down to the bare bones, the war ended because one side had exhausted its resources while the other side was still getting plenty.

If you look at more or less any account of any action from the static period that describes it from the point of view of individual units on the ground, the common thread of lack of communication and coordination stands out like a beacon. It was almost impossible for any group to adapt its actions according to the situation of neighbouring groups because there was no way for the officers to keep track of what that situation was. What began as a coordinated action on a continuous stretch of front devolved, sometimes within minutes, into what amounted to a whole set of individual actions taking place in the same general area, as different groups each attempted to reach their predetermined objective with wildly varying levels of success. There was no way for the command to redefine objectives according to the changing situation. Some might become practically unobtainable because they turned out to be much more heavily defended than anyone had thought, or because half the units detailed to attack them had been wiped out long before they got anywhere near. Some units might encounter unexpectedly little resistance, but could not exploit the advantages of their situation because there was no way to obtain the necessary support, and so many opportunities for a breakthrough were thrown away. Objectives that were attained could often only be weakly held. The attacking side ended up transforming its situation from a strongly-held line to a mass of weakly-held points that nobody had a handle on. It took much less time for the opposing side to muster a counterattack than it did for the attacking side to work out exactly what had happened and get some order out of it, and so most of the gains would be lost until the counterattack had pushed back far enough to compress the retreating units back into a reasonably continuous front again.

Attacks lost cohesion very quickly because they did not have communications with high enough bandwidth and low enough latency to maintain it. Wired telephones were only useful in a static situation. Visual communications had very low bit rate and extremely limited range. Pigeons, if available, could transmit reasonable amounts of information to command, but there was no reliable and effective way for command to transmit back new orders based on that information. Runners would get shot, get lost, or take so long to get through that the information they carried was no longer relevant. And so on. The availability of practical portable radios would have made a major difference.

WW1 and fantasy: "everyone knows" that Tolkien fought in WW1 and the horror of the Dead Marshes is taken from WW1 battlefields. But something which seems to be largely overlooked is the influence of what he actually did: he was a communications officer. He would have been familiar with the deficiencies and security failings of WW1 field telephones. And it is interesting that the palantir network to a large extent shares in these deficiencies.


You seem to know a lot about the history of military radio. Do you have any information about the use of frequency hopping by the Germans in WW1?


Sorry, no. By way of an informed opinion, try reading this one from a serving RAF controller...

Grunts of the Air - the A-10 film the USAF wanted to suppress

It was fine in the 1970s, not so ideal now.


A ground-attack aircraft needs some fairly hefty sensors to cue its weapons, and good nav / all weather systems. It needs decent hammers and warning receivers. It needs to be able to travel to the CAS location quickly when needed, and fast enough to escape afterwards. It needs good situational awareness, decent communications. It needs well-trained aircrew and maintainers.

Once you've paid for all that hardware, it makes sense to pay a bit extra to have something a bit sleek and fast rather than fractionally cheaper and inadequate. As the professional said, it needs at least two out of three of decent kinematics / low observability / good EW.

CAS is a mission, not an aircraft...


Don't knock the efficiency of the British artillery. They were very able to break up and spoil attacks by taking out the follow-on force while the assaulting force was defeated by the local counter-attack plans; and the rolling barrage techniques allowed assaulting troops to take on their objectives without the interference of enemy support in depth.

There were also some innovations in logistics (a German weak point in two World Wars); the use of rapidly-laid, prefabricated section small-gauge railways meant that the Brigade Admin Areas could be kept both close to the front line, and adequately stocked.

Artillery command and control falls into two general systems, as defined by NATO. One is where artillery is only controlled by the supported arm; the Arty commander is at his own HQ, and the troops "call for fire". This is the US/ German method. The other is where the Arty commander is alongside the troops being supported (the Battery Commander next to their Battlegroup CO, the Arty Regimental CO next to the Brigade Commander); they do not request fire, they command it.

One description of UK infantry companies in 1944 by a Company Commander who did it was "a heavily-armed bodyguard for the Forward Observation Officer". It seemed to work...


In your second section, are you describing the Germans or allies? Because in 1918, as far as I understand it, almost by accident but they knew a good thing once they saw it, the allies found the best thing to do to minimise all sorts of problems, including communication, was a limited, like 5 mile penetration at one point, repeat a couple of days later further along, repeat a few days later further along. Net result, the Germans are pushed back with no possible answer.


It will, I enjoyed it :)


Nope; I'd check your sources....

UK tanks haven't carried HEAT since the 1960s. Chieftain, Challenger 1 and 2 carried Fin (APFSDS), HESH, and a few Illum. Secondly, they very definitely carried Fin (typically loaded in the chamber; better to punch a hole in a BMP than risk only annoying a T-72). They had rushed the new DU round out in 1991 (CHARM), although they only had a few per tank.

Meanwhile, why not read about that 5100m tank on tank kill by the bloke who did it?

Silly Questions about that famous long range CR1 shot.


For clarity - they had enough of the "normal" Fin, they only had a few of the "special" ones...


"Sleek and fast" generally means more downtime getting the sleek and fast bits maintained. The Scorpion or the Super Tucano has a low cost per flight hour and is easy to maintain (the Scorpion is mostly commercial aircraft bits). The Typhoon II is a fast-moving bomb-truck (the fate of most air-superiority fighters since they're usually the newest low-hours airframes in the hangar when the need for more wog-stomping eventuates) but it's a lot higher-maintenance than a Super Tuck with pylons loaded.

I knew a guy once who bought a Ferrari. He occasionally drove it to work, just to piss off the office permies in their Ford Sierras and the "Baby on Board" bobble-cards in the back window (he was a SAP contractor). He didn't do it that often since the Red Rumpo Rocket was in the garage a lot of the time getting worked on (oil changes every thousand miles, frex). The rest of the time he drove a Sierra to work too.

What the USMC needs is a lot of Ford Sierra-type CAS planes, not a few Ferraris. And no Dick Waving Exercise main gun.


So - a Super Tucano that can't fly strike when it's dark or raining (no radar), has the situational awareness of a hedgehog (no Link 16, no sensor bus), isn't integrated for targeting pods and couldn't carry much payload if it did, can't arrive quickly, can't leave quickly if it all gets unpleasant, can only be used when fighting the unarmed and unprofessional...

Don't bother, for that kind of role there is Reaper.


Nojay, you must be the only person on the planet who would compare an A-10 to a Ferrari :-)

Trying to vaguely tie this back to the original post, the A-10 is a very Russian aircraft design, which is probably another reason the USAF hates it. Ugly, functional, emphasising firepower rather than high tech, and very effective. It's the T-34 of ground support aircraft.

The USAF wants to retire the A-10 on grounds of cost so they can afford the F-35. I don't think they have any intention of letting their precious new jets be risked against ground fire, nor any intention of spending the money on a more modern ground support aircraft. If the US Army or USMC wants "Ford Sierra-type CAS planes" the A-10 is the only they've got or will get.

And sure drones can do some of the jobs the A-10 did. Who's saying otherwise? The US army loves cheap expendable drones, it's the USAF that wants them expensive and high flying.

Lastly, Dick Waving is an important part of warfare today, always has been. Even saves lives on both sides: A-10 cannon shells are cheap and plentiful, so it's practical to fire warning shots.


Ah, yes, that is one of the things I find particularly hard to relate to: why it took so long for "bite and hold" to catch on. It's an idea that seems to arise naturally out of looking at accounts of an action and seeing what parts of it succeeded and what didn't. Advocates for it had existed for most of the war, and when they occasionally had a chance to put it into practice had shown it to work, but the higher levels of command continued to favour massive large-scale assaults which they believed justified apparently due to using a Rust-style definition of "successful".


On CAS, didn't the Russians make good use of the "dick waving" 37mm cannon in lend-lease P-39s? Sometimes you need to make a large hole in something without resorting to a missile that costs vastly more than the target.


Sorry if this comment is a bit long.

But if you want to talk about the German blitzkrieg in 1939 taking out the French tanks then the answer is operational incompetence, as summarized in this extract from Brad De Long's WW2 history notes (google them):

"So what happened to all these forces—four heavy armored divisions with perhaps 800 tanks between them, plus a large chunk of the sixteen infantry divisions that were in the French strategic reserve on May 10? They had as many tanks as the seven Nazi panzer divisions that were in the Nazi main thrust.

The French First Armored division simply ran out of gas. While it was waiting for the fuel trucks to come up to refuel it, it was attacked by Rommel’s panzer division and destroyed as a fighting unit.

The French Second Armored division, according to William L. Shirer’s The Collapse of the Third Republic: “Orders for the [second armored] division to move... did not come until noon of May 13.... The trains with the tanks and artillery were not able to start until the afternon of the 14th.... The wheeled vehicles with the supplies ran into the panzers racing west from Sedan and, having no combat elements, withdrew south of the Aisne.... The tanks and tracked artillery were finally uinloaded from their flatcars... between Saint-Quentin and Hirson.... The division was hopelessly dispersed over a large triangle between Hirson, La Fere on the Oise, and Rethel on the Aisne...” and was ineffective because its assembly areas had already been overrun by the Nazis.

The French Third Armored division retreated to the south as General Huntziger had ordered: he thought its principal task should be to guard the Maginot line against a flanking attack should the Nazis turn south after crossing the Meuse.

The infantry formations of the French Sixth Army were, like the French Second Armored Division, overrun by Reinhardt's Sixth panzer division on May 15 and 16 while they were trying to coalesce in their assembly areas.

By May 16, as Shirer puts it (p. 689):

The three heavy [armored divisions] the French had, all of which in May 10 had been stationed... within 50 miles of the Meuse at Sedan and Mezieres, which they could have reached by road overnight, had thus been squandered.... Not one had been properly deployed.... By now, May 16, they no longer counted. There remained only the newly formed 4th [armored division], commanded by de Gaulle, which was below strength and without divisional training..."

It's all about people, and organisation, and process. Not technology. It's almost never about technology. The German "blitzkrieg" moved lightning-fast by standards of the time. And it was largely carried out by German horse-drawn artillery and infantry in trains, on foot and in horse-drawn transport - with a few mechanized units.


Hugh - you really should read this:

Debunking the CAS myths

Particularly the section on the cult of the gun...

It's not about dickwaving, or ugliness, or hating the Army. It's about accepting that the A-10 is past it, in the same way as the Fairey Battle (or the Lysander) was in 1940. The Lysander was a light bomber by design - it only carried on in service as a STOL extraction aircraft for SOE.


There are conformal gun packs available for most ground-attack aircraft these days, multiple-barrel 20mm and 30mm cannons with integral ammo cassettes which can be fitted when the mission requires it and taken off and replaced by a choice from a golf-bag of assorted precision ground attack weapons otherwise.

The A-10 always has to fly with a couple of tonnes of DWE BFG fitted no matter what the mission is and nowadays the DWE BFG gets used in combat very little, indeed sometimes it is left unloaded to increase the plane's fuel capacity or loadout of other more useful weapons.

The A-10s still flying are rapidly reaching their airframe end-of-life. The last A-10 was produced by Grumman in 1984, more than 30 years ago and they either need replacing with a new aircraft design or the sort of large and expensive upgrade and maintenance program the later-model B-52s got to keep them flying. However the A-10 airframes have generally had a harder life flying low and bouncing around than the elegant Arclight queens of the stratosphere.

The A-10's close support mission is better served by Reaper or a similar unmanned aircraft which at least doesn't risk the pilot's life or wellbeing. I can't envision a situation where a bunch of technical-riding yahoos are going to put pictures of a captured Reaper driver on Youtube along with assorted demands to the US government for their safe return.


Tim - as did various versions of the De Havilland Mosquito (all together: ahhhhh, Merlins). Look up Tsetse; when you're fitting 2-pounder ATk guns to planes, you're serious about killing what you hit.

However; the 37mm was there because missiles of the day were unguided rockets (or guided glide bombs - see Fritz-X and the end of the battleship era).

Guns are not cheap; the A-10 killed far more with Maverick in 1991, and still managed to lose proportionally more aircraft to ground fire than did F-16 doing the same mission. Guns are there because in the 1970s, missiles were still unreliable. Now, they aren't.

We don't fit b1g k3wl guns to aircraft (whether the A-10, or the MC-130) for the same reason we don't build battleships any more - there are more effective ways to do the job. Again, see my previous link.


Martin, thanks for that! Interesting read.

I certainly wouldn't claim that the A-10 is perfect. But it has that wonderful quality of actually existing and being battle proven, with well understood problems and limitations.

A major theme of that "Debunking the CAS Myths" series is that the A-10 is best suited to operating in permissive environments without a heavy ground to air threat. But this is exactly what the US military have been doing for the past two decades, are busy doing right now (Afghanistan, Syria), and will be doing in the forseeable future.

Yes, the time to start thinking about a replacement is now, before it is actually needed should the USA ever get into a high intensity war with a major industrial power. But if funds are tight, it doesn't look good to stop funding for the aircraft actually in combat in favour of shiny new toys. I think this accounts for a lot of the suspicion that the USAF doesn't take CAS seriously.


The Nazis, who never saw a crazy experimental concept they weren't willing to at least fund through to prototype built and flew a 15" recoilless gun on a bomber, meant for an anti-shipping role. It fired a slug the same mass as the projectile out the rear of the barrel to reduce the recoil.

The record for the biggest-ever weapon ever "fired" from an aircraft was probably the Minuteman missile paradragged out of the back of a C5-A in a feasibility test. The crew reported the planed bounced a bit as the missile cleared the loading ramp...


Existing and battle proven applies to a lot of obsolescent and downright obsolete things - battleships and the F-14 are but two examples from the last two decades that raised squeals from the fanboys. But we aren't still flying Spitfires or Vulcans, or using the No.4 rifle or L1A1 in the rifle section.

Militaries are not reenactment societies, and operate to limited budgets; they exist to exert the maximum effect for the minimum cost in lives and money. Right now, the A-10 is assessed by the USAF to be costing resources that would be better-spent elsewhere. They are the professionals; their Chief of Staff is an A-10 pilot; their decision. The link I posted talks of operational effectiveness, and has the numbers to back it up.

The RAF went through the same process when it sold off its Harrier fleet to the USMC. It needed the money elsewhere; it already had one bomber type that carried more, further, in worse conditions. They should soon have a mix of Typhoon and F-35B that will suffice until the sixth generation arrives. Meanwhile, it saved enough to fund SEEDCORN, and hopefully the next defence review will see an MMA purchase (either P-8 or P-1 will do according to one commentator I respect).


"hopefully the next defence review will see an MMA purchase (either P-8 or P-1 will do according to one commentator I respect)."

I thought the Japanese were kind of antsy about exporting their home-designed military hardware. Is Kawasaki really looking for markets outside the Home Islands for their P-1?


I thought that the A-10 was basically a 70s re-imagining of the Gustav the tank killer. So by this time it's closer to the sorts of personal defence items that owe something to the re-enactment community?


Any CAS mission that won't face a capable ground-to-air defensive threat can be supplied by pretty much anything with wings, including helicopters. A CAS mission facing a real threat today is best carried out by expendable unmanned drones close-in or manned aircraft firing stand-off weapons like Maverick, Hellfire, Brimstone etc. several kilometres away from a defensive line of MANPADs, ZSU-23/34s and the like. Freefall JDAM bombs can be dropped from 40,000 feet and flown into targets precisely for the same benefit.

The A-10's reason to exist was to chew up Soviet medium armour, trucks etc. in West Germany with its Big Fucking Gun while accepting the attrition levels of a major war, the sort of losses that are not acceptable in bloodless-on-our-side wog-stomping exercises in the Middle East. There are better tools available today to whack SUVs and technicals or to blow up buildings like the MSF hospital that got bombed a couple of days ago. Anything bigger and non-mobile can get a few cruise missiles, like the Chinese embassy in Belgrade a while back.


We don't fit b1g k3wl guns to aircraft (whether the A-10, or the MC-130) for the same reason we don't build battleships any more - there are more effective ways to do the job.

Except we do.

Nothing like putting a Gatling gun on a plane designed to be a stealthy stand off platform. :(


Given a Congress possibly more interested in low taxes, the desire of the USAF to retire their least favorite aircraft early to pay for the next toy is somewhat understandable, but the Reaper could only partially do the mission, with more unintended casualties, the F-16 could come closer to doing the job (The unbuilt F-16XL variant would be better.), BTW, Gulf war F-16 missions were not the same as A-10 missions. FWIW, I know the A-10 can't last forever, times change, but the current plan seems unlikely to me.


You think the Panzer VIII Maus was a piece of over-indulgent crap? The Landkreuzer P.1500 Monster and it's smaller sibling, the P.1000 Ratte are probably better examples -- at least the Maus was intended to carry a high-velocity tin opener that would have caused a world of hurt to the next generation of allied MBTs (like the British Centurion tank, which was first deployed in November 1945, right after the war ended). The P.1000 and P.1500 were just grandiose fantasies, but money somehow got spent on them (until Albert Speer put a stop to the nonsense).

As for horns ... I think you underestimate just how loud tanks are: they have a tendency to carry and fire artillery and heavy machine guns, and hearing loss is an occupational hazard for both tank and artillery crews.


Don't really mind setting aside a strange attractor,but you may have invited another, "What stupid ideas of antiquity might actually work with contemporary tech?".


I should have been clearer. I meant B1G K3WL guns, like the GAU-8, or that 105mm soft-recoil thing they had in various AC-130 configurations.

If you believe the A-10 fanbois, the various 25mm and 27mm cannon fitted to normal fighters are merely ticklish by comparison.


But if the F-35 is designed to be stand off and unseen/undetected why does it have a gun at all? Especially one with a magazine that will empty in a few seconds?

And the comments I've read say the software to actually use the gun will not be ready for another year or few.


My understanding of why Germany did so well in the early years of WWII is that they took training seriously before the war. While the allies, at least the US, did a bit of pretend training with fake tanks. The M3 that was the main US tank before the war could only move it's main gun in elevation, not horizontally. Which meant turning the tank to aim it.

And yet Poland was still in many ways the Polish campaign was still needed by Germany to figure things out. From a Wikipedia article: "Poland cost the Germans an entire armored division, thousands of soldiers, and 25% of its air strength."

Apparently Poland made Guderian, Rommel and others true believers in tank transporters as driving them to the battle was a sure fire way to loose a lot your tanks to breakdowns before they ever saw battle.


Your arguments would be more convincing if the resources weren't being redirected to the F35, which is from all accounts an utter dog.


Guns are there because in the 1970s, missiles were still unreliable. Now, they aren't.

The other nice thing about guns is that they're too stupid to fool. Chaff, low radar signatures, electronic countermeasures and the like are ineffective against ballistic hunks of metal.


Force of habit, I think. The first batch of RAF Typhoon II air superiority fighters got a gun, it was taken out of the next batch of airframes and the space and weight used for something actually useful. Any gun capability for RAF Typhoons is now restricted to conformal packs and under-wing pylon mounted pods. I expect they'll do the same with the F-35 gun eventually but while the money is flowing freely they'll happily develop it. I suspect the gunmakers have a tame Congressman who shoehorned it into the development programme.


"What stupid ideas of antiquity might actually work with contemporary tech?"

If you liked Charlie's observations about the Ratte you can always check out My Tank is Fight!, a collection of not terribly well thought out military gadgets. It covers the Ratte, the sawdust and ice aircraft carrier, the Luftwaffe's attempt to build an Osprey, the amphibious submarine, and of course the backpack helicopter. It somehow misses the Goliath self-propelled mine.

A few things actually do work once engineering catches up, leaving premature attempts as curiosities. We can start with the steam engine.


Most large projects have troubles. The interesting thing is how they are solved; and how they are spun in politics or the media; e.g. Could there be any financial interest in "no, it's too complicated, we should just buy some improved F-18" by (say) those who... make the F-18? Or is there a hint of political "they support it, therefore I oppose it"? (The Germans had a politician in the early 90s who thought that the way to gain votes as a fearless defender of the public purse, was to delay the Typhoon project with claims of inefficiency, and demand multiple "best and final offers").

What I hear is that those who are involved are impressed. Time will tell, but they're starting to roll off the production lines.


I'd check that. AFAIK, the gun stayed in the Typhoon once the MoD discovered that it was cheaper to leave it in.

Meanwhile, the F-35B that the RN/RAF/USMC will receive (like the F-35C for the USN), has a podded gun, it's only the F-35A (for the USAF among others) that has the internal fit.


Yay, someone mentioned MANPADS, the magic missile of this particular intersection. Any idiot with a scroll and basic literacy can unleash it...

WWII, greatest tank myths with counterpoints:

1) German technology was miles ahead of everyone else (1943-4, Soviet tech outpaces Nazi Germany)

2) Allies cared about soldiers, tanks saved lives (Sherman 4-1 tactics, mass production won the day: look up the origin of "spam in a can")

3) Tanks were a counter-point to other tanks (Nazi and Soviet use of anti-tank weaponry, esp. mobile 3-4 man units and use of Soviet tanks to engage to allow targeting; German tank killing ace was never in a tank, yadda yadda)


Anyhow. No-one's stated the real reason tanks exist.

It's the tactical usage of a piece that draws an unwarranted amount of heat to it. Every fucker out there who spots a tank is going to fling monkey poo at it out of fear. It was (past tense) a noise machine, designed to disrupt the enemy on a tactical level[1]. It's why the Soviets beat tanks consistently; tactics in Stalingrad weren't exactly planned in a military sense.

Oh, and getting rid of fixed placed defensive positions, pre "bunker busters".

Note to military bods: this is a sponsored translation for non-wonks.


Please continue with military pr0n. Enthusiasts, I give you LiveLeak. Although a bit censored now, probably the best (public) source of mil-spec-pr0n around.

[1]If you wish to contest this, c.f. Panzer divisions placement before D-Day and chance placement of division during Arnhem. The former shows strategically that tanks aren't big players in that realm; the latter how tactically they can be crucial.


Ok I'll bite. Fin is more effective than HE against which of:-

1) Dismounts 2) "Technicals" or other softskins 3) Suburban buildings 4) None of the above?

You might want to check out the Battle for Basra rather than tank vs tank actions.

And ref your straw man about the 5km shot; I never claimed that the Challenger wasn't the supreme rifleman/sniper of present MBTs. If anything the reverse is true (but I do say that Fin is useless unless you have armour or purpose-made bunkers to shoot at).


Er, the Molins gun in the Mossie XVIII (Tsetse) was a 6lb (57mm), not a 2lb.


I've seen a GAU-8 round; it is notably bigger than the 20mm to 27mm rounds in most fighter guns, and with its designed DU penetrator, hits hard too.


Allies cared about soldiers, tanks saved lives (Sherman 4-1 tactics, mass production won the day

You may be confusing tank losses with crew losses. The big difference was that Commonwealth forces had very good repair and recovery teams; damaged tanks could be returned to service where possible.

ISTR an interview where a tank troop leader describing the immediate aftermatch of the Normandy landings, pointed out that his brigade of 250 tanks or so, had actually gone through 1000 tanks over the course of a few months. The crews mostly survived to crew the replacement tanks - the interviewee had commanded five different vehicles.

I say mostly, because when you read the stories of the infantry fighting in North-West Europe, it wasn't unusual for an infantry battalion to have suffered a casualty list about the same size as its nominal roll (i.e. a ~1000-man battalion having ~1000 casualties between D-Day and VE-Day). Note also that "casualty" does not mean "dead" - it means "not fighting any more"; i.e. wounded.


Wasn't intended as a straw man - I was addressing your claim that "USian and UKian tanks were used primarily as direct fire artillery against infantry units rather than in "tank battles", to the extent that some UKian units were carrying only HE and HESH"

They certainly weren't in GW1, hence my example of CR1 vs. T-62; also look up "Battle of 73 Easting".

I agreed that Fin wasn't much use in Basra, but they'll have reduced, not removed all Fin from the turret. You also might want to consider the Al-Faw peninsula in 2003; there was an Iraqi Armoured Brigade counter-attack, which was of course why 3 Cdo Bde had taken along C Sqn SCOTS DG...

As the SBS discovered, it may only be a T-55, but if you're in a Landrover and it's got armour, you run away or die...


Now then! You CAN communicate clearly & have done in this case, with mostly useful information ( Always allowing for Martin's correction @ 130 ) PLEASE can we have more of this & less of the random incomprehensible insults, pretty please?

Also, Martin: Note also that "casualty" does not mean "dead" - it means "not fighting any more"; i.e. wounded. ISTR that Bill Deedes, who wrote in the "torygraph" had been a tank-commander most of the way from Normandy to the surrender ( from WIKI: His battalion served as the motor battalion of 8 Armoured Brigade in the NW Europe campaign. ) & that he stated that he used more than one tank, after being hit & was, IIRC very lucky not to be wounded seriously. Many people were wounded, declared "casualties", but were back in action within a week/month/3 months ....


You say that "The Commonwealth had really good repair and recovery teams: damaged tanks could be returned to service where possible."

I don't know stats for the Western Front. But in the East it was all about who had momentum. Those who were advancing and winning battles got to recover and repair tanks, Those who were retreating didn't (much). Losing the field meant your damaged tanks became destroyed tanks.

This mattered quite a lot, especially early on when things were quite one-sided.


"You CAN communicate clearly"

Catina will Derrida your Searle.


That could explain why the Germans went with better armor rather than cheaper. And with highly engineered systems that the enemy wouldn't be able to use long if captured. Question is, how conscious was this? If they knew they were losing, were they just trying to help hold off the inevitable? Until...what? Did the good tank designers actually believe the propaganda (like the top ranks did) that some miracle would come? Or were they just stalling until they could set up escape plans? Or were they just specialized and compartmentalized to such an extent that they didn't know what they were doing or why, just how to do it?


Ok, I may have been a bit hyperbolic, but those units in Basra were firing "dry" of HE.


Except the RAF still operate the Spitfire, even in 2015. Though not in a combat role, obviously.

No RAF brass wants to go down in history as "the man who let the bean counters get rid of our Spits", having operated them continuously since 1938.

As regards the Poor Bloody Infantry, the militaries of all nations have cyclic periods of re-inventing the wheel, or the Garand, or the FAL.


Precisely! Derrida was a total wanker as far as I'm concerned. Clear communications are essential - as, in fact we are currently discussing regarding tank warfare .... Sokal to you too, incidentally.


I've always felt uncomfortable with mixing tanks and other industrial age technology into magical settings, but not so with computers. This post has made me think through it more thoroughly.

My problem with tanks and magic is that a tank is a very obvious mechanical contraption, with lots of visible moving parts. It's not too far removed from what at least Renaissance level "techies" could understand, even if they couldn't replicate it. So if it still works, how can the world be magical?

(For the same reason I think Terry Pratchett introducing steam engines into Discworld was a mistake.)

Computers, on the other hand, fit right in. A smart phone might as well be a Palantir for the vast majority of us. So even though it is "higher tech" I don't think they break the mood.

Anyone else have similar, or opposite, opinions?


The mechanical part of a tank relies on the same physics that makes mundane swords work.

I think you have a bigger problem building a word where living humans are plausible but machines aren't than you do if you just bolt magic on the side as something extra.


I don't read Stirling, but I gather his more recent series has a premise like this. Darn silly if you ask me, but popular in the counterfactuals stream of SF I gather.


So Martin, I read your book over the last couple of days. It's fun. For some reason the thing that pops into my head to comment upon is that you can do a very effective Vom Tag guard with a single-handed weapon too. I had already been picturing in my head using single-time longsword drills with the close-quarters cutlass. There's a Messer trick where you use a wrist flick to turn what looks like Zornhau into an underhand upwards strike for a single-edged blade, a bit like the Krumphau you describe tangentially as a winning move on several occasions.


Mixed attitude. Can be done badly or well I imagine. I'm sure some of the folks here have come across this author.


There are several ways to deal with technology in worlds with magic. (1) magic and technology both work without hindrance (1a) magic was discovered first, and eclipsed technology so it simply developed more slowly and is only coming in at the time of story (1b) technology was discovered first, and eclipsed magic, so it simply developed more slowly, and is only just coming in at time of story (1c)magic and technology have both been in development for ages, but magic is so much stronger that technology hasn't got a chance--a cantrip can take down a tank, a dirty look can send your car to the repair shop (1d) magic and technology have both been in development for ages, but technology is so much stronger that magic hasn't got a chance--imagine the reverse of 1c, or our world--sure you can cast a curse of sadness on me but I can dispel it by just watching a comedy show on TV (2) some minor element of science is different, nothing that would cripple human biology, but something that might make technology, or some technologies, very difficult--example Zelazny's Amber series, where chemistry is different in Amber, so gunpowder doesn't work there.
(3) science is radically different, making all we would think of as technology impossible. Somehow through convergent evolution it still happens to arrive at allowing something that can be characters. (3a) characters in that world are a native type that would not survive in our world, so characters from our world can only go there by inhabiting the bodies of locals (3b) the technology of that world (magic) can be used to allow humans from our world to enter and survive


(4) The world's scientific principles have always allowed technology, but have themselves changed to now allow magic, or vice versa. Subsets would include varieties where magic or technology is far stronger, and also (4a) The change is coming on fast. Suddenly many people have superpowers. Suddenly, some fool who doesn't have the education to know it won't work invents a steam engine and this time it works. (4b) The change is coming on slowly.
(5) Some resource required for technology or magic is depleted. The Magic Goes Away is an example, or peak oil. This frees up the previously untapped power source, either technology or magic, to take it's rightful place.


I always liked the approach from Arcanum which has a really nice balance between technology and magic in a steampunk fantasy setting.

A proficient technologist is highly resistant to magic so can't teleport, while a skilled mage is a walking techbane, so isn't allowed on vehicles like trains. Advanced tech won't work in a highly magical environment, and vice versa, which complicates the endgame. And trying to be all things means you can't do anything, so you do need to make a choice early on.


2) OTOH jeweller's rouge is certainly a deflagrant in the Courts of Amber; see "The Guns of Avalon".


Aren't you more-or-less describing the Skyraider?


There was also that general strike and full-on revolution, which had some impact.


I guess I'm more of an "opposite opinion". I seem to think of magic as working mainly by means of subtle effects with high gain. It is very good at disrupting biological processors, whether as its intended effect or as an unwanted side-effect on the wielder. A few electrons shifted here and there to disrupt subtle chemistry of neurons. It seems natural to also think of a few electrons shifted here and there to disrupt logic circuits.

Heavy machinery, by contrast, requires much more gross intervention to disrupt it, and magic isn't good at gross physical effects, unless it can operate by triggering some existing latent instability. Magic and machinery complement each other: magic may unbalance the stone that starts the rockslide, but when you want to move chunks of rock upwards to dig a mine, you use picks and hammers and pulleys and rope and stuff, even though you'd love to save the hassle by doing it by magic if only it worked like that. Magic tends to make a crap energy source. Magical worlds still have windmills and watermills and horses and fires and siege engines and mundanely-powered mining/smelting operations, maybe even gunpowder, because magic does not do away with the need for these things.

Also there is the use of magic as a substitute for processing. Calling up demons to ask them questions because it looks easier than thinking. Acquiring proficiency in the language of birds or gnomes or eldritch beings through magic rather than study. Curses and geases and magical locks and swords and other things which only operate under specific conditions, conditions which are often sufficiently complex or abstract that some equivalent of intelligence is required to identify them. Steganography using magic for concealment rather than mathematical subtlety. Navigating by magic because you have no maps and aren't a pigeon. Magic is often pretty good at the sort of thing we would use computers for, and it also often seems to not make too much demand on the abilities of the wielder in such applications.


Derrida had some interesting things to say.

But, this is a guest post and as such I'll stick the point:

Much is made (in the history of warfare) of the comparisons between heavily armored game pieces. e.g. Ottomans - Siphi vrs Janisarries vrs Germanic Knight Templar Orders.

Here's a different thought. Israel is already employing "three dimensional" infantry tactics (c.f. interesting pieces Walking through walls: Soldiers as architects in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and here).


Now, let's imagine the DAKKA DAKKA SPACE MURINE actualized, using 3D plane / topography / Parkour.

It's a tank.

Knights don't replace Tanks, Knights become Tanks ;)


(Small note of defiance: anyone claiming Deleuze isn't relevant or gets grow past should update the IDF. They're really keen on him)


Infantry-as-tanks is basically Heinlein's Mobile Infantry.

Stirling only makes technology go away by introducing a huge McGuffin (super powerful aliens who can change basic laws of thermodynamics). He tries to make it internally consistent but it is not really. I did kinda like the first three books in that series though...


Derrida had some interesting things to say. Really?

Analysis, really careful analysis is a very useful tool - most of science uses it a lot. But ... one can overdo things - Derrida's "deconstruction" leads directly to the sort of arrant fucking bullshit that was so mercilessly exposed by Alan Sokal.

Years ago, I ran in to this nonsense - two examples ... One piece going on about how science & technology was automatically state-centrist & fascist-controlling, because of the use of the word "broadcast" referring to radio & the limited number of channels used. With no regard for the technology available at the time. And a n other article in "New Scientist" parrotting the stuff that was ( very shortly after) slaughtered by Sokal, about "Toward an anti-racist science" ... that made no sense at all, but did pick up on the (bad, faulty & wrong) false interpreatations of Evolution as temporarily prevalent in 1930 - as if it hadn't already been proven wrong. Yeah.


Tanks seem to have been viewed as an evolution of cavalry.. which brings with it the traditional cavalry mindset (innate superiority over, and consequent lack of cohesion with, other fighting arms)...

What if, rather than converting cavalry units into tankies, they'd treated tanks as an extension of field artillery? Wholly different ethos...


Not making any claims about Deleuze, other than having read some once. I think I was deliberately vague about anything that happened after that. Relevance here is a bit problematic in itself to say anything meaningful about.


Knights don't replace Tanks, Knights become Tanks ;)

Only if you're playing Snivelisation in another window. Which I am, of course, but... heck.


What if, rather than converting cavalry units into tankies, they'd treated tanks as an extension of field artillery? Wholly different ethos...

...Then they'd be a lot less relaxed, and do a lot more shouting ;) God forbid, they could have done what they did with radios and aircraft - spun them out of an experimental unit within His Majesty's Corps of Royal Engineers. Mad or Methodist tank commanders, you choose :)

Your alternative answer is of course those of the black coveralls and black berets, aka the "People's Cavalry", aka the Royal Tank Regiment. Part of the Royal Armoured Corps, but not cavalry. Look up why their officers carry ash canes...

Cavalry is a role, as much as a means of transport. Screening, reconnaissance, etc are things that were done on horseback, but are now done from armoured vehicles.

That, and they claim to lend some tone to what would otherwise be an unseemly brawl.


For the historically minded... the history of the Ash Plant (link)


Re, multiple stories about the A-10 Being CURRENTLY DEPLOYED against ISIS, et. al., despite being scheduled for retirement; IIRC, a squadron had it's inactivation postponed for deployment.

It's like the difference between your minivan and your Lexus, (or Mercedes?), the van may have some rust, but it runs and does the job; The F-16 and F-35 will have operating costs (per flight hour) in multiples of what the A-10 costs.

But then, the USAF is shutting the C-17 Line, well short of the documented requirement for 300. Better we curtail the F-35 and keep building the C-17's.

And the fix is in for the UK MPA, there are exchange officers flying the P-8. It's getting the (UK) treasury to stump up the money.


"Lastly, Dick Waving is an important part of warfare today, always has been."

This is an important point. War is diplomacy by other means, and often a visible threat of force is valuable. But, by definition, stealth aircraft and special forces are ill suited to saber rattling. A war ship looming over a port city, or a noisy non-stealth aircraft is often better at carrying out that job which is a surprisingly common request from the politicians who are calling the shots.

More generally, getting back to the original point, in the whole A-10 v. something else debate, I haven't seen anyone make the argument that rather than killing tanks with A-10s, we should be killing tanks with other tanks. Just about every criticism you can make of the A-10 in that role applies even more strongly to a tank, especially a tank with a slug throwing main gain. Tanks still have a role to play in modern warfare, but the repeated lesson of modern warfare is that "fair fights" between forces of the same type are best avoided if at all possible, in favor of asymmetric ones planned by the aggressor (either the underdog, who may, e.g., pit IED v. transport or patrol truck, or the overdog, who may, e.g., pit airstrikes v. tanks). Even air to air combat (which is vanishingly rare these days) has largely been reduced to strategies of shoot to kill before the other guy knows what hit him.

As a recent incident with the U.S. bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan revealed, a significant part of U.S. fire support for infantry in landlocked, far inland Afghanistan is being delivered via missiles launched from warships at sea.

We live in the era of "tag, you're dead" warfare where a set of coordinates and a glorified cell phone (sometimes even an actual, modified commercial cell phone) can be used to call in guided missiles from any number of land, air and sea based delivery systems often far away from the fight in real time. The modern reality isn't so different from Zeus pointing at targets to make lightning bolts shoot down from the sky at people he wants to smite.

Since the missiles that are available on demand can defeat almost any kind of passive armor, the modern tank is only useful against forces that don't have near peer resources at their disposal. Tanks are too big and too slow to escape being tagged and blown up by distant missiles.

Defense isn't totally dead in modern warfare, but increasingly relies on active defense like anti-missile missiles, mass slug throwing flak like the CWIS of the U.S. Navy, or lasers that ignite in explosives in incoming ordinance prematurely.


As a recent incident with the U.S. bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan revealed, a significant part of U.S. fire support for infantry in landlocked, far inland Afghanistan is being delivered via missiles launched from warships at sea.

It is my understanding this attack was done with a C130.


My newspaper this morning reported that: "A heavily armed U.S. gunship designed to provide added firepower to special operations forces was responsible for killing 22 people at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, over the weekend, Pentagon officials said Monday."

The phrase "helicopter gunship" isn't uncommon, but the word "gunship" in isolate usually refers to a boat. So, prior to your comment and based upon that reviewing some additional stories that described an AC-130, I had assumed that the word "gunship" in the report was in reference to a boat and not to an airplane. I stand corrected.


Nope, "gunship" almost always refers to a transport aircraft repurposed for fire support -- these days typically a Lockheed AC-130. The floaty kind would be a gunboat.


Even air to air combat (which is vanishingly rare these days) has largely been reduced to strategies of shoot to kill before the other guy knows what hit him. Agreed, but ... are the Russians Vladimir Putin's men going to get this over Turkey, or are they coat-trailing, in an attempt to see what they can get away with? ( Prior to trying it again in, say, Estonia? )


Another perspective ... tanks are very effective for subduing civilians... they can roll over people, destroy property/homes, and can withstand ordinary (civilian accessible) arms. Tanks are more like castles than knights in the chess analogy ... slow, solid and implacable.

For Russia, in addition to the above, tanks make even more sense because tanks can traverse snow. Downside is that tanks are too dependent on railway lines (for fuel/service).


The old role of tanks has been taken over by AFVs. Tanks are great for fast moving vanguards as in the run around Kuwait in the first Gulf War. And otherwise they are mainly good for holding a crossroads, which AFVs can also do. And knocking down annoying architecture, which many things can do. Militaries tend to come up with "the latest thing" and decide to convert the whole military to that and nothing else. There are economy of scale and standardization benefits to this, but really a diverse toolbox is better in the long run. A monoculture gets you something very strong in one direction and weak in every other, like a phalanx. So there's a move to get rid of all tanks. Sure, the mix needs to be less tank rich, but keeping some around might be worthwhile. Until world peace is declared once and for all and we can focus on Mars missions.


By which I mean "other AFVs" such as IFVs.


they are mainly good for holding a crossroads, which AFVs can also do

Not really. One of the great mantras is that it takes infantry to "hold" ground, the static tank is just there as a damn great target. Look up RPG-29, or Konkurs.

Militaries tend to come up with "the latest thing" and decide to convert the whole military to that and nothing else.

Not really.

By way of demonstration, the British Army has been trying for several years to develop a doctrine for medium forces. The aim is to have something to fit in between the tracked heavy metal of MBT, IFV, and SP Arty (say, 7 Armd Bde); and the light forces of dismounted infantry, soft-skinned vehicles, and a few lightly-armoured recce vehicles (say, 16 AA Bde or 3 Cdo Bde).

The long-lasting car crash that is the FRES programme demonstrates what happens when powerpoint requirements meet the laws of physics (Airportable! carries a section of 8! Armoured against RPG-7 and 12.7mm!); however, a medium-weight wheeled vehicle keeps coming up. Piranha V won the last round, but the VBCI and Boxer are still credible alternatives.

Another example would be the Royal Armoured Corps; now cut to nine regiments (this is the British term for a battalion-sized unit of tanks). Rather than the old dualism of "MBT or CVR(T)?" they've decided to equip three with MBT, three with armoured reconnaissance vehicles (currently Scimitar, but soon to be Ajax), and three with light reconnaissance vehicles (the Jackal and Coyote that were bought for Afghanistan).

Yet another would be the infantry; Britain has Armoured infantry (in Warrior), mechanised infantry (in FV432, but presumably now Mastiff), and light-role infantry (leather personnel carriers, aka the boot). It carries the light-role types in helicopters, kicks them out of perfectly good aircraft, or drives them about in trucks.

In short, hardly "that and nothing else". It's too tribal, it can't even agree how to wear the new combat uniform... (shirt sleeves rolled up? shirt tucked in? Or not?)


Even air to air combat (which is vanishingly rare these days) has largely been reduced to strategies of shoot to kill before the other guy knows what hit him.

Nothing new there. Even in WW2, something like 50% of all air combat was lost by the person who didn't realise they were in a fight. "Fighting fair"? Means you're doing it wrong.

Even when staying firmly within the laws of war, battles are won by the sneaky and devious. Even the most physical units are capable of doing subtlety - take the Royal Marines on Two Sisters as an example from the Falklands War.

Here are two short and well-written articles on the subject; well worth reading. The first mentions the Battle of Hamel in 1918, where the Australian Division achieved its objectives in 93 minutes - including Whippet and Mk.V tanks, with some of the tanks used for resupply.

High Explosive - Shock Effect in Dismounted Combat - Jim Storr

Manoeuvre and Weapons Effact on the Battlefield - Jim Storr


And the fix is in for the UK MPA, there are exchange officers flying the P-8.

There are exchange officers flying MPAs from several allied countries, look up Project Seedcorn. Flying the P-8 is not evidence of a 'fix'.


I think this may depend on which nation's military you study?


Indeed. I was thinking of the idea, in the US Military a few years ago, to get rid of everything heavy and base everything on Strykers: artillery on a Stryker, direct fire on a Stryker. If you can't put it in a plane, we don't need it. Also from looking at history, there was something called the Pentomic army in the 1950s when they decided that now we had nuclear weapons everything should be structured around them. The Soviet army also was organized around an attack only doctrine after doing a lot of that in the latter part of WW2, so everything was designed for that role.
Over and over there's this wonderful new thing so lets get rid of everything else. I see what Martin is saying though, with all the special interests, there's also a counter pressure for each branch, or even unit, to develop it's own special version of everything.


I think one ought to look forward a few years, to the time when tanks have to change greatly (at the very least) to accommodate new technology. Some of the changes will be dependent on others, such as small-unit fusion (plasma focus fusion?) to create the vast amounts of power required.

One example is hypervelocity railguns, which will fire essentially like lasers; with a 50km/sec projectile, bullet drop and windage become irrelevant. Another is various unmanned vehicles; already, a Hellfire-armed drone is going to make a nice mess of your tank. And yet another is miniaturisation; I think defending against a swarm of several hundred insect-sized drones loaded with something nasty (botulinus toxin, anyone? is going to be difficult. Sure, maybe the tank is immune to that one - but the crew isn't. As for attack nano...

For another idea, imagine a unit of those "mule" robots the American Army is developing and close to finishing, each with a remote-controlled Javelin launcher on top of it.

One thing we can be quite certain of is that the high command of just about any army is going to be at least one generation behind and maybe two or three. The military doesn't exactly encourage originality and independent thinking.


The biggest change coming in the tank world is fully automated and autonomous armour


Nope. If you knew how much maintenance was involved in just running a tank, let alone fighting it, you wouldn't say that. Not to mention letting an AI loose with heavy weapons. Just, not going to happen.

There will be crewmen around tanks for a long while to come...


Thanks - I have grabbed those :)

If anybody is still following the comments:

My original point was supposed to be that tank stories supply useful lessons about tech and change that apply to business, e.g. there are parallels between the advent of the tank and the PC - resistance, inflated expectations, application of old paradigms, acquiescence, rearguard action...

Has anybody got some examples of business screw ups that would have been avoided if only people knew a little military history?


50km/s hypervelocity projectiles are very short range weapons, a few metres at most before the projectile would vapourise from air friction. Even railgun rounds at 8km/s have to be launched like howitzer shells to get them out of thick air before they melt and/or lose a lot of their initial velocity from air friction and drag.

I once read a report about a group of enthusiastic high-velocity rifle shooters who were experimenting with rifles that could fire bullets over 1500 m/s, pushing the limits of powder-chemistry ballistics. Copper-jacketed lead bullets would melt on a cold wet day when the air was particularly dense and even machined phosphor bronze bullets would suffer heat damage to their tips when fired over a range of 500 metres or so. Drag and the subsequent friction heating effect increases as the square of the velocity so a 50km/sec hypervelocity projectile would suffer about a thousand times more drag and heating effect than a typical 120mm smoothbore tank DU penetrator round of today does at 1300m/s muzzle velocity.


--There are arms races. --Diversification is better than specialization in the long run.
--Every innovation has a life cycle. --Don't get self absorbed with the size of your equipment --Teamwork is always better than trying to be a star


Cool. Supporting anecdotes anybody?


One example is hypervelocity railguns, which will fire essentially like lasers; with a 50km/sec projectile

This is an SF blog, so your first thought should have been "what's orbital velocity for Low Earth Orbit?" and then have realised that getting to LEO takes just over 9km/s, and 40km/s will get you to escape velocity.

Why bother with rockets, Jules Verne could get from the Earth to the Moon with that kind of muzzle energy ;) aaaaaand now I've got this mental picture of a bunch of pissed-up matelots deciding to see whether they can bullseye Tycho...


It may be a facile comparison but tanks, their development and lifecycle has been to some extent a reprise of the rise and fall of the Dreadnaught-style battleship.

Stage 1: only one side has battleships that work well; fast, manoeuverable, heavily gunned. They can chew up lesser forces and raid shorelines, ports, convoys etc.

Stage 2a: both sides have capable battleships and they tend to fight each other rather than fighting lesser forces. The armour gets thicker, the main batteries get heavier to attempt to survive an engagement and destroy the enemy.

Stage 2b: Attempts are made to build cheaper faster battleships with less armour (see battlecruisers). This does not work out.

Stage 2c: Anti-battleship weapon systems are developed, sea-mines, the torpedo-boat and the submarine. Counters to these weapons are developed (the ASW frigate, the torpedo-boat destroyer, minesweepers etc.) while the battleships get thicker anti-torpedo armour and more self-defence armament to keep the torpedo boats at bay.

Stage 3: A really effective anti-battleship weapon, the aircraft carrier is developed and it's pretty much game over for battleships at that point. Some attempts are made to keep battleships relevant by adding thick layers of anti-aircraft defences but generally they don't succeed (see late-WWII pictures of the IJN Yamato, it was covered in retrofitted AA but it still got sunk by Naval aviation).

That's where tanks are today; super-ultra-trick layered ceramic reactive electric armour trying to fend off air-launched and ground-launched anti-armour missiles while their support troops deploy webs of AA defences and keep the other side's ground forces from getting within kill range of their precious. Sadly for tankies, as with battleships, the eggshells armed with hammers are winning.

As for the winner of the battleship war, the aircraft carrier...


Actually, 50km/s from the Earth's surface -- if firing tangentially to Earth's orbital track -- will get you comfortably above solar system escape velocity!

Assuming your projectile doesn't vapourize within a few hundred metres of the launch point, of course, then it's next stop: Pluto fly-by. Not a terribly sensible velocity for a planet-based weapon system; our intuitions about speed and energy go disastrously wrong when we try to apply them at the high end.


Interesting. I think knights might well fall into a similar lifecycle.

What about the - hey, WWII warships are quite handy for parking in ports where people shoot at them? Didn't that happen in the middle east?


Longbows? Knightly combat on the battlefield?


I wonder if we're going to see a development path along that proposed for the Bolos, or Weber's Hammer's Slammers. Not so much the AI controlled armoured death part. More the idea that with proper unlimited line of sight weapons (railguns, high energy plasma, dense Tungsten penetrators, or whatever it is we come up with that is better than plain bullets), direct air power no longer exists. In both fictional cases, the development of super tanks comes from the idea that if it can be seen over the horizon, it can be hit, from missiles and drones to satellites. Targeting is simply a matter of getting the calculations right, and very high speed weapons mean the target can't dodge easily.

Assuming the railgun idea gets properly off the ground, and I expect it will eventually, then you could make smaller scale versions for AA and missile defence on a CIWS model. Ships would be a logical start point - they have lots of power and can move a lot easier - but I would expect to see them move to land versions soon after, particularly because line of sight weapons on ships are limited to short horizons since they aren't that high off the ground, whereas in theory you could park a railgun tank halfway up a mountainside and get a lot more out of it.


50 km/sec might have been a little high. 20 shouldn't be seen as ridiculous, especially since about a tenth of that has already been tested. (Yes, I know that means a hundredth of the energy - but smaller projectiles?)

Anyway, the other points about semi-autonomous AI weapons (ranging from a gram or so to a couple of hundred kg) weren't addressed. The story of naval battleships is instructive; various navies didn't give up on the things for decades after it became obvious they were out of date for most purposes.

As an illustration of the last point, Tirpitz never fought in a naval action - and ended up being sunk by the RAF - and Japan's two best battleships (Yamato and Musashi) were both sunk by carrier aircraft.


Sure, for the last point (teamwork uber alles) at least. During Operation Barbarossa the Soviets had the T-34 and the KV-I and KV-II. All of these tanks were technically superior to German Panzers in several important regards.

Again and again, German tanks and AT teams watched their shells bounce uselessly off of Soviet armor and had to fall back until heavier guns like the 88 could be brought up to deal with them.

However, they were used in a wasteful, even incompetent fashion. In addition to poor training and logistics, the Soviets had not invested in tank radios as much as the Germans had, and so for the early months of the war could not coordinate as effectively. They tended to do things like trundle directly up to German positions in column formation and get knocked out one by one by mines and heavy AT fire.

Teamwork allowed the Germans to inflict horrifying damage upon a Red Army that, on paper, had vastly superior armored formations (both in numbers and quality).


Not sure about specific screw-ups, but have you read the book "Accidental Empires" by Robert X Cringley?

There's a chapter where he writes about the three stages of how a computer company develops, from "commandos" to "infantry" and finally "police" at the end. He uses this military comparison to explain how the different types of people operate.

An extract with the important bits online:

(If you're interested in how high tech companies operate, you really ought to read Accidental Empires. Some of the stories are perhaps not true, but even those are so good that they ought to be.)


Even 20km/s is too damn high at anything like sea-level air pressure. Railguns have delivered about 5km/s as have light-gas guns using hydrogen compressed by explosively-driven pistons but at that speed the projectiles are already suffering from a lot of frictional heating and they lose speed quite quickly over range. A projectile fired at 4 times current railgun speeds will face 16 times as much air resistance and subsequent heating effect.

I've yet to find out the maximum range of any railgun projectile ever fired in tests; the various press reports by the experimenters never seem to mention that fact.

A lighter projectile just makes things worse, not better. Ballistic coefficient is a measure of how well a projectile retains its speed after it leaves the muzzle and generally the bigger and heavier the round the better it performs due to sectional density, the ratio between mass and surface area. A 16" battleship shell can fly as much as 40km whereas a rifle bullet fired at the same muzzle velocity might only go no more than 4 km on a similar trajectory even though they both have an optimised shape.


Has anybody got some examples of business screw ups that would have been avoided if only people knew a little military history?

First you need to get them to learn a little business history. I've been "in computers" since 1972. And it's always amazed me (getting somewhat boring now) how every 5 to 10 years as new "hardware" comes out the new turks repeat almost all of the software mistakes of the previous generation.


"The Cloud" seems to be on a cycle of more than ten years. I've not been 'in computers' as long as you but I've seen this come around at least three times. I've used an acoustic modem to connect a dumb terminal to a remote mainframe. I mostly ignored 'thin client computing,' and it turned out pretty much everyone else did too. Now the idea is called 'the cloud' and it's popular for the moment again.

Anyone want to guess what it will be called in fifteen or twenty years when it's invented again?


Some of the changes will be dependent on others, such as small-unit fusion Maybe Tell us, if anyone knows - how ARE Lockheed doing with their "fusion-in-a-box" claimed project? Gorn 'orribly quiet, I think?


Not necessarily sitting in them, though. Think "Drone Tank" ??


Attempts are made to build cheaper faster battleships with less armour (see battlecruisers). This does not work out. Actually, wrong It was only because Beatty was a self-important wanker, who didn't think, apart from how wonderful he was. He should have been cashiered after Jutland, not given Jellicoe's job .... Battlecruisers were not supposed to get in to a stand up fight with battleships.


That was my point -- lightly armoured cruiser tanks weren't supposed to go toe-to-toe with regular armour but in any and all worlds they will because they're tanks and an aggressive commander will attempt to use them as such. Unaggressive commanders don't usually make it to pointy-end face-of-the-enemy command. See also Patton, Rommel et al.


I have to wonder what "vaporised" means in this context though. Surely a stream of highly ionised plasma of DU (or some similarly dense material) travelling at a high impact velocity is still pretty nasty?


Try shooting a handful of flour at km/second speeds and see how far it gets. Compress the flour into a solid ball of paste and it will go further. Shoot the same weight of, say, lead or tungsten in the shape of an aerodynamic projectile and compare the final range.

The hypersonic vapour cloud will dissipate nearly all of its kinetic energy directly in front of the muzzle of the gun firing it i.e. among your own forces. The idea is to dissipate that kinetic energy Over There in the area of the enemy. Vapour is not an effective ranged weapon.


The ionization would help with magnetically accelerating it, but it would also increase the tendency to spread. In space it might be OK, but in atmosphere not so much as Nojay says. Not that it matters for a propulsion system. ANECDOTE FOLLOWS When I was a teenager I tried to make a mass driver. I drilled a series of holes in a pipe and trailed electrified wires into each hole. I had a cylinder of iron which I put into the tube at one end. When the cylinder touched a pair of wires, it completed a circuit activating an electromagnet just ahead of it in the tube. The idea was that the cylinder would accelerate, but it just came out the end at whatever speed I put it in at. Don't know what I did wrong. END ANECDOTE I guess they know how to do these things. But for use in a tank I just don't see how you have the length to get a projectile going that fast. Plus power supplies would have to be much more compact. Maybe they could use loops of superconductor to hold vast amounts of energy, but that would make the tank itself a bomb. For that matter, you could use highly charged loops of superconductor as explosive projectiles. So the ammunition stockpiles in the tank would also be bombs.


And the aummunition etc in tanks at the moment aren't bombs of a sort?


It's all stored energy of some sort and most modern weapons will release that energy quite quickly if the wrong things happen, like a fire (see the USS New Jersey turret explosion incident, 47 dead). Paradoxically the safest weapons are probably nuclear, it takes a lot of very exact things to happen in a precisely timed sequence for a Bucket of Instant Sunshine to do anything much and a simple fire or hard impact won't set it off. Not so much for chemically-powered weapons.

Electrically-powered weapons tend to need a lot of power in a short period of time -- a railgun's projectile will spend only a couple of milliseconds between the rails getting from zero to 5km/s so the instantaneous power level needed for that fraction of a second is very high. The problem is that most electricity generating systems assume large but level-load demands hence the need for storage such as supercapacitors, flywheels etc. to power such devices. Getting the power out of them fast means they have to be big, the switchgear is exotic, a lot of energy gets wasted in heat etc.

A bang-in-a-box cartridge containing a propellant and igniter behind a projectile starts to look better and better once you attempt to get the railgun or laser out of the lab and into the field.


You are still thinking of 50 tonne monsters. Think intelligent mobile mines with good pattern recognition capabilities.


So ... For hypersonic projectiles, bigger IS better ( a k a "you need a bigger one" ) But you still have ablation/friction etc problems. What happens if you design the projectile to lose mass en route, yet still arrive at target as something nasty? Could that be done? Or, you always go for howitzer-style trajectories, rather than flat =ones, though that reduces accuracy IIRC, because of "windage" on descent & longer flight-times.

Hmm hypervelocity projectiles from railgusn vs high-power line-of-sight LASER defences? Scissors/Rock/Paper


...but in any and all worlds they will because they're tanks and an aggressive commander will attempt to use them as such.

Errrr..... no. At least, not the surviving ones.

I have a friend who went on to command a Yeomanry Regiment; and who spent the 1991 Gulf War commanding a Warrior IFV attached to an infantry battlegroup. He described the rather terrifying experience of suddenly confronting either a T-55 or Type 59 (he was a bit busy to discuss the finer AFV recognition points, it was dark), and shouting both "driver reverse" and "gunner engage" while attempting to persuade the anti-tank platoon to take care of it while he got back into cover. The idea being that a three-round burst of 30mm APSE might distract the other guys sufficiently as to allow a 0-to-60-in-reverse test in a tracked vehicle.

Similarly, I have friends who operated recce vehicles (lightly armoured, 30mm gun, tracks - you know, the kind of thing that the newspapers describe as a light tank). I can't think of one that would even consider being idiotic enough to engage an MBT. It's the kind of thing that your Troop Sergeant would describe as a reallythudstupidthudthing to do, sir, although possibly with more Anglo-Saxon involved, the better to punctuate (if you've never heard "sir" used as an insult, you would be impressed at the level of disdain that can be conveyed).

I believe the US Army has a similar concept, someone went so far as to create Field Manual 22-102 for Wall-to-Wall Counselling (for the irony-impaired, it's a joke - check out "Terminal Lance", "Skippy's List", or even "Air Force Blues" for proof that the US Armed Forces are not humourless clones)


"What happens if you design the projectile to lose mass en route, yet still arrive at target as something nasty? Could that be done?"

Yes, it's called a guided missile or a cruise missile. They expel burnt fuel out the rear to counter drag and maintain their forward velocity, losing mass en route. They can travel hundreds of miles and still hit a particular window in a building like the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade whereas a hypervelocity slug from a railgun has less range and is regarded as being on target if it lands in the correct country.


Well, yes an IFV is not a tank and I never suggested it was, it's a Saracen Street bus basically. I was referring to the lighter models of fast tanks used in WWII which sacrificed armour and firepower for speed like battlecruisers. The early models of the Crusader tank only had 2pdr guns to start with but they could run at 40mph on good ground.

The theory was that heavier but slower "infantry tanks" would punch a hole in the enemy's lines and the cruisers would drive forward and use their speed to exploit the breakthrough. In the end tank-vs-tank slugfests meant the cruiser tanks got chewed up duking it out with the other side's heavy tanks alongside their bigger brothers.


"if you've never heard "sir" used as an insult, you would be impressed at the level of disdain that can be conveyed"

Drill sergeant at first parade of new officer cadets:

"You don't call me sir, I call you sir. But you aren't going to like it."


When the projectile vaporises it tends to dump all its energy right there. You can still see the results around Tunguska.

Detritus managed to weaponise the phenomenon, but only at very short range. On Roundworld it isn't really practical.


...which is why British tanks (which use two-part ammunition) store the propellant and any HESH rounds below the turret ring, and only store Fin rounds (big metal dart) above it. US tanks (which use one-part ammunition) store it behind an armoured door in the back of the turret; and uhave a weaker blowout panel above it in the turret roof.

Russian tanks use an auto loader; and ammunition is stored in a carousel under the turret floor. If it goes off, the results are apparently quite spectacular - take a look at the various images of destroyed T-72 in the Ukraine...


We already have a good guess at how to defend against insect-sized drones: keep the hatches closed and let 'em sit on the other side of your NBC protection until you get back to base, which presumably has some method to kill them at the boundary (or else why just use them against individual tanks?).


Maybe I should have phrased that question differently? (!)


Weapons are energy, usually applied at a distance from the user. Any solid object that has to travel a long way to its target, more than arm's reach, like an arrow from a bow, a slingshot, a bullet or an artillery shell is going to lose energy on the way due to air friction unless it's pushed from behind during its trip in which case it gets more energy added to compensate. The faster it starts the trip to the target the more energy it will lose due to air friction. There's no other method to compensate for those frictional losses.


Tanks are a compromise between firepower, mobility, and protection. The U.K., like Israel, looks for firepower and protection, and trades off mobility (although the hydrogen suspension in CR2 outperforms the torsion-bar suspension in other tanks; it might not be faster over flat ground). The Germans, US, and Russians look for firepower and mobility, and trade off against protection; but the Russians emphasise mobility more and use that inverse-square thing to their advantage by shrinking the crewed volume using an auto loader and compromising the elevation range of main armament (you don't need to shoot uphill on steppes; and there isn't much cove, so you'd better drive fast and use lots of smoke). Lower smaller turrets, means 40-50t rather than 60-70t, and they go like race cars.

Doctrine, and the vehicles designed to support it, are often driven by geography. it can all go wrong if the design requirements change. Look at the ability of BMP-2 to elevate its gun compared to that of BMP-1; it allowed Russian IFVs to shoot at Afghans above them in mountain passes. Consider the new emphasis on mine protection to counteract IEDs, or on IR jammers and active protection to counteract ATGM (the USSR came up with a cute way to jam early-generation SACLOS weapons by jamming at the IR frequency used by the ATGM launcher to track the missile in flight, and gather it and keep it flying down the aiming crosshairs)

Anyway , if it's uncrewed, why bother with all the armour? Just stick it on a soft-skinned wheelbase. If it's just a mine, don't bother with the mobility - just emplace it where needed. Oops, been done - look at the Iranian-designed flank-attack IEDs in use in Iraq, or the various off-route mines developed around the UK 94mm LAW.

You either make the resulting weapon smart and expensive (currently it's the sensor that costs, not the computing) and thus scarce; or dumb and cheap, so you can put them everywhere.

It doesn't make it a tank, just another tank-killer - and so far it hasn't been an invalidation of the tank concept.


Think intelligent mobile mines with good pattern recognition capabilities.

So, something like this with an iPhone dock, then.


if you've never heard "sir" used as an insult, Something like "With all due respect sir..."?


Comes off much better and they can't officially take offense if the "with all due respect" is buried in the tone and not stated explicitly.


Current warfare methods in the middle east are predicated on an asymmetric situation.The various targets have essentially no antiaircraft capability and are dead meat for modern attack helos with all environment sensors. The grunts on the ground are in effect bait to draw the insurgent forces out, after which it's a killing time. The opposition tries to avoid this and pick soft targets. Tanks dont really figure.


Sometimes you know a trap is dangerous and still you just have to mess with it just to see what you can get away with. Otherwise they never would expose themselves to attack ground forces. I imagine that even if the insurgents had AA, ruling out low flying aircraft, tanks would not be what moved in to fill the gap, except in certain well defined circumstances. Looks like history has finally caught up with tanks.


"Sir, you're making a scene."


Nah, more likely "That's a brave decision, Sir..."


Tanks dont really figure

Then you're not watching closely. Take a quick web search using the terms "syria tank gopro"; or much from ANNA news (Russian lot, but lots of embedded coverage).

Plenty of footage of T-72, BMP, and even 2S3 and ZSU-23-4 in direct fire roles. Armoured vehicles are a force multiplier for the Assad regime; and the occasional captured tank has been used by its opponents.

The various targets have essentially no antiaircraft capability

The West has been careful to avoid distributing MANPADS, because of the risk of proliferation to terrorist groups; certainly, there was a lot of apparent twitchiness when Gaddafi's ammunition bunkers were opened up, and I suspect a fair few suitcases of cash were offered to buy any anti-aircraft weaponry that emerged.

However, that's not to say it isn't possible for insurgents to gain access to serious AD weapons - as the fate of flight MH17 demonstrated.


There's a very good reason why a combination of intelligent pattern matching and high explosive is mistrusted by the military - it's called an awareness of history...


However, that's not to say it isn't possible for insurgents to gain access to serious AD weapons - as the fate of flight MH17 demonstrated. "Insurgents? Really? Quite sure they weren't "little green men"? [ Russian troops in other words ]


The "little green men" in Crimea were the lads in blue and white stripey T-shirts from the units of special designation, and even Putin now admits it. the time, someone compared the registration plates on one of their shiny new 4x4s, and found the exact same plate in a publicity puff-piece about how said vehicles were now in service with a particular unit of the Russian Army. Gotcha, and a beautiful example of OSINT.

The problem for MH17 is that the lad who pushed the button on the Buk-M1, apparently started bragging about having shot down a Ukrainian aircraft immediately afterwards on his social media account (since deleted). The various intelligence services presumably know exactly who was in the firing crew; and ISTR from the reporting that it was a bunch of Donetsk separatists, not Russian regulars / GRU types.


"Insurgents?" Really?

Easier than saying "Terrorists/Freedom Fighters" and waiting for some gullible enthusiast to claim that it's all western propaganda, it was a Ukrainian Su-25 that did it and ran away :(

Irregular forces can really only exist on a significant scale with some form of State actor in support - no-one else can afford it. Armies are expensive things to run even in peacetime - wars are insanely expensive. Even the simplest item, namely military small-arms ammunition, comes in at about 40p a bang, tank ammunition as a three-figure sum, guided weapons at least a four or five figure sum, anything that flies will cost you four figure sum per flying hour. Throw in food, fuel, and clothing, and it gets expensive quickly.

If that State actor wants to make a point, they are quite able to supply some hefty equipment; Hezbollah was taking on Israeli armour with some very capable Russian anti-tank weapons. The Donetsk separatists were handed tanks, artillery, and anti-aircraft weapons by the Russians (and possibly directly supported by Russian Army units). Libya supplied PIRA with several shiploads of weaponry (see the MV Eksund).

So: if a State decides that the "insurgents" are to have a rather capable anti-"something" system, the better to test it out against the latest "something" of the "other" side, then don't be surprised...


Wasn't the Kobane defenders' acquisition of anti-armour capability (either because the peshmerga arrived or the US began airstrikes) the point where that entire battle turned? Which would tend to support your point.


There are actually very few Russian troops in Ukraine. Russia generally supplies arms and more importantly pays the wages of the separatists. The latter were made up originally of a good number of professional soldiers.


THIS Irregular forces can really only exist on a significant scale with some form of State actor in support - no-one else can afford it. And, for that matter, the rest of your post ( Thank you ) made me remember something obvious - right in front of all our faces, actually.

Where are the money & supplies for the Taliban & Da'esh coming from? Someone is supporting these mad, murdering semi-nazi bastards, or they wouldn't be doing so well ( For certain values of "well" ) I suspect the extreme Sunni / Saudi / Wahabi nutters ... but: Cui bono? What's in it for them? And why?


Where are the money & supplies for the Taliban & Da'esh coming from?

The Taliban sells heroin and Da'esh sells oil (plus archeological relics). America is currently having something of a heroin epidemic due to low prices. Somebody is dumping it, prime suspect being somebody in Afghanistan who needs money.

As for ISIS or whatever:

But indeed, "irregular" forces are usually indirect agents of states. They are used to do things the state itself does not wish to be openly seen to be doing.


"ISIS" (aka ISIL, 'Islamic State' et al) are Western misnomers for Da'esh.


No, it is what it calls itself



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This page contains a single entry by M Harold Page published on September 30, 2015 11:09 AM.

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