Close Support Tanks in 1945

Discussion in 'Trux Discussion Area' started by JDKR, Sep 6, 2016.

  1. JDKR

    JDKR Member

    Trux shows two generic close support tanks in the 1945 organization of armoured regiment squadron HQs but does not specify types. In 1945, I understand that each squadron HQ in 29th Armoured Brigade (11th Armoured Division) and 6th Guards Armoured Brigade contained two 95 mm support howitzers, Cromwell VI and Churchill V respectively. My questions are:

    1. Did the squadron HQs in 22nd Armoured Brigade (7th Armoured Division) contain Cromwell VI 95 mm support howitzers?

    2. Was the Sherman 75mm used as the close support tank in the squadron HQs of the Sherman-equipped regiments in 4th Armoured Brigade and the Guards Armoured Division? I'm pretty sure that answer to this is 'yes'!
     
  2. JDKR

    JDKR Member

    Apologies, I hit send before giving my post the right title, which should have been Close Support Tanks.
     
  3. idler

    idler GeneralList

    The answer to (1) is yes. There are photos of at least one of 4 CLY A Sqn's after capture at Villers-Bocage.
    I can't remember the background to it, but at least one Cromwell CS was used by a troop leader. Bill Cotton of B Sqn 4 CLY had one, though he parked it out of the way and controlled his battle on foot.

    Interesting question about the all-Sherman units; one that I've never thought to ask. 75mm-gunned Cromwells didn't need CS any more than Shermans but they had them.
     
  4. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Top of post #1 it says THREAD TOOLS, click that , drop down menu allows you to Edit thread title.
    I could do it but better if members learn their way around forum too. ;)
     
  5. JDKR

    JDKR Member

    Thanks Owen. Done.

    It would be interesting to know how the 95 mm close support howitzers were employed in action. If they were necessary for Cromwell, Churchill and Comet regiments, why were't they necessary for Sherman regiments, which is your point Idler.
     
  6. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    The basic allocation in 21AG in 1944 was; (UE is Unit Entitlements)

    7th Armd Div - UE 24 95-mm Cromwells (six per Regt, issued as two per Sqn)
    11th Armd Div - UE 6 95-mm Cromwells (two per Sqn in Armd Recce Regt only)
    Gds Armd Div - UE as per 11th Armd Div

    Indep Armd Bdes - nil UE for CS tanks
    Tk Bde - UE 18 95-mm Churchills (six per Regt, issued as two per Sqn)

    4th Cdn Armd Div - nil UE for CS tanks

    2nd Cdn Armd Bde - nil UE for CS tanks

    There were a couple of changes during 1945. As 11th Armd re-equipped with Comets, their UE for 95-mm Cromwells changed to 24, so sufficient for two per Comet Sqn. Also, as Canadian forces transferred en masse from Italy they brought with them 105-mm armed Shermans, which weren't used by British, Canadian or Polish units in 21AG before then. Going from memory I think their UE was 42 (so enough for two per Sqn in 1st Armd Bde and 5th Armd Div), then doubled to 84 before VE-Day, so an expectation that the other Cdn Armd Regts would equip accordingly.

    Gary
     
  7. idler

    idler GeneralList

    The purpose of the CS tanks was to put down smoke, something which 'traditional' British tanks couldn't do with their 2 pdr or 6 pdr guns.
    Once the British 75mm gun had been developed to fire the US ammunition, all tanks could provide their own smoke as well as HE, so the dedicated CS tank was effectively redundant.
    Of course, we'd already produced the 95mm and fitted it into Cromwells and Churchills, so it probably made more sense to use them than not. Or the RAC was unwilling to admit the failure of the concept...
    As per Gary's notes, they were only employed in units that had British tanks to minimise the maintenance burden.
     
  8. JDKR

    JDKR Member

    Excellent replies and questions answered. My thanks to you both.
     
  9. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    Might be a bit harsh on the CS tanks. The US Army had had 75-mm armed tanks since the M3 Grant, but when the M4 was introduced they still opted to arm a number of tanks with the 105-mm howitzer, so an approximation to the CS tank. The issue was similar, six per Tank Bn, with one per Tank Coy and three more in an Assault Gun Pl in HQ Coy. The stated role (FM 17-25) was to give "close support fire by firing on small area and point targets, and by filling gaps in artillery concentrations and smoke screens...The assault gun employs either direct or indirect fire. It is habitually used with the base of fire".

    I've not seen 1943-45 era typical loads for British armour (love to if I knew where to look), but there are some illustrative ones from the desert fighting of late 1942. Crusader CS shows as 25 HE and 40 smoke, Matilda CS as 16 HE and 36 smoke. The Sherman is listed as 50 AP, 40 HE and 10 smoke.

    In the memoir "64 days of a Normandy summer" (a read I'd highly recommend), the author comments of his short stint in a CS Cromwell the ammunition was all HE, no AP, but doesn't mention smoke.

    I'm reasonably sure the British Army used 105-mm armed Shermans in Italy, as mentioned the Canadians certainly did.

    Gary
     
  10. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    My understanding of this is that the British weren't especially happy with the 75mm smoke as it tended to "pillar" rather than disperse effectively. The UE's for British Sherman formations in NWE were supposed to include 105mm Shermans to the same ratio as Cromwell CS's, but these tanks weren't generally available.

    The anti-tank ammunition for the 95mm was a HEAT shell, but by the time this was distributed enemy tanks were extremely thin on the ground.
     
  11. chrisgrove

    chrisgrove Senior Member

    Well, that does not appear on my machine!
    Chris
     
  12. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    According to Gerry Chester's memoir for Tunisia and Italy, there was no "set" load-out for CS tank's munitions by 1942-43, they were loaded as expected to be used in any coming engagement.

    For early-war CS tanks the"ideal" standard load-out is usually listed in individual marks' lading diagrams...but as above, by mid-war experience was making this a moveable feast.

    As for how they were to be used, somewhere on a CS tank thread on the forum there's a manual posted up on CS tanks' use of smoke. Yes, occasionally they were used to lay smoke - covering river crossings etc., again Gerry mentions 100% smoke loads for those operations - but in the main the intention was for CS tanks to accompany a HQ squadron and lay smoke as directed in the immediate vicinity of any identified A/T guns or likely positions. The manual contains lots of nice diagrams for how to triangulate a "point target" with smoke, how it would disperse it.

    Tanks' own smoke dischargers had a VERY short range, and were just about good enough to obscure a tank's own position...perhaps with a fast reverse back a few yards LOL But the idea of CS tanks was for a squadron commander to be able to reach out and cover the immediate front of an enemy position, or blind direct-fire gunners....thus permitting the tanks to manouver more safely.

    Why did they carry HE at all? Well, the REAL killer of tanks were A/T guns, so they carried a certain amount for their own defence. By the time of the 95mm, it was a decent HE thrower itself...but in the early war years the 3" and 3.5" howitzers seem to have been pretty pathetic weapons in terms of range and HE shell burster charge. So when the CS concept was being put into practice in the main....the smoke rounds were the main "weapon". Ideally allowing those 2pdr-armed gun tanks to close to MG range and effectiveness against A/T gun crews.

    As with too many other concepts - BP Defiant turret fighter, anyone? ;) - perhaps we spent TOO much time in the interwar years experimenting and testing and trying out concepts. What looked like a good idea depended on the enemy behaving exactly as we wanted them to...and they had a disturbing tendency not to do that!
     
    Sheldrake likes this.
  13. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Gunner Tours

    The other issue regarding smoke screens from CS tanks is that these tanks didn't carry the ammunition to be of much use. Sure, in the fortunate event of facing a lone anti tank gun it might well be possible to smoke it off. byut that assumes a compliant enemy who doesn't site weapons using the principles of mutual support.

    Much of this thinking came from an era when the RAC were led by tank extremists who thought that tanks were the answer to every tactical problem and neglected co-operation with other arms.

    By 1945 it was far easier to ask the gunners to lay a smoke screen if you needed it because they had the resources, expertise, dedicated communications and logistic support. If you wanted to blind an enemy or cover movement, they could take on tasks such as "mask the abbey at Cassino for four days."

    Note that the best known example of a tank smoke screen is the one laid by the Irish Guards at Nijmegen - and is famously useless. There was no liaison between the paratroops and the unit firing the smoke screen. No one to say "amend fireplan all targets on call/ add 30 minutes to all timings etc"
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2016
  14. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    There are innumerable positive reports of the usefulness of CS tanks, their main benefit being that they could lay smoke immediately in response to a particular situation (e.g. recovering casualties) while laying smoke from guns usually needed to be planned, scheduled etc.

    They weren't intended to be a substitute for RA smoke - if they were, there wouldn't have only been 6 of them per regiment. There were occasions when CS tanks were used to screen operational movements (I think crossing the Senio was an example), but this wasn't their intended purpose.
     

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