Needless to say I remain as saddened by Jaques's passing as I am the breaking up and dispersal of his magnificent collection, however I feel quite privileged indeed having been able to visit it as I did one last time, and share these photos with all of you.
So without further ado, for your consideration, we begin with some of the first tanks to enter the Second World War from American factories, and some of their British contemporaries. Firstly, an M3 Stuart light tank in all of its diminutive feisty glory:
Followed with a later production M5 Stuart located inside the main facility:
Two Stuarts outside the main facility, with a large depot of assorted AFVs and military vehicles awaiting restoration work:
Here's an M3 Lee, followed by a shot taken through the open side hull access door showing off "the office" that was the driver's station and the 75mm main gun in its sponson mount:
And Another M3 sans turret but showing off to good effect the exceptional height of the vehicle's hull and riveted construction:
Here's the side access door off the same M3 (thick as a safe door and just as heavy), and another view of the 75mm main gun's breach mechanism and driver's seat:
Among the most iconic of the Allied tanks of World War II is the M4 Sherman in all of its iterations. This one has some added applique armor welded on to try and enhance the tanks' armor protection against the unpleasantly effective German anti-tank weapons of the day:
And another M4 this one with the cast hull and added applique plates on the hull sides:
Next is a Sherman Jumbo mounting a 105mm howitzer and much heavier armor suitable for its close support assault role:
The armor thickness is particularly impressive to say the least:
And a later iteration of the Sherman Jumbo assault variant. Again, the thick armor protection is quite impressive:
Here's a later 76mm M4 Sherman with HVSS suspension:
Meanwhile in England, the British Army needed armored cars for reconnaissance duties, and this Humber is one of their indigenous answers to that requirement:
The Staghound is a later design used by the British Army, sporting a heavier armament than the Boys anti-tank rifles and machine guns of earlier British designs:
The first all wheel drive German answer to the same problem was the Sdkfz 222 4-Rad light armored car. The Example here is I was told previously only one of two restored examples in the world and the only such vehicle in running order:
Early on the German Army realized that they needed a dedicated assault gun to support the infantry in fighting against prepared positions and built up areas. The result was the Sturmgeschutz III, a 7.5 cm howitzer mounted in a fixed armored casemate on a Panzerkampfwagen III chassis. A successful enough design for its original intended purpose, the Stug III was adapted out of expediency into a tank destroyer role as the war turned against Germany. The version seen here is a definitive enough model, armed with the 7.5 cm high velocity anti-tank gun and spaced armor to defend against hollow-charge anti-tank rockets and magnetic shaped charges:
As things turned sour on the Eastern Front in the contest between German infantry and Soviet armor, the Germans were immediately confronted with the problem of their infantry having the means to handle Russian heavy armor especially the KV-series of heavy tanks and the growing numbers of the revolutionary T-34/76 medium tanks. The standard German anti-tank gun in service in 1941 when the German invasion of the Soviet Union began was the 3.7 cm Pak 36, a weapon that had already shown its severe limitations in the French Campaign the summer before. While the new and more powerful 5 cm Pak 38 was starting to come into service in time for Operation Barbarossa, there were simply not enough of them to go around. Shortfalls in Pak 38 availability were made up in part by the expedient of employing several hundred of the excellent French 47mm Puteaux Mle37 anti-tank gun captured during the Battle of France, but these and a smaller number of ex-Czech 4.7cm weapons were simply not enough to begin to replace the obsolescent Pak 36.
After the initial shock of the early encounters between Pak 36 and Russian heavy armor had sunk into the heads of the disbelieving German brass, they made haste to push forward the development of the 7.5 cm Pak 40. But again, necessity mixed with production shortfalls and immediate battlefield demands is the ultimate high speed mother of invention. The German brass came up with a short-term solution to try and meet the demands of the hard-pressed German infantry for a more powerful anti-tank gun, a simple enough expedient of taking advantage of a huge stock of captured French M1897 field guns.
While the M1897 as its model number implies was a pre-WW1 design, these venerable horse-drawn weapons were still quite lethal as more than a few German panzers discovered the hard way first in Poland in 1939, then during the Battle of France the following year. Possessing a high rate of fire and capable firing both high explosive and a useful armor piercing round, the French M1897 was married by German ingenuity to a Pak 38 split trail gun carriage, and fitted with a perforated muzzle break to reduce the weapon's normally fierce recoil. The results speak for themselves as seen here in this rare restored example of the 7.5 cm Pak97/38:
Prior to the introduction of a more powerful dedicated anti-tank gun the German solution to the problem of Allied tanks with armor too thick for the little Pak 36 to crack was provided by the Luftwaffe flak units accompanying the divisions as they advanced. When a French Char B1bis or British Mathilda II came calling, the German infantry had been in a real bind in 1940. The expedient solution was to call in Stukas if they were available, or more frequently to employ 10.5 cm light field howitzers firing armor piercing shells over open sights or bring up the big 8.8 cm Flak guns, the big, bulky versions with the "barndoor" gun shield as seen in this impressive example in the Littlefield collection:
Of course a big gun takes a big tractor to move it, and this is the standard vehicle used by the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht to tow the famous "88:"
This particular halftrack was the very same one used in the movie The Dirty Dozen.
The race between tank armor and anti-tank gun was off from the very beginning during World War II. Many of the armies engaged initially went to war relying upon anti-tank rifles. These were mostly exceedingly large, high velocity, heavy caliber bolt action guns mounted on a bipod that could be carrier by one infantryman, and firing armor piercing bullets around the 12.7mm to 14.5mm range in caliber. Against the thinly-armored Panzer I and II these were adequate enough, but against the heavier Panzer III and IV they were all but useless. Most armies had recognized that tank armor was only getting thicker even before the war started, and the British Army introduced the previously mentioned 2 Pounder, the French Army had both the 25mm 34SA and 37SA, and the more powerful Puteaux 37SA anti tank guns. The Russian Army went to war with a 45mm anti-tank gun developed off of the German Pak 36.
Quickly finding their 2 Pounder inadequate against the Panzer III and IV as those ubiquitous German tanks gained thicker armor protection, the British rushed to develop the larger 6 Pounder:
The U.S. Army used the 6 Pounder as our own 37mm weapons were instantly found to be no more useful than the 2 Pounder against the German panzers in North Africa. Then the Germans introduced the Tiger I in the fighting for Tunisia, and the British and American armies scrambled to try and up the ante. We came up with the 3-inch anti-tank gun shown here maddeningly enough covered by a tarp:
Of course, the U.S. Army had its own way of doing things, so they came up with the idea that tanks were not to be engaged by other tanks, but by tank destroyers. The definitive model of the U.S. Tank Destroyer concept was this, the M36 Jackson:
The idea of a dedicated tank destroyer was not uniquely an American invention per se, as other countries developed and even deployed in combat fully tracked, partially or fully armored self propelled anti-tank guns. Further, expedient designs were very quick to crop up in the aftermath of the initial German successes in Poland and France, and here is one such example, a British 2 Pounder anti tank gun mounted on a Bren Gun Carrier chassis:
The sheer vulnerability of the gun crew alone would have been bad enough, but the thin armor and limited onboard ammunition stowage capacity would have made this vehicle a very dubious solution indeed.
The Germans kept on with their expedient use of the panzerjager or assault gun concept. Perhaps one of the more iconic of the late war German expedient designs that turned out to be quite effective despite its limitations was the Hetzer ("Baiter") built on the Czech 38t light tank chassis:
I always did like the Hetzer's pugnacious look, and I knew it was small, but to be up close to one is to appreciate just how cramped and uncomfortable it must have been to be packed into a Hetzer with two other grown men under combat conditions. The situational awareness inside the Hetzer was if memory serves correct rather poor as well due to the cramped quarters and limited vision ports and optics. Even so, the little Hetzer was well designed in terms of its sloped armor, low target profile, and decent 7.5 cm main gun.
The race between armor thickness and gun power was waged on both sides. As bigger guns showed up, tanks got thicker armor, got bigger guns, and got bigger in many cases as well, especially on the Eastern Front. Here's a closeup of the armor thickness of a British Churchill Infantry Tank:
Very quickly on it was appreciated that in order to be fully effective on both the operational and tactical level, tanks had to be supported by infantry and artillery able to keep pace with their advance. To this end the Germans were towing their artillery not with horses but with halftracks such as the one used to move the "88" flak gun above. Their solution to the infantry or dedicated Panzergrenadiers keeping pace with the panzers on the attack was to mount them in armored halftrack personnel carriers. This is one splendid example of the Sdkfz 251 halftrack used by the German Army during World War II, a machine that entered service just before the war began in 1939 and that soldiered on to the very end in 1945 (and a variant built in Czechoslovakia was used postwar by the Czech Army):
Like the U.S. Army, the Germans realized the need for a small, general purpose cross country military vehicle that could be used for a variety of roles including reconnaissance. Just as the U.S. Army had the ubiquitous Willys Jeep, the German Wehrmacht and Waffen SS had the Volkswagen Kubelwagen, and the Littlefield collection was equally blessed thanks to Jaques's efforts with a splendidly restored example:
As the Germans had their halftracks, so did the U.S. Army, and like the Germans we developed our own specialized variants, along with fully tracked artillery tractors such as this one:
And here's a personal favorite of mine, the M16 Halftrack mounting quad .50 caliber heavy machineguns, just the thing for dealing with Luftwaffe ground attack aircraft and annoying German infantry strongpoints in equal measure:
One solution to the problem of combined arms mechanized operations was the mounting of a standard light field howitzer on a standard tank chassis. The resultant combination was a vehicle that offered its crew the advantages of superior mobility over a towed artillery piece, and a usually better if still modest armor protection from shrapnel and small arms fire. The U.S. Army solution was to wed the M3 Lee chassis to the standard 105mm howitzer. Due to its distinctive raised machine gun station, the vehicle was dubbed the Priest by the British Army units in North Africa that were the first operational users of the new and extremely handy mobile howitzer:
With standardization in mind and demand for the new Priest self-propelled howitzer loud and clear, the British Army produced its own version, marrying the chassis of the Canadian Ram or Grizzly medium tanks (license built copies of the M3 Lee and M4 Sherman respectively) with the standard British 25 Pounder field howitzer to produce the Sexton:
As the German tanks grew still bigger and their armor thicker (and the ubiquitous M4 Shermans and their British counterparts were substantively outclassed by the new Tiger tanks), the race to give the Allied infantry a big enough gun to handle the new threat posed by the German Panther and Tiger resulted in the British 17 Pounder anti-tank gun, a 77mm high velocity weapon that could indeed tackle the Panther and even the Tiger with a fighting chance for success with a well placed shot:
The definitive U.S. response to the threat of the German Tiger and Panther entered combat only at the very end of the war, and only in very limited numbers, yet the M26 Pershing proved its worth time and again, able to match the Tiger I on a more than even footing and dominate the Panther with its high velocity 90mm main gun:
World War II was a war fought with everything from weapons dating back to the previous century. Nations ranged in their capabilities depending upon their industrial capacity and their ability to innovate rapidly under wartime conditions. The Russian army made due with many of the same weapons used by the armies of the Tsar, including the iconic Russian Sokolov water cooled machine gun on its wheeled carriage:
A far more modern weapon was the 12.7mm Dshk heavy machine gun, also mounted in the characteristic Russian manner on a wheeled carriage:
Imperial Japan like Fascist Italy was not equipped for a modern, mechanized and industrialized war, and her armies made due with weapons that while suitable for punishing poorly-equipped and badly led Chinese armies, were little better than the same sort of horse-drawn weapons used during the First World War:
The nature of the Pacific Theater of Operations led the U.S. Marine Corps to develop specialized amphibious landing tractors known as "Amtracks." While first exclusively troop carriers, these lightly armored amphibious tracked vehicles soon morphed into fire support variants mounting tank or in the case of this example a 75mm Howitzer Motor Carriage turret:
Meanwhile, in neutral Sweden, tanks are also developed by the indigenous Swedish armaments industry (and are even built under license in Hungary and used by both Finland and Hungary in small numbers):
Luckily for Sweden, no one violated their neutrality during World War II, so her woefully light and lightly gunned tanks were never forced to try and challenge a German Panzer IV or a Russian T-34/76...
And this leads us to the iconic antagonists of the Eastern Front during World War II, the Russian T-34/76 and later T-34/85, and the German Panther tank. An example of each of these machines was a part of the Littlefield Collection, with the Panther in particular holding a pride of place due to its backstory and extensive restoration effort.
We therefore begin with the nasty shock to the German Army in 1941, a tank they did not even suspect existed until the first examples were encountered and the truth about Russian "inferiority" in technological innovation was learned the hard way by the hapless German units that had to deal with this new and revolutionary tank design, the T-34/76:
One thing that I'd read before and that struck me on the spot was the very rough quality of the armor casting on the Russian tanks, with a resultant texture akin to very coarse concrete or even stucco:
Clearly the Russian production standard was to churn the tanks out with a required thickness of armor and in as great a number as possible, with such niceties as a smooth finish in metal casting being of secondary consideration.
This sits in stark contrast to the German Panther in the Littlefield Collection, whose rough external texture is the result of the application of the Zimmerit paste to (hopefully) prevent the attachment of magnetic anti-tank mines by fanatical Russian infantry:
Getting up close and personal with this Panther as I had done previously when the restoration work had only gotten as far as the completion of the hull and suspension sans turret, engine, and treads, I was already appreciative of how Allied soldiers viewed this imposing armored monster.
One of my uncles had served as a Combat Forward Observer during the German Campaign, and had at least one confrontation with German tanks in combat, an experience that left my Uncle Lloyd marveling at both his luck for surviving the experience and as he put it having "...more guts than brains" as a young G.I. taking on a still dangerous German Army desperately trying to defend German soil:
When first brought in after being recovered from a Polish river bottom, the Panther was without a turret. The original turret had been destroyed by the Russian Army after it had been abandoned in the river, having become stuck hopelessly in the mud during the German Army's retreat before the advancing Red Army. So Jaques's team of restoration experts had to not only clean up, repair, and restore the hull and suspension as much as possible, but build up a new turret from scratch, including all of the bells and whistles as possible.
The exquisite level of workmanship speaks for itself, so much so that we were told by the docent that when some German panther veterans saw the tank, they joked that it was so well restored that it even leaked oil like the originals did (but didn't smell as bad inside!):
The Russian answer to the panther was the T-34/85, the wedding of the proven T-34/76 chassis with a new turret mounting a more powerful 85mm gun adapted from a powerful Russian anti-aircraft gun:
Here's a closeup of the DT machine gun mounting in the front of the hull. Again, note the rough finish of the metal casting:
Because the driver's hatch was open, I was able to lean in with my camera and take some shots of the interior. Most striking in the T-34 is the lack of a turret basket. The turret crew merely stood at their stations, and the ammunition stowage was located in the floor under the turret under rubber mats:
Seen side by side, the Panther and its worthy foe, the T-34/85:
The contrast in this view is striking, the diminutive size of the 1930s-vintage Mk. IV Light Tank and the later M5 Stuart, with the menacing bulk of the Panther in the background, showing off its sloped armor and massive bulk supporting a weapon the designers of the Mk. IV Light Tank or Stuart did not think was necessary for a tank to carry (if it was even mechanically practical):
And just when I thought it was safe to leave at the end of our tour, I happened to slip away from the hawk-eyed docents and slip out a side door, exploring the facility to see what else might be hidden from immediate view. I was not disappointed, as I discovered a rare specialized demolition tank developed by the German Army to defeat heavily-fortified bunkers:
The vehicle was designed to drive up to a concrete bunker or fortified position, and drop a massive explosive charge contained in a detachable armored box mounted on the front that was sitting alongside this example in the Littlefield Collection:
I confess I was simply astonished by this discovery, as relatively few of these Borgward IV were made, and only five surviving examples are known to exist.
Next Installment: The Cold War.