Worst Tank of WWII

T34

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A couple of other nominees...

The Type 95 Ha-Go: Now, this has to be considered a tank in context. While Germany and the Soviet Union were learning (mostly the wrong) lessons from the Spanish Civil War, Japan was already fighting in China. Japan based its armored force on WWI tanks acquired from Great Britain with a big caveat: the were dreadfully afraid of setting their crews on fire. As a result, Japan switched to diesel and lined their tanks with asbestos.

Keep in mind that the Japanese had two grand strategic visions pre-WWII. One, the Northern axis, which favored conflict against the Soviet Union to take advantage of the raw materials and open tracts of land in Siberia. The other, the Southern axis, favored action against resource rich Southeast Asia (binding together a greater Asian empire led by Japan), which would naturally bring it into conflict with the US. Both of these strategies would bog down because events would turn Japan toward a Chinese quagmire--goaded on by uncontrolled elements of the Kwantung Army. However, Khalkun Gol would decide the issue between North and South by terrifying the IJA against the Red Army. The IJA realized that it was completely unequipped to deal with the Red Army across the tank country of Northern China.

The IJA has was already married to light tanks because it was allocated a small amount of armor which was otherwise engaged in shipbuilding and a paucity of fuel to drive heavier vehicles. Of these, the favored was the Type 95 Ha-Go. The Ha-Go was a domestically developed light tank--very light. It had two machine guns and a 37mm main armament. One machine gun was in the bow and the other was mounted at a 4 o'clock position in the turret. The power plant was a 6 cylinder diesel. With the exception of the bizarre 4 o'clock MG, all of these are admirable qualities. It was a nice, simple tank for a country that wasn't going to be fighting big tank on tank battles.

However, the armor was thin. Very thin. 9 to 12mm of armor on the front--barely enough to ward off small arms. The 37mm main armament was of course never meant to take on other tanks. In fact, it would have had a bad time facing any American tank starting from the M2 and virtually any Red Army tank not meant for a completely recon role.

The 37mm gun was insufficient for an anti-tank gun and really not very useful as an anti-infantry gun. It was so bad, in fact, that the commander--the only occupant of the turret--would frequently swing it around to the 8 o'clock position and use the MG instead. It was also totally unbalanced. Because the turret was unpowered, fine adjustments were made by manually swinging the 37 in a 45 degree arc in its mantlet. However, the gun was quite front heavy and swung around like a tongue on a winded golden retriever--especially on an incline. The turret also had an overhang which allowed it to be jammed with the use of a bayonet. I'm not sure how often this was used by close combatting infantry--this weakness was discovered by the British in Malaya (long after when it would have been useful to the Chinese.

However, I refrained from including this in the list of worst tanks because let's face it, the Ha Go seems adequate against the Chinese, where they were sure to face few tanks, few anti-tank weapons and little artillery concentrations capable of targeting a small formation of armor. It was also small and light for transportation on ocean voyages (allowing it to be used in island invasions. It was reliable and easily maintained. All in all, not bad for the context in which the Japanese expected to fight.

Being powered on diesel fuel (which is a kind of by product of the production of aviation fuel), it didn't interfere with the vital nature of Japanese aircraft logistics.

So, while in a rank comparison, the Ha Go is no doubt a really shitty vehicle that, assuming you survive seven years of war within one, will probably give you lung cancer, is in its context not one of ASL's worst tanks. About 2000 were built.


I was also going to include New Zealand's Bob Semple tank, until I realized that it never went into "production." New Zealand, in 1941, very much feared a Japanese invasion as part of a strategy to separate allies US and Australia. It therefore considered commandeering and converting numerous (about 90) Caterpillar D9 tractors with sheets of mild steel (unstrengthened non-armor quality) plates. Bristling with machine guns, 3 prototypes were made before the US, in its mercy, offered up Shermans in 1944. However, threat of invasion by this time the threat of invasion had faded. The worst idea coming out of New Zealand since the inclusion of Taurial in the Hobbit.

 

T34

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I've always thought British cruiser tanks suffered from ASL's inability to cope with the differences in hitting fast tanks as opposed to slow tanks.

Before you scream, let me explain: Imagine you have an ability to fire at a 60 degree slice to fire in front of you. Which would be easier to hit: a Ferdinand or a BT7? The BT7 is going to spend one fourth of the time in that slice than a Ferdinand.

So while I realize there are lots of crazy ass angles on a British cruiser tanks--many of which seem to direct shells hitting the turret directly down into the roof of the vehicle--let's be completely honest: if you are in a cruiser tank and you get hit, the only good news you have is that the 40L you sport doesn't have any HE rounds to set off significant secondary explosions.
 

Old Noob

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The M4's propensity for a fiery death was NOT the fuel tanks, but unprotected ammunition storage. Once the 'wet stowage' was introduced, fires were reduced.
Small consolation for those crews whose tank was hit by a Panzerfaust/Panzerschreck or Panther's/Tiger's main armament.
 

Michael Dorosh

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The M4's propensity for a fiery death was NOT the fuel tanks, but unprotected ammunition storage. Once the 'wet stowage' was introduced, fires were reduced.
Small consolation for those crews whose tank was hit by a Panzerfaust/Panzerschreck or Panther's/Tiger's main armament.
Exactly correct. It is a long-standing myth that gasoline was responsible for this - German tanks used gasoline as well, despite what Karl Malden said in PATTON.
 

T34

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Well, yes and no. Gasoline does burn much hotter than diesel. After Khalkin Gol, the Soviets turned away from the BT series (gasoline) and went with diesel because of their tendency to burn when hit. So it isn't completely a myth.
 

Paul M. Weir

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Well, yes and no. Gasoline does burn much hotter than diesel.
Not quite. Petrol produces large amounts of vapour when mixed with the right amount of air forms an explosive mixture that can detonate/deflagrate. Even without an ideal petrol-air mix the fumes can be ignited, though not as spectacularly. In either case even the smallest spark can trigger a nasty fire/blast.

Diesel produces much less vapour at the same temperature and ignition of such a diesel-air mixture is much, much harder to ignite. However pass an AP round through a diesel tank and you will likely have a very fine mist of ignitable diesel. Ditto for blast from a HE shell. While still not as easily ignited as petrol, this mist can be ignited.

The effects on flesh are different. Petrol on skin or clothing will burn nicely, but the heat from the combustion produces a slightly insulating layer of petrol vapour which burns on the air-side/outside, keeping a gap between clothing/skin and flame for some little time. Diesel, not producing much vapour, effectively burns at the air-diesel interface, quickly heating the still liquid diesel and underlying clothing/tissue. Quickly dousing/smothering a petrol flame on a person can drastically reduce skin damage, but you have to be far quicker with a diesel flame.

From odds and sods from memory of some book(s), the comments were that petrol engines ignited easier but diesel engines if ignited produced nastier burns. Of course ammunition propellant fires were a more common reason than fuel fires for burn casualties.

After Khalkin Gol, the Soviets turned away from the BT series (gasoline) and went with diesel because of their tendency to burn when hit.
Late BT-7 aka BT-7M aka BT-8 used diesel. Petrol engines were still use in the T-40, T-60, T-70 and T-80 light tanks. Post war the BTR-152, BTR-40, BRDM and BTR-60 still used petrol. Another complaint was that the earlier BT-5 with it's riveted construction produced more crew shredding spall on penetration than the welded BT-7.
 

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The M4's propensity for a fiery death was NOT the fuel tanks, but unprotected ammunition storage. Once the 'wet stowage' was introduced, fires were reduced.
Small consolation for those crews whose tank was hit by a Panzerfaust/Panzerschreck or Panther's/Tiger's main armament.
The Sherman was no more likely to burn than other tanks with exposed ammunition,... including the Pz III through VI. German crews tended to store ammunition along the hull sponsons on both sides of the hull (above the line of the fenders and tracks). When penetrated from the side it was quite common for the ammunition to catch fire and produce the extremely hot fires. Ammunition could be ignited from any penetrating shot not just the flanks. Only tanks with armoured bins or wet stowage had a better record with fire.

Here is the footage of the famous 'Cologne Panther'. Note it starts to burn with the first shot. You can see the fires burning inside through the penetrations.


Had to include this one too.

 
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Old Noob

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Wasn't that Panther hit by a 90mm carrying Pershing? I haven't read the book or watched the videos, but I seem to recall that
a Pershing was involved. And a 90mm packs a bigger wallop than a M4's 75 or 76mm gun.
 

Actionjick

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Wasn't that Panther hit by a 90mm carrying Pershing? I haven't read the book or watched the videos, but I seem to recall that
a Pershing was involved. And a 90mm packs a bigger wallop than a M4's 75 or 76mm gun.
Spearhead by Adam Makos. Relates the story as told by the Pershing's gunner. I enjoyed it.
 

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The Sherman was no more likely to burn than other tanks with exposed ammunition,... including the Pz III through VI. German crews tended to store ammunition along the hull sponsons on both sides of the turret (above the line of the fenders and tracks)
From memory of studying Bellona series AFV drawing booklets and constructing Pz III models with interior detail, the Pz III, or at least the later versions, had most ammo in armoured bins, rounds stowed vertically. I'm not sure about the Pz IV, but suspect the same. The Panther and Tigers I & II did have much of their ammo stowed horizontally and exposed in the upper hull side sponsons, the Tiger II also having exposed rounds in the turret bustle. The Pz IV-VI also had a couple of 'ready rounds' vertically on the turret basket. You would also find twos and threes of rounds in steel boxes under the floor or turret basket.

Armoured bins were not much use if the AP round passed through the bin, but they did greatly reduce the risk of a cartridge being punctured by hot AP fragments or armour spall. Wet Stowage however was in a class of its own, often actively quenching initial fires.

This thread has turned gruesome and ... hold on folks, I hear my door bell ... I think it's a census taker ... Mmmm!
 

The Purist

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Wasn't that Panther hit by a 90mm carrying Pershing? I haven't read the book or watched the videos, but I seem to recall that
a Pershing was involved. And a 90mm packs a bigger wallop than a M4's 75 or 76mm gun.
Yes, it was but the size of the shot makes no difference if hot metal penetrated the shell casings. The fire in this Panther was typical of ammunition fires. If you see video from the Gulf War in 91 you see much the same. A very quick combustion and white hot flames that can burn for days.

57mm, 75mm, 76mm or 90mm,... it wouldn't make any difference.

Note the Sherman hit by the Panther did not burst into flames but did have smoke coming from the hatches. That was from a 75mm L/70.
 
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The Purist

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From memory of studying Bellona series AFV drawing booklets and constructing Pz III models with interior detail, the Pz III, or at least the later versions, had most ammo in armoured bins, rounds stowed vertically. I'm not sure about the Pz IV, but suspect the same. The Panther and Tigers I & II did have much of their ammo stowed horizontally and exposed in the upper hull side sponsons, the Tiger II also having exposed rounds in the turret bustle. The Pz IV-VI also had a couple of 'ready rounds' vertically on the turret basket. You would also find twos and threes of rounds in steel boxes under the floor or turret basket....
Some of the the bins had thin armour but most were just sheet metal. here is a schematic for a late war Pz IV. When you see the ammunition stowage layout it is not hard to understand why one post battle sampling of Pz IVs in Normandy found 85% of the tanks had suffered a fire of one sort or another.

Note also the location of the fuel tank below the turret.

15205


And a breakdown of the number of rounds and where they were stowed.

15206

Armoured bins were not much use if the AP round passed through the bin, but they did greatly reduce the risk of a cartridge being punctured by hot AP fragments or armour spall. Wet Stowage however was in a class of its own, often actively quenching initial fires....
That is true, especially when considering how many rounds are stored and how they are stored. A thinly armoured bin has little chance when the interior is jammed with ammunition. I would think the smaller Pz III with 50mm L/42 and L/60 ammunition had similar stowage issues for their large ammunition load outs.

Edit: I used to own a pretty detailed 'heavy' magazine (100 pages, heavy stock covers) from back in the late 70s that detailed the ammunition stowage of the German tanks. I have no idea what became of it but tanks in, general, tended to be packed with ammunition. The allies did it as well. Take the M3 Grant for example, it carried 46 rounds of 75mm and 178 rounds of 37mm.

There is a post war study by the British that found most tanks were actually penetrated from the side not the front (something like 41%). Combined with the number of rounds and then jamming in every round that could fit, it is little wonder catastrophic fires were so common.
 
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