P-47s, Tiger Tanks, and Bouncing Bullets: The Limitations of Eyewitness Accounts

As a researcher and history enthusiast, one of the issues I often have to wrestle with is that of eyewitness accounts, specifically when to trust them and when not to. That subject itself is one for another time, but today I want to look at a specific example of an eyewitness account as an illustration of how they can be misleading to someone trying to reconstruct historical events.

The account in question is this one, apparently from an unknown television documentary, in which a former P47 pilot describes attacking German tanks by bouncing bullets off the ground and into the underside of the tank’s hull:

Here are the basic facts as presented by the pilot’s account:

  • He refers to the tanks as “Tigers”, probably referring to the PzKpfw. VI Tiger I
  • He claims the tanks pulled fuel trailers, which the pilots would shoot at to ignite.
  • If no trailer was present, the pilots would aim for the ground just before the tank to bounce bullets up to hit the bottom of the tank’s hull.
  • He claims the bottom of the tanks’ hulls were not armored, but the top was.

Before I dig into this, I should say that even though I will prove the pilot’s account of events cannot be accurate, I am not calling him a “liar”. The unreliability of eyewitness testimony is extremely well established in the legal field, and this pilot is recalling events that happened many decades before the interview, so it is not just possible but entirely expected that his account will be riddled with errors.

The most obvious issue with the pilot’s testimony is his description of the tanks as “Tigers”, and his assertion that their hull floor was unarmored and easily penetrated by bouncing .50 cal projectiles. A quick look at a Tiger I’s armor diagram immediately raises questions about the validity of this description:

Image source: fprado.com. Note that these figures square with descriptions of the Tiger I’s protection on page 34 of Germany’s Tiger Tanks – D.W. to Tiger I: Design, Production & Modifications by Thomas L. Jentz & Hilary L. Doyle

 

As we can plainly see, the top and bottom hull armor plates on the Tiger I are exactly the same thickness, and the bottom is hardly “unarmored” as the pilot describes. If we compare this 25mm thickness to the penetration standard held for .50 cal M8 API (link starts a download) – the round in use with aircraft guns at the time – we see another discrepancy: M8 API does not seem to be potent enough to penetrate either plate!

A 7/8ths inch armor plate is just over 22mm thick, and nothing in the specification says that a 25mm plate couldn’t be penetrated, but we must also consider other factors. First, in an aerial attack, the horizontal plane of the tank would be presented at a very oblique angle; in the video we see an angle no greater than 45 degrees, and probably closer to 30 degrees, meaning the line-of-sight thickness of the armor plate would be at least 35mm and possibly as high as 50mm. This thickness, even without accounting for the disadvantage of attacking sloped armor, would be far too great for any steel cored .50 caliber projectile to perforate, even at 100m (far closer than any attack run should ever get!).

There are a couple other dimensions to this problem, however. One is the question: “Might bouncing the bullets off the ground present them at a more favorable angle to the armor?” The answer is that while the angle could perhaps be more favorable, the projectile post-ricochet would be unstable and relatively low energy, making a perforation of the plate even less likely than a head-on attack at the upper armor. Further, the top of the tank is home to the engine deck, the inlets for which can be vulnerable even to small arms fire.

Note the large ventilation grates on the engine deck of this Tiger I Ausf. H1. Image source: tanks-encyclopedia.com

 

Then, it seems more likely that a .50 cal API round would penetrate the top deck of a Tiger I than the better-armored hull! Indeed, these additional details throw considerable doubt on the already somewhat far-fetched idea that pilots bounced rounds off the ground and into the hull floor. Further, I have to wonder whether the tanks these pilots were attacking were Tiger Is at all. The most immediate reason to think that they might not have been is that the Tiger I was a very rare tank on the Western Front, accounting for a very small fraction of German tanks, let alone armored fighting vehicles in general. Another, more compelling reason is that other German tanks had armor layouts that seem to work a little better with the pilot’s story (although there are still significant problems even so).

Let’s consider, for example, the Pzkpfw. IV Ausf. H, the primary variant of the Panzer IV that would have been in service with the Wehrmacht at the time of the European Theater:

 

Note that, unlike the Tiger I, the Panzer IV H possesses a large difference in armor between its top and bottom hull and turret, and appears to have much better overall coverage than the Tiger I due to smaller air intakes (feeding a much smaller and less powerful engine), albeit with generally thinner plates. The hull floor armor, I should point out, is a scant 10mm thick, raising at least some small possibility of penetration by ricocheting .50 cal AP projectiles. While the bouncing bullets story is still dubious, it at least makes some kind of sense if we assume Panzer IVs as targets instead of the notorious Tiger Is.

There is one other reason to believe that these may not have been “Tigers” after all, and that is the pilot’s reference to the tanks’ fuel trailers. The reason this is important is because it does not seem as though Tiger Is ever did pull petrol trailers; I can find no photographic evidence of or textual reference to them ever doing so, nor could any of the other people I asked when doing research for this post. If any of our readers have any evidence of Tiger Is being so equipped, please do let me know in the comments, but even so it does not seem like common practice, especially given the abundance of images of other tanks like the PzKpfw. IV and PzKpfw. 38(t) with fuel trailers.

A Panzer 38(t) with towed petrol trailer. Image source: tumblr.com

 

A Panzer IV tows a trailer with a couple of petrol drums. Image source: forum.axishistory.com

 

So then, what do we make of this account? Well, we can certainly say the man was a pilot, he did fly P-47s, and he surely did attack tanks or other armored vehicles on some occasions, but beyond that there isn’t much we can glean from his decades-old account. Like so many veterans’ accounts so distant from the events being recounted, there are numerous identifiable errors, making something like this not very useful for the history enthusiast seeking to reconstruct events as they were. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t listen to veterans, of course – it should go without saying that we should! – but rather that a broader set of sources needs to be collected on a subject beyond just eyewitness testimony if an accurate picture is to be created, especially if that testimony is taken so long after the events in question actually occurred.





Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • QuadGMoto

    According to the diagram of the Panzer IV, the rear armor plate protecting the engine is only 20mm thick. Given the standard of 25 mm of penetration by the P-47’s guns it seems much more likely that shots targeting the tank would have penetrated that plate, especially given the obvious volume of fire leading to multiple hits and the fact that part of that plate is angled slightly upwards. That would also explain why they would focus on the fuel tank if one was being towed, because that would limit their ability to hit that part of the armor.

    • micmac80

      ww2 era API 25mm at what distance 100y , even with added speed from the plane bullet velociy is bleed fast. and still all surfaces are at considerable angle to attacking plane.

      • QuadGMoto

        True. But firing at a downward angle also means that gravity will be assisting the velocity. It would not be a straight “terminal velocity” effect, but it wouldn’t be pure wind resistance either.

        • micmac80

          You are joking right?

        • uhh uh, tell us more please

        • Sgt. Stedenko

          Keep digging. Your 3rd grade physics training is showing

        • QuadGMoto

          You guys do remember vectors of force, don’t you?

        • Mystick

          Uh… no. Any “gravity assist” you get here is wholly trumped by drag; furthermore the flight time isn’t long enough for it to be more than 1 or so mps(the primary vector is lateral, not vertical), or about .1 percent – not an amount that’s going to make much of a difference – again at several thousand yards.

          The general rule is, once it leaves the muzzle, it never goes any faster(barring some blue-moon terminal effects). Gravity does effect ballistics – the round drops 32 feet per second of flight time from a flat trajectory(which you rarely have – it will tend to rise above bore “altitude” briefly due to sight geometry for a given range)…

        • lbrty2112

          Whoa, wait.. Are we accounting for the ~15 mph reduction in airspeed when firing the machine guns?

    • Jason Culligan

      You have to factor in the angle of attack though. That 20mm plate is going to have an effective thickness of around 30mm at the angle that an attacking aircraft would be coming in at. It’s still possible but the bullets have a far higher likelihood of bouncing off harmlessly than a simple thickness and penetration chart would suggest.

      • QuadGMoto

        Bouncing off harmlessly seems unlikely, even if the bullet doesn’t penetrate. It would still do damage. And when you get enough bullets hitting a small area, that effect can quickly escalate to failure.

        In the clip shown we see a LOT of tracers fired at the tank. And since tracers are only something like 1 in 5 of the rounds fired, that is one heck of a lot of rounds heading for that tank. While they’re all over the place, multiple hits on an area that’s less strong is a distinct possibility.

        • roguetechie

          That is definitely yet another factor in this situation…

          In addition to being lightened up structurally and construction wise, the aircraft specific .50 browning machine guns also had MUCH HIGHER fire rates!

          Rather than the thumpy and sedate cadence of the ring mount and RWS fifties we’re used to seeing and hearing from todays YouTube ground combat videos these aircraft guns positively ripped through ammunition in job lots…

          Multiply this by the 4, 6, & 8 + gun arrays these planes carried results in 100 or even 200+ round one second bursts being the rules not the exception!!

        • Jason Culligan

          In fairness, it’s hard to think of a tank as a small target but with the technology of the time a moving tank was one hell of a hard target to hit. You can see from the video that much of the rounds are spraying around the area that the tank occupies but hits don’t appear to be consistent.

          I would sincerely doubt that enough rounds were hitting those relatively small plates (for an airplane of the time to hit consistently at least) to cause enough stress on them to give way. Remember that some French tanks were able to withstand over 150 individual 3.7cm hits in a single engagement without giving way.

          Even accounting for the number of guns and their rate of fire, I would say that only a few rounds would be hitting those engine decks.

  • codfilet

    I used to be a serious collector of WW2 militaria, with several restored WW2 vehicles that I would take to shows, back in the days when I would still be able to encounter WW2 vets. Just because they were in the Service during WW2 did not mean that all of them were experts on the gear or equipment used then, and I heard plenty of comments about them using a vehicle or something else that I knew did not appear until the Korean War, at least. They were young men, a long time ago, and most of them had no real interest in the minor details of what they were issued. They had more important things to think about, like their own survival.

    • Button Gwinnett

      I took a tour of the Missouri, in Pearl Harbor. They guide related an old veteran telling him “Yeah, I slept above that gun on the Iowa!” Curious, the guide climbed a ladder and sure enough, there was room for a small man to sleep on a sort of shelf above the starboard (I believe) forward 16″ gun. Cramped, but private.

      • iksnilol

        I think he was a sailor, not a private.

        • jcitizen

          HA! I think he meant as in “privacy”. Just say’n!

    • KestrelBike

      There’s a documentary (British made, I think) available on YouTube called “The Wehrmacht”. It interviews a bunch of German soldiers (infantry men, at least one panzer crewman, etc) and one of the Infantry guys describes how on the Russian front, he and his comrades were no match for the Russians with their Kalashnikovs. 0_o

      • Tinkerer

        The most feared men of the Red Army: the Time Corps.

        • iksnilol

          I remember the interactive documentary about it. Red Alert it was called.

      • Just Sayin’

        Maybe he meant SKSs (of which there was a few near the end)

        • Steve Martinovich

          There is no evidence what-so-ever that the SKS-45 saw any action on the Eastern Front, not that I’ve seen. Even the Soviets/Russians have never claimed that.

      • Kernighan

        Interesting. The rifle issued beginning in 1947? Thus, AK (Auto Kalashnikov) 47. Hmmm. Probably SKS which did see issue late in the war (start 1943, prevalent on front line by 1945). Somewhat similar looking

        • AK issuance began in 1949.

          SKS was not issued in large numbers in World War II, troop trials only.

          • jcitizen

            I’m guessing not many of them made it to the Korean conflict – seems like that was the introduction of the SKS to the mix. Of course the Russians have never been want to issue their best stuff to satellite states; even jets and tanks were the “monkey” model (as I have read they were called)

      • Zebra Dun

        He meant that semi auto rifle the SVT-40 then again he could have run up on a soldier with a Mosin and an educated trigger finger LOL.

    • It’s a delightful feature of both PTSD and traumatic brain injury that memory can be affected in such a way that the timelines of strong memories are essentially scrambled, so that people who lived through Real Bad Stuff can clearly remember this/that/the other things happening in ways that are chronologically impossible.

    • Zebra Dun

      Yup, I recall telling about TOW missiles in Vietnam and was soundly reprimanded that no TOW was ever used in Vietnam as there were No Tanks used, by Vietnam veterans.

      • Vince

        According to my recent reading there was a few N.V. tanks in South Vietnam towards the end of the war. I do not know enough about TOW missiles and their vintage to comment on that part.

        • Zebra Dun

          The PAVN used a large conventional Combine arms including the PAVN 203rd Tank Regiment force in 1972 Ngyuen/Easter offensive, Big front line Main Battle tanks T-34, T-54, T-59, and of course the PT-76 light tanks. The TOW was usually fired by Huey’s and had a remarkable success.
          Excerpt from Battle of Kontum 1972
          “On 26 May, four North Vietnamese regiments supported by armored forces managed to punch a hole in the defense, but their advance was halted by U.S. helicopters firing new, tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missiles. During the following three days of fighting, 24 North Vietnamese T-54 tanks were destroyed by TOWs and the breach was sealed.”

          • Vince

            I do remember the helicopter launched Tows but for some reason I thought you were talking about the ground launched version. I am not even certain it is the same missile even though they are both named TOW. Deadly either way. They do not just damage a tank they incinerate them from the videos I have seen. To watch a heavy turret launched into the air is an amazing thing!

          • DaveGinOly

            It is the same missile. When I arrived in Germany in late 1976, I was assigned to the scout platoon of an infantry battalion. The platoon had two (four?) M113s with TOW missile launchers (in this configuration, the nomenclature of the carrier may have been different). The battalion also had an anti-tank platoon comprised of the same platform. The scout platoons eventually surrendered their TOW vehicles to the AT platoons. (The photo is not one of ours. Ours had been painted in desert camouflage because the battalion commander wanted his bn to be ready to ship out to Israel during the Yom Kippur War. When I got to Germany, they were still painted that way!)

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b7780960bd72bacc06ecbeeae453cb398fdde875e2953b05fe526dfe04580526.jpg

  • Edeco

    It seems Mr F has developed a taste for iconoclasm 😛

    • Bill

      And pedantry 😉

    • Jonathan Ferguson

      This is valid historical commentary. This difference between real history and uncritical storytelling.

  • gunsandrockets

    There was a fascinating paper I saw over at weaponsman.com of a USAF analysis of air attack against North Korean tanks during the North Korean war.

    What was so surprising was how ineffectual the whole panoply of typical aircraft weapons were against the T-34/85 tanks for various reasons. For example, 20mm cannon shells of American aircraft would not penetrate the T-34 armor, and bombs commonly missed the target. The most effective weapon actually turned out to be napalm, because napalm strikes could hit the target rather easily and napalm would tend to set the T-34 on fire by igniting the rubber part of the track’s road wheels.

    • The 20mm shells used in aircraft are high explosive design with fuses to detonate after penetrating light aluminum structures like wings. They would just hit a tank and detonate outside hardened armor. The shell projectile are very thin walled as well for maximum payload of explosives.

      • roguetechie

        Mg151/20 ftw!!

        • mosinman

          The U.S. Aircraft did not use the mg151

          • roguetechie

            Well of course not lol…

            Considering it was a Luftwaffe gun, later used by France most famously in their alouette gunship choppers…

            ( 151/20 was Rhodesians K car gunship chopper’s gun too… Whereas they loved them some quad mount 303 1919 type Brownings in a quad mount for the G car)

            The south Africans liked them too…

            What part of my comment could have possibly lead you to believe I thought otherwise?

            Anyone who takes even a passing interest in ww2 aviation guns knows that the Commonwealth was way too invested in 303 fighter guns early on, the Americans were committed to their .50’s with the occasional wildly inappropriate 37mm and other hilarious ground gun adaptations, the Nazis had a cannon for every occasion, and the Russians didn’t care as long as it made m3’s and anm2 fire rates seem as slow as a hand cranked brass Gatling…

    • The_Champ

      I’m sure it was likewise in WWII. I’m sure ground attack aircraft wreaked havoc on softer targets like trains, trucks, halftracks etc, but tanks would be a tough nut to crack. Like you mentioned, 20mm cannons might be accurate enough, but wouldn’t be able to penetrate the target. Unguided bombs and rockets just didn’t have the accuracy to routinely find their mark.

      I’ve no doubt that even the specially equipped aircraft that had a reputation as ‘tank killers’, like the IL-2 and late war cannon armed Stukas, were over rated in their abilities to kill tanks.

    • Vince

      Not to mention sucking all the breathable air out of the tank!

      • gunsandrockets

        That too. Fire also has the nice effect of encouraging the tank crew to abandon the vehicle.

        Here is some interesting trivia, the Sherman tank 75mm gun had a good WP smoke round. And sometimes Shermans would fire it at German tanks to good effect.

  • Bill

    Definition of an eyewitness: someone who describes a red Mustang convertible that in reality turns out to be a white 4-door Toyota Corolla.

    • Tinkerer

      I’ll take the Corolla, thank you. I like my cars to be in working condition.

      • Goody

        I’ll take whichever has the highest market value and trade. I like my cars to have two wheels.

        • Gary Kirk

          I prefer my cars to be trucks..

        • iksnilol

          But cars depreciate in value faster than lead sinks.

          • TXPDelta

            Not if it is a Corolla.

            And so the circle of discussion is complete and primed for another round.

          • Zebra Dun

            Only after they leave to showroom floor then it’s like a Stuka dive bomber.

      • Zebra Dun

        My Aunt Nell owned a 70’s Toyota Corolla and put 280,000 miles on it. then sold it to some fellow who was seen for years driving the little car around.
        I fail to hear of a Mustang of the 70’s doing as well.

  • TVOrZ6dw

    Don’t forget that a diving aircraft will add its momentum to anything it is shooting. So, add ~145FPS velocity to any bullets fired for every 100MPH the aircraft is moving.

    • Spencerhut

      . . . and loose velocity for every meter of air it travels through.

      • TVOrZ6dw

        US made M2 50 cal- So it loses velocity for every ‘foot’ of air it travels through. 😉

        • Gary Kirk

          M3 50 cal, aircraft gun.. Higher rate of fire..

          • autofull

            i do have a book on the tiger that shows horizontal external,detacable fuel tanks mounted on the rear at the engine. i have seen soviet t34,s with throw away external fuel tanks on the hull above the track plate guard. perhaps,maybe this is what the gunners were after.

          • NukeItFromOrbit

            AN/M2 for most American WW2 fighters if you want to be really picky. AN/M3 was later (F-80, F-84, F-86, etc.) and had an electric-boosted feed system for a higher rate of fire.

      • Norm Glitz

        Or maybe just lose it.

    • Vince

      I mentioned this also. Diving at 350 mph (EASY in a P-47) they could add 507 FPS to the MV.

  • ExMachina1

    ” Like so many veterans’ accounts so distant from the events being recounted, there are numerous identifiable errors, making something like this not very useful for the history enthusiast seeking to reconstruct events as they were.”

    While I agree that in general, first hand accounts may be suspect in their specific DETAILS, I don’t think that such accounts can be dismissed simply because they are technically impossible. The truth could have been that many pilots consciously attempted to employ this kind of a tactic against armor, even if it’s “effectiveness” was purely superstitious.

  • Michelle & Randy Krieger

    Go to the library and look up a book called Hell Hawks. The author described it as Band of Brothers for a squadron of P47 pilots. Several times in the book the author describes bouncing bullets off of the pavement behind a tank to disable the engine. I don’t recall if they hit the engine or the radiator, but he describes several accounts. He also points out the combined effects of six guns was larger than the sum of their parts.

    • P47 had 8 guns

      • UnrepentantLib

        And he may be aiming to ricochet them off the pavement, but with that many bullets flying around I’d bet more than a few went straight to the tank’s rear deck, and a few got lucky.

      • The_Champ

        I’d have to check some sources but I believe some models of the P-47 carried less guns, or maybe they were sometimes removed to save weight? But yes generally there were 8 .50 cals. Which seems to have been one of the features of that aircraft that gained it a lot of praise.

  • Wolfgar

    To dismiss personal accounts is not smart as it is to take them all at face value. Perhaps the bullets destroyed track pins, radiators, etc to immobilize the tank. Unless a tiger tank is set on different surfaces and strafed with eight 50 calibers at different angles in a test situation the truth will always be conjecture. I have fought on forest fires for over 40 years and the difference between the official stories and reality are just as divided. Thus the continued debate between eye witnesses and historians.

    • Major Tom

      Then there’s differences between specs on paper and what was out there. The quality of German steel for armor really late in the war was really low. Bottom of the barrel stuff that wouldn’t have been fielded earlier but that’s all that’s left. What might’ve been 25mm of plate may have only held the effectiveness of 15 owing to really poor quality metal.

      • Wolfgar

        Exactly, personal experience and opinion can be wrong and I’m probably just as guilty at times to be sure but the official after the fact reports can be just as or more spotty in credibility from my own and others experiences.

      • andrey kireev

        But add the fact that you’re not shooting it from the point blank and you have a different angle of the strafe…. Even 15mm of armor equals to that of 30mm under the angle of attack. Metal quality wasn’t as poor as you’d expect… 15-20% difference maximum.

        • Major Tom

          Some of the Soviet stuff I’ve read suggests it was far worse than that for anything built after Overlord. As in you’d fire a 100mm artillery gun with regular old HE and the armor would be all broken up and cracked when just two years earlier the same model of tank would’ve taken that same hit and survived mostly unharmed.

        • DaveGinOly

          Because the angle of reflectance equals the angle of incidence, any fire that could reflect up to hit the underside of a vehicle by bouncing off the ground would have to be fired from a very low angle (to make it ricochet), meaning it would also strike the armor at the same low angle. Even assuming there is an angle at which ricocheted bullets will penetrate the armor, that angle must be relatively high. Because of the angle of fire necessary to both ricochet and penetrate, the box the pilot would have to fly in to get that kind of fire would be extremely narrow, if it existed at all. Too high an angle of attack – no ricochet. Too low an angle of attack – no penetration, because of the angle at which the bullet strikes. It’s much easier to just shoot at the top of the engine deck, which is, by its nature, a weak spot on nearly all armored vehicles.

          • jcitizen

            German tanks were so notoriously leaky, there is no telling what fires could have been started shooting underneath one – especially if an escape hatch were open. I read a lot about all sides of the war, that tankers ran unbuttoned to facilitate escape.

    • James B.

      An immobilized tank is useless and an easy target for larger-caliber attacks, so strafing the tracks would be a solid plan if .50cal was the heaviest weapon available.

    • Dan Hermann

      As you can see by the video, the rounds were hitting all over the place like a shotgun blast. Some may have penetrated the top over the engine compartment.

    • Zebra Dun

      Plus a Tiger that was limping along half dead would go down faster than a full on vehicle would, likewise the crew after being strafed with eight .50 calibers may have simply sabotaged and took off.

      • jcitizen

        One thing for sure, the German tank crews were petrified at the bombs P-47s were dropping on them, and would probably sooner abandon the tank that try fighting in it. I would not doubt your scenario at all.

        • Fergus

          Really? So when 500 bombers hit the Panzer Lehr, how many tanks did they destroy skippy?
          And how many German troops hoisted the white flag after the raid?
          Clearly you wouldn;t doubt the scenario based on your obviously awe inspiring knowledge of history and the technology of the era.

          • jcitizen

            A strategic bomb run by the Army Air Corps was completely different than an close air support mud fighter aiming for a point target on the ground. When my dad went on a B-17 mission it was bombs away and hope you did some damage on an area wide target.

            When my P-47 pilot friend hit tanks ,it was drop one 500 pounder as the tank just went below the engine nacelle. If you were good at it, the bomb would skip once on the ground or either way hit the tank directly. Even a near miss would rattle the crew so badly that they were probably going to have to clean out their drawers after that. A one second delay was set in the fuse to allow the attack aircraft just enough time to clear the explosion.

            P-47s were probably the most heavily armored fighter/bomber of the Allied effort. The entire cockpit was a tub of armor, so these mud fighters could move in close and hurt the enemy.

            Even now an IED that is not even that close to modern day armored vehicles can destroy them in one blast – and with less than 500 lbs of explosive, no less!

  • Bub

    Humans evolved and survived by filling in the blanks of what they see based on experience and expectations of the most likely outcome. It’s the same with eyewitnesses, but in this case they actually believe what they recall is correct whether or not it really is. In other words, this is what I did/this is what happened so in my mind I need to fill in the blank between the two actions.

    • Anonymoose

      My grandpa thinks he had an “M16” when he was stationed in Germany during the Korean War. I’m pretty sure he meant an M1 Carbine. He only ever held a gun for qualification, since his job was working on bomb guidance systems.

      • Bullphrog855

        My Grand farther tells me the same thing; that he used an M16. He was in the Occupation of Japan from 46 for ~50. USAAC/USAF as a B-25 engine mechanic.

        Really weird

      • nonobaddog

        I had an M16 and stationed in Germany.
        (Although this was during the Viet Nam war.)

        • Anonymoose

          Which was about 15 years after my grandpa got out of the Air Force.

  • Roy Rabbit

    Still one of my favorite WW2 fighters.

    • Big Daddy

      I love them all.

    • hikerguy

      Always had a soft spot for the Jug myself. Hope you had the opportunity to read The biography of Zemke and his 56th Fighter group. Great read.

      • clampdown

        Along with the IL-2, it set the standard for what makes a great CAS aircraft…lots of armor, torque, and a heavy payload, speed be damned. Thus the AD-1 Skyraider, A-10 Thunderbolt II, and Su-25.

        • pbla4024

          There was not much armor on P-47. And it was one of the fastest fighter planes.

          • clampdown

            No official armor, but it could take a beating. And, yes, it was fast then, but around the its approx 450mph mark was considered the optimal max speed for CAS when the A-10 was being designed, and that was extremely slow for the early 70s. There is a reason they called it the Thunderbolt II.The idea was to wrap the characteristics of the P-40 and AD-1 into a jet-powered package. That’s what I meant by “slow”…It’s all relative.

          • Vince

            The P-47 was known for all the armor plating around the pilot. Even planes like the Hurricane and Spitfires (all 20 some variants of them) had armor behind the pilot to protect him from 6 o’clock attacks.

  • Some Rabbit

    Pilots often imagine their attacks to be more effective than they are in reality. It’s impossible to assess actual damage when you zoom over a target in the blink of an eye. And everyone wants to believe they kicked the enemy’s ass.

    • Quasimofo

      Very true. This article reminds me another writeup I read some time ago that evaluated the effectiveness of Allied aircraft rocker attacks on armored vehicles. Turns out all those Typhoon, Tempest and Thunderbolt pilots were overestimating the damage done, sometimes grossly so. However, based on interviews with German tankers, the main impact of rockets may have been psychological, rather than physical.

      • mikee

        A book with many photographs of disabled German AFVs was published in circa 1948 (unfortunately the title escapes me) about the recovery of German tanks by scrap metal merchants after hostilities had ended some three years previously in France. According to the authors, many tanks were inspected by technicians from the British military and scientific staff and they came to the conclusion that many tanks actually ran out of fuel, ammunition or in the case of heavy tanks broke down in the field before they were attacked by ground attack aircraft. Rockets fired by Typhoons, while impressive, often did not destroy the heavy tanks unless there was a direct hit. German supply logistics were constantly being harassed by allied fighter bombers and medium bombers which caused shortages of fuel and munitions reaching frontline armoured combat units. As other contributors had pointed out, the majority of Wehrmacht vehicles in France were Mk IV tanks and also Mk III chassis converted to assault guns. Many Panther units in the West never fully equipped with the type and reverted to Mk IVs to make up numbers. Tigers and King Tigers were even rarer and they usually equipped “fire brigade” units. Most Tigers and Panthers were destined for the Eastern Front.

  • Don Ward

    Tis a glorious age we live in where we have the means and the technology to debunk these old yarns.

    • Norm Glitz

      Hardly debunking. That he strafed German tanks and they were destroyed is the important part of the “yarn”. That he got the name of the tank wrong is trivial. His idea of bouncing bullets underneath the tank is more of a fisherman’s tale, especially seeing the scatter of his tracers.

  • mosinman

    In all likelihood he was recalling an account when he attacked a panzer IV, which when equipped with shurtzen armor plate ( designed to defeat the Russian AT rifles) looks a lot like a tiger 1. That’s also why so many Tigers were reported on the western front when in reality there were only a handful in use

  • The_Champ

    Very good food thought article. Brings to mind accounts of M1 carbine bullets bouncing off frozen jackets.

    You are quite right that questioning some of these stories is hardly calling the person a liar. One needs to understand that human perception, especially in high stress environments like combat, will often not align with the true facts.

    As for this particular account, just watching that video of the strafing run makes you question the account. Look at the spread of his rounds on and around the target. I’d say that platform is hardly capable of being so accurate as to specifically target your rounds so they bounced up under the target. At those speeds, from a vibrating, shaking airplane you likely simply had to count on 8 guns at a high rate of fire spraying out enough lead that some of them found their mark.

    I have read a number of modern historians that really question how effective allied air power was against those very hard targets like tanks. Kill counts were certainly exaggerated.

    • My hypothesis is that they might have seen the tracers bouncing up and assumed the API rounds were doing the same; hardly anybody ever considers that tracer bullets have completely different ricochet characteristics than armor piercing bullets, even though we’ve all seen documentary footage of the bright ones zinging away at wacky angles when heavy machine guns are fired at hard targets or at a downward angle.

    • Amplified Heat

      Makes me wonder if what we’re seeing isn’t mainly A) setting the external tanks on fire, and B) essentially blinding the tank by shotgun-blasting bullets all over it’s various portholes & periscopes from a lot of weird angles simultaneously. Maybe even jacking up some more delicate parts like hinges or latches if lucky, or even bouncing some shrapnel into those intake vents (though I would think the Germans were smart enough to have a quality screen/filter of some sort to catch that stuff)

      IIRC, the guns weren’t even calibrated accurately enough to do what the pilot is describing, either (the focal point of the guns much closer than strafing distances, hence why strafing was an area-weapon tactic). Hollywood depictions of a double-file line of squibs popping up sand on the heels of a target is probably the source of mis-belief about strafing gun accuracy.

      • Vince

        The guns could be set up to the pilot’s preference. Many that were fighting air to air had them all converge @ 300 yards for instance. One of the more famous pilots had several guns converge at his preferred distance and the rest shot straight ahead for another instance. His theory (it must have worked given his “score”!) was that the converging guns were used for short range dog fighting while the rest were for making attacks on groups of German bombers. He would focus on one aircraft at the beginning of the run but after that he was just spraying bullets through the rest of the formation because at 350 – 400 mph (often with a converging speed of 600+ mph) he did not have time to adjust for another plane as he was through the formation in 2-3 second using head on attacks!

        The point being if a ground attack pilot wanted his bullets to converge at 600 yards, or any other distance, his armorers could set up his plane to his liking. Each pilot had his own choice as to what was done with his guns for his type of mission.

  • Big Daddy

    I question the quality of the armor used toward the end of the war. Also there was little armor over the engine and I’m sure those 50 cal rounds did a lot of damage, the API igniting fuel. Plus the accuracy of those guns at that range was questionable. You can see them going all over the place. Although 8 M3 50 cals all with a 5-7 even 10 round burst is formattable. They had higher rates of fire than the M2.

  • Cal S.

    Yeah, ~90° ricochets are extremely rare, and the bullet would have been far more likely to have struck the armor at an angle. Pilots are like fishermen.

    To your point about them likely not being Tigers, that single misconception about the saturation of ‘Tigers’ on the Western Front has done more to undermine the reputation of perhaps one of the finest medium tanks of the war; the M4 Sherman. It’s one of the single largest simultaneous cliches and falsehoods of the war; that the US negligently sent thousands of tankers to their deaths as cannon fodder against the German heavies. The average US tanker was hundreds of times more likely to fight Panzer IIIs and IVs than to ever even set eyes on a Tiger or Panther. Coincidentally, Pz. IVs can look an awful lot like Tigers when properly armored. As you said, Tigers they were mostly diverted East where they would have actually been useful against the Russian heavies.

    • Shermans were easily one of the best tanks of the war, as were the T-35-85. It’s interesting how uniformly lackluster German armor was in hindsight, especially since they never could make them in quantity comparable to the Allies.

      • Krupp and Porsche tanks tended to do a few things very, very well… which tended to get them blown to pieces when they went up against tanks that were pretty good at a whole lot of different things. Most of the Sherman crew stories I heard from the old fellas as a kid were about how scalded-ape fast they were compared to anything else with tracks, and how quick and easy they were to repair in the field.

        • UCSPanther

          I think the Sherman was one of the first tanks to use rubber-linked tracks, which allowed them to run faster and last longer than the steel pin linked tracks commonly seen in that era.

        • Like break?

          • Ha! Have you ever seen an exploded diagram of the tracks on a Tiger I? Every individual link had something like 100 separate parts because it used sealed roller bearings at both ends; even if it had managed to achieve roughly the same rate of mechanical failure as other tanks– and wow, no, it never did that– it would still have broken down far more often simply because there are so many more things to break. Meanwhile the links on a Sherman had like 15 parts and you could swap out the entire powertrain in three or four hours on the side of the road if you had a three ton hoist, but they were so solidly built you probably wouldn’t need to unless it had been hit by enemy fire.

      • Tom Currie

        200 mediocre tanks will beat 5 excellent tanks every day of the week. In fact 20 mediocre tanks will beat 5 excellent tanks almost every day of the week. It is nearly impossible to judge the ‘quality’ or ‘effectiveness’ of any specific piece of equipment without including both the quantity available and the tactics employed.

        • Don Ward

          And 200 excellent US or Soviet tanks will win World Wars against 10 mediocre Kraut tanks.

        • Well, tanks-wise the US and Russiand had the jerries beat for both quantity and quality.

          • mikee

            More research is required for general statements like this. Please include the “TM” series of US enemy evaluation reports and their British equivalents. The findings are revealing, especially regarding firepower and protection.

          • It’s an unsupported statement, sure. Maybe at some point I’ll lay out the argument that German tanks were actually behind Allied counterparts.

          • crackedlenses

            Can we expect a full article on the topic then?

          • Maybe!

          • crackedlenses

            Looking forward to it!

          • Major Tom

            In some ways they were. Logistically, Allied and Soviet tanks were much simpler to field, repair and use. Similarly the firepower “discrepancy” between Allied/Soviet tanks and their Wehrmacht/SS counterparts was vastly exaggerated or outright in error.

            Plus then you had other developments. For example the M26 Pershing was beginning to be fielded in quantity in spring 1945 shortly before the German surrender and even had at least a few fights to its name. Its 90mm gun was superior in just about every way to even the Konigstiger version of the 88. Triply so if armed with HVAP ammunition. (Fun fact, the 90mm on the Pershing would usher a line of tank guns that would prove still effective against 1960s main battle tanks in some situations.)

            Then on the other side of the war you had the Iosif Stalin tank replacing the KV-1 and 2. Alongside the Pershing, these two heavyweights would have knocked around anything the Germans could have fielded save maybe the Maus. (Which would have been little more than air support fodder and a target for heavy artillery bombardment.)

        • nonobaddog

          Read up a little about the M1 Abrams tank action in Iraq. You will see how excellent tanks do against mediocre tanks these days.

      • Cal S.

        Indeed! They outclassed most of the German arsenal from Pz. IVs on down. And with this, we’re both apocryphal heretics for defaming the German name.

        • The Panzer IV was a remarkably primitive tank, akin to if the Russians continued upgrading the T-28 throughout the war.

          I would argue the Sherman (especially with the 76mm) was the superior to even the vaunted Panther. Armor quality with the Panther was always spotty, greatly tempering its one big advantage vs. the Sherman, and in every other respect it falls short, most notably reliability, ease of maintenance, and vision. The Panther had some good optics, but it was a much blinder tank than the Sherman in terms of situational awareness – and unfortunately for the German tank post-war studies determined that situational awareness was perhaps the single biggest factor in determining the outcome of tank-on-tank combat!

          • The_Champ

            The up gunned Shermans may have been a decent tank, but keep in mind that timelines matter. I believe the Germans started adding high velocity guns to their Panzer IVs as early as late 1941 while even by D-Day in 1944 the majority of Shermans still had the short, lower velocity gun. Obviously the tank’s gun isn’t everything, but certainly the Allies were lacking in this department.

            I suppose US doctrine was to have ‘tank destroyers’ fill that gun gap?

          • SPQR9

            It explicitly was US Army doctrine that tank destroyers fought enemy tanks. But that doctrine was tactically flawed ( it depended upon better battlefield intel and faster response by a TD unit than was realistic) and quickly abandoned.

          • That’s incorrect. The job of the tank destroyer corps was to “firefight” against concentrated armored breakthroughs. They were not the only units tasked with tank-on-tank combat. Tanks were explicitly tasked with anti-tank duties. I have the FM laying round here somewhere, I’ll look for it. But it’s easy to look up.

          • SPQR9

            I suggest you read Dr. Christopher Gabel’s paper “Seek, Strike and Destroy”. US Army Command and General Staff College, Leavenworth Papers No. 12.

            Easily found via search if the comment with the URL is not approved.

          • Here’s FM 17-10:

            “64. Tanur VERsus TAInx CoaAr.-a. General.-(1) Large
            tank units and armored divisions are highly effective means
            to counter hostile mechanized forces. They are used in an
            offensive manner, in large numbers, in execution of definite
            missions. The employment of these units on such missions
            must be closely coordinated with, and supported by, all other
            available antimechanized means, including tank destroyer
            units and combat aviation. Tanks must not be used as stationary
            pill boxes.
            (2) When tanks are assigned a mission that does not con-
            144
            TACTICS AND TECHNIqUE 64
            template the engagement of hostile tanks, they should not be
            diverted from such mission, except-
            (a) When forced to engage hostile tanks as a matter of
            self-preservation.
            (b) When it is apparent that the hostile attacks will
            seriously disrupt the operations of other troops.”

          • jcitizen

            I think early problems with the M4s were due more to firing while moving, which I believe was verboten by German tankers – however we fielded the first electric auto gun leveling mechanism, and our crews got so used to it the Germans would stop running and surrender to our scout columns – one instance of this was witnessed by a tanker SGT Wilbert Schulz who apparently was not aware of this “secret weapon”; when they rounded a bend in the forest road, and surprised a German mechanized column hiding from aircraft in the wood line. The lead German vehicle took off like a bat out of hell and our lead tank dispatched the motorcycle with one direct hit shot while moving full bore ahead. Witnessing this, the German unit commander immediately ordered capitulation, as he already had the jitters about rumored advancements from US arms makers. All Sgt. Schulz knew was the gun could be fired while moving, that that is all he needed to know; so he laughed at the German commander’s complaint of being assaulted by such murderous secret “automatic ranging” weapons!

          • IIRC, US requirements for an upgunned Sherman begin in 1942. They don’t reach Europe until 1944, after D-Day, but for almost all of the ETO 76mm Shermans are used (in addition to 75mm and 105mm Shermans).

            And the 75mm Sherman was no slouch, either. Its gun was roughly as powerful as the Soviet T-34’s F-34 76mm gun, and essentially the same gun served very well in North Africa on the M3 Lee. While it didn’t have a surplus of power, the 75mm was still very dangerous to German tanks, especially from the side.

            By the time any real “tank crisis” would have developed, the 76mm gun Shermans were already in Europe.

          • The_Champ

            I just think it’s worth noting that when it came to tank guns, the Germans were ahead of the curve in 1942, and it took the US 2+ years to react. Two years is a long time in that conflict. Lucky for the US that in that timeframe they weren’t fighting large scale, eastern front style battles.

          • In 1942, the US hardly had a tank corps at all, let’s not forget. Plus, the US had been in the war for only a few months, and hadn’t seen much real action (certainly not against the Germans), while the Germans had been fighting a bitter conflict against the Russians (who had highly advanced and well-armored tanks in the form of the T-34 and KV) for about a year at that point.

            The Germans didn’t introduce the 7.5cm to give them an edge against the Americans, they introduced it because it was one of the only guns that could deal with the KV and T-34 tanks. German tanks in 1942, on the other hand, were all pretty much vulnerable to the 75mm M3, and in fact in North Africa the 75mm was very highly regarded.

            American tank decisions always emphasized keeping the production rate up, and keep in mind the Sherman was only incepted as a design in April of 1941. In 1942, the priority was getting the Sherman into the field, since the US Army was desperate for tanks of any kind – they’d had only a few hundred at the outbreak of the war!

            And it’s a myth that the Americans reacted to German tanks and issued heavier guns; in fact, the 3″ gun upgrade (which became the 76mm) was in the pipeline for the Sherman ever since September of 1941! However, the 3″ M7 gun was simply too large to fit comfortably in the Sherman’s turret, and so a smaller, more advanced gun the T1 (later M1) was developed, and was tested in the Sherman by August of 1942. The test program continued, and by August 1943, the M4E6 was requested for production and, initially, production of the 75mm variant was to be discontinued at that time. However, the Armored Force wanted to continue production of the 75mm, as they felt its better high explosive round was a bigger advantage than a better AP round. This proved to be a mistake, of course, but that fault lay with the Armored Force, not with Ordnance.

            I think we should keep some perspective, too. The 75mm was not the lame duck many portray it to be, and there are many instances of where 75mm-armed Lees, Grants, and Shermans did well even against Tigers and Panthers. This isn’t to say the upgrade wasn’t unwarranted, but rather that the combat record of these tanks suggests that the popular perception of the “tank crisis” of 1944 is a bit out of proportion to the actual reality at the time.

            My primary source for all this by the way is the excellent volume Sherman: A History of the American Medium Tank by R.P. Hunnicutt.

          • Vince

            That may be true but from all i have read and have heard from tank guys they FELT that they were at a huge disadvantage to the German tanks and mindset is a huge piece of the puzzle in any fight. If you go in thinking you are going to lose you may have already decided the outcome of the fight.

          • Zebra Dun

            I FELT my M-16 was inferior while at ITR CLNC Geiger, we had old style clunkers with forked flash suppressors. And after training and using the M-14 yet after I had used the M-16 for a while I knew it was superior.
            You feel the enemies sword and it hurts, terrorizes you, you never feel what your enemy feels from your sword.

          • gunsandrockets

            Panzer IV got the long barreled 48 caliber 75mm gun in early 1943, Sturmgeschütz got them in late 1942.

            Apparently only 10% of US Shermans in action had 76mm guns by January 1945!

          • Zebra Dun

            Yup and then Tank Destroyers were found to be more likely tasked to tank roles and missions than tanks, go figure LOL.

          • gunsandrockets

            Where do you get the notion that the Panther was blinder than the Sherman? Particularly when buttoned up, the Panther had an excellent commanders cupola (a standard feature of German tanks).

            https://www.google.com/search?q=panther+cupola&client=safari&rls=en&biw=1340&bih=798&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwihjs26iaHSAhVJi1QKHUnwBZQQ_AUICCgB

            Early Shermans only had a periscope for the commander, and the late Shermans cupola was a small cramped affair.

            https://www.google.com/search?q=panther+cupola&client=safari&rls=en&biw=1340&bih=798&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwihjs26iaHSAhVJi1QKHUnwBZQQ_AUICCgB#tbm=isch&q=sherman+tank+cupola&imgrc=_

          • Every single crewman in the Sherman had a 360 degree wide angle unity periscope. This was their key advantage in time-to-engagement versus the German tanks, which at best had fixed periscopes for up to four of the crew.

            There’s no substitute for having more eyes on watch, and post-war analysis proves that out.

          • gunsandrockets

            Yes, situational awareness is key. Which why tanks typically don’t operate buttoned up.

            If the Sherman periscope is so fantastic, which it isn’t, why did the later Shermans replace the commander’s periscope with a cupola?

      • gunsandrockets

        German industrial production and logistics were a mess, in part due to the crazy politics of Nazi rule, and in part due to the shortcomings of German military institutions and traditions. It is a credit to superior German tank doctrine that they managed such success against more numerous and more technologically advanced tanks of the enemy. The Germans were always playing catch-up, from the very beginning of the war.

        If you really want to compare the Sherman to some German armored fighting vehicle, a better vehicle to compare would be the Sturmgeschütz, since it was the most numerous and arguably one of the most efficient of all the German vehicles.

    • Zebra Dun

      The slant of the Panther on the front hull owes it’s idea from the slant of the Sherman and the T-34, until then most German front armor was vertical and thick.
      The Sherman was a good tank.
      Most troops see the damage the enemies weapons cause up close and never see what they do giving a higher opinion on the effectiveness of enemy weapons and the impotency of their own.

  • Igor Gimon

    He could refer to “Tiger” speaking of just general German tank. I met people who used “Messerschmidt” definition for basically any aircraft with Balkenkreuz on it. And you all know the confusion with “Schmeisser”. It is virtually everything in hands of German trooper, other than a rifle. As well as every single Japanese plane is a “Zero”. And so on.

    • I’m sure everyone here is faimiliar with the way every spree shooter seems to use an AR-15 or AK47 or ~~assault weapon~~ until a few days later when the police reports come out, the same way there are always– always— “reports of multiple shooters” even though that’s actually happened all of three times in the last three decades.

    • > As well as every single Japanese plane is a “Zero”.

      History Channel has a special on Pearl Harbour where “zeros” drop torpedoes on battleship row and sink ships.

      • clampdown

        A P-47 could probably run its wing right through a Zero fuselage and come out the other end ready to do it again! lol

    • Hoosier Steve

      I’ve read that before in histories, the Tigers were so fearsome in reputation that every German tank became a Tiger. Every artillery piece an 88, etc.

      • Zebra Dun

        Every German soldier an SS man.

    • Zebra Dun

      Isn’t the Schmeisser actually an Erma?

      • jcitizen

        Schmeisser was a patent company formed by Hugo and his brothers to protect his patents. Any of his designs were usually spread around several manufacturing companies. I don’t think Brothers Schmeisser every manufactured anything, except possibly magazines. Erma was probably the largest manufacturer of the MP-40

  • Rocketman

    You left out that after striking the ground (let’s say that it’s either rock or concrete) the tip of the bullet is going to be severely deformed from the impact and that is also going to significantly affect how much armor that it can penetrate.

  • clampdown

    Those guys needed more Brrrrrtttt!

    • Gary Kirk
    • Ron

      The A10’s primary tank killer munitions were its Maverick missiles

      • clampdown

        No doubt, but either option beats bouncing machine gun rounds, whether off the ground or armor. I love the Maverick, though, In the flight sim I mentioned above, you can complete most CAS missions before getting within 15nm of the armored units. A flight of four A-7/A-10s pickling off 24 Mavericks in less than a minute is glorious, though it does drop my frames per second down to the 10-15 range. Lots of AI computing going on…

      • Vince

        That may be true but every A-10 pilot will tell you he or she loves “THE GUN!” I happen to have known the A-10 “Demonstration pilot” in 1990s. He almost never mentions the missiles but would go on about “THE GUN”!

        • Ron

          It is the cult of the gun. I have had to explain it to numerous people
          before that there is visceral aspect to firing guns from aircraft and this has led to much false information being put out about guns from aircraft in general. Fixed firing forward guns have not been all the effective at all but suppression during ground attack, unless you are hitting a large target and even a relatively slow aircraft like WWII fighters/Attack Aircraft have so large a dispersion area that if you get hit it is just bad luck. When most people citing aircraft firing
          dispersion, only take dispersion from fixed mounts and don’t include the dispersion caused by the movement of the aircraft, since during the burst of fire the point origin of the gun moves several hundred feet from the beginning and end, this makes huge beaten zones with often several-tens of feet between impacts. Not a big deal if you are trying to hit a vehicle, but a big deal if you are trying to hit people.

          This does not just apply to CAS, but is the often repeated myth that lack of guns on Air Force F4s led to poor performance in Vietnam. The fact is the Air Force conduct almost all its training for fighter pilots on the mistaken belief they would either just shooting down bombers or delivery tactical nukes during the catalytic phase leading to general nuclear war. So it was not a lack of guns but a lack of training, and easily shown by the USN who did not equip its F4s with guns during the Vietnam war but did train its pilots in ACM did not have the same poor exchange rate.

  • Gary Kirk

    Well seeing as how shooting both uphill and downhill both require aiming low to hit your intended target.. Perhaps the myth stems from the that practice handed down from older pilots to newbies, and they used the “bouncing bullets” as a way to get them to listen to the lessons learned..

  • Sounds to me like a case of some pilot or other dumpin’ a heapin’ helpin’ o’ half inch happiness into a panzer and scoring enough engine strikes to set it on fire, thinking that he had held low and bounced bullets up into its underbelly because he saw the tracers bouncin’ up all over the place, telling the exciting tale to his squadron mates, and the story spreading around as such things do. Pretty soon pilots were aimin’ low all over the ETO on purpose, and when the engine strikes they got anyway set the tank on fire… MYTH CONFIRMED.

  • Oldtrader3

    Eight Ma Deuce guns would damage or knock off the tracks on a Tiger tank probably much more easily then damaging its armor? No tank, especially one as heavy as a Tiger will go anywhere without its tracks!

    • iksnilol

      Now you just done and gone made a pill box.

  • n0truscotsman

    This is fascinating

    https://tankandafvnews.com/2017/02/12/from-the-vault-panther-shot-to-pieces/

    It is likely the pilots were striking the track links and radiators, which could feasibly cause damage to Panzer IV that was far more commonly encountered. This could feasibly ‘stop’ armor, although its not because of bottom penetration, because there are a myriad of reasons why 50 caliber would be rendered impotent by the time it traveled through the sky, losing kinetic energy, and richocheting off the ground.

  • Tony Williams

    From ‘Flying Guns: World War 2’:

    “The evidence gathered by the Operational Research teams indicated that very few tanks were destroyed by air attack. A British War Office analysis of 223 Panther tanks destroyed in 1944 revealed that only fourteen resulted from air attack (eleven to RPs and three to aircraft cannon). During the Mortain battle of 7-10 August, the RAF and USAAF launched sustained attacks on a German armoured column over a period of six hours, claiming 252 German tanks destroyed or damaged in nearly 500 sorties. It was subsequently discovered that there had only been a total of 177 tanks or tank destroyers deployed by the Germans and just 46 of those were lost, of which only nine could be attributed to air attack (seven to RPs and two to bombs). During the German retreat from the Falaise pocket later in August, the RAF and USAAF claimed 391 armoured vehicles destroyed. Shortly afterwards, the battlefield was examined and only 133 armoured vehicles of all types were found, of which just 33 had been the victim of any sort of air attack. In the retreat to the Seine, large numbers of armoured vehicles were left behind and Typhoon pilots alone claimed 222 destroyed, but only thirteen out of 388 AFVs examined were found to have been knocked out by RP attack. In the Ardennes salient, just seven out of 101 knocked-out AFVs were definitely or possibly attributed to air attack, compared with claims for 90. It should be noted that in the prevailing circumstances of a continuing retreat, there was no question of the German Army having recovered any damaged tanks in these later actions, in fact the battlefields were often littered with undamaged tanks abandoned by their crews.”

    I should add that there were good reasons for the pilots believing they were being very effective – they weren’t making it up – and their loss rates were horrific (one estimate is that 17 RAF+USAAF fighter-bombers were shot down for every tank they destroyed), so the stress levels in ground attack were extreme. They were very brave young men, but the research carried out in the field immediately after the battles showed that their claims were usually mistaken.

    • mikee

      Excellent research! Firepower and protection was a potent driving force for German tank development in the later period of WWII. Mobility was being addressed by the development of the first multi-fuel engine designs which did not enter production before the end of hostilities. Optics, communication, remote sensing, crew survivability and comfort were also being addressed. These elements featured strongly in the development of the Leopard, Centurion, Chieftan, Challenger and Abrams series of tanks developed after the end of WWII. Post war Western tanks generally incorporated features pioneered by German armoured fighting vehicles lessons learnt during WWII.

    • Zebra Dun

      There it is!

    • Fergus

      Gee Tony, why’s you have to go and mess things up with the facts? Nice to see someone who knows his history and isn’t fooled by Hollywood or the history channel.
      Great comment.

    • jcitizen

      True, but I’ve also read witness reports of German tankers testifying that the drubbing they took inside a tank while receiving the punishment from the blast waves of such attacks was brutal to say the least. Some of them kept fighting despite severe cracks in the armor plate. They were definitely physically and mentally damaged by close air support. Other wise that would not have made a difference once the weather cleared during the Battle of the Bulge.

  • Fruitbat44

    1. There seems to have been a tendency amongst the allies to report any German tank as a Tiger.

    2. Soldiers, sailors and aircrew do like to tell tall tales, especially to civilians.

    Just a couple of random observations from a – very – amateur historian.

  • Mike Betts

    You can be sure of two things when a WWII veteran of the ETO recounts a battle experience: (1.) Every tank he encountered was a Tiger, and (2.) Every artillery round fired his way came from an “88”.

  • wjkuleck

    Kinda reminds me the of the WWII vet who told me proudly about his Remington Garand. i respectfully agreed with him on how great they were.

    • jcitizen

      At that time he was right – Patton said it himself as well; “the greatest single battle implement ever devised by man.”

      • wjkuleck

        Alas, while Remington was allocated a 500-number serial number block, the company never built any M1s. Springfield Armory (the National Armory, not the contemporary commercial firm that has appropriated the name) and Winchester, yes; Remington, no. However, after WWII Remington did manufacture a few select-fire prototypes based on the Garand.

        • jcitizen

          I see – I may inaccurately recollect some 1911s made by Remington, and maybe a machine gun or two. I think High Standard built my old M2 HBMG.

          • wjkuleck

            Remington-UMC manufactured 21,000 M1911s in 1918/19. I have one. Remington-Rand, the typewriter company (spun off from the firearms firm circa 1880, and thus not related to the Ilion gun firm), manufactured M1911A1s during WWII. I don’t have one, but a neighbor does 🙂 . Ma Deuce came from a number of firms, some of which had never made firearms before, and never did after. Here’s the list from Wikipedia, limited to what I believe would have been the WWII time frame:

            Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Company, High Standard Company, Savage Arms Corporation, Buffalo Arms Corporation, General Motors Corporation (Frigidaire, AC Spark Plug, Saginaw Steering, and Brown-Lipe-Chappin Divisions), Kelsey Hayes Wheel Company, Springfield Armory, Wayne Pump Company, ERMCO,

          • jcitizen

            Very interesting! Thanks!

          • wjkuleck

            My pleasure!

      • Vince

        According to my uncle and other historians Patton would say anything he cared to with the object of convincing his troops to fight harder and to be less scared. I believe this was said during that time. He may have believed it but he told so many lies or “encouragements” he may have also said it to boost the troops.

        • jcitizen

          I wasn’t paying close attention to wjkuleck’s statement – I hadn’t thought about the fact that Remington probably never made an M1 rifle. They might have made a lot of the other weapons of WW2, but apparently not that one.

          Yes Gen. Patton was controversial, but he got results, and is still considered one the the main reasons the Battle of the Bulge, fizzled out for the Germans – that and God’s good weather, making excellent conditions for close air support.

  • mazkact

    I went to the battleship Texas one hundred year celebration. There were many WWII Veterans on board that day who served on the Texas. It was an honer to listen to their stories. My favorite was a Marine who was in the Marine quarters on the ship. Being with this Marine on that day and hearing his stories is something my Grandson and I cherish

  • wjkuleck

    I have and have read a fairly extensive bibliography on the Tiger. I don’t recall aircraft being a particular fear for Tiger crews. That having been said, I believe that the 37mm guns of the Ju 87G would penetrate the upper deck or at least the engine/radiator covers of the Tiger. The Il-2 was perceived as a threat, at least according to a Panther commander I knew. He claims to have defeated an attacking Sturmovik by running up onto a railroad embankment and firing his main gun. A fluke, but when on the steppes, desperate times call for desperate measures.

  • clampdown

    The real thing to take away from this discussion is that close air support was a crapshoot until the A-7 came along with the first HUD featuring a standoff bombsight computer and the Maverick missile. Cannons, unguided rockets, and cluster bombs are all quite difficult to aim with a “fixed” gunsight reticle.

    • Ron

      Fix wing CAS has always been a bit hard and until the advent of PGMs required mass or just plain luck.

      • clampdown

        There is a great, accessible flight sim for PC called “Strike Fighers 2” that focuses on Cold War era air combat. The “Europe” installment features three hypothetical WWIII campaigns, one in 63, 67 and 78. It is a revelation going from CAS in the F-100 Super Saber in 63, to the A-7D in 67 and finally to the A-10 in 79.

        The A-7 and A-10 are the only aircraft in the game with the standoff bombing reticle allowing level bomb runs. Everything other plane has to be put into at least a shallow dive for a chance in hell of accuracy. It’s hard to overstate just how revolutionary the avionics of the A-7 were. In fact, even in the ’78 campaign, I prefer it to the A-10…it’s the perfect balance of speed and payload…although nothing beats stumbling upon a convoy of Soviet trucks on a high way in the ‘Hog and giving ’em a good dose of Brrrrtttttttttt!

    • Blake

      I think “crapshoot” is far too harsh a term to describe WWII-era CAS. The past year I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time researching the Pacific Campaign, and specifically the Marine Corps Pacific Campaign. On Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa the Marines spoke very highly of the CAS they received and said they couldn’t have taken those islands without it. Especially after the deployment of napalm.

      • 33Charlemagne

        CAS was very effective, for both sides, in WWII. However .50 cal. would be considerably less useful against Tiger tanks than it was against infantry and the vehicles the Japanese typically used.

      • clampdown

        I should’ve specified that the “crapshoot” was due to the technological limitations compared to today. No doubt, the ingenuity and skill of pilots in all theaters of war made VERY good use of what they had…only to have that experience subjugated by the post-war priority of SAC and it’s wunderjets. Thus the Skyraider found itself flying among (and even shooting down) much more capable MiGs in the early days of the Vietnam war.

        I think that most of the A-10 community and it’s dogged supporters in Congress realize that CAS is more about the mindset of the pilot, a culture if you will, than it is an airframe…and that mindset goes hand in hand with flying low and slow, delivering firepower in danger-close situations where even the best senors and radars can’t replace loiter time and pilot visual observation.

  • tiger

    War stories tend to be the same as fishing stories.

  • Ron

    The first tanks killed by TF Smith at the onset of the Korean War, was not killed by Bazookas or the 5 AT rounds that the DS arty battery brought with them. But instead by one of the battery’s 50 cals that was by-passed by the tanks and was able shoot from a hill into the open commanders hatch setting the tank’s ammo on fire.

    • If the enemy is dumb enough to leave his pants down, it’s almost rude not to kick him in the butt.

    • jcitizen

      In fact the tanks on both sides of WW2 were hard enough to get out of, that many were run unbuttoned to facilitate abandonment. Otherwise you would end up a hot dog on a grill.

  • adverse4

    Tanks for the memories.

  • clampdown

    P-47 and Typhoon were the best CAS planes of the war, hands down. IL-2 and Stuka were too slow once/until air superiority was lost/gained, although they did contribute the “armored bathtub” concept to the design of such planes and demoralized opposing troops because of their fearsome appearances, sounds, and overwhelming numbers.

    • Vince

      At one point the Germans stopped flying Stukas any place they might encounter fighters, which was everywhere late in the war. The loss rate was approaching 100% so as desperate as they were the Germans stopped flying them. Even late in the Battle of Britain the Stuka was restricted late in the battle and we had not even entered the war yet!

  • Amplified Heat

    I wonder if the dissimilar ballistics between tracers and API (I’m guessing they aren’t exactly the same) at the extreme long ranges seen by strafing runs, combined with the odd angle of attack and moving platform, means that when your primary ammo is bouncing off the turret from a quarter mile away, your tracers are hitting the dirt below?

    • Ron

      Because of the back fill of the suction of base drag, tracers exhibit less drag than ball/AP, etc. So they tend to impact higher than the mix of rounds they are fired with.

  • Mad Marsupial

    There is a similar story about the British Typhoon fighter-bombers claiming a lot of kills on panzers with the 5″ rockets and 20mm cannon.

    The Operational Research Group (led by a bunch of professor types) examined these things and found the kill rates from the air were a lot lower.

    Interesting stuff to search out.

  • A.WChuck

    You had me at P-47!

    Memories are fragile and malleable.

  • Mystick

    I would think most ballistics calculators would use pure xy and not direct vector, since the reference planes(such as the gravity vector) are pure xy and there’s an unnecessary level of complexity in translating the xy to direct when initial parameters are xy anyway. Better to just throw in an angle variable and keep the references.

  • Larry Brown

    The allies did indeed run in to Tigers, 1’s and 2’s, during the Battle of Normandy. They also ran in to Tiger 1’s in Tunisia. True, not very many. But they left enough of an impression that all German tanks became “Tigers”, just as every anti-tank gun and every artillery piece became an “88”. Or, like every Japanese fighter became a “Zero” to most pilots.

    I’ve also read that allied air attacks took out far fewer tanks than believed. The value of allied air supremacy was in destroying the supplies and transport that the tanks needed to fight. Cannons on aircraft “might” penetrate the thin upper armor, or take out a radiator fan, but the .303 and .50 wouldn’t do much good. And the rockets used were unguided, often bracketing but not hitting the tanks they were shot at.

    Nice article. Thanks.

  • Spear Fish

    I was lucky enough to work with an old German guy in 1990 on a job and of course being a WWII buff I had to ask him if he was in the war. Imagine my surprise when he told me he wasn’t some REMF but a tank driver. He said he was in the 17 SS Gotz von Berlichingen division in action against the Americans from June until October 1944 when he was captured. I asked him what he drove and he said he was the driver of two tigers and three panthers after that they ran out of tanks and he became a driver for the headquarters company. I specifically asked him what happened to the two Tigers and he said one got a lucky hit on the track and was disabled and the other one the TC failed to properly reconnoiter the ground they were going to traverse and it got stuck. I asked him what happened then and he said that if you got stuck in combat you bailed out because you were a sitting duck. He said they got maybe a 100 meters from it and sure enough their Tiger got hit by multiple rounds and was destroyed. As a side note he said he knew the war was lost when they transported him back through the American lines after he was captured and he saw the masses of material being brought up to the front.

  • James Matters

    In my research, it seems normal for many vets to refer to German armor as Tigers. Nomenclature precision is not anywhere near as important as dealing with an armored vehicle in your face with a big friggin canon, and a few very zippy machine guns…

  • Phil Hsueh

    Plus one for linking to a video by the Chieftain.

    • mcjagermech

      it’s my go to video on American WW2 armor

  • David169

    The author never mentioned the speed of the P-47. The P-47 could out-dive almost every other airplane in WW-2 and was used as a defensive move when they had altitude and an enemy fighter on their tail. A P-47 would easily hit 400 MPH in a dive which is very roughly 600 fps. That extra 600 FPS gave the 50 caliber a big boost in penetration. Even if the core of the projectile didn’t make it all the way through the hit may produce spall on the inside of the armor that was high speed and hot. The aircraft gun on all fighters fired at about twice the cyclic rate of a ground gun and the 8, 50 calibers on a P-47 would pump out a lot of bullets.

  • Vince

    You have to wonder if the aircraft velocity would be added to the muzzle velocity as a plane diving at 350 mph would seem to add (the P-47 could easily exceed this number and pilots were encouraged to keep speed up when attacking ground targets to make them harder to hit) some velocity to the bullet as opposed to a ground mounted velocity.

  • Vince

    It has been recently found that while not recognizing much of TODAY many dementia sufferers remember much of years before. Right now, in San Diego, they are building a set of old down town S.D. to bring dementia patients to. That brings back many memories even down to knowing the names of songs being played so his reaction to the tank makes a lot of sense.

  • Vince

    As mentioned elsewhere my Uncle drove a Sherman in North Africa and Europe. He once saw a glorified TV show and was disgusted. He said ANY WWII tank was a hellhole to work in and most of the men he fought with considered it a given they would die in one. A very high percentage of the men he was with DID die in a tank in the 3 1/2 years he was in them. According to him the loss rate of the Shermans was horrendous and he hated Patton and Montgomery for their tactic of sacrificing large numbers of tanks and crews to get an objective. This was in 1963 so his memories were 20 years old or less.

    While a tank may not be destroyed by the P-47’s 8 Brownings can you imagine being IN one while it was being pounded? NOT a morale booster!

    When quality is mentioned one must remember that most of German industry was being done by slave labor and there was much sabotage. Improper heat treat of armor plate or improper piston rings would be very easy in an analog time.

    Last but not least both tank men and pilots were disgusted with the “professor’s” after action reports. They like to point out that some German tanks that were damaged enough to be considered “destroyed”, in that they could no longer fight, were removed from a battle field within a day as the Germans found them easier to repair than to replace. The “professors” never saw these tanks!

  • Zebra Dun

    Bullets ricochets into tanks belly. It could happen, not likely.
    It could have been a tactic taught without knowledge that the tactics were not sound, same as a belief that a tactic was working when in fact it was another event that caused the kill.
    During World War Two to every American serviceman a German Tank, half track, was a Tiger.
    The most prolific tanks and assault vehicles were PZ IV and StuGs.
    It is similar to aviators in the Pacific who saw Battle ships in every destroyer and claimed hits and kills with weapons such as the torpedo that proved to be combat ineffective in real life at the time.
    This was not an Allied only phenomenon the Axis fell into the same fantasy and myth.
    Propaganda could also be considered.
    A family member spoke of the German’s at D-Day using wooden bullets designed to cause infection as their primary purpose it was his belief yet the fact that the German’s used wooden bullets in training and could have simply run out of real ammo using the training ammo as the only ammo available never crossed their minds.
    I don’t think this pilot was intentionally lying, he just thought what he was taught and believed was really happening.

  • jcitizen

    When I watched that same video, I assumed that perhaps the Tiger had an escape hatch, that may have been thinner, or was even left open, to expedite a crew evacuation. However, I do not know if that tank had that feature like the US Sherman did.

    I had to assume the pilot knew what he was talking about, so I had to figure some kind of scenario like that. I have watched original gun camera footage from a P-47 pilot I knew 1st Lt. Art Kuhlmann that seemed to indicate they were more interested in damaging the running gear of the tank, which was easier to do. Aiming low like that made the chances better. German tanks were notoriously leaky, and fuel or oil may catch fire at an opportune time using this tactic. I have no reason to doubt the veterans because of these factors.

  • Cm

    i’m still trying to exactly figure out the gist of this article. from what i know from amateur researching is the nomenclature for describing a broad class of war goods was very generalized. i,e., the MP 40 erroneously called a “Schmeisser” by Allies during the war. panzer, tiger, you see a tank, you strafe it. if it’s got a fuel caisson, you strafe that first. aim for the bottom of the tank? you are picking nits no matter that’s what he said. looking at the angle of attack, the line of fire is going to be before, under, over and beyond the tank. also, to hold schematics against the pilot when it’s doubtful anything as detailed as you have would available to him, or others in theater. i could be wrong. this is just my take.

  • Fergus

    Unfortunately air forces the world over make impressive claims that are not backed up by fact. The Russians claimed incredible number of destroyed German tanks at Kursk, incredible because in most cases they claimed more tanks than panzer divisions could deploy. The same happened in Normandy where Tigers were regularly claimed but fact checking discovered few tanks destroyed by aircraft.
    The pilot isn’t lying, he just doesn’t know what he is talking about.

  • Tony Williams

    On the question of tank identification: the later model Panzer IV used in 1944 were fitted with long-barrelled 75mm guns and looked very similar to the Tiger 1 tank in general proportions and appearance – the most obvious difference being in the road wheels and in the overall size (not easy to judge unless you see them side-by-side). The idea that a pilot of an aircraft travelling at high speed at low level would be able to recognise the difference between them in the stress of combat is optimistic, to say the least. Many of the “tanks” claimed destroyed were actually armoured cars, troop carriers, armoured recovery vehicles and soft-skinned transport. There was one occasion when fighter-bomber pilots reported attacking tanks spread over some fields. When this was investigated, the “tanks” turned out to be storage sheds the local farmers had constructed.

    Some other points from the book concerning reasons for the overclaiming, apart from wrongly identifying the target:

    “The second problem was the difficulty in observing the effect of attacks. The cannon shells and HMG bullets fired in strafing attacks generally carried incendiary or explosive chemicals and caused flames and smoke to erupt wherever they hit. A tank revving up its engine to get out of the way can also generate a lot of smoke. Tanks apparently covered in flames and smoke were confidently reported as “flamers” or “smokers” and claimed as destroyed, whereas in most cases they would not have suffered serious damage. The blast effect of rockets and bombs threw up enough dust and smoke to obscure the entire area, and pilots frequently believed that it would have been impossible for anything to survive. They were usually wrong. Large bombs could disable tanks with a near-miss, but RPs required a direct hit. Finally, there was the problem of duplicated claims. A disabled tank seen from the air may not appear damaged, and multiple air attacks were therefore sometimes launched against tanks which had already been knocked out.”

    I summed up the basic problem faced by the fighter-bombers in ‘Flying Guns’ as follows:

    “The ineffectiveness of air attack against tanks should have caused no surprise because the weapons available to the fighter-bombers were not suitable for destroying them. Put simply, the heavy machine guns and 20 mm cannon were capable of hitting the tanks easily enough, but insufficiently powerful to damage them, except occasionally by chance. The RPs and bombs used were certainly capable of destroying the tanks but were too inaccurate to hit them, except occasionally by chance.”

    However, this also needs saying:

    “Despite their lack of success in destroying tanks, the fighter-bomber attacks made a substantial contribution to the battles. Cannon and HMG fire could be devastatingly effective against other vehicles, notably the supply chain on which the Panzers depended to remain in action, also resulting in blocked roads which indirectly hampered Panzer operations. Bomb and RP attacks could also be effective against area targets such as concentrations of vehicles.

    Most importantly, their morale effect was considerable. It appears that far more tanks were abandoned undamaged as a result of air attack than were ever destroyed by it. Logically, the tank crews might have known that the safest place they could be was inside the tank, but having seen the appalling destruction inflicted by any RPs and bombs which did hit, they generally preferred to bail out at the first sight of the dreaded Jabos and take their chances in the open. It should be noted that in the Mortain battle described earlier in this section, a major Panzer attack was completely disrupted and prevented from making progress despite the fact that few tanks were destroyed.”

  • J Garcia Sampedro

    I only heard about the “bouncing shots to hit the belly of a Tiger tank” in some anecdotes about tank destroyers (probably the Wolverine) in an asphalt road.
    Suposedly, at least one was successful (but didn’t know how many tried before and failed).

  • Core

    This is a continuous phenomenon for any witnessed oral account. This is discussed in basic anthropology when interviewing folks. It’s really up to the interviewer to try to pry into the details, and knowing enough about the subject matter and having a firm grasp on inductive and deductive reasoning to question the recalled account is important. That video was awesome.

  • gunsandrockets

    In the last few days javascript seems to make loading pages from The Firearm Blog jam up, preventing access to TFB. I don’t think it is a problem specific to my computer since only TFB reacts this way…

  • jcitizen

    Yep, and it made a difference.