Hilfskreuzer!

 Kormoran, seen during her cruise from another German ship, 1940-1941. Source: Wikipedia.

Kormoran, seen during her cruise from another German ship, 1940-1941. Source: Wikipedia.

During the Second World War, the German Kriegsmarine mounted a large-scale campaign aimed at the destruction of Allied commerce. Today, this campaign is primarily remembered for its extensive use of U-Boats and even a few surface warships. However, a small number of cargo ships converted to auxiliary cruisers managed to cause an impact that far outweighed their cost.

                                                                By Seth Marshall

                The Second World War in the Atlantic is frequently remembered for the use of hundreds of German submarines, resulting in numerous Allied counter-measures, including convoys, escort ships, sonar, anti-submarine patrol aircraft, and more. Additionally, German surface combatants, such as the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, are similarly recalled for their occasional forays into the Atlantic to harass shipping. However, the Kriegsmarine utilized a third form of anti-commerce warship that has received far less attention: auxiliary cruisers.

                Auxiliary cruisers were former cargo ships that had been converted to serve as warships. The Kriegsmarine’s intention with these ships was multi-faceted: it was hoped that in addition to sinking or capturing merchant ships, it was hoped that they would instill some measure of chaos in the scheduling of merchant shipping as well as spread out British naval forces even more than they already were.[1] Aided through resupply rendezvous with supply ships and submarines around the world, the auxiliary cruisers frequently mounted cruisers that lasted for over a year. The cruisers came from several different types of ships. The first group of auxiliary cruisers, known to the Kriegsmarine as Hilfkreuzers, were made up of two ship types. The Atlantis, Pinguin, and Thor had previously been modern diesel freighters, capable of very long ranges. The Pinguin, previously known as the Kandelfels, was a 7,766-ton freighter launched in 1936 and operated by the Deutsche Dampfshiffahrts Gesellschaft (Hansa) line.[2] The second group, the Orion and Widder, had served with the Hamburg-Amerika Line as the Kurmark and Neumark. Both of these ships were outfitted with boiler-turbine engines that were not considered the most reliable.[3]

                After purchase by the Kriegsmarine, the ships were equipped with six 150mm guns taken from outdated dreadnought-type battleships, two to six torpedo tubes mounted at deck level, four to six 37mm dual-purpose anti-aircraft guns, one 75mm gun, and dozens of mines to disrupt shipping lanes. These weapons were hidden behind fake hull plates and cargo, and were camouflaged in order to conceal their identity. All of the cruisers also carried at least one floatplane, usually either a Heinkel He-114 or Arado Ar-196. To maximize the ships’ value, the cruisers also carried spare torpedoes and mines to resupply U-Boats at sea. Despite these alterations, the only change to the exterior that might have indicated that the ships were not commercial was the raked bow installed of some of them to increase speed. The crews for these ships were unusual for the Kriegsmarine- they had volunteered for service on the auxiliary cruisers, and their officers were drawn from the reserve.[4][5]

                The first Hilfskreuzer to sortie was the Atlantis. After adopting a paint scheme that disguised her as a ship from the Fred Olsen line, the Atlantis sailed on March 23rd, 1940 from Suderpiep Bay. The Atlantis’ first victim was the steamer Scientist, a 6,199-ton ship carrying a mixed cargo that included maize, metals and chemical compounds, and tanning bark, on May 3rd, 1940.[6] Over the next 622 days, the Atlantis sank 22 ships totaling 145,697 tons. Commanded by Bernhard Rogge, the Atlantis had a remarkable career. Her cruise lasted longer than any other Hilfskreuzer and perhaps made the most significant impact on the war. Among her victims was the SS Automedon, a 7,528-ton merchant ship of the Blue Funnel Line. On the morning of November 11, 1940, the Atlantis closed on the Automedan and opened fire on the ship after it had sent out a warning radio signal and refused to stop as ordered. After firing several salvoes into the Automedon, the merchant ship came to a halt and was boarded by a group of sailors from the German vessel. By chance, the Germans broke into a room filled with luggage and mail bags- the bags were filled with correspondence and classified documents intended for British military and intelligence personnel, including a report that detailed the strength of Britain’s Asia Empire- and the weaknesses of its military. Ultimately, this captured intelligence was passed to the Abwehr (the German intelligence agency) and along to the Japanese. The information possibly influenced Japan’s decision to attack British colonial possessions in the Pacific, including Singapore.[7] The Atlantis’ long cruise came to an end on November 22, 1941, when it encountered the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire while rendezvousing with a U-boat. Hit by eight rounds from the cruiser, Rogge ordered his ship abandoned. After Atlantis sank, the U-boat it had been resupplying surfaced and took on survivors. The survivors of the Atlantis sinking endured a perilous journey to Brazil while being towed by the U-boat they had been supplying, before boarding the supply ship Python. On December 1st, while the Python was refueling more U-boats, the HMS Dorsetshire found and sank the Python. The survivors of both ships were forced to take refuge first among lifeboats, then among the submarines. After a lengthy voyage, the remainder of the Atlantis crew landed in St. Nazaire, France.

 The Atlantis, one of the two most successful German raiders. After over a year and a half at sea, the Atlantis was finally sunk on November 22, 1941. Photo source: Wikipedia.

The Atlantis, one of the two most successful German raiders. After over a year and a half at sea, the Atlantis was finally sunk on November 22, 1941. Photo source: Wikipedia.

 Captain Berhard Rogge, the commander of the Atlantis. Rogge began his service in the navy during the First World War. After surviving the sinking of the Atlantis, Rogge spent the rest of the war as a POW. Rogge was commended for his excellent treatment of prisoners he captured while commanding the Atlantis. After the war, Rogge served in the West German Navy, reaching the rank of Rear Admiral. He died in 1982. Photo source: bismarck-class.dk.

Captain Berhard Rogge, the commander of the Atlantis. Rogge began his service in the navy during the First World War. After surviving the sinking of the Atlantis, Rogge spent the rest of the war as a POW. Rogge was commended for his excellent treatment of prisoners he captured while commanding the Atlantis. After the war, Rogge served in the West German Navy, reaching the rank of Rear Admiral. He died in 1982. Photo source: bismarck-class.dk.

                Other German Hilfskreuzer met with success as well. “Schiff 33”, known as the Pinguin, put to sea in June 1940 and over the course of the next 11 months sank or captured 28 ships totaling 136,000 tons. Commanded by Ernst Felix Kruder, the Pinguin caused tremendous damage to the Norwegian whaling fleet in early 1941, with the capture of two whaling factory ships and their support vessels.[8] Pinguin and one of her prizes, the Passat, were also responsible for laying 230 mines off the coast of Australia, which over the course of the next several months sank five ships. Penguin’s luck came to an end in the Indian Ocean on May 8, 1941, when she was intercepted and sunk by the heavy cruiser HMS Cornwall. 342 of Pinguin’s crew, including Kruder, were killed, along with over 200 prisoners on board. Just 60 crew and 22 prisoners were recovered.[9] Another ship which took to the sea around the same time as the Pinguin was the Orion, commanded by Kurt Weyer. The Orion was at sea for over a year, returning in August 1941 after having sunk or captured 8 ships by itself, totaling 48, 400 tons, and cooperated in operations with Kormoran for another two ships.[10] Among the Hilfskreuzer sailing in 1940 was the Widder, which had the shortest cruise out of any of the auxiliary cruisers, lasting a “scant” six months. Nonetheless, Widder, commanded by Helmut von Ruckteschell, sank or captured 10 ships totaling 58,000 tons.[11] The last of the first five auxiliary cruisers was the Thor, a 3800-ton ship commanded by Otto Kahler. Setting sail on June 6, 1940, the Thor had a colorful first cruise during which she sank or captured 12 ships totaling over 96,000 tons and had the distinction of successfully battling three Allied Armed Merchant Cruisers on separate occasions- this will be discussed further later. The Thor returned to Germany in April 1941 after nine months at sea.[12]

 The Pinguin in home waters. After a successful career, particularly against the Norwegian whaling fleet, Pinguin was sunk in the Indian Ocean by the cruiser HMS Cornwall on May 8, 1941. Only 60 of Pinguin's crew of 400 survived to be captured. Photo source: bismarck-class.dk

The Pinguin in home waters. After a successful career, particularly against the Norwegian whaling fleet, Pinguin was sunk in the Indian Ocean by the cruiser HMS Cornwall on May 8, 1941. Only 60 of Pinguin's crew of 400 survived to be captured. Photo source: bismarck-class.dk

 The Norwegian factory ship Pellagos, one of the Norwegian whaling vessels captured by the Pinguin in January 1941. Photo source: Wikipedia.

The Norwegian factory ship Pellagos, one of the Norwegian whaling vessels captured by the Pinguin in January 1941. Photo source: Wikipedia.

 The Orion proceeding under disguise. A number of panels are visible along the side of the ship which would be dropped to reveal guns. Orion survived her cruise and made it nearly to the end of the war, only to be sunk by bombs in waters off Denmark on May 4, 1945. Photo source: bismarck-class.dk. 

The Orion proceeding under disguise. A number of panels are visible along the side of the ship which would be dropped to reveal guns. Orion survived her cruise and made it nearly to the end of the war, only to be sunk by bombs in waters off Denmark on May 4, 1945. Photo source: bismarck-class.dk. 

                The results of the first five raiders to put to sea were not unsubstantial. They had sunk or captured 84 ships totaling over 450,000 tons.[13] In return, the Germans had lost two of the cruisers- the Atlantis and Pinguin, along with 347 officers and crewmen killed.[14] The success of the raiders was owed to a number of factors. First was the Kriegsmarine’s Ettapendienst, a secret supply division which kept caches of ammunition, food and supplies in neutral ports all over the world. The raiders had the ability to either sail to those ports or arrange a meeting at sea with a supply ship via signal. Second, the raiders primary hunting grounds were generally isolated stretches of ocean away from heavily trafficked and protected shipping lanes, such as the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean. Generally speaking, raiders avoided fights and mostly targeted single vessels, improving their odds for success. Additionally, because the raiders chose targets in remote areas, the Allied navies simply did not have the means to provide escorts to protect every ship in every corner of the ocean. Huge numbers of escort ships were tasked with protecting convoys and shipping lanes in the North Atlantic and North Sea, where U-boats prowled in large numbers. On top of this, the British Admiralty was forced to wait for the distress signals of merchant ships to determine where the German ships were, and could only guess at where the raiders next attack would occur.[15] The ongoing success of the first several raiders meant that Hitler and the Kriegsmarine leadership readily agreed to send several more raiders to sea.

The first of the second wave of auxiliary cruisers was the Komet, a small 3200-ton ship commanded by Robert Essyen. Sailing in early July 1940, Komet was oddly an example of Nazi-Soviet cooperation- the Komet entered the Pacific after following the path of a Soviet icebreaker along the northern coast of the Soviet Union. The Komet did not meet substantial success, sinking or capturing six ships totaling 31,000 tons.  She returned to occupied Europe in the November 1941. The next raider to set out was the Kormoran. Originally built as the 8700-ton passenger freighter Steiermark, the Kormoran was the largest of the auxiliary cruisers, and was twice the size of both the Thor and the Komet. Kormoran was captained by Theodore Detmers, who sortied on December 4, 1940. In the next eleven months, the Kormoran sank or captured 12 ships, mostly in the Indian Ocean. Kormoran was sunk on November 19, 1941 in a mutually-destructive engagement with the light cruiser HMAS Sydney- this will be discussed in further detail later.

 The Komet, displaying a Japanese disguise. Komet was much smaller than most of her fellow raiders, displacing just 3300 tons. Photo source: bismarck-class.dk.

The Komet, displaying a Japanese disguise. Komet was much smaller than most of her fellow raiders, displacing just 3300 tons. Photo source: bismarck-class.dk.

The last two raiders to see action did not sail until the spring of 1942. By this time, it was becoming increasingly difficult for German ships to find success on the seas. Increasing numbers of escort ships meant that cruisers were more readily available to patrol remote sealanes. As a result, several raiders fell victim to Allied patrols, despite the best efforts of the Germans’ disguise crews. Merchant ships continued to send radio signals when attacked, giving away the raiders’ position. Perhaps most difficult of all was breaking out of European ports; the both the English Channel and the North Sea were heavily guarded by British air and sea patrols. The potency of these patrols was driven home when the Komet attempted a second cruise in October 1942. Two task forces composed of seven Royal Navy destroyers, three patrol boats, and a Polish warship ambushed the Komet along with her escort of four torpedo boats. After a brief exchange of gunfire during which Komet’s gunners appeared to hit one of her escorts in panic, Komet was hit and set afire. A short time later one of her forward magazines exploded and she quickly sank, taking all 251 crew with her.[16]

Despite the increasing odds, the Kriegsmarine persisted in sending more raiders to sea. After Kormoran, the next raider to leave was the Michel. Michel had been 4700-ton Polish ship named Bielsko which was seized in 1939 when the Germans invaded. With Hellmuth von Ruckteschell as captain, Michel sailed on March 9, 1942. Almost a year to the day later, after sinking 14 ships totaling 99,386 tons, Michel tied up in port at Kobe, Japan.[17] After two months in Kobe, Michel set sail on a second cruise in May 1943 with Guther Gumprich in command. Focusing on the Pacific as her hunting ground, Michel did not meet as much success the second time round. In seven months, Michel only sank three ships for 27,600 tons. Early on the morning of October 17th, Michel was spotted by the submarine USS Tarpon. Launching four torpedoes, Michel was damaged and began to list. Tarpon submerged, passed beneath the raider, then launched a second attack from the opposite direction. Michel’s stern was blown off, then the Michel sank after a large explosion. Out of the 373 crew on board, 263 were killed, including Captain Gumprich.[18]

As evidenced by the fates of Atlantis, Pinguin, Komet, it was in the best interest of the raiders to avoid fights when possible. Raiders were tasked with disrupting commerce, sinking merchant ships, and capturing valuable cargo when possible- they were not built to take on heavily armed allied cruisers. Despite this, raiders encountered resistance in a number of forms. As previously mentioned, the Atlantis and Pinguin fell victim to cruisers, while the Komet was sunk by destroyers.  However, not every meeting between a raider and Allied warship ended badly for the raider. On July 28, 1940 the tiny raider Thor, displacing just 3100 tons, encountered the British armed merchant cruiser Alcantara. Armed Merchant Cruisers (AMCs) were merchant ships which had been equipped with numerous guns and served as a deterrent to Hilfskreuzer; in Alcantara’s case, 8 6-inch guns and 3 4-inch guns. When the Thor attempted to escape, Alcantara gave chase. Recognizing that the Thor couldn’t outrun her pursuer, Kapitan Kahler turned his ship toward the Alcantara, dropped Thor’s disguise and opened fire. Thor hit the Alcantara numerous times before the British ship landed a hit, a round which passed through Thor completely without exploding. With the Alcantara on fire and slowing, Thor turned and disengaged. Kahler had taken an additional two hits which killed three. Alcantara’s crew eventually restored power and managed to limp to Rio de Janiero.[19] Four months later, on December 5th, Thor encountered a second AMC, this time the Carnarvon Castle. Carnarvon Castle was a former liner which had been armed with eight 6-inch guns and two 3-inch guns.[20] Again, Kahler tried to flee from the AMC, but the British ship ordered Thor to halt. Carnarvon Castle opened fire when the raider refused to stop, then Thor returned fire. Kahler launched two torpedoes, which missed, and fired his guns as quickly as he could, obtaining numerous hits on the AMC. With many casualties and several fires, Carnarvon Castle broke off and withdrew at a slowed rate. Thor had not been hit once.[21] Carnarvon Castle later reached Montevideo, albeit with a ten-degree list after sustaining twenty-seven hits and suffering four killed and thirty-two wounded.[22] Remarkably, on April 5th, 1941, Thor engaged a third AMC- the 13,400-ton Voltaire. This time Kahler’s crew hit the AMC critically with the first salvoes, setting her superstructure on fire. Soon after, the Voltaire was ablaze and slowly circling, having lost control. After fifty-five minutes of firing, Voltaire’s crew hoisted a white flag and abandoned ship. Thor picked up 197 survivors out of the crew of 269.[23]

 Raider Thor disguised as the Santa Cruz. Despite her diminutive size at just 3800 tons, Thor proved to be one of the two most successful raiders. After two successful cruises during which she took on three Armed Merchant Cruisers, Thor docked in Yokohama, Japan. Unfortunately, she was destroyed in a fire that broke out in the docks.

Raider Thor disguised as the Santa Cruz. Despite her diminutive size at just 3800 tons, Thor proved to be one of the two most successful raiders. After two successful cruises during which she took on three Armed Merchant Cruisers, Thor docked in Yokohama, Japan. Unfortunately, she was destroyed in a fire that broke out in the docks.

 A prewar postcard of the Carnarvon Castle Heavily damaged by Thor, Carnarvon Castle was heavily damaged and had to make for Montevideo for repairs. Photo source: Wikipedia.

A prewar postcard of the Carnarvon Castle Heavily damaged by Thor, Carnarvon Castle was heavily damaged and had to make for Montevideo for repairs. Photo source: Wikipedia.

 The AMC Voltaire, which was sunk during a battle with Thor in April 1941. 100 of Voltaire's crew were killed, but the surviving 196 were picked up by the German raider. Photo source:Wikipedia.

The AMC Voltaire, which was sunk during a battle with Thor in April 1941. 100 of Voltaire's crew were killed, but the surviving 196 were picked up by the German raider. Photo source:Wikipedia.

Aside from the Thor, one other raider experienced a degree of success against an Allied warship. On November 19, 1941 the Kormoran, which had been raiding in the Indian Ocean, detected the HMAS Sydney, a 6,830-ton Perth-class cruiser. Sydney was an English-built cruiser commissioned in 1935. Sydney was armed with 8 x 6-inch guns in four turrets, along with a secondary armament including 4 x 4-inch guns, 12 x .50 caliber machine guns, 4 x 3-pounder AA guns, and 8 x 21-inch torpedo tubes. Sydney was also equipped with a floatplane. The Kormoran’s captain, Theodore Detmers, wrote later:

“Evasion was out of the question. There were three hours until dusk at 1900 hours, but the cruiser coming up could move at 32.5 knots compared with our best speed of 18 knots, which we were unable to do on account of the barnacles and so on clinging to our bottom and sides. About the best we could manage was 16.5 knots… No, the only thing to do was keep my course and wait and see what happened; remaining alert all the time to take advantage of any mistakes he might make and see to it at least that I had a favorable opening position.”[24]

 The raider Kormoran during an at-sea rendevous with a U-boat. Photo source: Wikipedia.

The raider Kormoran during an at-sea rendevous with a U-boat. Photo source: Wikipedia.

 Captain Theodore Detmers. A veteran of the German Navy during the Inter-war period, Detmers was held as a prisoner in Australia following the battle with Sydney.  He was released in 1947, but was unable to serve in the postwar navy owing to a stroke he suffered in captivity. He died in 1976 at the age of 74. Photo source: Wikipedia.

Captain Theodore Detmers. A veteran of the German Navy during the Inter-war period, Detmers was held as a prisoner in Australia following the battle with Sydney.  He was released in 1947, but was unable to serve in the postwar navy owing to a stroke he suffered in captivity. He died in 1976 at the age of 74. Photo source: Wikipedia.

 The light cruiser HMAS Sydney. Despite being well-armed in comparison with the Kormoran, the Sydney unwittingly closed within lethal range of the Kormoran's guns and was mortally damaged. Photo source: Wikipedia. 

The light cruiser HMAS Sydney. Despite being well-armed in comparison with the Kormoran, the Sydney unwittingly closed within lethal range of the Kormoran's guns and was mortally damaged. Photo source: Wikipedia. 

Detmers kept his disguise up while the cruiser began to close and request the Kormoran give its identity. Despite several requests, Detmers held his course and did not respond, eventually sending out a “strange ship” signal via radio. Finally, presumably exasperated, the captain of the Sydney signaled the Komoran, “show your secret signal.” By this point, Sydney had closed to approximately 1000 yards from the Kormoran. Detmers later recorded,

“The enemy cruiser was now coming within the range that I considered suitable for my guns, and she was already so close that through our glasses we could see every detail clearly. In particular we could see that her four double turrets with their 6-in guns and also the port torpedo tube battery were all directed at us. As far as I could make out her eight 4-inch anti-aircraft guns were not manned… There were so many white caps on the bridge that I would almost assume officers from other battle posts had assembled there. To all appearances, it looked as though our camouflage was effective and they believed our information.”[25]

At that point, with the Sydney so close at hand, Detmers made the decision to drop the disguise. After ordering the disguise dropped, Kormoran’s guns were swung into position just seconds after Detmers’ command. The second salvo from the German ship hit home, while Sydney, clearly surprised at the turn of events, cut loose with a salvo that went high. Kormoran’s anti-aircraft guns raked the exposed surfaces of Sydney, preventing the cruiser’s crew from manning its smaller caliber weapons. Kormoran’s third salvo impacted the Sydney’s bridge and fire direction tower. These hits likely killed Captain Burnett along with much of the bridge crew and eliminated Sydney’s ability to fire accurately. Additional hits ignited the seaplane on the cruiser and started a large fire. Sydney also seemed to have lost the ability to fire with her forward guns, which did not respond. Eventually, the after turrets began firing and soon scored damaging hits on the raider. Sydney also fired a number of torpedoes, all of which missed. Sydney’s guns went silent after a time, and the cruiser slowly made its way away towards the south, on fire and down by the stern. Kormoran, its engines disabled and with a destructive fire of its own, began sinking. Sydney was last seen 10 miles away, still on fire- later during the night, the glow from the cruiser’s fire was still visible until midnight.[26] Meanwhile, Detmers ordered his ship abandoned- 20 crew had been killed in the fighting, and another 60 died when a lifeboat overturned- 315 personnel . Fires eventually reached Kormoran’s mine storage area and detonated their explosive contents, obliterating the back half of the ship. Sydney faired no better- she sank at some point that night, taking all 645 officers and men aboard with her.[27] Detmers and his remaining crew were eventually picked up by Allied ships- they would spend the remainder of the war as prisoners in Australia. Detmers was accused later of violating the rules of war by firing on Sydney while in neutral colors- however, it seems more likely that Detmers had dropped his disguise prior to opening fire, and that the captain of the Sydney was caught unawares by the raider; Burnett was likely simply used to stopping merchant vessels. He made the mistake of bringing his ship far too close to an unknown vessel without having determined its identity. In doing so, he allowed Detmers rapid-firing guns to quickly achieve serious damage on the cruiser.

 One of the Kormoran's 150mm guns as seen today on the ocean flow. Kormoran's wreck was discovered in 2008 at a depth of 8400 ft. Photo source: dailymail.uk.

One of the Kormoran's 150mm guns as seen today on the ocean flow. Kormoran's wreck was discovered in 2008 at a depth of 8400 ft. Photo source: dailymail.uk.

 Also discovered in 2008, the wreck of the HMAS Sydney lies about 13 miles southeast of the Kormoran's final resting place. Photo source: Business Insider.

Also discovered in 2008, the wreck of the HMAS Sydney lies about 13 miles southeast of the Kormoran's final resting place. Photo source: Business Insider.

                Another mutually destructive engagement took place between a raider and a target merchant ship. On the morning of September 27, 1942, the raider Stier emerged from a rain squall and began to fire upon an unknown ship, anticipating an easy victory. However, Stier quickly began to receive accurate counter-fire and received numerous hits, setting the raider afire. Stier’s crew claimed that she had encountered an Allied AMC, with an estimated armament of 1 x 5.9-inch stern-mounted gun, 6 x 4- or 5-inch guns, and numerous 20-40mm AA guns. However, in actuality, the Stier’s opponent was the 7,181-ton Liberty ship SS Stephen Hopkins, which was only lightly armed with 2 x 37mm, 4 x .50-caliber MGs, 2 x .30-caliber MGs, and 1 x 4-inch stern gun. Stier’s crew included several naval auxiliary personnel, who manned the rear gun and hit Stier with 15 4-inch shells, punching several holes below the raider’s waterline, setting the fuel bunker afire, hits to the crew quarters, hospital, and diesel generator, and disabling her steering, and damaging her hydraulics. Withering fire from the Stier took its toll on the Hopkins, which finally sank at 10 AM with the loss of three killed, five severely wounded, and 28 other wounded. Hopkins’ crew abandoned ship- one month later, 15 survivors from the valiant Liberty ship landed near the Brazilian villae of Barro de Stapanoana- the other 42 members of the crew had perished. The Stier meanwhile was scuttled, and her crew picked up by the resupply vessel Tannenfels.[28]

 The Stier was perhaps the least successful of the German raiders, only sinking three ships during 1942 before meeting an unexpected end at the hands of a Liberty ship in September 1942. Photo source: bismarck-class.dk.

The Stier was perhaps the least successful of the German raiders, only sinking three ships during 1942 before meeting an unexpected end at the hands of a Liberty ship in September 1942. Photo source: bismarck-class.dk.

                The sinking of the Stier, which had only sank a handful of ships to date, marked the decline of the raider as an effective means of waging war on Allied shipping. Convoys had become more effective at protecting against enemy ships, and warship patrols were ever-increasing, as evidenced by the number of raiders sunk by such ships. In November 1942, the raider Thor, which had successfully engaged in two cruises each nearly a year long and sank 22 ships for 150,000 tons, was destroyed in a fire while docked in Yokohama. Thor’s crew was forced to watch dismayed as the fire spread from a neighboring tanker to their cherished vessel. The last raider to sail was the Michel, which set out for its second cruise on May 1, 1943 and patrolled the Pacific. Michel’s second cruise was much less successful than its first- in five months of sailing, Michel sank just three ships for 27,000 tons before being sunk on October 17, 1943 by the submarine USS Tarpon.[29]

                Though the effectiveness of the raiders dropped off substantially after the first half of 1941, their accomplishments were not unsubstantial. For a very reasonable cost, the Kriegsmarine had modified 10 former-civilian ships which sank 890,000 tons of Allied shipping. This made the raiders more successful than their vastly more expensive warship brethren such as the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and second only to the U-boats, in which the Navy also invested far more funding. Perhaps more importantly, the impact these ten ships had on Allied naval practices far outweighed their cost. Raiders disrupted trade flow and broke up timetables, forced Allied navies to dedicate extra cruisers and destroyers to patrol sea lanes. The Allies also had to use additional aircraft for patrol duties. All of these ships and aircraft were assets that could have been used in combat theaters such as the Mediterranean or North Atlantic. Finally, occasional intelligence finds, most notably that of the Automedon, were highly useful to the Axis cause. Overall, the raiders performed admirably and achieved remarkable results.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources

1.       Muggenthaler, August Karl. German Raiders of World War II. Pan Books, 1980.

2.       Langenberg, William H. “German Kriegsmarine: Applying Deception to Harass Allied Shipping.” Warfare History Network, Sovereign Media, 20 Aug. 2015. warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/german-kriegsmarine-applying-deception-to-harass-allied-shipping/

3.       Asmussen, John. “Hilfskreuzer Penguin.” www.bismarck-class.dk, John Asmussen, 2000, www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/pinguin.html. Accessed 2 NOV 2017

4.       Asmussen, John. “Hilfskreuzer.” www.bismarck-class.dk, John Asmussen, 2000, www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/hilfskreuzer_introduction.html. Accessed 2 NOV 2017

5.       Asmussen, John. “Hillfkreuzer Atlantis.” www.bismarck-class.dk, John Asmussen, 2000, www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfkreuzer/atlantis.html . Accessed 2 NOV 2017

6.       Hastings, Max. The Secret War: Spies, Ciphers, and Guerrillas 1939-1945. Harper, an Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2015.

7.       Robinson, Stephen. False Flags: Disguised German Raiders of World War II. Exisle Publishing, 2016.

8.       Woodward, David. The Secret Raiders; the Story of the German Armed Merchant Raiders in the Second World War. W.W. Norton, 1955.

9.       Asmussen, John. “Hilfskreuzer Widder.” www.bismarck-class.dk, John Asmussen, 2000, www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/widder.html . Accessed 2 NOV 2017

10.   Asmussen, John. “Hilfskreuzer Thor.” www.bismarck-class.dk,  John Asmussen, 2000, www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/thor.html  . Accessed 2 NOV 2017

11.   Asmussen, John. “Hilfskreuzer Komet.” www.bismarck-class.dk,  John Asmussen, 2000, www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/komet.html. Accessed 2 NOV 2017

12.   Asmussen, John. “Hilfskreuzer Michel.” www.bismarck-class.dk,  John Asmussen, 2000, www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/michel.html . Accessed 2 NOV 2017

13.   Detmers, Theodor. The Raider Kormoran. Tandem, 1975.

14.   Langenberg, William H. “German Merchant Raider Kormoran & HMAS Sydney's Deadly Duel.” Warfare History Network, Sovereign Media, 20 Aug. 2015, warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/german-merchant-raider-kormoran-hmas-sydneys-deady-duel/+.

15.   Guttman, Jon. “The Last Raider - July '97 World War II Feature.” HistoryNet, HistoryNet, 19 Aug. 1997, www.historynet.com/the-last-raider-july-97-world-war-ii-feature.htm.

 

[1] http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/german-kriegsmarine-applying-deception-to-harass-allied-shipping/ (11/2/16)

[2] http://www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/pinguin.html (11/2/16)

[3] http://www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/hilfskreuzer_introduction.html (11/2/16)

[4] http://www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/pinguin.html

[5] http://www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/hilfskreuzer_introduction.html (11/2/16)

[6] http://www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/atlantis.html 27 JAN 2018

[7] The Secret War, Max Hastings- p.135-140

[8] False Flags: Disguised German Raiders of World War II, P.102

[9] http://www.warsailors.com/raidervictims/pinguin.html

[10] German Raiders of World War II, p. 45

[11] http://www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/widder.html

[12] http://www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/thor.html

[13] http://www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer

[14] http://www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer

[15] False Flags: German Raiders of World War II, p.54

[16] http://www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/komet.html

[17] http://www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/michel.html

[18] http://www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/michel.html

[19] The Secret Raiders, p.140

[20] http://www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/thor.html

[21] The Secret Raiders, p.145-146

[22] http://www.bismarck-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/thor.html

[23] The Secret Raiders, p. 151-152

[24] The Raider Kormoran, p. 178

[25] False Flags: , p.276-279

[26]http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/german-merchant-raider-kormoran-hmas-sydneys-deady-duel/

[27] http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/german-merchant-raider-kormoran-hmas-sydneys-deady-duel/

[28] http://www.historynet.com/the-last-raider-july-97-world-war-ii-feature.htm

[29] German Raiders of World War II, p. 207

The Tiger and the Sherman: A Critical Look

 A British Sherman in action in Normandy shortly after D-Day. Photo source: Wikipedia.

A British Sherman in action in Normandy shortly after D-Day. Photo source: Wikipedia.

Among the best known tanks of the Second World War, the German Tiger and the American Sherman tanks have since become icons of armored warfare and the subject of many a heated argument between enthusiasts of the subject.

By Seth Marshall

                During the Second World War, dozens of tank designs were developed by all of the major combatants in the conflict, but few have been so readily identifiable with that war as the American Sherman medium tank and the German Tiger heavy tank. Both tanks have figured in multiple American films over the years; Kelly’s Heroes, Saving Private Ryan, and most recently, Fury, to name a few. Yet despite the many comparisons and arguments over these two vehicles, they could not have been more different. This article will attempt to separate the discussion of these two vehicles.

                What would eventually become the Sherman medium tank had its origins in the 1930s with the development of the M2 and M3 medium tanks, which had been accepted by the US Army in 1939 and 1941 respectively. The M2 was an ungainly design that featured a 37mm gun mounted in a turret atop a pyramidal hull. Though unorthodox by contemporary standards, the M3 was a medium tank armed with a 75mm gun mounted in a side sponson built into the hull, and a 37mm gun mounted in a turret. While the M3 was reliable and easy to produce, its configuration was unorthodox- the gun mounted in the sponson soon proved to be too archaic, and the gun mounted in the turret proved to be too light to penetrate the armor of most contemporary medium tanks.

                In 1940, the UK found itself short on tanks. Most of its heavy equipment had been abandoned in France during the German invasion, and British production was slow to compensate for the losses in armor. Consequently, the British found themselves receiving armor from the US via the Lend Lease Act. Around the same time, the US Army decided to redesign the M3 as a result of monitoring the Wehrmacht’s invasion of Western Europe. The new design shared many components with the older M3, a result of the Army’s design to keep as many components interchangeable between the designs as possible. The main gun from the M3, a 75mm L/40 was, placed in a rounded turret on the top of the hull. Space for the storage of 90 rounds for the main gun was made. Additionally, a Browning M1919A4 .30 caliber machine gun was mounted coaxially in the turret. A second .30 caliber machine gun was mounted in a ball mount at the front of the hull. There was storage for 4750 rounds, split between both guns. Providing anti-aircraft protection was a Browning M2 .50 caliber heavy machine gun, mounted on top of the rear of the turret-  400 rounds were provided for the M2. Powering the new tank was the Continental R975, a radial gas-powered engine originally designed for use in aircraft which produced 400 horsepower. The new tank had a range of approximately 120 miles. The main difference between the new tank, designated the M4 Sherman, was its upper hull, which deleted the sponson and featured a redesigned turret to accommodate the new gun.[1]

 An M2 medium tank. Much of the Sherman's design was drawn from experiences with this tank. Photo source: Wikipedia.

An M2 medium tank. Much of the Sherman's design was drawn from experiences with this tank. Photo source: Wikipedia.

 An M3 Grant medium tank, another tank that the Sherman traced its roots to. Unlike the M2, the M3 did see combat, though it had very limited success owing to design limitations. Photo source: Wikipedia.

An M3 Grant medium tank, another tank that the Sherman traced its roots to. Unlike the M2, the M3 did see combat, though it had very limited success owing to design limitations. Photo source: Wikipedia.

                The first Shermans produced were built by the Lima Locomotive Works, located in Ohio. These early Shermans featured a rounded upper hull, and many were delivered to the British and sent immediately to North Africa. Initially, M4s were produced at a rate of 1000 per month, though this quickly increased to 2000 a month.[2] Shermans in North Africa quickly proved their usefulness as a medium tank; at the Battle of El Alamein, some 400 Shermans were involved in the offensive, along with 650 other tanks. These tanks were pitted against some 400 Panzer IIIs and Panzer IVs.[3] Against these tanks, the Sherman proved successful. It was more than a match for the Panzer III, which was armed with a smaller gun and lighter armor, and was evenly-matched with early versions of the Panzer IV. However, the Sherman, with its 76mm thick front glacius plate, soon proved that it was incapable of withstanding shots from both the 75mm and 88mm German anti-tank guns.[4] The Sherman’s high profile made more visible to the German gunners, particularly in the deserts of North Africa. Nonetheless, the Sherman was destined to be a mainstay among the Allies.

                Over the next two years, numerous variants of the Sherman were developed in an effort to improve its capabilities. The M4A1 was quickly superseded by the M4A1(76)W, armed with a improved 76mm gun, and perhaps more importantly, a damage control feature referred to as wet ammunition storage. Previous model Shermans were commonly known as “Ronsons” by the British and as “Tommy Cookers” by the Germans for their propensity to burn and explode when hit, owing in part to their vulnerable ammunition storage. The wet ammunition storage feature on M4A1(76)Ws  included double-walled storage containers. The space between the walls were filled with water and ethylene glycol, to prevent freezing in cold weather. When penetrated by shellfire or shrapnel, the water between the walls would douse fires, preventing the tank from burning.[5] The M4A1(76)W was later replaced by the M4A3, the most common variant of the Sherman, and the one which would serve in the highest numbers in Western Europe. The M4A3 received a new engine, a liquid-cooled Ford V8 engine, providing 500-horsepower and a top speed of 30mph. Additional improvements included armored glass blocks added to the driver and bow gunner viewport.[6] However, these upgrade still left the tank vulnerable to high-velocity gunfire from German anti-tank guns and armored vehicles, among which was the Tiger I.

 An M4A1, showing the rounded hull that was standard with early-model Shermans. Photo source: Life Magazine.

An M4A1, showing the rounded hull that was standard with early-model Shermans. Photo source: Life Magazine.

                Initially, the Wehrmacht focused its efforts for tank design on the Panzer III and Panzer IV, both medium tanks thought to be suitable for the battles ahead. Despite this concentration, German work on heavy tanks began in 1937. The Henschel firm produced a number of prototypes, known as Durchbruchwagen (DW) I, II, and Versuchsfahrgestelle (VK) 3001(H), VK 3601 and VK 6501. Additionally, the Porsche firm developed the VK 3001(P). None of these prototypes were put into production, but they gave both firms experience in producing larger tanks. Consequently, when the Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 and began encountering the T-34 medium tank and the KV-1 heavy tank, both of which were superior to the Panzer IV that was then fielded by the Germans, it became apparent that something more substantial would be required to defeat Soviet armor. [7] A requirement for a 45-ton tank was issued before the invasion, but combat added urgency to the design process. On April 19th, 1942, the Henschel and Porsche prototypes were presented to Adolf Hitler on his 53rd birthday at the Wolf’s Lair in East Prussia. A month following his birthday, Hitler issued a number of new requirements for the heavy tank- it had to have a frontal armor thickness of 100mm, and side armor of 60mm. Additionally, the new tank had to be armed with an 88mm gun.[8] Two months later, both designs were sent to testing grounds, where it was found that the Henschel design had superior maneuverability, and it was decided to put this prototype into production. Curiously, owing to numerous design changes put into effect by Hitler, Porsche had built 90 chassis to meet his requirements. When the Porsche design was turned down in favor of the Henschel, the 90 chassis were converted into Panzerjager- tank destroyers. These vehicles featured a large casemate-style superstructure housing an 88mm gun.[9]

 The final form of the Porsche prototype. Ultimately the Porsche turret would be used on the Tiger I, while the chassis was built by Henschel. However, the Porsche design was built in limited numbers- many of these chassis were later converted to Elefant tank destroyers. Photo source: Wikipedia.

The final form of the Porsche prototype. Ultimately the Porsche turret would be used on the Tiger I, while the chassis was built by Henschel. However, the Porsche design was built in limited numbers- many of these chassis were later converted to Elefant tank destroyers. Photo source: Wikipedia.

 An early-production Tiger I in service in Tunisia. Photo source: Bundesarchiv.

An early-production Tiger I in service in Tunisia. Photo source: Bundesarchiv.

                The final Henschel design, which went into production in August 1942, featured an 88mm KwK 36 L/56 main gun which fired a variety of shells at high velocity. This gun had a maximum range of 6km, and its advanced optics gave it an effective combat range of 1.2km. The Tiger I had enough storage capacity to hold 92 rounds, including the Panzergranate 39 (PzGr. 39) which was an Armor-piercing, capped, ballistic cap (APCBC) round containing an explosive filler, the PzGr. 40, Armor-piercing, composite rigid (APCR) round containing a tungsten core for extra penetrative power, and the High-explosive Anti-tank round (HEAT) round. [10] The APCBC round was capable of penetrating 90mm of armor at ranges up to 2km, and the APCR round could penetrate 171mm of armor at short ranges and up to 110mm at 2km.[11] Armor thickness varied from 100mm on the front of the hull, superstructure, and turret, to 80mm on the sides of the turret and superstructure, to 60mm on the side of the hull. The rear of the tank was relatively unarmored.[12] Powering the Tiger was Maybach HL 210 P45, a V-12 liquid-cooled engine producing 650 horsepower. This would later replaced by another Maybach V-12 engine producing 700 horsepower. The Tiger’s maximum performance was 38km/h on the road and 20km/h cross-country, though these figures were hardly practical on a long-term basis. Despite the immense weight of this new tank (57 tons), the Tiger was to prove surprisingly mobile. This was owed to its very wide tracks (755mm), which distributed the tanks weight across terrain at 15psi.[13]

                Despite all of these perks, the production of the Tiger came at quite a cost. The average cost for a Tiger I ran between 250,000-300,000 Reich Marks (RM); if a Tiger I in 1943 had cost 300,000RM, it would cost just over $1.2M in USD. By comparison, a Sherman in 1942 cost $33,000 to produce- adjusted for inflation, it would cost just over $500,000 in 2017 USD to build.[14] This meant that the Tiger cost six times what it cost to build a single Sherman- it was even far more expensive than other German tanks. The Panzer III cost 96,000RM, the Panzer IV cost 103,000RM, and the Panzer V “Panther” cost 117,000RM.[15] What was more, the mechanical complexity of the Tiger and the constant aerial bombardment of German industrial targets by Allied bombers meant that production of German armor, and the Tiger in particular, was stunted. It reportedly took 300,000 man hours to produce a Tiger I, twice the amount of time required to build a Panther.[16] Kassel, Germany, a site of Tiger production, was attacked 40 times over the course of the war by Allied bombers- on one occasion in October 1943, an RAF raid caused substantial damage to Henschel’s facilities and killed a large number of workers, delaying production.[17] Production of the Tiger maxed out in April 1944, with 105 tanks produced that month. Final production of the Tiger I totaled 1,347 vehicles.[18] This paled in comparison with the Sherman, production of which averaged over 1,200 tanks per month- eventually over 49,000 Shermans were built. [19]

 An assembly line for Tiger Is. Frequent bombing by Allied aircraft meant that production would ultimately be decentralized, further delaying the rate at which these complex tanks could be produced. Photo source: Bundesarchiv.

An assembly line for Tiger Is. Frequent bombing by Allied aircraft meant that production would ultimately be decentralized, further delaying the rate at which these complex tanks could be produced. Photo source: Bundesarchiv.

                The Tiger first entered combat in limited numbers in August 1942, when 4 of these new heavy tanks were sent to the Eastern Front at Leningrad. Owing to a variety of causes, none of the four tanks completed their first day of combat duty successfully, though three were saved for subsequent operations. Additional early Tiger Is were sent to North Africa, though they did not arrive in large numbers and were unable to turn the tide against the Allies there. Thereafter, Tigers would see extensive service along both the Eastern Front and the Western Front following the invasion of Normandy in 1944. Eventually, Tigers were in service with ten Heer heavy tank battalions, three SS heavy tank battalions, and a training battalion.[20] Curiously much less known is the fact that the Tiger was also used or considered for use by a number of foreign countries. Germany’s fascist ally Spain was evidently interested in purchasing Tigers, but never made a transaction. Japan actually bought a Tiger for the remarkable price of 650,000RM in 1943, but without the means of reliable transport, the tank never left Germany. It was leased by Japan to Germany, which employed it in one of its heavy tank battalions.[21] The sole foreign operator of the Tiger was Hungary, which was given 13 Tiger Is in the summer of 1944. These tanks operated with the 3rd Regiment of the 2nd Armored Division and saw action that summer in Galicia against the Soviets. Most of these tanks would ultimately be abandoned due to mechanical difficulties, an issue which plagued the Tiger and will be discussed later.[22]

 A Tiger I having its engine serviced along the Eastern Front. Photo source: Bundesarchiv.

A Tiger I having its engine serviced along the Eastern Front. Photo source: Bundesarchiv.

                Allied tankers quickly developed a fear of the Tiger from the outset that created a lasting impression. This is not altogether surprising, given the state of Allied tanks when the Tiger was introduced. The preponderance of Allied armor, the Western Allies in particular, was concentrated in the area of medium tanks, with relatively little thought given to the development of heavy tanks. This was perhaps a secondary effect of Allied tank doctrine developed during the inter-war years, which did not generally devote much thought to tank vs. tank combat. As a result, Allied medium tanks, with lower caliber guns with relatively low velocities and inadequate armor protection, were unprepared to deal with the new Tigers, which could withstand numerous hits from Allied tanks without suffering any apparent ill effects.

 A column of Tiger Is on the move in Northern France in the summer of 1944. Photo source: Wikipedia.

A column of Tiger Is on the move in Northern France in the summer of 1944. Photo source: Wikipedia.

 Tiger crewmen examine the impact mark left behind from a shell that failed to penetrate the Tiger's armor. It appears that this impact was on one of the sides of the tank. Photo source: Wikipedia.

Tiger crewmen examine the impact mark left behind from a shell that failed to penetrate the Tiger's armor. It appears that this impact was on one of the sides of the tank. Photo source: Wikipedia.

                As a result of their experience with the Tigers, all of the Allies began to develop solutions to combat the Tiger; many of these were interim fixes which modified already existing medium tanks to better survive in their combat environment. The Soviets would eventually develop the T-34-85, equipped with an 85mm gun to combat the Tiger and Panther. In the case of the Sherman, the British and the Americans developed two different versions that were capable of taking on the Tiger I. The first of these was the British “Firefly.”

                The Firefly design almost didn’t occur; at the time, the British Ministry of Supply believed that the Centurion and Comet designs, then on the drawing boards, would be sufficient. However, until those tanks actually arrived on the battlefield, a stopgap would have to be found. The answer came in the form of the Firefly, which mated the Sherman design with the British QF 17-pounder anti-tank gun. This gun, equivalent to a 76.2mm caliber gun, had a muzzle velocity of up to 3,900 ft per second with a APCBC round. Testing would reveal that the gun could penetrate 116.5mm at 1500 yards while firing a APCBC round. The recoil of gun necessitated an extension of the rear of the turret, hence the box on the rear of the turret of all Fireflies. Fireflies quickly demonstrated their usefulness in Normandy; this was also noticed by German tankers, who targeted Fireflies first. As a result, many Fireflies would subsequently have the forward half of their barrels painted with a disruptive camoflauge to make them appear as an ordinary Sherman.[23]

                The Americans were somewhat slower to adapt their primary tank to combat the Germans. An adhoc solution was the Jumbo Sherman- the M4A3E2. The Jumbo Sherman featured an extraordinary amount of additional armor welded to a standard M4A3, bringing the front hull thickness to 101mm and the sides up to 76mm. Jumbo Shermans arrived in numbers in the fall of 1944- some 250 M4A3 Shermans were converted to the Jumbo standard and were primarily used in breakthrough operations where the Jumbo’s armor proved to be more resilient against German anti-tank gun fire. Before the end of the war, a small number would even be upgraded with the newer high-velocity 76mm gun and HVSS suspension.[24]       

 A British Firefly in Namur, 1944. With its 17-pounder anti-tank gun, the Firefly was the only tank that the Western allies had capable of penetrating the Tiger's frontal armor. German tankers quickly realized the danger posed by these tanks and would target them first, leading Firefly tankers to camoflauge the barrels of their Fireflies in turn to disguise them as regular Shermans. Photo source: Wikipedia. 

A British Firefly in Namur, 1944. With its 17-pounder anti-tank gun, the Firefly was the only tank that the Western allies had capable of penetrating the Tiger's frontal armor. German tankers quickly realized the danger posed by these tanks and would target them first, leading Firefly tankers to camoflauge the barrels of their Fireflies in turn to disguise them as regular Shermans. Photo source: Wikipedia. 

 A M4A3E2 "Jumbo" Sherman, which featured much thicker armor and a 105mm main gun. Thanks to their durability, the Jumbo Shermans were preferred for use in leading assaults. Photo source: Wikipedia.

A M4A3E2 "Jumbo" Sherman, which featured much thicker armor and a 105mm main gun. Thanks to their durability, the Jumbo Shermans were preferred for use in leading assaults. Photo source: Wikipedia.

                The ultimate Second World War version of the Sherman for the Americans appeared in the form of the M4A3E8. This version fielded a number of upgrades and improvements to the existing Sherman design. The M4A3E8, alternatively known as the “Easy Eight,” was armed with a long-barreled 76.2mm gun and a newly-redesigned suspension system known as the Horizontal Volute Suspension System, an improved suspension system that allowed for better ride comfort and quicker reaction time for firing the main gun. Additionally, the new M93 HVAP (High Velocity Armor-Piercing) round was available for use in the main gun in this version, though this type of ammunition was primarily reserved for use by tank destroyer units.[25] The Easy Eight would soldier on in US service following the end of the Second World War, serving as one of the US 8th Army’s primary tanks during the Korean War. Production for the M4A3E8 totaled 4542 tanks.[26]

                In addition to the 40,000+ Shermans which were built during the war, numerous other vehicles based on the Sherman chassis were also constructed during the war. One such vehicle was the M7 Priest Howitzer Motor Carriage. Introduced in early 1942, the Priest mounted a M1/M2 105mm howitzer atop the Sherman chassis with a modified superstructure to accommodate the gun. Some 4400 examples were produced by the end of the war. Another examples of Sherman derivatives included the M10 Wolverine, a tank destroyer adapted from the Sherman chassis. The M10 featured a 76.2mm gun with sloped armor- despite being outdated almost from its inception, the Wolverine saw service through the end of the war, with over 6700 being built. A refinement of the M10 took shape in the M36 Jackson, another tank destroyer that was armed with a 90mm gun. This version began to appear in line units during the fall of 1944- by the end of the war, 1400 had been built.[27] These were but a few models of vehicles based on the Sherman.

 A M4A3E8 "Easy Eight" Sherman firing on communist positions during the Korean War. Photo source: Wikipedia.

A M4A3E8 "Easy Eight" Sherman firing on communist positions during the Korean War. Photo source: Wikipedia.

 An M7 Priest self-propelled gun, armed with a 105mm howitzer. The Priest was just one example of numerous designs based on the Sherman chassis. Photo source: Wikipedia.

An M7 Priest self-propelled gun, armed with a 105mm howitzer. The Priest was just one example of numerous designs based on the Sherman chassis. Photo source: Wikipedia.

                By contrast, relatively few variants of the Tiger were produced during the war. A few examples of recovery vehicles and assault tanks were produced, but these were not built in large numbers. Making matters more difficult was the inherent complexity of building Tiger tanks which required countless man hours to produce. Additionally, with Allied bombers making concerted attacks on German industry, production had to be dispersed and was slowed accordingly.

                In combat, the Sherman and Tiger developed opposite reputations. While the Sherman was derided for its weaker armor and comparatively light gun, it was found to be highly reliable. Additionally, owing to superior Allied tank recovery capability, knocked out Shermans were more readily recovered and repaired to working order again, barring a hit to a integral component such as the turret ring, which could not be replaced, or the tank burning for a substantial period of time. American and British crews were not alone in praising the Sherman for its reliability. A number of Shermans were exported to the Soviet Union as part of the Lend Lease Act, and Soviet crews generally like their American-supplied tanks. Dmitriy Ioza, a Soviet tank commander noted that the service life of the tracks on Shermans lasted approximately 5000 kilometers, twice as long as the Soviet T-34.[28] By contrast, the Tiger, while known to have armor nearly impervious to Allied guns and armed with a cannon lethal to Allied tanks at extraordinary ranges, was also known to be highly unreliable in the field. The transmission required constant maintenance to prevent failure. The overlapping road wheels had a tendency to freeze together when exposed to mud and the cold harsh Russian winter. The sheer width of the German tank meant that in order to move it by rail, a narrower set of tracks had to be fitted in order to be able to place it on a flat railroad car. Ultimately, many Tigers were not lost to enemy fire but to mechanical breakdown, and since the vehicle weighed so much, those that broke down near or at the frontlines were often unrecoverable because of their tremendous weight.[29]

 An early-production Tiger I, showing the overlapping road wheels, which were prone to jamming in winter-time when mud would freeze between the wheels. Photo source: Wikipedia.

An early-production Tiger I, showing the overlapping road wheels, which were prone to jamming in winter-time when mud would freeze between the wheels. Photo source: Wikipedia.

In spite of its poor mechanical qualities, Tiger units established tremendous kill-to-loss ratios. Three battalions established kill rations greater than 10 kills for every Tiger lost, including Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 502 (13.08 kills per loss), 13./Panzer-Regiment Grossdeutschland (16.67 kills per loss), and Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 103 (12.82 kills per loss). The overall ratio for kills-to-losses for all Tiger battalions is 5.74-1.[30] Many German tank commanders amassed large numbers of kills. Among the well-known Tiger tank commanders were Sergeant Kurt Knispel, the highest-scoring tank commander in military history with 168 tank kills, First Lieutenant Otto Carius, who destroyed over 150 tanks, and most famously, Captain Michael Wittmann, who destroyed 138 tanks and 132 anti-tank guns on both the Eastern Front and in Normandy. Wittman became most famous for a single-tank action in which he took part during the campaign in Normandy. On June 13, 1944, Wittmann was reconnoitering terrain near the village of Villers-Bocage when he spotted a stationary column of British armor. Instead of waiting for reinforcements, Wittmann decided to mount a one-tank attack. After knocking out the front and rear vehicles, Wittmann advanced down the column and proceeded to destroy vehicles at point blank range. By the end of the battle, Wittmann had destroyed over a dozen tanks, a dozen personnel carriers and armored vehicles, and a small number of anti-tank guns. [31] Wittmann would be killed two months later on August 8th by a round fired by a Sherman Firefly of the 1st Northhamptonshire Yeomanry.[32]

 Kurt Knispel, the highest-scoring tank commander in military history. Knispel was killed shortly before the end of the war. Photo source: Wikipedia. 

Kurt Knispel, the highest-scoring tank commander in military history. Knispel was killed shortly before the end of the war. Photo source: Wikipedia. 

 Michael Wittmann, another high-scoring tank ace who scored the majority of his kills in Tigers. Photo source: Wikipedia.

Michael Wittmann, another high-scoring tank ace who scored the majority of his kills in Tigers. Photo source: Wikipedia.

 The remains of Wittmann's Tiger in which he was killed. Wittmann was killed in August 1944, likely by a British Firefly. Photo source: Wikipedia.

The remains of Wittmann's Tiger in which he was killed. Wittmann was killed in August 1944, likely by a British Firefly. Photo source: Wikipedia.

Owing to the sheer numbers of Shermans produced and relatively few German tanks built in comparison, Sherman tankers were never going to achieve a similar number of tank kills. However, the Allies had tank aces who used Shermans as well. Perhaps the most well-known US tank commander was then Staff Sergeant Lafayette G. Pool of the 3rd Armored Division. In less than three months, Pool and his crew were credited with destroying 258 enemy vehicles, including 12 tanks. Pool was knocked out of the war on September 21, 1944 when he was badly wounded when his Sherman was hit twice by a German Panther medium tank. He ultimately had a leg amputated but would remain in the Army after the war until 1960- he died in 1991.[33] Another Sherman ace was Syndey Valpy Radley-Walters, a Canadian who had destroyed 18 tanks by the end of the war, making him the top Allied tank ace. Radley-Walters would also stay in the military after war, remaining in the Canadian Army until he retired as a Brigadier General in 1974. He passed away in 2015.[34]

 Lafayette Pool, who served with the 3rd Armored Division. Pool was likely the highest-scoring American tank ace in the war, and scored all of his kills in a three month period before he was removed from combat after losing a leg. Photo source: Wikipedia.

Lafayette Pool, who served with the 3rd Armored Division. Pool was likely the highest-scoring American tank ace in the war, and scored all of his kills in a three month period before he was removed from combat after losing a leg. Photo source: Wikipedia.

With the huge numbers of tank kills claimed by German tank commanders, one may assume then that the Sherman suffered heavily at the hands of the German Panzers. However, analysis after the war shows that this was not necessarily the case. According to a report compiled by Fort Knox from reports of 100 tank commanders, engagements with other armored vehicles, especially tanks, were relatively rare-an estimated 15%.[35] This was even more evident on the Western Front, which at least initially did not see an abundance of German armor. A German estimate puts the number of tanks and armored vehicles in France on D-Day numbered 2,000-2,400 vehicles, though postwar figures put that number at 1,200 tanks and 800 assault guns.[36] These numbers were not equal to those deployed on the Eastern Front- as a consequence, Allied tank casualties were not caused primarily by tanks but by anti-tank guns. A postwar survey of US, British and Canadian tank losses during the war found that of the 12,140 destroyed or knocked-out tanks sampled, 54% were lost to gunfire from tanks or anti-tank guns.[37] Of those tanks lost to gunfire, 86% were lost to 75mm and 88mm guns.[38] The survey also notes that of the losses inflicted by 88mm guns, most were caused by dual-purpose guns operating in the anti-tank gun role- not by tanks. The report further notes that 88mm guns armed only a limited number of vehicles.

“The preponderance of damage done by the 88mm gun was undoubtedly caused when this gun was on its antitank or dual-purpose mount. German production figures clearly indicate that only a limited number of tanks mounting the 88mm gun, or 8 percent of the total, were being produced in the summer of 1944.”[39]

If these figures are true and the survey accurate, why then was there such a stigma attached to the Tiger by Allied troops? The Tiger appeared more commonly on the Eastern Front, and even then was never present in anything even approaching the numbers of its nemesis, the T-34 and Sherman. It seems likely that the tank acquired its reputation as a result of anecdotes of the Tiger’s seeming imperviousness and Allied inability to destroy them with anything less than overwhelming numbers. Coupled with this was the Tiger’s ability to destroy targets at much greater ranges than its adversaries with its 88mm gun. Such was the fear of the 88 that the survey notes that US soldiers believed that “every heavy-caliber flat-trajectory weapon that fired at him was an “88”…” This was in spite of evidence that 75mm guns in the ETO caused 40% of the destruction of the surveyed tanks.[40]

 A scene that became all-to-familiar to Allied soldiers in Europe- a Sherman ablaze. Photo source: Wikipedia. 

A scene that became all-to-familiar to Allied soldiers in Europe- a Sherman ablaze. Photo source: Wikipedia. 

                Data on German tank casualties is more limited. The same survey as mentioned previously attempts to expound on German losses, though the report authors themselves note that reports on the subject are incomplete and do not provide a full picture. The survey estimates that of the German tanks inspected, 44% had been lost to “miscellaneous causes, of which non-enemy causes accounted for over 98 percent. Mechanical or terrain causes knocked out about 10 percent of the miscellaneous total.”[41] Coming in just below losses to miscellaneous causes is losses to Allied gunfire, which amounted to 43%. Though greatly feared by German tankers, USAAF and  RAF fighter-bombers are estimated to have caused only 8% of armor losses, and these were mainly due to direct hits from rockets.[42] While these records are not complete, they do seem to substantiate German accounts of being forced to abandon vehicles to mechanical losses.

 This Tiger met the same fate as many of its fellows- it was abandoned after becoming immobilized in a pile of rubble. Photo source: Wikipedia.

This Tiger met the same fate as many of its fellows- it was abandoned after becoming immobilized in a pile of rubble. Photo source: Wikipedia.

                Production of both tanks ceased with the end of the war, but for the Sherman, the war’s cessation did not mean an end to service. The Sherman saw extensive service in the Korean War alongside its larger replacements, the M26 Pershing and the M47 Patton. Following the Korean War’s end, the Sherman was taken out of US service. However, various versions of the Sherman would see extensive combat service with the Israeli Army beginning in the 1950s. After obtaining a small number of wrecked Shermans from European junkyards, the Israelis were forced to improvise in restoring them to working order, even installing old World War I-era 77mm German field guns on a few.[43] Eventually, a larger supply of old Shermans was found and the Israelis began modifying them in to the M-50 standard with French support. The M50 Sherman mounted a French CN 75-50 75mm main gun, improved HVSS suspension, and in some cases a diesel Cummins engine. Roughly 100 Shermans were upgraded to the M-50 standard.[44] In the early 1960s and in response to increasingly better-armed hostile neighbors, the Israelis again turned to France for upgraded Shermans. This time the product was the M51 Isherman, produced by Atelier de Bourges, the same company responsible for the M50. The M51 featured a new turret which housed a 105mm gun, a 460-horsepower Cummins diesel engine, and a new hydraulic system and wider tracks to accommodate the increased weight of the modified tank. About 200 of Israel’s Shermans were modified to the M51 standard.[45]

                Israeli Shermans saw service in the 1956 Suez Crisis, the 1967 Six Day War, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. During the Six Day War, the Israeli army used the Sherman on all three fronts, including  on the Syrian Front where, curiously, the Sherman faced off against modified Panzer IV and Sturmgeschutz IV tanks and assault guns, the same vehicles it saw combat with twenty years earlier. The Israeli army also used Sherman chassis as self-propelled guns, fitting French 155mm guns to the superstructure. Following the end of the Yom Kippur War, the M50 and M51 Shermans were gradually withdrawn from active service as they were replaced with more modern tanks.[46]

 An Israeli M51 Super Sherman, alongside an early M50. Photo source: Wikipedia.

An Israeli M51 Super Sherman, alongside an early M50. Photo source: Wikipedia.

                Incredibly, the Sherman continues in limited service in the present day. As of 2014, Paraguay has reactivated three Shermans which had been in storage with refurbished engines and new machine guns. These tanks were obtained from Argentina in 1980, and are likely being used for training purposes. Oddly, Paraguay also has a small number of M3 Stuart light tanks, which it also planned to restore to use for training.[47] In addition, there are numerous examples of Sherman tanks preserved around the world as they appeared during World War II. Many have been restored to working order and are in civilian hands, frequently appearing in reenactments. The Tiger has not been so fortunate. The vast majority of Tigers which were not outright destroyed during the war appear to have been scrapped since then. As a result, only a small handful exist today. A total of six Tiger Is of the original 1,300 are preserved in museums or as war memorials. Only one, Tiger 131 at the Bovington tank museum, remains functional.

 The only functional Tiger I in the world resides in the Bovington Tank Museum in England. Photo source: Wikipedia.

The only functional Tiger I in the world resides in the Bovington Tank Museum in England. Photo source: Wikipedia.

                As described in this article, the Sherman and Tiger I tanks were completely different vehicles intended for entirely different purposes. In spite of this, they are frequently compared against one another. This comparison overlooks what army planners envisioned for both tanks. The Sherman was intended from the start to be a reliable, easy-to-mass-produce medium tank which could both face off against enemy medium tanks and provide fire support to infantry. In this role, the Sherman functioned well- apart from its main gun, it was comparatively similar to the Panzer IV, its opposite number. Later versions of the Sherman would prove superior to the Panzer IV and could take on heavier tanks. Shermans were built in massive numbers, which meant that tanks that were destroyed could be readily replaced with new ones. What’s more, knocked-out Shermans were frequently repaired and sent back to the front to fight again. Underlining the Shermans’ utilitarian design is the fact that numerous other armored vehicles utilized its chassis. The Tiger on the other hand was designed in response to Soviet tanks to be capable of being used as a breakthrough tank, and later used as a kind of mobile bunker to stop Soviet armored thrusts. In this role, it was quite successful. However, as it was manufactured in small numbers, it was unable to reverse the tide of the war. The design was also plagued with mechanical and operational difficulties which affected its readiness at the front. Ultimately, it must be understood that both of these tanks were in general successful for the roles they were built for, but because of their distinct differences, it is not possible to compare one to the other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources

1.       B., David. “Medium Tank M4 Sherman.” Tank Encyclopedia, 19 Aug. 2017, www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/US/M4_Sherman.php.

2.       Taylor, Blaine. “M4 Sherman: ‘Blunder’ or ‘Wonder’ Weapon?” Warfare History Network, Sovereign Media, 15 Nov. 2016, warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/m4-sherman-blunder-or-wonder-weapon/.

3.       Conners, Chris. “Medium Tank M4A1 Sherman, Early production1-8.” Medium Tank M4 Sherman, 20 July 2017, afvdb.50megs.com/usa/m4sherman.html.

4.       “Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Ausf. E Sd. Kfz. 181.” Achtung Panzer RSS, Weider History Group, www.achtungpanzer.com/panzerkampfwagen-vi-tiger-ausf-e-sd-kfz-181.htm.

5.       Hamby, Alan. “The Story of the Tiger I .” Tiger I Information Center - Tiger History, www.alanhamby.com/history.shtml.

6.       Prado, Fabio. “History of the Tiger I.” The Life and Times of Germany's Tiger Tanks: PzKpfw VI TIGER I, The ARMOR Site!, 2009, www.fprado.com/armorsite/tiger1.htm.

7.       “M4 Furious – 11 Essential Facts About the Sherman Tank.” MilitaryHistoryNow.com, MilitaryHistoryNow.com, 31 Mar. 2016, militaryhistorynow.com/2014/10/22/furious-11-essential-facts-about-the-m4-sherman-tank/.

8.       B., David. “Panzer VI Tiger.” Tank Encyclopedia, 27 Sept. 2017, www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/nazi_germany/Panzer-VI_Tiger.php.

9.       B., David. “Sherman VC Firefly.” Tank Encyclopedia, 29 Aug. 2017, www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/gb/Sherman_Firefly.php.

10.   Pawley, A. J. “M4A3E2 Jumbo Assault Tank.” Tank Encyclopedia, 18 Apr. 2017, www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/US/m4a3e2-jumbo-assault-tank.

11.   Loza, Dmitriy. “Dmitriy Loza.” Я Помню. Герои Великой Отечественной Войны. Участники ВОВ. Книга Памяти, Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communication, 21 Sept. 2010, iremember.ru/en/memoirs/tankers/dmitriy-loza/.

12.   Reynolds, Michael. “Disaster at Villers-Bocage: Wittman's Tigers vs. the Desert Rats.” Warfare History Network, Sovereign Media, 25 Jan. 2017, warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/disaster-at-villers-bocage-wittmanns-tigers-vs-the-desert-rats/.

13.   Miskimon, Christopher. “Site Navigation.” Warfare History Network, Sovereign Media, 17 May 2017, warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/the-death-of-michael-wittmann-panzer-ace/.

14.   Fong, Dan. “3rd Armored Division History Foundation [ 3d / Third ].” 3rd Armored Division History Foundation [ 3d / Third ], Www.3AD.Com, 2003, www.3ad.com/.

15.   Mantle, Craig, and Larry Zaporzan. “The Leadership of S.V. Radley-Walters: The Normandy Campaign Part Two.” The Leadership of S.V. Radley-Walters: The Normandy Campaign ~ Part Two of Two, Government of Canada, National Defence, Canadian Defence Academy, 15 Oct. 2009, www.journal.forces.gc.ca/vol10/no1/09-mantle%20zaporzan-eng.asp.

16.   “Israeli Shermans: The Most Powerful Shermans Ever to See Action.” The Sherman Tank Site, WordPress, 20 Dec. 2015, www.theshermantank.com/tag/hvss/.

17.   Majumdar, Dave. “WWII Sherman Tanks: Back in Action in 2016.” The National Interest, The National Interest, 30 Dec. 2015, nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/wwii-sherman-tanks-back-action-2016-14768+.

18.   Miskimon, Christopher. “Sherman Tanks of the Israeli Army.” Warfare History Network, Sovereign Media, 14 Sept. 2016, warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/military-history/sherman-tanks-of-the-israeli-army

 

[1] http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/US/M4_Sherman.php

[2] http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/US/M4_Sherman.php

[3] http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/m4-sherman-blunder-or-wonder-weapon/

[4] http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/US/M4_Sherman.php

[5] http://afvdb.50megs.com/usa/m4sherman.html

[6] http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/US/M4_Sherman.php

[7] http://www.achtungpanzer.com/panzerkampfwagen-vi-tiger-ausf-e-sd-kfz-181.htm

[8] http://www.alanhamby.com/history.shtml

[9] http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/nazi_germany/Panzer-VI_Tiger.php

[10] http://www.fprado.com/armorsite/tiger1.htm

[11] http://www.achtungpanzer.com/panzerkampfwagen-vi-tiger-ausf-e-sd-kfz-181.htm

[12] http://www.fprado.com/armorsite/tiger1.htm

[13] http://www.fprado.com/armorsite/tiger1.htm

[14] http://militaryhistorynow.com/2014/10/22/furious-11-essential-facts-about-the-m4-sherman-tank/

[15] http://www.alanhamby.com/history.shtml

[16] http://www.alanhamby.com/history.shtml

[17] http://www.alanhamby.com/factory3.shtml

[18] http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/nazi_germany/Panzer-VI_Tiger.php

[19] http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/US/M4_Sherman.php

[20] http://www.alanhamby.com/history.shtml

[21] http://www.achtungpanzer.com/panzerkampfwagen-vi-tiger-ausf-e-sd-kfz-181.htm

[22] http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/nazi_germany/Panzer-VI_Tiger.php

[23] http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/gb/Sherman_Firefly.php

[24] http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/US/m4a3e2-jumbo-assault-tank

[25] http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/m4-sherman-blunder-or-wonder-weapon/

[26] http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/US/M4_Sherman.php

[27] http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/US/M4_Sherman.php

[28] http://iremember.ru/en/memoirs/tankers/dmitriy-loza/

[29] http://www.alanhamby.com/history.shtml

[30] http://www.fprado.com/armorsite/tiger1.htm

[31] http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/disaster-at-villers-bocage-wittmanns-tigers-vs-the-desert-rats/

[32] http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/the-death-of-michael-wittmann-panzer-ace/

[33] http://www.3ad.com/

[34] http://www.journal.forces.gc.ca/vol10/no1/09-mantle%20zaporzan-eng.asp

[35] Survey of Allied Tank Casualties in World War II, p. 44

[36] Survey of Allied Tank Casualties in World War II, p.80

[37] Survey of Allied Tank Casualties in World War II, p.2

[38] Survey of Allied Tank Casualties in World War II, p.4

[39] Survey of Allied Tank Casualties in World War II, p.25-27

[40] Survey of Allied Tank Casualties in World War II, p.24

[41] Survey of Allied Tank Casualties in World War II, p.89

[42] Survey of Allied Tank Casualties in World War II, p.87-89

[43]http://www.theshermantank.com/tag/hvss/

[44] http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/military-history/sherman-tanks-of-the-israeli-army/

[45] http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/military-history/sherman-tanks-of-the-israeli-army/

[46] http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/military-history/sherman-tanks-of-the-israeli-army/

[47] http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/wwii-sherman-tanks-back-action-2016-14768

Tools of War: USS LST-325

 USS LST-325 visits Clarksville, Tennessee in September 2017. Photo: author.

USS LST-325 visits Clarksville, Tennessee in September 2017. Photo: author.

During the Second World War, the Allies found themselves in need of large numbers of amphibious transport capable of navigating the world’s oceans and delivering heavy equipment to beachheads. The Landing Ship, Tank, or LST, was developed to meet this demand. Today, the USS LST-325 remains one of the last LSTs in existence, and is a fully operational museum ship.

By Seth Marshall

                In May-June 1940, the BEF was evacuated from the shores of Dunkirk by a variety of small craft, destroyers, and requisitioned steamers. While the evacuation successfully removed over 300,000 soldiers from France, nearly all of their heavy equipment was left behind, including artillery, vehicles, tanks, etc. This event, along with subsequent operations, demonstrated the Allied need for amphibious vehicles that could effectively deliver both troops and vehicles directly to the beachhead. Additionally, it became soon apparent that a craft delivering heavy vehicles would also need to be capable of traversing the world’s oceans. What resulted was the Landing Ship, Tank (LST), an amphibious vessel capable of navigating both deep and shallow water in order to deliver tanks straight to a beachhead.

                The first LSTs were actually converted tankers. The three ships, the Bachaquero, the Misoa, and the Tasajera, were medium-sized tankers in use in Venezuela and specifically designed to safely pass over shallow sand bars. All three ships had originally been built in the late 1930s in Britain by Furness Shipbuilding. Bachaquero and Misoa were sister ships and both displaced 4,193 tons, while the Tasajera displaced 3,952 tons. Following their requisitioning by the Royal Navy in late 1940 and early 1941, they were sent on to Belfast, Ireland for conversion into landing ships. Their original bows were removed and replaced with a bow that featured a ramp, and much of the interior deck space was cleared to make room for vehicles. The conversion process was completed by the end of 1941, upon which the ex-tankers were capable of carrying two Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM), or 22 25-ton or 18 30-ton tanks, or 33 3-ton vehicles, along with 210 soldiers.[1] These converted vessels eventually saw action during Operation Torch, the invasion of Morroco, in November 1942. However, they were more of a proof-of-concept rather than a final product. Purpose-built designs would quickly overtake these ships.

                In 1941, following an agreement between President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a group from the British Admiralty arrived in the United States to collaborate on the design of landing vessels with the US Navy’s Bureau of Ships. John Niedermair, a member of the Bureau of Ships, is credited with originating the basic outline of what would become the mass-produced LST- a ship capable of moving through both deep and shallow water, equipped with a ballast system that would allow the landing ship to pump water in and out for beaching operations and ocean travel. The design, approved on November 5, 1941, called for a ship 280 feet in length. This was modified several times over the coming months and eventually was settled at a length of 328 feet, with a 50-foot beam and minimum draft of three feet 9 ½ inches. The LST could accommodate 2100 tons worth of tanks which would enter and exit via a clamshell-type door at the front with a 12-14 foot ramp. The tank deck was ventilated, allowing the vehicles to run their engines without fear of asphyxiation. Model testing of the design began in early 1942.[2]

                Following testing, construction of LSTs began in earnest in mid-1942. The first LST was laid down on June 10, 1942 at New News, Virginia- by the end of the year, twenty-three were in commission. Owing to the priority of coastal shipyards for building warships, a large portion of LSTs were built at inland shipyards along rivers, which the shallow-water going LSTs could navigate. The first production LSTs entered combat in the Solomon Islands in 1943.

 The USS LST-942 underway in late 1944. Photo source: Wikipedia.

The USS LST-942 underway in late 1944. Photo source: Wikipedia.

                Not long after the first LSTs began entering service, they began to be modified for missions apart from ferrying tanks and vehicles to beaches. Some LSTs were converted into landing craft repair ships, and featured additional cranes, booms, winches, and workshops necessary to repair damaged vessels. Thirty-eight LSTs were converted to small hospital ships, a number of which ferried wounded troops back from the beaches of Normandy to England. Fifteen LSTs were converted to move railcars to France. Locomotives and heavier rolling stock were moved on larger ships, leaving boxcars and flatcars to be carried by the LSTs.[3] Late during World War II, several LSTs were modified to be able to launch and recover light observation aircraft. Initially, LSTs were give a plywood runway 197 feet long, which allowed Piper L-4 observation aircraft to take off. In this configuration, ten aircraft could be carried. Later, Lieutenant James Brodie of the Office of Strategic Services developed a trapeze system in which an L-4 or L-5 could be launched and recovered from an LST. A bar with a hook above the cockpit was used to hook onto a trapeze bar suspended by two gantries over the side of the ship. This version of the LST could actually carry out normal transportation operations. The Brodie system was developed late in the war, and saw action only during the Battle of Okinawa.[4]

Navsource_02.jpg
 A side view of USS LST-325 equipped with a Brodie system. This photo was likely taken in 1945 around the end of the war. Photo source: lstmemorial.org. 

A side view of USS LST-325 equipped with a Brodie system. This photo was likely taken in 1945 around the end of the war. Photo source: lstmemorial.org. 

 A view from the deck of an LST converted for use as an "aircraft carrier". The aircraft in this picture are Piper L-4 observation aircraft, frequently used for artillery spotting. 

A view from the deck of an LST converted for use as an "aircraft carrier". The aircraft in this picture are Piper L-4 observation aircraft, frequently used for artillery spotting. 

 One of the most iconic images of the war, this photograph shows numerous LSTs offloading men and vehicles at the beaches of Normandy not long after D-Day. Photo source: Wikipedia.

One of the most iconic images of the war, this photograph shows numerous LSTs offloading men and vehicles at the beaches of Normandy not long after D-Day. Photo source: Wikipedia.

                During the course of the war, production time of the LST was drastically reduced from four months to two months. Armament was increased as the war progressed and additional anti-aircraft armament became a priority in the Pacific.[5] By the end of the war, 1,051 had been produced. Of these 113 were given to Britain under the terms of the Lend Lease program. An additional four were given to the Greek Navy. A further 116 were converted to other missions and given different hull designations.[6] Though derisively referred to as “Large Slow Target” by crew members and soldiers in reference to its top speed of 11 knots, LSTs were surprisingly durable and relatively few were lost during the war. Twenty-six were lost to enemy fire, and another thirteen were lost to weather or accidents.[7] Following World War II, LSTs continued to see service in the US Navy during the Korean War and the Cold War. As these ships were decommissioned from the USN, many were given to foreign navies. Though the war that was the impetus behind these ships ended over seventy years ago, a few LSTs still remain in service to this day.

 USS LST-325 beached at Slapton Sands in January 1944 during one of the exercises rehearsing the invasion of Normandy. Photo source: navsource.org. 

USS LST-325 beached at Slapton Sands in January 1944 during one of the exercises rehearsing the invasion of Normandy. Photo source: navsource.org. 

 USS LST-325 beached off the coast of Normandy at low tide on June 12, 1944. Photo source: navsource.org. 

USS LST-325 beached off the coast of Normandy at low tide on June 12, 1944. Photo source: navsource.org. 

                The USS LST-325 is a fully functional LST which has been restored to its World War II configuration. LST-325 was laid down on August 10, 1942 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and launched on October 27, 1942. She was commissioned on February 1, 1943 with Lieutenant Ira Ehrensall in command.[8] Her compliment included thirteen officers and 104 enlisted personnel. In addition to her vehicle-carrying capability, had accommodations for sixteen officers and 147 enlisted personnel. LST-325 was equipped with two twin 40mm gun mounts with Mk. 51 fire control directors, four single 40mm gun mounts, and twelve 20mm gun mounts. [9] Not long after her commissioning in February 1943, Lt. Ehrensall was transferred to the USS LST-391 and replaced by Ensign Clifford E. Mosier, who would remain the commanding officer until June 1945. Upon completing her shakedown cruise, she was sent to Algeria, where she spent three months practicing loading and beaching operations. She was then sent to the Bay of Tunis to prepare for Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily.[10] On July 13th, LST-325 unloaded soldiers and vehicles of the 1st Armored Division at the Bay of Gela. The LST made five more trips between Africa and Sicily, bringing back Italian prisoners on two of those trips.[11]

 German prisoners debarking USS LST-325 in England following the invasion of Normandy. Photo source: navsource.org.

German prisoners debarking USS LST-325 in England following the invasion of Normandy. Photo source: navsource.org.

                LST-325 first came under fire on September 6th at Bizerte, Tunisia, when the ship came under attack by enemy aircraft. Four crew members were injured in the attack. A week later, the LST took part in the invasion of Salerno, Italy by offloading part of the 40th Royal Tank Regiment. During this operation, the LST again came under air attack during an attack by German fighter-bombers. Another four crew members and four British soldiers were wounded during the attack. After further supporting the invasion of the Italian mainland, LST-325 formed up with a large convoy in November 1943 bound for England. On November 21, the convoy came under attack by German bombers using Fritz X glide bombs, which sank a number of ships. One passenger aboard the LST was wounded by shrapnel from a nearby explosion.

                After reaching England, the LST spent the next several months engaged in exercises along the English coast, preparing for the invasion of France. On June 5th, 1944, members of the 5th Special Engineer Brigade were loaded aboard as part of a backup force supporting the main force landing at Omaha Beach. The LST unloaded her cargo at Omaha Beach on June 7th. She would spend the next nine months making 43 trips between England and France for supply runs. On December 28, 1944, LST-325 assisted in the rescue of 700 survivors of the torpedoed transport Empire Javelin; Mosier, now a Lieutenant Commander, was awarded a Bronze Star for his efforts. On May 11, 1945, LST-325 formed up with a convoy to return to the United States. The next day, the ship was badly damaged in a storm after striking a large wave bow first, which caused a large crack to develop across the main deck. Steel plates were welded in place onto the damaged hull, which allowed the LST to limp back to the US for repairs. She arrived in Norfolk, Virginia on May 31, 1945.[12]

                After arriving in the US, LST-325 moved to New Orleans to receive repairs. While in New Orleans, she was also fitted with a “Brodie” system to launch light aircraft. It was assumed the ship would move to the Pacific Theater for operations against Japan, but the war ended before the LST could move there. She was decommissioned at Green Cove Springs, Florida on July 2, 1946. She was reactivated in 1951 and became part of the Military Sea Transport Service, where she was tasked with assisting in the construction of radar sites along the eastern coasts of Greenland and Canada, which would provide the US with early warning against a Soviet bomber strike. In 1961, LST-325 was decommissioned a second time. Two years later, the ship was transferred to the Greek Navy and named Syros (L-144). She would remain active with Greece until December 1999, when was decommissioned a third and final time.

 USS LST-325 in 1964, not long before she was transferred to the Greek Navy. Photo source: navsource.org. 

USS LST-325 in 1964, not long before she was transferred to the Greek Navy. Photo source: navsource.org. 

 USS LST-325 in service with the Greek Navy. Photo source: navsource.org.

USS LST-325 in service with the Greek Navy. Photo source: navsource.org.

                Following her final decommissioning, LST-325 was acquired by The USS Ship Memorial, Inc. in 2000. A small crew was sent to Greece to bring the LST across the Atlantic- it arrived in Mobile, Alamaba on January 10, 2001. It spent the next few years being restored to its World War II appearance. In 2004, following the completion of the restoration process, the LST arrived in Evansville, Indiana, where it would be home-ported. Evansville was the site of one of the inland LST production facilities, and had produced 171 LSTs during the war.[13] 

 USS LST-325 moored at its home port in Evansville, Indiana in April 2017. Photo: author.

USS LST-325 moored at its home port in Evansville, Indiana in April 2017. Photo: author.

                Today, LST-325 is open to the public as a floating museum. Most of the year she can be found moored in Evansville, not far from the downtown area. One month out of the year, the LST travels many of the rivers in the Upper South and Midwest areas, stopping at cities and towns to give tours to local residents. According to members of the crew, the ship undergoes one-month maintenance periods twice a year, once in the spring and once at the completion of their late summer river tour. Despite being 75 years old, the LST is in very good condition, and appears to be an accurate representation of World War II LSTs. While for the most part the ship has been returned to its World War II configuration, a number of modern additions have been made to make operations more practical. Newer engines have replaced the originals, which were not as reliable. A modern bridge has been added to the top of the superstructure, allowing much better visibility while cruising rivers. Modern generators have been added to provide power, and new radar systems have been mounted. Nonetheless, the LST definitely retains a wartime appearance. Having visited a number of museum ships in the past, LST-325 differs from others in that it has a sense of life about it- crew members are routinely seen moving about to operate systems or conduct routine maintenance. The LST has the sounds and smells of active ship, as opposed the smell of cleaners and the silence of a long-stationary ship. The tank deck houses a number of displays which discuss the history of LSTs, including the 325, and a number of artifacts donated by former LST crewmen can be seen in various locations around the vessels. Volunteer crewmen are generally friendly and are happy to answer questions posed by visitors. LST-325 is an excellent example of a preserved vessel, and will provide a unique museum dedicated to the LSTs for years too come.

 The tank deck of USS LST-325 looking aft from the bow. Much of the tank deck is currently used as exhibit space. Photo: Author.

The tank deck of USS LST-325 looking aft from the bow. Much of the tank deck is currently used as exhibit space. Photo: Author.

 Another view of the tank deck, closer towards the aft of the ship. Photo: author.

Another view of the tank deck, closer towards the aft of the ship. Photo: author.

 One of the troop berthing areas located in the sides of the ship. A standard LST was capable of transporting over 100 combat-loaded troops in addition to tanks and vehicles. Photo: author.

One of the troop berthing areas located in the sides of the ship. A standard LST was capable of transporting over 100 combat-loaded troops in addition to tanks and vehicles. Photo: author.

 One of the hallways in the officer cabin area. These cabins are located in the superstructure of the ship. Photo: Author.

One of the hallways in the officer cabin area. These cabins are located in the superstructure of the ship. Photo: Author.

 The interior of the original bridge. Today, the USS LST-325 has a modern bridge mounted on the top of the superstructure to meet current requirements for operation. Photo: Author.

The interior of the original bridge. Today, the USS LST-325 has a modern bridge mounted on the top of the superstructure to meet current requirements for operation. Photo: Author.

 The superstructure of the LST as viewed from the deck. Photo: author.

The superstructure of the LST as viewed from the deck. Photo: author.