Monday, March 1, 2010

Achtung Panzer Kharkov 1943: German Half Tracks are APCs, IFVs or both?

Damn it! For the whole weekend I couldn't keep my computer's cursor off the shortcut of this fantastic new war game. When it rains, it pours.

Several 3-D battles in Achtung Panzer Kharkov 1943 (APK43) got me commanding a lone German Panzergrenadier (Panzergrenadiere, PzrGren) platoon against (luckily, so far) Russian infantry. The PzGren  were a specialized branch of infantry specially trained and equipped for combined arms operations along with tanks. According to WWII German Army war fighting philosophy, the PzGren's were to be employed keeping the mission and objectives of the tanks in mind. It was the PzGren's supporting the tanks and not the tanks supporting the PzGren's. It is a subtle difference that's hard to keep in mind when dealing with the nitty-gritty of the tactical challenges in the game, but at least let's know why we are putting these PzGren's in harms way.

The staple of the PzGren formations are the widely popular half tracks. Each half track could transport a whole German PzGren squad. Were half tracks used as armored personnel carriers (APC), or infantry fighting vehicles (IFV)?
I'm not into tight definitions. When bullets start flying, you do what you have to do regardless what the field manual says. There is always a difference between theory and practice and I welcome it. But I find it useful to learn about how the theorists think a particular formation or equipment should be used.

An Armored Combat Vehicle [ACV] is a self-propelled vehicle with armored protection and cross-country capability. The term "armored personnel carrier" [APC] means an armoured combat vehicle which is designed and equipped to transport a combat infantry squad and which, as a rule, is armed with an integral or organic weapon of less than 20 millimeters calibre.

About infantry fighting vehicles, the same source says:

The term "armored infantry fighting vehicle" [AIFV] means an armored combat vehicle which is designed and equipped primarily to transport a combat infantry squad, which normally provides the capability for the troops to deliver fire from inside the vehicle under armoured protection, and which is armed with an integral or organic cannon of at least 20 millimeters caliber and sometimes an antitank missile launcher. Armored infantry fighting vehicles serve as the principal weapon system of armored infantry or mechanised infantry or motorised infantry formations and units of ground forces.

About these two modern definitions, the easy way is to think about them is that APCs are battle taxis (take the infantry to battle, drop them there and stay safe), and IFVs do the same but stay in the fight supporting the infantry.

So, returning to the previous definitions and based on the main weapon caliber and light armor, the German half tracks transporting PzGren should be considered APCs.

But, according to WWII German Army regulations, the half track is the main fighting instrument of the PzGren company. A big deal of training was performed to ensure that drivers had the training to find good firing positions for the half track. Also the grenadiers were trained to fire from the vehicle.

In a couple of battles in APK43, I thought of dashing through a Russian infantry platoon with the PzGren mounted. But as soon as the halftrack comes under fire, the PzGren dismount and this leads to casualties. So what I do know once contact is made is to pull back a bit, dismount the PzGren and move the half track onto a support by fire position so the PzGren can clean up the mess. Suppression works like a charm in APK43.

How do you guys use your PzGren/halftracks in battle?

Thanks, Johan!


Johan said...

It was used both as an APC and IFV. See this very interresting blog post describing the use of Panzergrenadiers during WWII (and the authors arguments about why the IFV concept may not be very useful today).

Part 1:

Part 2:

Johan said...

Sorry, couldn't get the links clickable, copying and pasting needed.

JC said...

Hi Johan,


Thanks million.

I'm going to add these links in the main body of the blog entry so the other readers can better see them.


Johan said...

I'm glad you found it interresting too. I'm new to your (excellent) blog, and have not yet learned to remember to press "read more" to get the whole post.

Now, having read all of what you wrote and those definitions, I would say the German halftracks are probably best defined as IFVs, as they were not only "battlefield taxis", but also a platform for the infantry to fight from.

JC said...

Hi Johan,

Yeah, blogspot is bit quirky and I'm getting a bit tired of it too. :(

Your links are an excellent read. This IFV issue surely raises some passionate discussions.

Thanks again,


Gary Owen said...

I wouldn't get too caught up with the nomenclature.

'Schützenpanzerwagen' translates roughly (I'm not a competent speaker of German, nor of Czech, nor Russian) to 'riflemen armored vehicle.' As a comparison the Czech version of the SdKfz-251 was produced well after the war as the OT-810. 'OT' standing for "Obreneny transporter" or 'armored transporter.' This accords with the Soviet BTR-40 and BTR-152, the post-war versions of lend-lease M3 scout cars. BTR standing for 'Бронетранспортер,' literally 'armored transporter.' Thus, just going by the name, the SPW is an 'APC.'

So far as I'm aware, the BMP ('Боевая Машина Пехоты' or 'fighting vehicle of infantry') was the first so-called 'IFV.' It was designed to provide protection to infantry from radiological contamination and the troops were expected to fight from within its protective enclosure, thus the gunports. I don't think that anyone really trains for infantry to fight this way. So the APC/IFV distinction is not all that meaningful.

Interestingly though, the recent BMP-4, which is based on the T-55 hull, is also called the BTR-T or 'armored transporter - heavy.'

Seydlitz said...

I lie to see my halftracks as some kidn of mobile MG nests. I drive them forward as much as I think its save then I dismount my PGs, let them advance under the cover of the halftracks. When the PGs reach a save phaseline I drive the halftracks forward to a new good fireposition. I see the main job for the halftracks to suppress possible enemy contacts and make life for the poor grunts a little more easy.

JC said...

Hello guys!

@GO: your point is appreciated. The distinction is almost meaningless. I guess the German halftrack is closer to an M113 than to an M2 then (?).

@Seydlitz: that's a great point and very similar to what I do. I assume there is not to be a mounted breakthrough with my PzGren. For starters, in APK43 the PzGren dismount as soon as the halftrack comes under fire.