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The Instant Before

February 26th, 2013 - 3:42 am

Some of the most detailed combat footage in history was taken not by professional journalists but by soldiers whose job was to carry a camera.  Perhaps one of the most famous examples from the Second World War was footage taken by Jim Bates in  Cologne, Germany showing an M-26 Pershing smash a Panther tank.

Anonymous Syrian rebels have captured remarkable HD footage of the civil war.  This link shows a 32 minute video of Syrian tank raids into Darya depicting various instances of reactive-armored Syrian tanks making forays into the city ruins. There is little evident infantry support for the tanks, nor any apparent purpose to the forays — a fact which the rebels exploit by infiltrating the buildings around the armor to occasionally fire RPGs down on the Syrian tanks. They have little apparent effect. The main guns of the T-72s swivel and smash the buildings in retaliation.

Eventually the video producer tacks on footage of rebels bringing up a big RPG-29 which they cannily use against tanks unprotected by reactive armor. The shooter waits for a signal perhaps from spotters to tell him when the tanks vision devices are looking away before he cooly stands and lets fly.

There follows a fatal ammunition explosion in the Syrian tank, eerily reminiscent of the Panther’s demise at Cologne. In both cases some poor crewman makes it out with unbelievable speed, though it is not clear they survive. It is sad to watch the two very similar dramas played out in the ruins of a dying city, one in Western Europe and the other in the Levant. They are separated by seventy years. But in terms of waste, shattered homes and the images of sudden death — they are still essentially first cousins at seven decades’ remove.

What is different of course is that we know the end to the first story; the comfort of knowing that after the Panther burned in Cologne a new Western Europe would arise from the ashes — guided by men whose names are legend today: Truman, Churchill, de Gaulle. By contrast the conclusion of the troubles of our own age is still unknown. We know no more about the future than the crew of the Panther did the instant before the 90 mm bored through their armor, or the Syrian tankers a split second before the RPG-29 hit. What often happens is not the outcome we fear but very frequently the outcome we didn’t expect.

The danger with congratulating ourselves in escaping one doom is that we very often run into another.

August 29, 1997, came and went. Nothing much happened. Michael Jackson turned 40. There was no Judgment Day. People went to work as they always do. Laughed, complained, watched TV, made love. I wanted to run to through the street yelling to grab them all and say, “Every day from this day on is a gift. Use it well.” Instead, I got drunk. That was 30 years ago. But the dark future which never came still exists for me. And it always will, like the traces of a dream.

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Top Rated Comments   
I remember the war porn from Iraq of the jihadis to music stalking and killing the American soldiers. Idiots conflate all images as representing the same story. There are good and bad people. There are good and bad causes. Sometimes there are Good Guys versus Bad Guys. Rarely there are Good Guys versus Good Guys but it can happen. To often there are only Bad Guys all around. When we have Bad Guys stalking other Bad Guys we have to play chess and think three moves ahead. What end game do we want and what will get us there?

In Syria the best answer would have been to cut the jihadis out of the story preemptively by having the US clean out the Ba'athists back in 2003. The Democrats did everything they could to hobble Bush-Cheney and prevent that. So now we have what we have.

In 50 years will someone write another Black Book totaling how many people died because of the perverted (in the sense of reckless self absorption) indulgences of the Democrats over the last 40 years? They had the finest system for preserving Liberty and ensuring a decent life for people ever constructed. With infinite effort at the cost of what would now be trillions of dollars the finest armed forces, the most irreplaceable infrastructure, the best health care system, the most tolerant and humane justice system, a depth of human capital, all were in place. The Left smashed them all like children destroying the toy set.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (16)
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That's actually a great video, and there is some significant undertones to it. Use of combat camera, suppressor on the AK of the assistant RPG-29 gunner, decent noise discipline, the RPG-29 gunner's obvious skill and the security they dropped off at the first floor (you can hear their voices) before the engagement team went upstairs.

Upshot, this isn't $50 rent-a-Taliban, or even the standard AQ or JAM slug-o. These are people who have been trained or are experienced.

Second, the Syrian Army, whose only jobs for the last two decades were guarding Hezbollah's flank on the Golan, and regime protection, are failing on both counts. All Arab armies (with the possible exception of the Jordos) are designed first and foremost for regime protection, which is why they suck at Major Combat Operations. The three forces valuable this are armor (insurgents usually are weak on anti-armor) SOF, and Air Defense.

So, in the last two weeks, we've seen professional level AT engagements and the Israelis bombing downtown Damascus. I'd send Asma apartment shopping in Moscow.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One additional factor greatly favored the Sherman: Its turret traversed at twice the speed of the panzers. Also, the long guns of the later panzers could be a significant handicap in forested and certain urban areas. The guns could get hung up on tree trunks and other obstacles. Allied ambushes often were deliberately set up to trap long barreled panzers where they could not engage.

Chet Richards
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I've seen arguments based on actual loss tables that argue that the Sherman usually beat the Panther. The reason has nothing to do with the armor thickness or gunpower of the Sherman. It was the simple consequence of the Sherman's superior mobility and reliable range, which usually meant that in a mobile engagement the Shermans were on the contested ground first.

Apparently the overwhelming advantage goes to the tanks which choose the ground and fire first, whatever their virtues as AFVs. German tank ace Michael Wittman destroyed a whole bunch of British Shermans by attacking them, but was himself destroyed with his whole troop of Tigers by a Sherman ambush.

It's who does the bushwhacking that apparently counts. And the Sherman could get into position more often. Strange how these things work.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Wretchard said:

"I've seen arguments based on actual loss tables that argue that the Sherman usually beat the Panther. The reason has nothing to do with the armor thickness or gunpower of the Sherman. It was the simple consequence of the Sherman's superior mobility and reliable range, which usually meant that in a mobile engagement the Shermans were on the contested ground first."

The story I usually heard from WW-II veterans was the Sherman tanks normally avoided direct contact with Wehrmacht tanks unless the Wehrmacht tank was hugely outnumbered (5 to 1) . Standard practice for the Sherman tank was to call in an air strike against the Wehrmacht tank. Supposedly the P-47 Thunderbolt could easily destroy any German tank it encountered.

I had the chance to see a Sherman tank with its engine open at the Museum of Military History in Johannesburg, South Africa. This is one of the best military museums in the world and almost in the same class as the Imperial War Museum in London. What amazed me about the Sherman tank in the Johannesburg museum was it had an air cooled radial engine (essentially an aircraft engine). What a screwy design! Why didn't they use a diesel engine? There's lots of neat stuff in that Johannesburg museum and it's strongly recommended.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

There is a lot of misinformation floating around about the Sherman. Actually the late model Shermans (Easy 8's) were more than a match for the late model T-34's (viz Korean war) and were quite effective against Panthers and even the Tigers. The early Shermans were a match for the Panzer 3 and 4, which they WERE designed to counter. The Sherman design philosophy was for it to be an exploitation tank and not an anti tank weapon. Tank Destroyer vehicles (M10, M18, M36) were deployed along side the Sherman to take care of Panthers and Tigers and were very effective. So also was air and artillery.

The problem with Shermans brewing up was apparently caused by the stowage of ammo in the sponsons and NOT because of the gasoline engine. Accordingly, you will see applique armor patches (those rectangular things) welded to the sides of Shermans over the ammo storage bins. The Easy 8 solved the problem by moving the ammo to a compartment below the floorboard.

Chet Richards
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Tanks are self propelled crematorium ovens. The guys who ride in tanks have more courage than good sense.

I could not believe that the driver survived the initial explosion of the RPG-29. i did a quick check of the T-72's layout and found the following:

http://panzerfaust.ca/AFV%20interiors/t72a.html

The driver's space is connected to the turret area. The driver should have been incinerated. Had he remained after the ammo cook-off, he would have been incinerated for sure. The tank commander never knew what hit him (carbonized skeleton).

The T-72's reactive armor would have done it no good against the RPG-29. The guy with the RPG-29 knew what he was doing and shot down onto the T-72 where there was minimal reactive armor.

There's a cat-and-mouse game that they play with reactive armor. The reactive armor is actually a coating (blocks) of explosive that is supposed to blow out the molten metal jet from a conventional shaped charge. However advanced RPGs use compound shaped charges where the first metal jet sets off the reactive armor but is followed by a second jet that can penetrate the tank's steel to knock-out the tank.

I was surprised by Wretchard's first video where he showed a Pershing tank in Cologne during WW-II. I incorrectly thought the Pershing tank post-dated WW-II. There's scandal attached to the Sherman tanks given that they were almost no match to Wehrmacht tanks. The GIs driving Sherman tanks were lambs being lead to slaughter. I guess the roles were reversed when Wehrmacht Panther tanks were facing US Pershing tanks. Too bad it happened so late in the war.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"In 50 years will someone write another Black Book totaling how many people died because of the perverted (in the sense of reckless self absorption) indulgences of the Democrats over the last 40 years? "

Most probably not. And if anyone authors a book at all they will be sure to write: "but for the bitter clingers and gun handlers the President would have succeeded ..." It's not 'children destroying a toy set'. It's about "the first thoughtful generation finding themselves."

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The classic strategy for urban warfare is to split up the enemy area into smaller and smaller pockets. So while we don't see them, Assad's infantry must also be in the buildings. The tanks are probably used as a mobile direct fire force to close up and dominate avenues and intersections, recover and deploy sniper teams maybe, and provide cover for movements, like the company of men that appeared to cross behind them presumably to another position.

But the scenes with the reactive armored tanks are different from the ones with the bare armored ones. It was the infantry dominance of the rebels that allowed them to sneak up, gauge the all clear and shoot the RPG-29.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Re: WA thelastminstrel

Interestingly enough I was watching this short video this morning:
http://www.varietyvideosllc.com/about2.html
about a man who basically made a car from scratch, and my first thought was "Wow this is who I want on my team in an insurgency" I can imagine the things he could make for martial means. This is an example of the ingenuity present in man, and echos your theme of the greatest weapon.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In the Syrian footage, when the one T-72 throws up a smokescreen I see what appears to be an entire company of men running out from the right and going behind the tanks. Are those Assad infantry? I am assuming the smokescreen was thrown up for them. Are my assumptions correct?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A minor note on the Cologne footage: The American infantrymen can be seen running while casually holding their M1s at the side with one hand. Today's infantry would have their M4s up with both hands (or one hand on the grip and pointed up) and at the ready at virtually all times. WWII citizen soldiers were slighter of build as well. ANd today's soldiers would be wearing armor (which is an ironic throwback).

I know, odd observations out of context? Perhaps, but history is fascinating in all its little details, which do have significance.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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