Q&A 36: All About Tanks, with Nicolas Moran (the Chieftain)

I recently had the chance to do some collaborative filming with Nicolas Moran, and figured it would be a good chance to do a Q&A specifically on issues related to tanks. Nicolas is a Major in the US Army Reserve, who deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan in Abrams tanks and Bradley APCs, and is a wealth of information of armored vehicles both past and present. I learned a ton speaking with him, and I think many of you will also in today’s Q&A (which, I will note, is my longest such one to date!).

The questions provided by Patrons are:

0:01:10 – The M85 machine gun and M231 port-firing weapon
0:05:44 – Which machine gun position is best, coaxial, hull mount, or top mount?
0:18:02 – Is the 25mm gun on the Bradley still viable, and do its TOW missiles need to be replaced?
0:23:28 – Do modern tanks have bird’s-eye type camera systems?
0:26:49 – Given the headspace problems on HMMWV M2s, how bad were your secondary weapons in the Abrams and Bradley?
0:30:57 – What happens to spent casings in tanks?
0:33:58 – Given the effectiveness of AT rifles in the 1930s, was the “cult of the machine gun” really a bad thing?
0:37:25 – Thoughts on the Swedish S-Tank?
0:42:00 – Will the current Army competition for a light vehicle lead to anything?
0:45:08 – Differences between the Sherman 75mm and 76mm in AP and HE
0:47:12 – What about a 20mm-30mm auto cannon as secondary tank armament?
0:52:48 – Will man-portable anti-armor weapons remain viable in the future with unmanned vehicles?
0:56:50 – What are tank crew small arms like?
1:03:16 – What is the oldest tank that is still “not obsolete”, given a good crew and modern updates?
1:06:48 – Did AFV coaxial guns get special ammunition?
1:09:48 – How effective were antitank rifles in WWII on armor?
1:14:00 – How significant were optics and fire control systems in WWII tanks?
1:21:48 – Do other countries have the same bureaucratic procurement issues as the US?
1:29:31 – In WWI, was the machine gun or light cannon more practical on tanks?
1:33:24 – Thoughts on the XM913 50mm chain gun?
1:37:23 – Modern application of the tank destroyer concept?
1:39:06 – What is the strangest way someone has defeated a tank?
1:43:30 – What is the “Forgotten Weapon” of tanks?

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions! I am sorry that we couldn’t cover all of them. If you are interested in this sort of subject matter, I would highly recommend checking out The Chieftain channel on YouTube, and supporting Nicolas on Patreon as well.

19 Comments

  1. Whilst I have seen the Compact M16, 5.56mm: Port, Firing, M231 actually in Bradley IFV and also the Cavalry vehicle, the only time that I have actually seen them in use was by a close protection team of the US State Department (? Diplomatic Security). They using them with the carrying handle removed, and fitted with the brilliant UK sling for the SA80, and slung over their chest’s. Keeping their hands free for use with all the other equipment they had. This was at the International Airport at Monrovia (Liberia) in 1997. And I have been told that facsimile of the M231 was in use in a Tom Clancy film with Harrison Ford playing Jack Clancy, clear and Present Danger, with a CIA carrying it on a SA80 sling

  2. Thanks for almost two hours of education and entertainment from some of the most knowledgeable guys on the internet. I just wish I’d been there with you to help drain that bottle 😉

  3. Strangest way for a Tiger I Ausf. H1 to get KO’d in fiction (from what I’ve read): a dynamited (but not destroyed) bridge collapses right under it, sending the tank plummeting into a river.

    Even stranger way to deal with a tank crew: Find out where they’re quartered and stab them in their beds, then burn the tanks. I think Poland has some explaining to do…

    I could be wrong.

    • Strangest way for an ISU-152 to end up being 86’d;

      Berlin, late 1945. My uncle (Lt Col ACE) ended up explaining to a Russian Army captain why the weight limits on German bridges should be taken seriously, and why trying to drive not just one but a troop of four 47-ton SP guns across a bridge rated for a maximum 30-ton load was not exactly a great idea.

      First one across was nose up on one abutment. Second one was nose down on the other side. The 35-foot span in the middle? Ten feet under water in-between the two.

      Oops.

      cheers

      eon

      • Soviet soldiers (whatever the nationality was) never saw a bridge before entering Europe. They did not see alarm-clock either. When encountered with it they shot it up because there was “devil” in it. Their way of “fishing” was to throw grenade into river. Whatever was locked was before there was “vodka”. At several instances they turned into shouldering rubbish after entering transformer stations. 🙂

        Those I saw in 1968 were not much more civilised either.

        • Well, in February 1943 WWII was declared to be Totaler Krieg (see: Sportpalastrede), so it should be understand that virtually all men considered fit for service were drafted.
          Do I have remind you about CODENAME MORON CORPS from 1960s?
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_100,000
          when U.S. draft commission were instructed to accept those below former minimum of Armed Forces Qualification Test which was used in first place to exclude men not fit for service.
          And this was in time for Second Indochina War, when there were not direct danger against U.S. mainland.

    • “(…)Even stranger way to deal with a tank crew: Find out where they’re quartered and stab them in their beds, then burn the tanks. I think Poland has some explaining to do…(…)”
      During Warsaw Uprising (1944) Poles managed to capture German Panther tank, which they named FELEK and then used against former users, until situation forced them to destroy it to avoid re-capture, which was done by burning. For details see:
      https://tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2-poland-pudelfelekl-polish-panthers-warsaw-uprising/

      • My huge respect goes to Poles as fighters. They managed to fight off Soviets in 1920/21, fought hopeless war with Germany and defeated them later at Monte Casino where nobody else could.

  4. Excellent use of two hours. Here’s my hopefully reasonable use of a few minutes.

    1. Fire ports: the concept dated to WW1; back then and up through WW2 they were called “pistol ports”. They never really worked, because any weapon being fired through one was essentially a fixed weapon with a very limited field of fire, so it was fairly easy for infantry to avoid getting hit until they got close enough to chuck a grenade or etc. into the vehicle’s running gear.

    2. The Swedish S-Tank mentioned later still had fixed MGs in the 1980s. By the 1990s, they’d turned that particular box on the fender over to a laser rangefinder.

    The major effect of removing the sponson fixed MGs on the M3 Stuart was to nearly double the internal stowage space. This was probably more useful than the MGS had been.

    The most useful MG on a tank other than the coax and bow guns was probably the MG mounted in the turret bustle of the Russian KV-1 and the Japanese Type 97. They were very effective in clearing enemy infantry off the engine deck.

    3. The 25mm is a better weapon for the Stryker than the 105mm AGS, simply because it has more ammunition. Reliability is about even, I understand.

    4. The main problem with TOW is its limited engagement envelope. Its listed maximum effective range of 2500 meters is against stationary targets. Against a moving tank, 1000 meters is more realistic. But the missile needs about four seconds’ flight time after launch for the SACLOS (Semi-Automatic Command to Line Of Sight) control system to “cage”. This works out to about 600 meters. So your actual engagement “basket” is only about 400 meters “long”. TOW’s shortcomings were the main reason for the development of the “fire and forget” Javelin.

    5. About the best future solution for the spent brass problem is that used by the GAU-8 Avenger 30mm cannon on the A-10; a linkless feed that carries live rounds to the gun from the front of the magazine drum and feeds empties back into the rear of same.

    6. In the 1930s, the .50 HMG was still a viable anti-tank weapon; it would have murdered the Panzer 1B, for instance, or any of the Japanese “tankettes”, and by 1942 was still a serious threat to even the front armor of the Japanese Type 97. Its retention past that time by U.S. tank designs (still called “Combat Cars”) was due to the U.S. Army doctrine that tanks were intended for infantry support, and tank destroyers (which belonged to the separate Tank Destroyer Command) were to be the ones charged with engaging enemy tanks. The bill for this silliness was called due in North Africa, when tank destroyers engaged German tanks and ended up losing most of the engagements.

    7. Regarding tank destroyers, the Swedish Strisdvagn S-103 “S-Tank” was just that; a highly sophisticated tank destroyer. As the Major said, it was well-suited to fighting a defensive war in which it would dig itself a berm with its attached, bow-mounted dozer blade, and then sit in ambush until an enemy tank walked in front of it. It was the natural heir to the likes of the German Hetzer and Jagdpanther; a “tank” it was not.

    8. Anti-tank rifles saw very little use against tanks in WW2; like the .50 BMG they mostly resembled ballistically, they had been out-evolved by thicker tank armor. The major use of the .55in Boys rifle during the war was by special operations units as a long-range sniping and anti-materiel weapon.

    In the Western Desert, the LRDG and SAS used it to destroy German and Italian ammo dumps and even fueled aircraft on airfields with API rounds from up to 1000 yards, often at night. It was easier and safer than trying to sneak in and plant incendiary time pencils by hand. No, “heavy rifle” sniping is nothing new.

    9. The XM913 50mm chain gun sounds like it would have been a prime contender for the Intermediate AA gun everybody was trying to build in WW2. Back then, everybody recognized that there was a broad band of altitude between about 5,000 and 10,000 feet where enemy aircraft were largely immune to AAA fire. The light 20mm and 40mm automatic guns couldn’t reach that high, and a heavy gun like a British 3.7in., U.S. 90mm, or German 8.8cm couldn’t traverse fast enough to keep up with a target moving at over 300 knots.

    The British and Germans both tried to develop automatic guns that could “close” that gap. The Germans went for 5cm, the British for their 6-pounder (57mm). Neither one succeeded in getting it to work.

    When the V-1 “buzz bombs” arrived over England, an Intermediate AA would have been just what was needed; they came in at an average 2000 meters(6600 feet) at an average 640KPH (400 MPH or about 360 knots). In the end, they were defeated mainly by heavy AA firing proximity-fuzed HE rounds.

    Today, exactly what a 50mm “Intermediate” automatic gun would be useful for is hard to discern. Although in the AA role, it could be just the thing for dealing with annoying UCAV swarms.

    10. Regarding weird ways of defeating tanks, if you’re talking about “mission kills”, during the Spanish Civil War Republicans facing German Panzer 1Bs one time put plates- yes, regular tin plates- across a road upside down. While the tankers called in engineers to deal with the “land mines”, the Republicans scarpered.

    Another time the defenders hung blankets on ropes across a couple of side streets. In the dark, Italian tankers thought they were solid walls, and while they were trying to figure out how to go around them, again, the Republicans beat feet out of the way.

    In the Hungarian revolt of 1956, resistance fighters spread motor oil on cobblestone streets on hillsides in Budapest. When T-34s came down the streets, they lost traction on the oil-covered cobbles, slid into the corners of buildings and got stuck- and were then destroyed with Molotov cocktails and home-made satchel charges.

    11. Odd “forgotten tanks”: The Locust and its British cousin, the Tetrarch, could both be delivered in an air assault by the Airspeed Hamilcar glider, which was in fact exactly what they had been designed for. The only time either one saw combat was at Arnhem, during Operation Market Garden. Unfortunately, there the Tetrarchs were up against Panthers.

    At the other end of the scale were the U.S. T28 and its British counterpart, the A39 Tortoise;

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T28_Super_Heavy_Tank

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tortoise_heavy_assault_tank

    Both were intended as “assault tanks”, but exactly what they were going to assault was never adequately explained. Any more than anyone could explain how vehicles weighing upwards of 80 tons were going to be transported for long distances or moved around a battlefield- across bridges, for instance.

    About the best that can be said of either one is that they revolutionized postwar heavy construction equipment design. And the suspension geometry of the T28 was the starting point for the running gear of the crawler-transporter that took the Apollo Saturn Vs from the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center to the launch pads at Complex 39…and thus to the Moon.

    cheers

    eon

    • “(…)The Swedish S-Tank mentioned later still had fixed MGs in the 1980s. By the 1990s, they’d turned that particular box on the fender over to a laser rangefinder.(…)”
      Fixed forward firing machine gun after being dropped from Soviet tank designs have long life as armament of Soviet Airborne Combat Vehicle and then Infantry Combat Vehicle.
      BMD-1 sports two PKT mounted in this manner.
      BMD-2 has only one PKT (co-ax with 30 mm gun) – not bow gun at all.
      BMD-3 has one RPKS-74 mounted in this manner and also 30 mm automatic grenade launcher (AGS-17) mounted in this manner.
      BMP-3 has two PKT mounted in this manner.

      “(…)TOW(…)But the missile needs about four seconds’ flight time after launch for the SACLOS (Semi-Automatic Command to Line Of Sight) control system to “cage”. This works out to about 600 meters.(…)”
      Huh, 600 meters looks surprisingly high for missile adopted in 1970. 600 m is minimal range for ancient 3М6 (SNAPPER from NATO point-of-view) adopted in 1960. British FV102 Striker in production since 1972 is said to have minimal range of 150 m.

      “(…)Today, exactly what a 50mm “Intermediate” automatic gun would be useful for is hard to discern. Although in the AA role, it could be just the thing for dealing with annoying UCAV swarms.(…)”
      Russian Ministry of Defense see 57 mm automatic gun as way to arm future IFV and other light armoured vehicles:
      https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/why-russia-loves-its-57-millimeter-cannon-it-could-take-tank-42522

      • Huh, 600 meters looks surprisingly high for missile adopted in 1970.

        According to a friend of mine who actually used it, the dirty little secret of TOW is that to get it to IOC ASAP in 1969-70, the command/guidance system was lifted pretty much bodily from Nord SS-11, which the Army was already using on helicopters in NATO. The idea being that any SS-11 operator could transfer over to TOW with minimal retraining, and “SS-11 is effective”.

        Well, yes it was, but it was also obsolescent by 1975.

        TOW’s drawbacks only became apparent when it was actually used in combat, beginning with the NVA offensive in 1972. But it did well enough there (due to element of surprise because nobody expected gunships firing ATGWs, and a complete lack of effective countermeasures on the part of the NVA) that the results were deemed satisfactory enough that no changes were made for the next thirty years, even with TOW 2.

        Other ATGWs, which were “test-range royalty” like Milan (“hits first time, every time”), never showed their faults until relatively late in their careers when they were actually fired in anger. In Milan’s case, it took Desert Storm in 1991 to make its users realize that it had an overall failure rate (fail to guide/fail to detonate) over 50%.

        Let’s not even get into how many 9M14 Malyutkas (AT-3 Saggers) it generally took to even hit a tank, let alone kill it, as was graphically demonstrated in the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

        ATGWs as a whole tended to promise more than they delivered until the development of laser guidance (homing or beam-riding), as with Hellfire, and then true fire-and-forget, as with Javelin. Even today, there are third-generation ATGWs that don’t show up as well in actual combat as they do on the test ranges.

        (I’m looking at you, 9K112 Kobra, and you too, 9M119 Svir/Refleks.)

        cheers

        eon

  5. Most unlikely anti-tank weapon? How about the 2” mortar that knocked out the Tiger 2 in Normandy? To be fair, according to David Fletcher of the rank museum, the small bomb landed on the lorry that was rearming the beast and the resultant massive explosion dislodged the turret. Still, a kills a kill…

    • I’ll one-up you with a silly thing from War Thunder: It appears that not even the M1 Abrams is immune to an old 15 cm howitzer HEAT round fired point-blank into the engine or fuel tank. The howitzer in question? That’s the main gun of the Sturm-Panzer II. Imagine having your expensive tank ruined by a rusting old SPG disguised as a bush!

      • Even today, I don’t think any tanker wants to think about a 155mm HE round from an M198 arriving on top of his turret. I know ones I talked to after Desert Storm had a healthy respect for the Iraqi G5 155mm from Denel in South Africa, and the GHN-45 (GC-45) 155mm guns from Space Research in Canada, both designed by Dr. Gerald Bull.

        As the First Law of Marine Combat says,

        Only Bring Artillery If You Intend To Kill EVERYBODY.

        😉

        cheers

        eon

      • “(…) Imagine having your expensive tank ruined by a rusting old SPG disguised as a bush!(…)”
        In 1980s Bofors developed Pansarsprängvinggranat m/94 which is precision (guided) anti-tank 120 mm mortar shell which could be used in 120 mm (smoothbore) mortars for example WW2-era Granatkastare m/41 (and many other mortars of this caliber).
        https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pansarspr%C3%A4ngvinggranat_m/94
        It has IR searcher, meaning it aims itself at heat source (= engine) and is equipped in HEAT warhead with penetration of about 700 mm RHA steel, which is – so far I know – totally enough to get through M1 engine room roof.
        https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strix-Munition

  6. That’s Ian’s goatee against this turtle-neck clipped microphone creating the terrible noise throughout the otherwise brilliant post, I presume?

  7. Maj. Moran forgot to mention a weird Panzercide cited in his own World of Tank blogs — a gunner told the US Congress (my approximate quote): “We know how to deal with Ferdinands [the heavily-armored tank destroyer also known as “Elefant”] — we aim for the rocks underneath and bounce the shells up into their bottoms.” This was accompanied by a photo of one such vehicle with its front deck peeled up and away from the hull from an apparent internal explosion.

  8. With respect to the man’s experience, “Stand over there and let me shoot at you, and you tell me if it’s effective” just makes me cringe so hard I actually experience a physiological pain reaction any time I hear it. It’s the favorite stock answer of self-righteous self-proclaimed internet gun expert bubbas and fudds the world over when trying to defend their choice of an utterly outdated, underpowered, or otherwise utterly inappropriate weapon system over a more adequate one, usually backed up with an anecdote where they were able to accomplish a task that could be seen as having been successful *in spite of*, rather than *because of*, their selection. You see it come up all the time when someone’s trying to argue that bolt-actions and .22LR are sufficiently adequate for self defense that nobody should consider anything else.
    Ah tell you hwhat, boi, ‘ya dun go stand over yonder and let me shoot at you with muh single-shot .22 bolt-action, and then you tell me what’s appropriate for self defense.

    No duh, Bubba. I’m going to be upset if you’re shooting at me with a .177 BB gun. That doesn’t make it an effective weapon system.

    I declare that for now on, anyone who uses some variation of “LOL K LET ME SHOOT YOU WITH MY GARBO GUN AND THEN WE’LL SEE WHO’S COMPLAINING” to defend a weapon or weapon system is disqualified from being able to be considered an expert for five years after typing or uttering it.

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