A fun story about Frank Whittle

Yet the genius of Sir Frank Whittle, the man who invented the jet engine, will go almost entirely unheralded when the 75th anniversary of his achievement falls next weekend.

His son, Ian, has accused successive governments of “marginalising” his father because Whitehall was slow to realise the importance of his invention, enabling the Germans to seize the initiative in jet development during the war.

He said his father’s place in history had been allowed to fade because of a reluctance to draw attention to the “mistakes” made by Whitehall in the past.

May 15, 1941 was the day Whittle’s revolutionary engine took to the skies for the first time, powering a Gloster E.28/39, the ancestor of every jet aircraft flying today.

These stories tend to grow with the telling so I’ll tell it as I’ve been told it. The important part is this:

Whittle, who honed his engineering skills in his father’s workshop as a boy, joined the RAF as an apprentice mechanic in 1923, where his superiors quickly marked him out as something of a genius.

Back then pilots were officers. And officers were gentlemen. As in the Army and Navy of the day. And, of course rude mechanics were not gentlemen. Good grief, they actually did things with their hands!

At which point someone thought, hang on a minute, we’re going to need officers of those mechanics and they’d better know about mechanics. So, umm…..they picked 8 rude mechanics to go off and train as officers. One of whom was grandpa, Bill Worstall. They would become pilots too, as well as rude mechanics, because pilots were officers and therefore officers were pilots, see? Definitely made a difference to Bill’s life, son of the head printer at the Yorkshire Press becoming an officer? This was a big deal back then: as were the elocution lessons. This was bounding across the class barriers.

As father has pointed out we’re both rather glad that Bill survived the 8 crashes that he had before he got married. One such crash even made The Times, which is more than his marriage did I think….

Frank Whittle didn’t make the grade: he was number nine on the list. Then the lad who was number 8 broke his leg on a cross country run/race and Whittle was bumped up.

As far as I know it’s true.

And two that I do know are true: No one ignored that jet engine for the war. Rather, they took an executive decision. We can build reasonably large numbers of things which are good enough (Hurricanes, Spitfires, and here on my desk I have the souvenir/memorial ashtray of Bill having worked on the program including landing the things on carriers) and diverting our limited resources away to this newer, better, but riskier, technology might be a bad idea. As, say, the German idea of building things like King Tigers and so on: they sucked up huge resources but there were never enough of them. Vast numbers of T34s and Shermans were the way to go, lower tech but numbers more than made up. They didn’t ignore the possibility, they decided against it, rightly or wrongly.

And Whittle had a fun meeting with a Ministry man. Showed the design (this was when everyone had indeed woken up, war imminent) and he said, hmm, yes, you’re going to need tungsten for that. From Portugal. Which all added to the fun that was had here. Out in the Beira at that time good quality tungsten ore could just be picked up in the fields. Wolframite. Wanted for anti-tank shells, armour plating and those jet engines. Thus all sorts of SOE shenanigans as mule trains collecting for the Germans were hijacked by Brits, mule trains collecting for the Brits vice versa and so on. Excellent novel, Robert Goddard Wilson, “Small Death In Lisbon” based on the events. What really made that one fun for me is that it’s set in modern day Cascais, with the underlying plot all coming from those WWII days, and I was thinking about wolframite at the time and living in Cascais…..

62 thoughts on “A fun story about Frank Whittle”

  1. As in the Army and Navy of the day. And, of course rude mechanics were not gentlemen.

    Not quite true. Naval officers are not gentlemen. Queen Victoria declared so (because we hung some mutineers after promising them we wouldn’t.)

    Also there were Naval Engineering Officers, rather than just Warrant Officers, by this time, although looked down upon as suspiciously competent by the Navigators and Gunnery Officers. Before Jackie Fisher became notorious for Jutland, he was despised by the Engineers for his “Great Betrayal”, when Engineering Officers were denied, as they still are, sea command.

  2. Excellent post!

    My small claim to relevance is that I sold my aeroplane (actually a ¼ share in a Piper Arrow) to Ian Whittle before leaving the UK.

    He is/was a 747 pilot with thousands of hours and flew the Arrow as a hobby.

  3. So Much For Subtlety

    The rule seems to be that gentlemen do not go into technically demanding fields. They go into the cavalry not the artillery.

    In the old days the Navy was full of middle and lower class people. They seem to have become more upper class as fighting disappeared – by the Victorian period at least. The Air Force seems to have tried from the start not to be the Army. So no regiments. No snobbery. Everyone should be uniform. And technical competence was ranked much higher than good breeding.

    The Air Forces of the world seem to have tried to sneak some of that back by the back door though. So they demand, or try to demand, a university degree, by and large, to be a pilot. Keeps the proles out. While all the evidence we have is that scrappy street fighters inclined to shoot the other guy in the back make for the best pilots. Whether or not they have a degree. But you can tell they do not know, and probably do not care, what makes a good fighter pilot – the rule of thumb is that virtually all the kills are made by less than 10% of pilots.

  4. Since the special relationship has reared its ugly head during Obama’s visit, we might like to consider that Whittle was a bit miffed that Churchill gifted his tech to the US. In return, in 1947, the Yanks decided that they were not going to share H-bomb tech with anyone, and yes, that means you, squirt.

    Plus ca change, mate.

  5. I’m not sure you can put the T34 and the Sherman in the same category. Yes they were both produced in huge amounts, but one was a world class tank when introduced and was uprated as the war progressed, the other was a mediocre tank when introduced and by the end of the war a deathtrap. It was only massive air superiority in Western Europe that prevented the Allied armour being massacred.

  6. Wasn’t the Sherman nicknamed the “Ronson” because it always lit first time? The petrol engine easily caught fire.
    “Tommy-cookers” was the German version.

    Ellis’ book on Cassino recorded a German officer commanding 88mm guns. He said he only lost because he ran out of shells before the Allies ran out of Shermans.

  7. “Ellis’ book on Cassino recorded a German officer commanding 88mm guns. He said he only lost because he ran out of shells before the Allies ran out of Shermans.”

    Sure, but an 88 could take out just about any tank at range.

  8. The thing about the T34 was the sloping armour. This allows you to effectively have thicker armour for a much lower weight. Before that most tanks had slab sided armour. This one innovation I believe meant that many of the German anti tank guns were ineffective. By the time they got sufficiently powerful weapons out in the field it was too late.

  9. @John Miller,
    The Yanks made us pay in cold cash (Cash and Carry)for their “help” in the War, even taking ships (USS Louisville?) loaded with gold straight from South Africa to the US. We also relinquished our Imperial Preference or protected markets in the Atlantic Charter,(never to get them back) even before the US got into the fighting( because the Japs attacked them). Post war they parked us in the EEC our old trading agreements ( based on the Ottawa Accords) ruined. They were really pleased to get the Whittle engine as they called it but it was only part of the haul.

  10. The Sherman wasn’t a battlefield tank. It was an exploitation tank — fast, reliable and easy to service. Absolutely perfect for that role.

    You may scoff at such a concept, but it has a name — blitzkrieg. The Germans conquered France with Panzer IIs and IIIs, relatively for the time every bit as dodgy in tank to tank combat.

  11. Sloped armour doesn’t weigh less, think about it, it has to be that much larger to cover the same area as two rectangular bits (3 sides of a triangle). It does reduce the chance of penetration and does increase the chance of a ricochet.

    By mid 43 the T34 was an inferior tank, however the Soviets made just so many and were prepared to take the losses, which about 7-1 against. And that’s fighting a lot of Pz IV’s (with the medium-long 75 mm). T-34’s also had a mediocre 76 mm gun largely unable to penetrate anything modern.

    The Panther was designed as an easy to make and cheap tank, it was considerably heavier than the Pz IV but didn’t cost a lot more to make. It was introduced too early and had a lot of teething troubles, and for reasons of economising on machining time, the final drive was simplified and that was a cause of most of the unreliability. It was to use the Tiger II unit which would have solved the issue.

    German tank doctrine too was quite different to the Soviet, they valued their crews (having a lot fewer they rather needed to) and tended to fight at a distance and use a few heavies (Tigers I and II, although Tiger II’s were deployed only a few times and none were lost to enemy action) to back up more numerous mediums. By 43-44 any soviet tank under 1.2 Km could usually be penetrated and knocked out straight through the front.

    It was only the late introduction of the T34-85 models and the IS1 (and very late, may 45 I think) the IS-2 with a 122 mm gun that the Soviets had tanks to stand up to the Germans.

    It was numbers, and artillery, the Soviet doctrine actually emphasised artillery. But numbers, overwhelming numbers.

    And The Sherman had very good points, reliable and good for crew safety (you could bail out quickly) but it wasn’t really designed for anti-tank work and until they had the 76 mm gun either as the British Firefly (17 pounder) or the later US 76 mm it wasn’t a match for even the Pz IV G and H models although the armour was a bit better in the front. With the Firefly the British at least had a tank that could kill Panthers and Tigers at a distance, but airpower in particular, and numbers again, made up for that. Italy though was kind of forgotten, I don’t think they had access to Fireflys until very late. Tactics in Italy were unimaginative, but the terrain was tough and they were stripped of good tools for the main push into Normandy and beyond.

    Sorry if it is TL:DR material.

  12. Roosevelt was determined to see the UK end the war with no money.
    On a petty level: US troops spent dollars in the UK. The dollars went to the Bank of England. The US saw the total and reduced the next loan by that amount.
    Allies? Yes. Friends? Not really.

  13. From WWII until the 1970s (and possibly later), the RAF had a rank of Sergeant Pilot. Many (but not all) were Poles. Make of that what you will, but historically you did not need a comission to be an RAF pilot.

  14. Sloped armour doesn’t weigh less, think about it, it has to be that much larger to cover the same area as two rectangular bits (3 sides of a triangle).

    On a simple 3/4/5, the 5 will weigh less (than the 3 & 4) if it’s the same thickness?

    The sloping side (5) can be 40% thicker (7/5) and it would come in at the same weight?

    Am I missing something?

  15. The Other Bloke in Italy

    Ed, no need to apologise. That was fascinating.

    I can see what Jonathan is on about, but I am not qualified to judge your trig.

    Yes, I need to walk only a few yards from my front door to get an idea of fighting the length of Italy: hard slog from start to finish.

  16. Another interesting fact: The T-34 was so good that several front line German commanders urged that it simply be copied. However there were limitations for fitting decent radio equipment etc. and also understandable fears of friendly-fire incidents if everyone was using the same tank, so instead a request for a new design of ‘T-34 beater’ went through the normal channels, resulting in the Panther.

  17. The Sherman was a better tank than the T-34 in all sorts of ways: comparable protection (both with decent amounts of sloped armour), mobility and firepower, much more reliable, and much better for the crew to fight (from not overloading the commander, to better ammunition storage). When they went up against each other in Korea, the Shermans won handily. The “Firefly” conversion, mounting the British 17pdr AT gun, could kill any German armoured vehicle – and we converted more Fireflies than the Germans built Tigers.

    The Soviets received something like ten per cent of Sherman production, and while it was airbrushed out of the official histories the Red Army favoured Shermans and Valentines for exploitation work (where the tanks need to keep moving over distance) – because the gearbox tended to fall out of a T-34 after a hundred miles or so, while the Sherman kept running and any faults were easy to fix.

    The Sherman’s bad reputation stems from the time it was used hardest, trying to break through prepared defences in Italy and especially Normandy, where the defence had a huge advantage (firing the first shots from a camouflaged and dug-in position, ideally from the flank) – but when the tables were turned, Shermans did very well in defence and none of the attempted German counter-attacks were successful.

    Statistically, the Sherman was one of the safer tanks to be in – it didn’t burn any more enthusiastically than any other tank (ammunition was the problem, not fuel – many burned-out Shermans were found with full, undamaged petrol tanks, and once crews were taught not to store additional ammunition loose in the fighting compartment, the incidence of fire dropped – then dropped to best-in-class of fewer than 20% of tanks hit, with the introduction of “wet” storage), and most crew escaped alive when it was hit.

    The Sherman was a very good medium tank: most of the opprobrium heaped on it, is blaming it for not being a heavy tank or just based on myth and misunderstanding.

  18. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    Bloke in Japan

    I’ ve been looking at this subject, as I discovered a very distant relative from Austria who was a Flight Sgt during the war.
    Unless one was special in some way, it was just about impossible for a foreigner to earn a commission in the RAF.

  19. ‘Yet the genius of Sir Frank Whittle, the man who invented the jet engine’

    Uhh . . . no. Whittle invented a jet engine, but not the jet engine. Whittle’s jet was a dead end. His centrifugal compressor was quickly abandoned for the German axial compressor when it became known. Ohain’s jet preceded Whittle’s; it’s first successful flight was two years before Whittle’s, actually before the start of WWII.

    Whittle’s accomplishment was great, but now only a historical footnote.

  20. I find the (inadvertent) mention of Robert Goddard interesting. He was playing with toys while the Germans were weaponizing rockets.

  21. So Much For Subtlety

    Jason Lynch

    I am impressed. I have seen how fluent your patter can be before, but I have rarely seen so much blatant nonsense expressed so confidently.

    “The Sherman was a better tank than the T-34 in all sorts of ways: comparable protection (both with decent amounts of sloped armour), mobility and firepower, much more reliable, and much better for the crew to fight (from not overloading the commander, to better ammunition storage).”

    You see? This is just brilliant. Every single tank since the T-34 has been a variation on the T-34 pattern. There was no way that the Sherman was a better tank. Comparable protection? The Sherman’s armour does not slope. As anyone who has ever looked at one can see. The T-34 was significantly lighter and had a significantly more powerful engine. So it was more agile and faster. Reliability is an interesting question. However I note that several Armies are still using their T-34s. No one is still using their Shermans.

    “When they went up against each other in Korea, the Shermans won handily.”

    Which is to say they did not usually fight each other in Korea. When the North used their T-34s in their initial attack, they cut through the US and Southern Armies. Not many Shermans were landed at Inchon. After which the Americans were mainly fighting the Chinese who did not have many T-34s.

    “The Soviets received something like ten per cent of Sherman production, and while it was airbrushed out of the official histories the Red Army favoured Shermans and Valentines for exploitation work (where the tanks need to keep moving over distance) – because the gearbox tended to fall out of a T-34 after a hundred miles or so, while the Sherman kept running and any faults were easy to fix.”

    B0ll0cks. The T-34 appears to have been the most reliable tank in the war. As I said, still in use today. Decades after spares were no longer produced. Certainly by the time of the big Soviet offensives that swallowed entire countries, the Soviets did not have any Valentines left.

    “The Sherman’s bad reputation stems from the time it was used hardest, trying to break through prepared defences in Italy and especially Normandy, where the defence had a huge advantage (firing the first shots from a camouflaged and dug-in position, ideally from the flank) – but when the tables were turned, Shermans did very well in defence and none of the attempted German counter-attacks were successful.”

    This is just another tiger-repelling rock argument. If the Battle of the Bulge offensive failed it was not because of the Sherman. Its poor reputation is due to the fact that it was a p!ss poor tank. Designed to fire over the sugar cane of the Philippines – it was too high for tank-to-tank fighting. The Americans just were not serious about tank design.

    “Statistically, the Sherman was one of the safer tanks to be in – it didn’t burn any more enthusiastically than any other tank (ammunition was the problem, not fuel – many burned-out Shermans were found with full, undamaged petrol tanks, and once crews were taught not to store additional ammunition loose in the fighting compartment, the incidence of fire dropped – then dropped to best-in-class of fewer than 20% of tanks hit, with the introduction of “wet” storage), and most crew escaped alive when it was hit.”

    The Brass claimed that it was ammunition storage – that way they could blame the dead soldiers rather than the highly ranked living designers. Everyone who used it had a very different opinion. As did the US Army privately – they soon stopped using petrol in tanks and turned to diesel. Everyone noticed the Sherman burned. Not just the crews who burned with them. The Germans too. And the British. Amazing they all got it wrong and some people back home safe in their offices knew better.

    “The Sherman was a very good medium tank: most of the opprobrium heaped on it, is blaming it for not being a heavy tank or just based on myth and misunderstanding.”

    The Sherman was a poor design. Especially when compared to the genius that was the T-34. Which was also not a heavy tank. Oddly enough.

  22. So Much For Subtlety

    John miller – “Since the special relationship has reared its ugly head during Obama’s visit, we might like to consider that Whittle was a bit miffed that Churchill gifted his tech to the US.”

    Nationalising his company might not have helped either. But whatever Churchill did, it was not as dumb as giving Whittle’s engine to the Soviets as the Labour government did.

  23. ‘But whatever Churchill did, it was not as dumb as giving Whittle’s engine to the Soviets as the Labour government did.’

    See my above post. Giving* the Soviets Whittle’s engine would have been a dirty trick.

    *Like the Soviets didn’t know about it already. They had fellow travelers embedded throughout the western Allies, and knew pretty much everything worth knowing.

  24. Ohain’s jet preceded Whittle’s; it’s first successful flight was two years before Whittle’s, actually before the start of WWII.

    According to the article linked, von Ohain’s jet was based on Whittle’s patent. Whittle’s design was successfully bench-tested several months before von Ohain’s.

    Whittle’s jet was a dead end. His centrifugal compressor was quickly abandoned for the German axial compressor when it became known.

    Axial compressor designs were in development pre-war (one of the earliest was by Dr A.A. Griffiths at RAE Farnborough), but only really took off after the war.

    Smaller jet engines (eg Rolls-Royce FJ44 and FJ33 families) still often feature radial compressors, being fed by axial compressors.

  25. SMFS>

    You appear to be operating under various misapprehensions about the T-34. It was never the best tank, viewed purely from the point of view of battlefield operation.Where it absolutely shone, though, was in the very low resource inputs building it required – it was a genius design from that point of view.

    The various subsequently copied innovations notwithstanding, it is revisionist nonsense to try and pretend the T-34 was even a good tank, let alone a great one. They were deathtraps. It’s just that they were incredibly cheap, expendable deathtraps, and the Soviets didn’t give a monkey’s for crew survivability.

    The Sherman, meanwhile, was also not a very good tank – and for some reason no-one talks about the fact that it was also designed to be compromised-but-cheap, although to a lesser degree than the T-34. It does seem, though, that a lot of the modern criticisms stem from one rather poorly regarded book, Death Traps.

  26. SMFS,

    I fear you’ve got a few errors creeping in. Is it worth an attempt to acquaint you with fact, or is your mind so choked with populist fiction that it’s jammed firmly shut?

    “Every single tank since the T-34 has been a variation on the T-34 pattern.”

    Christie suspension was abandoned even by the Russians, and the two-man turret on the T-34 had an awful effect on operational effectiveness – the commander having to operate the radio (if he had one) and aim and fire the main gun as well as trying to fight his tank. The T-34 actually contains a great many features since discarded, while the Sherman is rather more representative of current practice.

    “Comparable protection? The Sherman’s armour does not slope. As anyone who has ever looked at one can see.”

    There are examples at Duxford and Bovington I’m familiar with, and strangely enough the front armour slopes, is actually a bit thicker than that found on the T-34 (51mm vice 47mm), and is metallurgically much better (better alloyed, better heat treatment, fewer inclusions) giving superior protection in practice.

    “Reliability is an interesting question. However I note that several Armies are still using their T-34s. No one is still using their Shermans.”

    The Sherman was widely used, with the Israelis – who had some experience of armoured warfare at the time – keeping the chassis as a gun tank into the 1970s before selling them to Chile (who ran them on them well into the 1990s) and also using numbers as the chassis for self-propelled guns, engineering vehicles, and other roles. Paraguay still has them in service, but more on the basis of “can’t afford anything newer”. T-34s, on the other hand, have largely disappeared from actual use (as opposed to “rusting quietly at the back of the shed”), long since replaced by the T-54/55 and the Chinese copy thereof as the go-to tank of non-Western-aligned Third World dictators.

    “The T-34 was significantly lighter and had a significantly more powerful engine.” Depends where you compare. The first T-34s were 29 tons or so with a 500hp diesel, the first Shermans were 30 tons with a 300hp engine: advantage T-34. By 1944 the Sherman was being produced with a 470hp engine and were up to 32-33 tons; the T-34, upgunned with a three-man turret and an 85mm gun, was now 35 tons with the same engine; honours even.

    “B0ll0cks. The T-34 appears to have been the most reliable tank in the war. As I said, still in use today.”

    By who, where, at what operational tempo? Shermans are still in use, a very few as gun tanks and more as chassis for support roles. Who’s using T-34s?

    The T-34 was designed to run for a hundred or three kilometres without breaking much, because it would be destroyed by then (the ultimate example being the Red October factory at Stalingrad, where T-34s drove off the production line, took a left at the factory gates, and by then was under enemy fire). Who was converting T-34 chassis for other purposes when they were obsolescent as gun tanks?

    Seriously, do some actual research. Check out the actual statistics of tank losses and repairs. Investigate the evidence, learned independently in North Africa, Italy and Northwest Europe that it was ammunition storage that burned. The facts are there, it’s just that too many people prefer recycled myth and legend to actually checking for themselves.

    The Sherman was a much better tank than the T-34 if you were going to live in it, fight in it, and survive being shot at in it. This doesn’t fit popular narrative (merely the less popular historical record before assorted reinterpretations and reimagings – “Fury” is entertainment, not documentary) but there’s a reason Christie suspension on tanks fell from favour, why three-man turrets became the rule, why decent radios were considered important…

  27. I base my opinion of the Sherman on the views of a man who actually fought in one (the father of a friend of mine) and he said that everyone hated them, and considered that the generals and politicians sending men out to fight German armour with Shermans was a war crime.

  28. Dear Mr Worstall

    I had lunch with Ian Whittle once, around 1986. He was with Cathay Pacific.

    DP

  29. Right .Well done lads. A few of us were trying to discuss the geopolitics of the Americans’ treatment of their British allies: then some little boys spend hours discussing Which was the Best Tank in WW2.This combined with the recent advice for getting women: be the son of a billionaire ,has turned me into feminist , something I would not have thought possible.

  30. Jim,

    User opinion is not without value, but neither is it without bias. You’ll still see repeated on Discovery Channel documentaries, descriptions of how pilots of USAAF P-47 Thunderbolts would destroy Tiger tanks by strafing the road between their tracks, ricocheting bullets up through the thin belly armour. I’m sure the claims were made in good faith at the time.

    Yet it’s physically impossible for a 1940s .50″ bullet to pierce the belly armour of a Tiger tank even fired point-blank, at normal impact, under ideal conditions (let alone sideways, distorted and having lost a lot of energy in bouncing off tarmac). Not one single tank of any description, Tiger or otherwise, was found knocked out by bullets coming up through the belly armour (and there were precious few Tigers in Northwest Europe at any point anyway).

    Did your father’s friend have a basis of comparison (that “Some Other Tank” would have been clearly better, based on evidence?) or was it an entirely human and understandable reaction to a very risky job (as Willie and Joe put it, “a movin’ foxhole attracts the eye”, and we increasingly used armour over infantry as a way to avoid casualties: Normandy was, for the infantry battalions involved, bloodier than the Somme eighteen years before had been). Hard for anyone to love their tank in those conditions, or to consider them ideal.

    Yet after GOODWOOD and COBRA, the Sherman was reliable, fast and capable enough to go very rapidly indeed from the Normandy bocage to the Rhine, and it was only by abandoning most of their equipment that the German defenders avoided being encircled and destroyed (as it was they were mauled too badly to resist until they’d fled to German territory – which led us to the CORGI that was MARKET GARDEN, but that’s a different story)

    The other true dit of relevance dates back to 2002 or so, when discontent with the SA80 family (L85 rifle and L86 Light Support Weapon) was at a peak sufficient that even after H&K had updated them to -A2 standard, there was a real pressure to bin it as a bad job and replace it with… something, to be decided, most likely a M16 or derivative because the SAS used them so they must be super ally.

    So, a series of trials was run in 2002, using a demanding battlefield mission (150 rounds in eight minutes, no cleaning the weapon mid-firefight, more than one stoppage per mission – or any stoppage not quickly cleared by the user – was a fail) in Oman, which is hot, sandy and gives firearms similar problems to those experienced in Afghanistan and Iraq, using L85A2 and several of the “competitors of choice” as the reporting politely declined to name them for commercial reasons (don’t want to annoy manufacturers by bad-mouthing kit they’ve provided at short notice for trials)

    To quote the press release, “At the start of the Oman exercise the participants were asked for their views on the SA80 A2. 68% thought it was unreliable, 73% would have a selected a rival weapon and 57% thought it was too difficult to maintain in the field with the current cleaning kit. When the exercise ended and the participants were surveyed again, 95% were convinced the weapon is fully reliable and all would now select it in preference to the rival. None thought it too difficult to maintain in the field, although 37% still felt that improvements to the cleaning kit should be made.”

    Its interesting that Op NERINE, and subsequent experience in both TELIC and HERRICK, completely ended the calls from serving soldiers for a replacement rifle: when the L85A2 proved not only more accurate, but significantly more reliable, than the competitors (one of which was the Diemaco C8, the Canadian M16 copy often used by SF; others were allegedly the H&K G36, which showed an early version of the ‘melting rifle’ problem since admitted by the Bundeswehr, the Steyr AUG, and an unknown that may have been an AK-74 or derivative)

    But until that trials team – the shooters were Royal Marines recently back from Afghanistan, where continued criticism had come from – had the chance to actually use the “better” weapons they’d heard of, they were sure they wanted M16s or G36s because surely they were better? Only when they used the other kit in depth, and discovered it jammed much more often than the L85A2 (L85A2: 51 stoppages from 24,471 rounds; “other weapon” 179 stoppages from 13,383 rounds…) confirmed by parallel experience (where the US have had significant issues with the M4 carbine in particular), were they reasonably happy with what they’ve got.

    Troops complain, it’s a fundamental right, but they’re not always entirely correct in doing so.

  31. @Jason Lynch: where do you get this crap?

    The SA80 was introduced in the 80s, it was crap for 15 years until it was finally redesigned and re-engineered by H&K. That may indeed have resulted in the glowing reports you lovingly detail – what about the 15 years of shit performance prior to that? I suppose the MoD spent a fortune having all their SA80s rebuilt just for kicks? Or maybe because they had a shit rifle on their hands and something had to be done about it?

    Only after 15 years of use and another 15 years of development of course,we can’t have a few soldiers who actually use the rifle tell the desk wallahs whether their weapon is any good or not now can we? I mean there’s promotions and pensions to consider.

    One assumes that the SA80 was finally recalled for modification when the person who had OK’d its purchase had finally retired.

  32. So Much For Subtlety

    Dave – “It was never the best tank, viewed purely from the point of view of battlefield operation.Where it absolutely shone, though, was in the very low resource inputs building it required – it was a genius design from that point of view.”

    It is hard to think of a single feature in which the T-34 did not lead the world. Especially when it was first designed. Compare it with any tank Britain, or even Germany, was building in 1937. The Soviet system was vile but they did tanks well.

    “The various subsequently copied innovations notwithstanding, it is revisionist nonsense to try and pretend the T-34 was even a good tank, let alone a great one.”

    So it was a crap tank but we all copied it after the war? Yes. I kind of think we did. Because the Soviets did tanks well. They put a lot of time and effort into it and they only had one mission – liberating Paris. Unlike the British and Americans who insisted that their armour was for colonial policing.

    “They were deathtraps. It’s just that they were incredibly cheap, expendable deathtraps, and the Soviets didn’t give a monkey’s for crew survivability.”

    They did not burn at the first hit like the Sherman.

    Jason Lynch – “Christie suspension was abandoned even by the Russians, and the two-man turret on the T-34 had an awful effect on operational effectiveness – the commander having to operate the radio (if he had one) and aim and fire the main gun as well as trying to fight his tank. The T-34 actually contains a great many features since discarded, while the Sherman is rather more representative of current practice.”

    People moved on from the Christie suspension. So what? They could not make a tank use it and go fast enough. The comparison is not with the better tanks that came after but with its contemporaries. What sort of suspension was the Valentine using?

    The turret was a mistake. Which was quickly rectified.

    “There are examples at Duxford and Bovington I’m familiar with, and strangely enough the front armour slopes”

    The front armour slopes. Sure. But the Sherman is a massive slab-sided monster that stands tall enough to shoot over sugar cane.

    “The Sherman was widely used”

    The Americans gave them away. This is not surprising.

    “T-34s, on the other hand, have largely disappeared from actual use (as opposed to “rusting quietly at the back of the shed”), long since replaced by the T-54/55 and the Chinese copy thereof as the go-to tank of non-Western-aligned Third World dictators.”

    And yet T-34s are still in use. According to Wikipedia, 27 countries still use them. They have in fact been used in recent years. In the Yugoslav wars and allegedly more recently in Libya.

    “By 1944 the Sherman was being produced with a 470hp engine and were up to 32-33 tons; the T-34, upgunned with a three-man turret and an 85mm gun, was now 35 tons with the same engine; honours even.”

    So when it comes to engine power, the Sherman, that product of the world’s finest auto engineering, only managed to pull even? With an engine that was still smaller – and of course petrol.

    “By who, where, at what operational tempo? Shermans are still in use, a very few as gun tanks and more as chassis for support roles. Who’s using T-34s?”

    27 countries still use it. No one is using the Sherman. At what operational tempo? At the end of the War, and in Korea, the Soviets managed to do what the Americans could not do until Desert Storm – they broke through enemy lines and they drove deep into their interior, cutting off huge numbers of soldiers. They managed to do that with T-34s. The West could not with Shermans.

    “The T-34 was designed to run for a hundred or three kilometres without breaking much, because it would be destroyed by then ”

    Koshkin’s team completed two prototype T-34s in January 1940. In April and May, they underwent a grueling 2,000-kilometre (1,200 mi) drive from Kharkov to Moscow for a demonstration for the Kremlin leaders, to the Mannerheim Line in Finland, and back to Kharkov via Minsk and Kiev.[21] Some drivetrain shortcomings were identified and corrected.

    “Who was converting T-34 chassis for other purposes when they were obsolescent as gun tanks?”

    The people who use them still seem to be using them as tanks. Although the last people I can think of who converted some were the Chinese who built a SPAAG out of them.

    “Investigate the evidence, learned independently in North Africa, Italy and Northwest Europe that it was ammunition storage that burned. The facts are there, it’s just that too many people prefer recycled myth and legend to actually checking for themselves.”

    So you are still defending the Rear Echelon’s blaming the soldiers routine and insisting that everyone who fought in or around one was wrong? Interesting.

    “The Sherman was a much better tank than the T-34 if you were going to live in it, fight in it, and survive being shot at in it.”

    It was certainly more comfortable.

    “This doesn’t fit popular narrative”

    Actually it does. America has always claimed it had the best of everything. That took a blow in the 60s and 70s. Some of that went too far. But not all of it.

  33. So Much For Subtlety

    Jason Lynch – “Yet after GOODWOOD and COBRA, the Sherman was reliable, fast and capable enough to go very rapidly indeed from the Normandy bocage to the Rhine”

    Fast? The German Army largely walked. They relied on horse carts. After the initial landings were not thrown back into the sea, the German Army leisurely walked back to the German border and fought again there. They did not contest most of France. The Sherman was unable to keep up with them. The Allies failed to put any pressure on them. They certainly did not manage to break through and encircle them en masse as even the Soviets were doing at this point of the war.

    Napoleon was faster than the Allied Armies.

    “something, to be decided, most likely a M16 or derivative because the SAS used them so they must be super ally.”

    What the SAS does matters. If poor bloody line infantry die, no one cares much when the alternative is votes in marginal constituencies. But the SAS protect important people and rescue hostages. So naturally they will not touch the piece of sh!t they hand out to ordinary soldiers. They know their business and can choose what they like. They chose an M-16 derivative.

    “To quote the press release”

    The British Army Brass has been lying about the SA80 from the start. I doubt these trials even took place. But if they did, I doubt that it was fair. Fixing trials is easy.

    “Its interesting that Op NERINE, and subsequent experience in both TELIC and HERRICK, completely ended the calls from serving soldiers for a replacement rifle”

    The last round of very expensive fixes to the SA80 involved asking the Germans to solve the problem. Which H&K did. But that last round *alone* was so expensive it would have been cheaper to buy everyone an M-16.

    “Troops complain, it’s a fundamental right, but they’re not always entirely correct in doing so.”

    That I agree with. But the British Army hasn’t been serious about fighting since the 50s. So their weapons cock ups are notorious. Still, I am sure everyone gets a nice safe job when they retire.

  34. So Much For Subtlety

    DBC Reed – “This combined with the recent advice for getting women: be the son of a billionaire ,has turned me into feminist , something I would not have thought possible.”

    So I think we found the “man” who married Lindy West.

  35. Good to see that DBCR is essentially an Enoch Powell apologist…so presumably it was a good thing that Enoch was against granting independence to India, etc. He wanted to be viceroy and even learned Urdu. Plus the other 2 major failures o0n his wish-list.

  36. So Much For Subtlety

    Jason Lynch – “something, to be decided, most likely a M16 or derivative because the SAS used them so they must be super ally.”

    Revealed preferences are wonderful things. So let us concede your claim that the SAS don’t know anything about guns. An unusual approach I admit but let’s go with it anyway.

    The SAS are not the only users of the Canadian M-16. Other people in the British Army use them too. Specifically the Close Protection Units of the Royal Military Police use them too. Who are the Close Protection people? This is where the revealed preferences come in. They protect the Top Brass in the field. They guard the Brass while they sleep. In case an elite unit of Iraqi paratroopers make a major assault on the officers’ mess.

    So when it comes to saving the poor bloody infantry’s lives, the SA80 will do nicely. When it comes to a mainly theoretical threat to the Brass’ lives, the SA80 will not do. They want to be protected by the M-16.

    Can’t say I blame them. But I am not sure that the lives of all those privates don’t deserve the same level of security.

  37. Its interesting that Op NERINE, and subsequent experience in both TELIC and HERRICK, completely ended the calls from serving soldiers for a replacement rifle:

    A pal of mine who fought in Iraq with his SA-80, and later with an M16 in Afghanistan when he switched units, said he was more than happy with his SA-80, mainly because it was accurate at long range and he* could shoot anyone with an AK-47 long before they could shoot him.

    *Well, his men.

  38. Also, the M16 was a right heap of shit when it first came in. It took a lot of feedback from Vietnam and other conflicts to shake out the problems.

  39. As for the tanks…I suspect a lot of the success of the T-34 was in areas where they came up against infantry with no armour; doesn’t really matter if your tank will lose to their tank if their tanks are nowhere in the vicinity. Even a relatively crap tank will be an asset against unsupported infantry.

  40. “And yet T-34s are still in use. According to Wikipedia, 27 countries still use them.”

    From the Wikipedia page on the T34:
    “As of 2015, the only countries confirmed to use the T-34 in active service are Somalia, Yemen and North Korea.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-34

    And it’s such a silly argument. A few countries with historical connections to the Soviet block are so destitute (due partly to said connections) that they keep a few of their ancient tanks running. Countries that received the Sherman had better economies and so were able replace them long ago. Therefore the T34 is better than the Sherman?

  41. So Much For Subtlety

    Tim Newman – “I suspect a lot of the success of the T-34 was in areas where they came up against infantry with no armour; doesn’t really matter if your tank will lose to their tank if their tanks are nowhere in the vicinity. Even a relatively crap tank will be an asset against unsupported infantry.”

    Well all tanks do well against soldiers with no armour. By the time the Soviets were slicing the Germans to bits, there were few German tanks left. But they did give the German soldiers things like the Panzerfaust. Which put the fear of God up the Western tankers and so they did not do that “cutting through the front lines and motoring across the undefended rear” thing that the Germans and then the Soviets did.

    However the T-34 caused breakdowns in discipline among German soldiers the minute they met it – from the first days of the invasion in 1941. When the Germans most definitely did have tanks. Only virtually none of them had guns that would bother a T-34. Fewer could do much about a KV-1.

    It is worth bearing in mind that from 1936 to the end of 1941 the Germans had built fewer than a thousand Panzer IVs.

  42. So Much For Subtlety

    PJF – “Countries that received the Sherman had better economies and so were able replace them long ago. Therefore the T34 is better than the Sherman?”

    It is a silly argument but it is not that one. It is a different silly argument. The fact that the T-34 is still being used sixty years after they stopped being produced is proof that they do not self-destruct after 100 miles. No one is producing parts. But they still work.

  43. “The fact that the T-34 is still being used sixty years after they stopped being produced is proof that they do not self-destruct after 100 miles. No one is producing parts. But they still work.”

    Read the Wikipedia article. The T34s had terrible reliability issues, fully acknowledged by the Russians. This was partly due to shoddy early production (desperate times) but also due to poor design choices. These were mostly, but not entirely, overcome as production continued during the war.

    You say that no one is producing parts now and offer no evidence. The T34 is so basic by modern standards that many parts could be made in simple engineering shops typical in the third world (these guys can make AK47s from scratch). More complex spares can come from donor vehicles, of which there probably many. This is the default method of keeping older tech running.

    Your argument that the existence of a few running T34s disproves documented evidence of major reliability issues is just silly. There are probably as many running Shermans in collectors’ hands as there are combat T34s.

    BTW, I agree with you that the T34 was an excellent tank design with profound and lasting influence. But most of your other points are of the laughable non-sloping-armour variety of utter shite.

  44. So Much For Subtlety

    PJF – “Read the Wikipedia article. The T34s had terrible reliability issues, fully acknowledged by the Russians. This was partly due to shoddy early production (desperate times) but also due to poor design choices. These were mostly, but not entirely, overcome as production continued during the war.”

    Where in that article do they say they had problems because of poor design choices? Fully acknowledged? You mean one Western source. From Pen & Sword. Whose works I like but they are certainly more patriotic than average. Most of the criticisms in that article seem to come from the US bad mouthing the opposition. Some of which is absurd. They are complaining about the muzzle velocity? That sort of thing is easy to check – and when the T-34 was designed, no one, no one at all, was putting a gun like that on a tank. The British were putting a 2 pdr on the Valentine.

    “You say that no one is producing parts now and offer no evidence.”

    I need to defend that argument? There is some factory still turning out T-34s? Is anyone likely to ever make that claim?

    “The T34 is so basic by modern standards that many parts could be made in simple engineering shops typical in the third world (these guys can make AK47s from scratch).”

    Afghans can make AK-47s. Not sure what the North Koreans can do. This is a fair criticism but the usual complaint about Soviet tanks in their engine and they are a little hard to make in someone’s backyard.

    “More complex spares can come from donor vehicles, of which there probably many. This is the default method of keeping older tech running.”

    Sixty years is a long time to be using other tanks for spare parts.

    “Your argument that the existence of a few running T34s disproves documented evidence of major reliability issues is just silly. There are probably as many running Shermans in collectors’ hands as there are combat T34s.”

    But the Mongolian Army is not a collector. They do not keep them in mint condition so people can look at them. They do not have millions they can throw at keeping them up. They use them. Or more accurately semi-literate conscripts use them. Surely we can both agree that means a whole different level of care. I wouldn’t like to see a can opener that had been given to sixty bi-annual intakes of conscripts much less an engine.

    “BTW, I agree with you that the T34 was an excellent tank design with profound and lasting influence. But most of your other points are of the laughable non-sloping-armour variety of utter shite.”

    If that is a reference to the poor design of the Sherman, you are perfectly welcome to compare the sides of that tank with that of the T-34. The Sherman did not have sloped armour in the sense that the T-34 did. Or rather if you accept the normal curves on the Sherman meet that definition, what tank did not have sloped armour? The Sherman was about as sloped as the Renault FT.

  45. @Jason Lynch:

    Your link exactly proves my point. The SA80 was introduced with significant design flaws that serious hindered its operational capability, but the brass gave it to the troops anyway, who had to use it for 15 years before the MoD finally fixed it. Which was actually done by the Germans (not the original designers/manufacturers) and now its an OK (maybe even a good) weapon.

    What point are you trying to make – that all those soldiers who complained about the pre A2 version of the SA80 should have been ignored? I mean thats why you brought it up – to show that users complaints about weapons (such as the Sherman which is what was being discussed) are not very accurate. When in fact the user complaints about the SA80 were in fact very accurate (for 15 years) and the MoD had to spend £92m fixing the problems they described.

  46. So Much For Subtlety

    Just in passing, to be clear, I am not claiming the T-34 was perfect. Their designers were well ahead of their technological base.

    But claiming that it was so unreliable and that makes the Sherman a pearl beyond compare is absurd. It wasn’t that unreliable and the Sherman was still not a good tank.

  47. “ ‘You say that no one is producing parts now and offer no evidence.’

    I need to defend that argument? There is some factory still turning out T-34s? Is anyone likely to ever make that claim?”

    Pathetic. Parts manufacture is distorted (via self-deluding, ego-defending, mental contortions) into major production. Look, the last B52 made came off the production line in 1962 (over half a century ago), yet the US Air Force still flies them in combat (and plan to into the 2040s – eighty year old airframes). They are maintained by a combination of new parts manufacture (including upgrades) and scheduled cannibalisation of stored airframes.

    “Sixty years is a long time to be using other tanks for spare parts.”

    No, it is not.

    “But the Mongolian Army is not a collector. They do not keep them in mint condition so people can look at them. They do not have millions they can throw at keeping them up. They use them. Or more accurately semi-literate conscripts use them.”

    Or even more accurately – the Mongolian army doesn’t actually use T34s. But, WTF.

  48. Jim,

    I was lent a L85A1 from the really bad early batch, in 1990, and can testify first-hand how bad those were. Taking fifteen rifles to Totley range with only a hundred rounds apiece should not end in five of the rifles self-dismantling in different ways (handguards coming off, gas plugs spitting out, and so on – not trivial failures). The initial batches were very bad weapons: more inherent to the build quality than design, but produced the same result of a dismal performance and a deservedly atrocious reputation at that point.

    However, my personal weapon in 1996-7 was a late production L85A1, and they were trouble-free when used in the UK; no breakages, very few stoppages (a thousand-odd rounds in one range weekend without a single failure, and that seemed to be typical), and commendable accuracy. I’d caveat that we were a REME unit not infantry, but we did have people in the Balkans having to do their own force protection so took skill-at-arms fairly seriously.

    One reason there was less enthusiasm for changes or fixes by that point was that, in peacetime and UK normal jogging, the problems weren’t obvious or urgent.

    There were valid complaints about the -A1, which should have been addressed a lot sooner (the first batch should have sounded the warning and a proper get-well programme done as well as some seniors disciplined – not the reluctant drip-feed we actually got). However, some of the complaints do appear to have been rather exaggerated, or specific to small numbers and single stories.

    My point, though, was aimed squarely at the -A2; it’s been tested, hard, by the end users who’d rely on it in action, in a climate where there was a willingness to bin it if a competitor proved superior. Soldiers who before the trial disliked it and wanted a different weapon, came out of the comparative trial wanting to keep the L85A2. In that specific case, complaints about the weapon proved to be incorrect, if only because the “better” alternatives were tested… and turned out not to be.

    Grass often looks greener: in the late 1990s the background noise was of “the Army” wanting the H&K G36 as a “much better” weapon (I mean, it’s made by H&K and it looks ally and must be better!) yet it appears that when fired on the “battlefield missions” the L85A2 was coping with comfortably, the G36 both suffered many more problems… and had components start to melt from overheating. (Not fully confirmed, but ties with stories of one candidate suffering that problems and later the Bundeswehr describing the same issue with G36 in Afghanistan)

    Or for a historical example, one weapon was dismissed as “The rifle was always bad, its defects always notorious, and the propagation of badness will doubtless continue for several generations to come”. That was in 1908, and we all know how utterly useless the short-lived and much-detested Lee-Enfield was in actual combat service…

    TL/DR – service folk complain, it’s a natural state. Sometimes they’re right; sometimes it turns out they’re wrong.

  49. “My point, though, was aimed squarely at the -A2; it’s been tested, hard, by the end users who’d rely on it in action, in a climate where there was a willingness to bin it if a competitor proved superior. Soldiers who before the trial disliked it and wanted a different weapon, came out of the comparative trial wanting to keep the L85A2. In that specific case, complaints about the weapon proved to be incorrect, if only because the “better” alternatives were tested… and turned out not to be.”

    But the A2 didn’t arrive until 2002! The troops had had 15+ years of a sh*t weapon, was it any surprise they were sceptical of the changes the MoD had implemented, after having been told for 15 years there was nothing wrong with the weapon, and tinkering at the edges?

    I can’t understand why you think the SA80 is an example of when user opinion was completely wrong as to the defects of a weapon. The user opinion was utterly right about the SA80 for years, the top brass denied there was a problem for years, until finally admitting it and fixing it. And you think this proves your argument that user opinion should be ignored?

  50. “my personal weapon in 1996-7 was a late production L85A1, and they were trouble-free when used in the UK; no breakages, very few stoppages ”

    I’m sure someone fighting in the Gulf War in 1991 with his SA80 would have been ecstatic to know that (if he survived) five years later he would have a semi-reliable weapon, and that a decade later there he might even have a good one.

    Sending troops out to fight wars with defective equipment is a crime, and the people responsible should be put up against walls for doing it.

  51. Jim,

    Please get this straight: the -A2 arrived in 2002 and was roundly and loudly condemned as being “no better than before”. There was widespread opinion that it was wasted time and effort, “putting fresh lipstick on the pig” was a view from some Royal Marines, and that it should be binned as beyond hope and a proven, reliable replacement sourced (Diemaco, H&K and Steyr all featured on the wishlists).

    In fact it proved to be significantly better than all the proposed replacements, and listening to the complaints would have wasted even more money (bad) and noticeably disadvantaged the troops now saddled with a less reliable weapon (worse).

    That does not excuse the atrocious introduction, nor the foot-dragging in identifying and fixing the -A1’s problems, nor is it intended to. It’s a specific point that the Service view (let alone that from outside) was to condemn the L85A2 before and after its introduction as unreliable and demand a better alternative: based on what proved to be a false premise that “other stuff must be better”. It was tried – and it wasn’t, and the evidence was sufficiently convincing (both from Op NERINE and from fighting alongside other nations in hot sandy places) that the complaints disappeared.

    Sometimes the complaints are justified. Other times, they aren’t; it’s important to find out which is the case before acting (or refusing to).

  52. So Much For Subtlety

    PJF

    At some point your claims are so trivial and yet clearly so deeply felt that they must be motivated by something else other than the issue. Care to move this conversation along by actually spelling it out?

    “Pathetic. Parts manufacture is distorted (via self-deluding, ego-defending, mental contortions) into major production.”

    There is a continuum of manufacture. That we can agree on. It will be hard for a country like Yemen to replace the engine. As I said. I would hope we can agree on that. In fact it would probably be hard for them to produce parts for the tracks if it came down to it. The word “major” is yours. Not mine.

    “Look, the last B52 made came off the production line in 1962 (over half a century ago), yet the US Air Force still flies them in combat (and plan to into the 2040s – eighty year old airframes).”

    Yeah but the US is the US. They have an enormous industrial base and the time, money and skills to make the parts they need. Who is still using the T-34?

    “No, it is not.”

    It is if someone is claiming their designed lifespan is 200 hours.

    “Or even more accurately – the Mongolian army doesn’t actually use T34s. But, WTF.”

    That you know of. But you know, as if any of the other countries have more professional armies. So way to go in avoiding the issue. As I said, would you like to talk about what is really bugging you because it would save a lot of time?

  53. SMFS,

    Casting pads and forging pins for single-pin tracks is relatively trivial, To be honest, with a basic smithy even I could just about do it (badly, but with a T-34 that’s enough). Do you actually understand much about tanks and their upkeep? I see much sound and fury, but little significance, in your words.

    The Russians have always designed combat equipment for short and exciting lives – one reason the new Armata MBT is such a change, is because it places crew survival as a priority which is really unheard of for Russian practice until now and indicates a profound doctrinal shift. This brings some nominal advantages (lighter weight, smaller tanks, more steeply sloped armour) but has bitten them badly outside bloody wars of national survival, where kit breaks down with prolonged use or is just so miserable to inhabit that the crews are ineffective by the time they’re actually called to fight. (Skelton’s Rule of naval warfare – the side with the more comfortable ships, wins in the end)

    And I wonder, looking at the armoured warfare twenty years after WW2, that in the biggest engagements of that period one side used a mix of British, French and American tanks (Centurions, AMX-13s and Shermans) – all your despised petrol-engined useless deathtraps ignoring the irrefutable Soviet genius – against their enemies with doctrinally-compliant Soviet diesel-powered T-34 derivatives.

    Remind me again how in 1967 the Israeli armour was crushed under the tracks of its Soviet-supplied opposition, and how the flower of Israeli manhood was incinerated in their petrol-engined tanks that exploded into flames at the least touch?

  54. “Remind me again how in 1967 the Israeli armour was crushed under the tracks of its Soviet-supplied opposition, and how the flower of Israeli manhood was incinerated in their petrol-engined tanks that exploded into flames at the least touch?”

    I think you’ll find that the Super Shermans used by the Israelis were diesel engined versions.

  55. Jim,

    Shermans came in both petrol and diesel versions, right off the production line: the Sherman used several different engines and transmission depending on what was available in enough quantity at the time. (Diesel Shermans mostly went to the Pacific or as Lend-Lease to Russia – but they were available to be kept, had they been found to be clearly superior)

    The Wehrmacht’s uberpanzers – the invincible Tigers and Panthers – were petrol engined. What may have been the best tank of the 1960s (the Centurion, an Israeli mainstay in 1967) was petrol engined as was their French-supplied AMX13. The Chieftain, an otherwise excellent tank, was let down by… its unreliable diesel engine. (Admittedly an overcomplex British Leyland product…)

    Ogorkiewitz is one of the canonical references on tank development, and has a good chunk of a chapter on powerplants for armoured vehicles; the UK were the first to put a diesel engine in a tank, according to him, and found the experience sufficiently dispiriting to avoid repeating it for some time.

    Diesel engines ended up having the advantage, but in the 1930s and 1940s designers really were not sitting at their drawing boards asking themselves “Since I really hate both my country and the crews of the tanks I’m designing, how can I get them killed as quickly and horribly as possible?” and deliberately building deathtraps for them.

    The notion that merely replacing gasoline with diesel as your tank’s fuel is transformative of its capability is, sadly, unsupported by evidence in that strange and scary place called “the real world”.

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