Sunday, April 17, 2016

Tank Commander Exposure in Combat Mission

With the release of's (BFC) Combat Mission: Final Blitzkrieg (which utilizes the second generation Combat Mission (CM) game engine), there has been a bit of discussion about the modelling of tank commander exposure in that game system. There seem to be two main of points of contention at present
  • how often should tank commanders expose themselves to enemy fire
  • how effective should fire directed at them be
Those issues will be resolved by BFC in their own community, but largely absent from the online discussion so far has been a reference to available evidence.

Evidence - Rate of Exposure

On the face of it, casual histories answer the question of how often tank commanders exposed themselves to enemy fire, and why, very simply. This primer on German tank crewmen of the Second World War sums up the situation in typically vague terms:
At the rear of the turret sat the commander. At safe distances, he would stand on his small seat, so that his upper body was exposed in the cupola, and observe the battlefield with binoculars. When the enemy was near and in combat situations the turret hatch was battened down, and the commander observed the battlefield through small episcopes set into the cupola surface.(1)
A survey of tank operations mentions:

The interior of an (Armoured Fighting Vehicle - AFV) is cramped and dark, with hard metal edges wrapping around the crew and passengers. Visibility is provided through a mixture of periscopes (and) vision slits...Even with the most advanced systems, the crew will have a distinct sense that there are things going on out there that might harm them and that they cannot see.
 One response to this vulnerability in the past has been for the tank's commander to direct combat standing up from an open turret. This has its advantages - the commander gains a complete perspective of the battlefield, being cognizant of all threats, including those from the air. He can also spot enemy infantry attempting to creep up on his tank.(2)

And a primer on U.S. tank crews in the Second World War suggests that in U.S. units, there was an additional advantage to the commander exposing himself to enemy fire:

Above the commander's hatch was a .50 cal. Browning heavy barrel machine gun. This was intended for anti-aircraft protection, but in fact was much more often used for self-defense of the tank and for attacking ground targets that did not warrant the use of the main armament...The .50 cal. heavy machine gun was very destructive, and proved to be extremely effective in attacking enemy infantry and trucks; the 4th Armored Division placed a great deal of emphasis on its use. Gen. Bruce Clarke later recalled:
I told my men that the greatest thing on the tank was a free .50 cal. in the hands of the tank commander. We were not able to fight from tanks with the tank commander buttoned up - that has never been successfully done. [Buttoned up] he can't hear or see and so pretty soon he unbuttons. Now if he's got a free .50 cal. machine gun, all he has to do is press his thumb and he can pick out a dangerous spot. It may be a bazooka flash or something. He can throw a burst there without even thinking about giving an order.
On the early M4, the .50 cal. machine gun was mounted on a pintle that was attached to the commander's hatch. On later tanks with the all-vision cupola, it was fitted to a pintle behind the commander's hatch, very awkward for the commander who had to expose himself to use the weapon. On the M4A1 (76mm) and M4A3 (76mm), both of which had the large round loader's hatch with pintle, units often moved the machine gun to the loader's side due to its more convenient mounting. Other units came up with their own improvised solutions. On (Creighton) Abram's (Sherman tank), he had a .30 cal. machine gun mounted in front of the cupola for his personal use.(3)

Early Sherman variants had the AAMG on a pintle behind the commander's turret, requiring a crewman to expose himself in order to fire it.

 The turret used on 76mm Sherman tank variants (T23 turret) had two round hatches, the commander's (with armored glass vision blocks and a round hatch) and the loader's (with split hatch). A pintle can be seen at the rear of the loader's hatch. (Image from:

The introduction of a larger round hatch on the loader's side of the turret was not an intentional move to enable the loader to access an anti-personnel weapon; crew concerns about emergency exit had been raised since the original Shermans which had no loader-side hatch at all. A small oval hatch was added at first, since "(c)ombat reports had indicated that the early hatches were inadequate for emergency exits, especially in the turret." The introduction of the oval hatch meant "the loader didn't have to wait for the commander and gunner to leave before he could get out."(4)

The Regimental History of one Canadian armoured regiment had a copy of the Tank Standing Orders that regiment used during combat in Italy and Northwest Europe. The document is reproduced online here. One of its provisos shows that Commonwealth tank commanders were expected, under penalty of court martial, to fight with commanders able to expose themselves quickly where necessary:
20. HATCHES ETC. Crew commanders will NOT close both turret flaps except under very heavy mortar fire when the situation does not demand unrestricted vision. Drivers and co-drivers hatches will not be fastened. Safety belts will NOT be used. 

 27. DISCIPLINE. Failure to obey these orders will be treated as a court-martial charge.
A Canadian Sherman in action at Ortona. Commonwealth units often removed the AAMG altogether, but the exposure of the commander is obvious. Vision-block cupolas did not appear on the majority of types employed in Commonwealth units and only late in the war for certain American Sherman types.
The use of the .50 as an anti-infantry weapon seems not to have been considered by Commonwealth tank crews:
As well as the 75mm main gun and the two .30 calibre machine guns, Shermans came from the factory with a .50 calibre machine gun mounted on the commander's hatch for anti-aircraft use. While this was sometimes replaced with another .30 calibre gun, in the Canadian Army tank commanders were discouraged from exposing themselves to air attack. There were specific anti-aircraft units whose job it ws to shoot down enemy aircraft and it was believed that commanders had enough to do in commanding their tank without engaging in gunfights with aircraft.(5)
Crew Survivability

The question of survivability is a separate issue. Roger Lucy provided some hints in a forum conversation at - suggesting that Operational Research seems to have focused on what killed tanks with comparatively less emphasis on how crewmen were killed. One report is held by the Laurier Centre:

Medical Research Council Team for Survey of Casualties Among Tank Personnel - Casualties among tank crews in 11 armoured division in operational veritable 27 Feb - 4 Mar 45

and this is available online;

Injuries to Tank Crews: A Guide to the Data-base and the Data Forms

There is certainly scope for additional research. Library and Archives Canada has this for example:

RG24 Series C-1, Reel C-5254
File: 8676-9-8 , Access code: 90
File Title: Casualties - Royal Canadian Armoured Corps 

Other Models

Player complaints that crew commanders are killed too often are difficult to justify without understanding what the historical situation was. Other games like Advanced Squad Leader may be a guide as they also model crew exposure's benefits and drawbacks. In ASL, a tank suffers a penalty to direct fire against enemy targets with the main armament when the commander/crew is not exposed ("Buttoned Up" or BU). When "Crew Exposed" (CE) the tank receives a bonus to its movement. Enemy fire against the exposed crew is possible, and they are given protective bonuses equal to infantry behind a stone wall or in hard cover in a building.

The effects of crew casualties are temporary inability to perform any actions ("Stun") and a permanent loss of crew exposed bonuses. How often do tank crews expose themselves to enemy fire in ASL? One often-cited article regarding tank warfare in ASL suggests rather unhelpfully that:
Whether or not to remain CE probably comes down to personal preference, though the primary consideration involves any hazards invited by doing so.(6)
However, good advice in the conclusion of the article applies in CM as much as ASL:
...(K)eep your eye on the prize. Your goal ultimately is to win the scenario; so even though your stated object is to defeat the enemy's armor, do not let yourself become side-tracked from the Victory Conditions solely to engage his armor. Strategy is dictated by the Victory Conditions - though, if tanks are involved on both sides, they will almost inevitably come to grips with one another. However, do not let yourself become distracted!
... it must seem that the "successful" tank commander adopts a primarily defensive posture during an armored battle. In fact, by following the Rules of Engagement and through judicious use of mobility, a tank tends to behave very much like a hunter stalking its prey...Likewise, the successful tank commander waits for the enemy to move into his sights, or carefully moves into an advantageous position to destroy the target. Conservative play is the by-word here, since the DEFENDER will almost always hold the upper hand initially during an Engagement. Whatever the case, allow the enemy to make the first mistake while you wait to take immediate advantage. Above all, patience is the virtue which most distinguishes the successful tank commander.
Another article on fighting armor in ASL, equally unhelpfully says: "The often difficult decision of "CE or not CE" is taken away from you (when providing one-man turret tanks in the order of battle)" but does not discuss the actual decision making process.(7)

About the only thing that ASL can offer is that in that game system, deciding to button up or expose the commander is a highly individual and subjective choice to make.


It would seem tank crews in the Second World War were not only encouraged to fight with the commander exposed, but may have even preferred to do so. Canadian regulations in at least one case actually required the commander to at the least keep one of the turret hatch halves open except under heavy mortar fire "when the situation does not require unrestricted vision."

The use of turret machine guns seems to have varied by nationality, certainly on the Allied side, and possibly only late in the war when U.S. 76mm armed tanks were provided with turrets/hatches that permitted a greater flexibility of weapons employment.

Combat Mission player's perceptions that tank commanders are too easily eliminated may have some basis of truth, though more research into historical casualty rates may be useful. At the very least, though, the rate of exposure in the game seems consistent with the references cited above. Being exposed offered very real dividends, tank commanders often took these risks in order to achieve these benefits, and CM at least seems to model this realistically given the absence of more definitively defined references.


1. Williamson, Gordon. Panzer Crewman (Osprey Publishing Ltd., Botley, Oxford, UK, 2002) ISBN 7-84176-328-4 p.27 
2.McNab, Chris and Hunter Keeter. Tools of Violence: Guns, Tanks and Dirty Bombs (Osprey Publishing, Botley, Oxford, UK, 2008) ISBN 978-1846032257, pp.99-100
3. Zaloga, Steven J. US Army Tank Crewman 1941-45: European Theater of Operationss 1944-45 (Osprey Publishing Ltd., Botley, Oxford, UK, 2004) ISBN 1-84176-554-6 pp.20-21
4. Culver, Bruce. Sherman in Action (Squadron-Signal Publications, Carrolton, TX, 1977) ISBN 0-89747-049-4 p.30
5. Guthrie, Steve. The Sherman in Canadian Service (Service Publications Ltd., Ottawa, ON, 2002) ISBN 1-894581-14-8 pp.15-16 
6. Bakken, Bruce "Panzer gegen Panzer" ASL Annual 93'a (The Avalon Hill Game Company, Baltimore, MD, 1993)
7. Olie, Dave "What To Do If You Have A Tin Can" ASL Journal Issue 1 (Multi-Man Publishing, Gambrills, MD, 1999)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Festung Budapest - through Hitler's Eyes

When the German drive into the Caucasus stalled in the late summer of 1942, Hitler ordered that his military conferences be recorded, word for word, by military stenographers. Hitler had various 'Table Talks' recorded beginning in July 1941, and the order to record the daily military conferences extended this past practice. There was a desire to preserve decisions for posterity, but the deciding factor seems to have been an argument between Hitler and the Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command, Colonel-General Jodl. Fearful that his officers might make false appeals to words he never uttered, Hitler began recording the military conferences in September 1942.

The complete set of transcripts at war's end amounted to 130,000 single-sided sheets of paper. All copies of the manuscript were burned following the defeat of Germany, but portions of one copy were rescued from an ash heap in May 1945. What survived the war has been translated into English. The book Hitler and his Generals: Military Conferences 1942-1945 (Enigma Books, New York, NY, 2004 ISBN 1-929631-28-6) reproduces the text as edited and with detailed footnotes by Helmut Heiber and David M. Glantz.

Players of Festung Budapest may find some interest in a conversation recorded on January 10, 1945. The participants included:

  • Adolf Hitler, Führer of Nazi Germany 
  • Reischsmarshal Hermann Göring, head of the Air Force 
  • Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces 
  • Colonel General Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command 
  • Major General Eckhard Christian: Chief of the Luftwaffe Command Staff 
Note that the original transcripts were in rough shape when they were recovered, and missing or unreadable tracts are noted by [--] in the book. 

From the midday situation report on 10 Jan 1945 at Adlerhorst.(1) 
LIEUTENANT-COLONEL HERMANI: The situation at the Budapest bridgehead is very serious. Here's where the attacks against the Eastern front took place. (Presentation.) Because there's no place to land, the supply is very strained, and an airfield absolutely must be built up somewhere in this area. I have a city map of 1:25,000, which we can use today to review the blocks of houses that have been lost, my Führer. (Presentation.) This is a fortification on the outskirts of town; it's not shown on the map because the map unfortunately doesn't reach that far. That was the position on January 8, and this morning we got a radio message with the position of the current main battle line. I drew it in quickly here. The occupying forces are pushed together in this area.

THE FUEHRER, ADOLF HITLER: There's no airfield there anymore.

HERMANI: No. The one was over here in this area, and the second was built up on Czepel Island...(2)

THE FUEHRER: That doesn't help; there's no airfield in this area anymore.

HERMANI: No, there's no airfield anymore. [--] I'd like to present the figures that the Russian Army reported regarding the battle in the Budapest area: "several residential areas" were taken on December 30, 1944, "several residential areas" on December 31, 1944, and from January 1 to 8 - taken together - 1,761 city blocks. ... the outer suburb.(3) It is generally correct, while in detail ... I just received a radio message about the daily report from yesterday, which says: ... heaviest defensive battles at the eastern bridgehead because of the shortening of the main battle line ... led to deep penetrations ... heavy street fighting and sustained ... heavy casualties on both sides; on the western bridgehead sudden concentrations of fire. [--] The supply situation forces us to be extremely economical. Air supply ... up to now 3 tons in the castle ... from the ship, which is on the Danube ... food secured ... How it came to that, I don't know either. [--]
Festung Budapest map.
Google Map satellite view of the same area in Budapest today.
THE FUEHRER: How long is this here, anyway?

HERMANI: The scale is 1:25,000.

FIELD MARSHAL KEITEL: One centimeter equals 3 kilometres.(4)

HERMANI: Yes, that's 3 kilometres.

THE FUEHRER: Is this ice?

HERMANI: There's ice on the Danube, yes.

THE FUEHRER: That's too bad! This is 1-1/2 kilometres. Can you land a seaplane on 1-1/2 kilometres?

REICHSMARSCHALL GOERING: Yes, it depends, my Führer.

THE FUEHRER: With the Ju!?

GOERING: We've landed on the Danube with a Ju before.

Ju-52 transport aircraft, fitted as a seaplane.
GENERALMAJOR CHRISTIAN: In principle it needs only ... with heavy bombs ...

GOERING: But the area is very short, ...

GENERALOBERST JODL: Now, Guderian has developed this idea.(5) --

HERMANI: General Wenck will come this evening. The Colonel General has just spoken with the Führer - he called him.

JODL: -- the idea to go to the west bank and then get more space up here to create an airfield.

THE FUEHRER: Impossible! All these airfields are just ideas that can't be employed because every location is under artillery fire.

JODL: I don't know if the idea was developed internally.

THE FUEHRER: It doesn't matter who had the idea, but every airfield ..., which is not set back 4 to 5 kilometres, ... when they fire on it with mortars, they can't land; it is impossible. They see every plane that arrives at night, ...

CHRISTIAN: The report from yesterday, which claimed that four aircraft landed -- I don't know where -- must be confirmed.

THE FUEHRER: Perhaps they landed on the troop training ground.

HERMANI: That was here on the ...

CHRISTIAN: Here it was still possible yetersday. [--]

THE FUEHRER: Could you find out what's happening with the ice floes here? If the ice is breaking up, nothing will work - that is clear - but it could be that the ice is not flowing. [--] We don't have light planes or anything like that? [--]

GOERING: But we do that with the piggy-back plane, too.(6)

THE FUEHRER: Yes, and do we have gliders?

GOERING: We have gliders.

THE FUEHRER: Gliders - they could land. There are enough of them.

GOERING: We brought them in quickly. They were in Graz.

THE FUEHRER: Gliders can always land.

GOERING: They could certainly land here.

THE FUEHRER: There are countless places for gliders. They're the only ones. Send the gliders here at once - all that we have!

GOERING: There are areas here and here for gliders. They just have to avoid the tall houses.
Current Google Map of Budapest. Area of Festung Budapest map outlined in red. Andrassy Street is indicated by the red pointer.
THE FUEHRER: Gliders can go anywhere. If worst comes to worst, we could land them on streets like this one - Andrassy [street]. [--] How wide are the gliders?

GOERING: That varies.

THE FUEHRER: They have to open up a street like Andrassy, by tearing out the streetlights and everything. [--]

GOERING: But a glider is always more or less lost.

CHRISTIAN: He has 200 gliders.

THE FUEHRER: (How much will they carry? [--] One ton?)

CHRISTIAN: One ton, yes. [--]

CHRISTIAN: ... but actually only in limited numbers.

GOERING: We still have them, but I always say: if something is broken, adjustment a half year later it comes ..., when we need it.

THE FUEHRER: For gliders I don't need a lot of stuff.

GOERING: No, that's not a major concern. The Hitler Youth do it. The Hitler Youth have gliders at their schools.

THE FUEHRER: And then we don't risk the expensive tow planes.

GOERING: No, they release.

THE FUEHRER: They will float down in the night.

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL WEISS: There is a parade ground below the castle - 900 metres long, as smooth as glass..., open area ... landing and starting again.(7)

THE FUEHRER: Gliders can definitely get in?!

WEISS: We'll have to examine it again, to be sure.

THE FUEHRER: We have to try everything, anyway! [--]

HERMANI: Right now there are attacks here.

GOERING: You know that area, Weiss?

WEISS: Yes, Herr Reichsmarshal. In the spring I saw it with General Schmundt - I drove there. At least one regiment was being drilled on it. It's as smooth as glass. There are no barracks or ...

JODL: I'm familiar with it, too. It's the best anyway, because the castle is right next to it, with all the cellars.

GOERING: I can confirm it with a radio message.

WEISS: It is very easy to find; it's below the castle.

Buda Castle, in relation to the Festung Budapest map.

GOERING: The castle protects it from the wind, which is very good. [--] Could you arrange for that whole area to be cleared of every obstacle - trenches, etc., so that it's leveled off?

THE FUEHRER: Flak is definitely [--]

CHRISTIAN: I'd like to report the following. We have gliders in four locations: in the southeastern area around Linz and Wels - they have already been ordered here, but the others are in Wittstock, and they must be driven to southern Germany...

THE FUEHRER: At first we can use those that are in the East already; the others will be brought by train, by priority transport.(8) [--] They don't have much there, so it would be good if they were actually to get the Tiger detachment brought in for the attack, because there's no sense in having Tigers, etc., here! [--]

HERMANI: At least you can drive them around.

THE FUEHRER: And further north?

HERMANI: North of the Danube, the 20th Panzer Division began its attack early this morning and pushed through to Ogyalla.

Ogyalla was renamed after the war to become Hurbanovo. Its relationship to Budapest is shown on this current Google Map.
Another group from the 20th Panzer Division is attacking Perpeto. Parts of the 208th [Infantry Division] that pushed ahead from Komoram [Komorn according to the book, most likely Komárom as on the map above] forced an enemy tank group to turn away. We took Naszdav and Imely yesterday. They are attacking further to the southeast now. An attack - which has been held off thus far - against the front of the 211th [Volksgrenadier Division], which has built up a blocking front again, ... At this time there are enemy attacks against Kürt from the southeast and east.

THE FUEHRER: It's a mystery where this guy brings these tanks from again. 
 On January 27th, a mid-day situation conference in Berlin contained the following report:

GENERAL HEINZ GUDERIAN: In Budapest the situation is intensifying because the enemy has shifted his focal point to the center of the western sector and has reached the so-called Blutwiese [Blood Meadow], which, until now, was the main drop point for supplies brought in by air. The counterthrust has begun. Whether it's possible to do it with the available forces - to clean this thing up - is uncertain, because the casualties have increased significantly. He is trying to build a bridge here over the Danube to Margaret Island. The situation is visibly intensifying... 

Location of Margaret Island. The Blutwiese (Blood Meadow, or Vérmező) is visible at lower left.
1. Adlerhorst was Hitler's forward headquarters, established for control of the Ardennes Offensive - not to be confused with the Eagle's Nest in Berchtesgaden: Wikipedia article on Adlerhorst
3. According to Heiber and Glantz, the Russians reported on city blocks taken daily. Their figures are slightly different than that presented here. On 8 January, according to Glanz, 2,000 of 4,500 city blocks were in Russian hands. 
4. According to Heiber and Glantz, Keitel is either referring to a 1:250,000 map, or was incorrectly transcribed (10cm on a 1:25,000 scale map is about 3 kilometres (actually 2.5).) 
5. General Heinz Guderian, Chief of Staff of the Army, visited Budapest January 5 to 8 to investigate the failure of relief attacks intended to relieve the city. Guderian's post (he was appointed a day after the Bomb Plot of July 20, 1944) was largely symbolic as Hitler had in effect become his own Chief of Staff.
6. A reference to the Mistel, any one of various combinations in which a piloted aircraft was physically attached to a glider, airplane or drone for delivery to a target. See Wikipedia article.
7. Almost certainly the Vérmező (Blood Field), as shown on the Festung Budapest map.The Hungarian Wikipedia has an article here (English translation by Google) which mentions the field being used for courier aircraft and glider landings.
8. Heiber and Glantz point out that "priority transport" was a specific term for a train going non-stop from loading point to destination, and carrying items of sufficient importance that other trains were removed from the track in order to ensure speedy passage. Generally reserved for shipments of ammunition, tanks, etc., for planned attacks or blocking movements to prevent enemy penetrations of the front.