Usually, the memories of veterans of the battles with the German heavy self-propelled guns "Ferdinand" can be quite skeptical. It is well known that during our war and for many decades after its termination all the heavy German self-propelled guns were called Ferdinands.
Probably the reason for this is the extremely strong impression made by the formidable creations of designer Ferdinand Porsche, first used in the battle of Kursk. So after that we began to call any German heavy self-propelled guns "Ferdinands". Sometimes for some reason they wrote that Ferdinands were allegedly named after the Bulgarian king, Ferdinand. And here the Bulgarian king?
"Ferdinand" (German: Ferdinand) - German heavy self-propelled artillery installation of the period of the Second World War of the class of fighters tanks. Also called the "Elephant" (German: Elefant - elephant). This combat vehicle, armed with an 88-mm cannon, is one of the most heavily armed and powerfully armored representatives of German armored vehicles of that period. The “Ferdinand” battlehouse was assembled from sheets of cemented “marine” armor (transferred from marine stocks fleet) Since the thickness of this armor was significant (200 mm in the frontal part and 85 mm in the sides and stern), a “spike” connection was used to securely connect the sheets, reinforced with keys in critical places. Such a connection, after installing the dowels in place, was made indivisible and its welding was carried out mainly for the purpose of sealing than the power joint. To increase the projectile resistance, the side and aft armor plates of the deckhouse were installed with some inclination. Moreover, their thickness made the self-propelled guns practically invulnerable to the fire of all Soviet tank and anti-tank artillery of 1943 at a range of over 400 m.
Vasily Krysov is one of those who had a chance to fight with the real “Ferdinands”. In the battles he described in his memoirs at Ponyri station in July 1943, the Germans actually engaged the Fernands' 654 battalion, many of which became trophies of the Red Army and were studied and described in detail.
Met "Ferdinand" Krysov, being the commander of a platoon of SU-122. His 1454 th SAP - self-propelled - artillery regiment, entered into operational subordination to the commander of the 129 th tank brigade Colonel Petrushin. The brigade mostly consisted of T-70 tanks with 45-mm guns, with all the resulting sad consequences for the crews ...
I had a cold sweat
The first meeting with Ferdinand was remembered forever:
“The offensive has begun! Through the commander’s panorama, I examined the front of the brigade’s defense — and I saw enemy military equipment everywhere! In the first echelon, crawling out of the bushes framing the origins of the Oka and Neruchi, tanks slowly moved, followed by assault guns and motorized infantry on armored personnel carriers. They moved with a wedge, as in the old days the Crusaders, and led by all signs, were “Ferdinands”, protected by 200-mm armor, thought: today we will have more difficulty, it will be hard to repel such a powerful attack ...
In the morning rays of the sun, we could clearly see among the various enemy tanks rectangular hulls and vertical armored “tigers”, their characteristic brown-yellow camouflage. In the direction of our platoon the hulk moved too, with a big gun having a muzzle brake, the tower of this monster did not rotate - we understood that it was “Ferdinand”. A cold sweat came out - what I was afraid of was what happened! How to deal with it? What to do?! And there is no time for reflection, the command for defeat is about to come! Stop! Stop! There is a solution! And send my commands to the gunners of the platoon:
- Korolev, how to give a command, hit the right track! Kuzin, you will strike on the left! ... There were already about six hundred meters before the enemy tanks, when the command finally followed from the command post of the regiment. The gun was already loaded, and Valery, specifying the tip, pressed the shutter lever, shouting as it should be:
Everybody watched with tension — where would the projectile fall? The shell exploded on the right side of the frontal armor! Well done! But "Ferdinand" continued to go like nothing had happened!
- Valery, strike down the caterpillar when it rises!
Only from the third projectile Korolev broke the caterpillar. On one caterpillar, the Ferdinand went slower and with a deviation to the left, but didn’t manage to walk even a few tens of meters, when Lesha Kuzin from the crew of Levanov interrupted the second caterpillar! And already on the standing “Ferdinand” both crews fired three more shots. Five of the six shells hit the tower, and so stunned the crew that the Germans, jumping out of the tower, held their heads with both hands.
Suddenly one of the “Ferdinands”, advancing in the center of the battle formation, stopped and spun in place. We realized that an anti-tank mine or a landmine had worked. Two more tanks were blown up by mines. But the rest continued unabated. Crews of enemy tanks frantically beat out of guns and machine guns on trenches and trenches of infantry, each “panther” gushed so much from three machine guns that our soldiers could not only shoot, even stick their heads out of shelters! And for the tanks with several chains, infantry were advancing, firing at our trenches in long bursts of machine guns and machine guns. The closer the enemy approached, the stronger the enemy artillery beat on our positions. From the ruptures of heavy shells, mines dodged and hesitated the earth, we, together with the self-propelled gun, threw up, then flooded the ground, which is why we did not see each other and became blind in shooting, we had to go outside to go out and clean our instruments. One projectile, which exploded near the tower itself, lit up the whole self-propelled gun so much that it was decided - everything! we burn! But this did not cause any confusion among the crew, Plaksin and Beschemetnov seized fire extinguishers and then they saw that the Levanites and the battalion commander set fire to each one on the tank - my faces literally brightened! ”
The main thing - do not cause panic
It may seem strange - how did this platoon commander know about Ferdinand and he was afraid in advance. But earlier, Krysov wrote about the preparations for the battle: “The regimental headquarters already had some tactical and technical data on new German tanks and assault guns, but we were not told about these data then: it was forbidden to bring this kind of information to personnel so as not to undermine the moral the spirit of the crews. But when instructions were given to combat enemy tanks, in which the red arrows indicated their vulnerabilities, we realized that our 122-mm howitzers had frontal armor of all these “animals”, except for “nashorn” (10 – 30 mm armor) , does not break through. "
The prohibition to bring to the personnel of the TTD new German cars in order to avoid undermining the morale, of course, “admires”. Especially against the background of the instructions with drawings, from which the tank crews understood the power of the frontal armor of the new German “beasts”.
But it must be admitted that the new German armored vehicles for the soldiers and officers of the Red Army did not become “out of the blue”, the enemy’s very unpleasant technical “surprises” were expected. Researcher stories Mikhail Svirin wrote about this: “Information about the presence of“ Ferdinands ”in the German army, our intelligence received, probably, in March 1943. The first mention of them is found in the review of new types of German tanks and assault guns sent to the Central Aviation Design Bureau (Central Artillery The Design Bureau) of the 11 Arms Commissariat of April 1943. It said, in particular: “... soon the German army is expected to receive the new assault gun of the Ferdinand system with a 88-105 mm caliber gun and 120-140 mm armor and more ... ". The review was accompanied by two drawings of the car, rather approximately similar to the original. At the same time, TsACB was assigned the task of designing an instrument with a caliber 85-100 mm. capable of spacing 1000-500 m to penetrate armor 120-140 mm thick. According to intelligence reports, the appearance of a new assault gun was expected during the upcoming summer campaign. ”
What psychological shock could a sudden appearance of “Ferdinands” accompanied by “Tigers” and “Panthers” cause to Soviet soldiers and officers, if not for the success of intelligence?
Are they allowed to leave wrecked tanks?
A curious observation during the battle was made by Krysov and his subordinate Oleinik regarding the behavior of German tankers after getting into a tank:
“- Comrade Lieutenant, are they allowed to leave the wrecked tanks? - questioned Oleinik, who saw through triplex, as the Germans jumped out of the tower.
- I do not know, Vitya, but if they leave, it means that it is allowed.
His surprise was understandable, our tank was left only if it caught fire or was so smashed that it could neither shoot, nor move, - then, cautiously, they left the car, otherwise they might attribute it to cowardice. Here, a lot of things worked, some did not abandon in their patriotism, remained to the last, and some because of fear of consequences. But, as a rule, with us, if the tank does not catch fire, it can fire — it must fire. But the Germans were throwing their own, even when the tank did not catch fire, only hit it hard. Our technique was valued higher than people, so we were brought up. ”
German attacks continued: “The Germans set fire to three more light tanks of the brigade and one T-34, and one self-propelled regiment burned down. But three enemy tanks were also burning. Now Ferdinands have come to the fore of the wedge. Despite accurate hits in the forehead of our shells, they continued to advance without stopping, approaching the front line. ”
The victory of the crew foremen Zavyalov and help sheep dogs
The Germans did not let up: “The intensity of the battle on the main line was growing. Ferdinands were particularly stressed, the impenetrability of these monsters was beginning to cause a shiver. Finally, the crew of the foreman Zavyalov managed to first smash the caterpillar, and then with a blow to the board and set fire to the head gun. This cooled the fervor of all enemy crews, and the rate of advance decreased markedly. But the powerful tank avalanche, as before, pressed against our defense with its wedge, the forces of the defenders were already at the limit, and the Germans were pushing more and more new tanks from the second, third echelon instead of destroyed and burned tanks. ”
Here, a completely unexpected help came to the Soviet self-propelled gunners and tankers: “At this, probably the most difficult turning point of the battle, we saw a large black-clad (wool coat –M.K) sheep-dog with a load and a pin on its back ran past us to meet enemy tanks ... After the battle, we learned that ten dogs specially trained to explode tanks were started in our direction, and everyone worked efficiently - they destroyed 10 tanks. The destruction of tanks by dogs brought down the offensive impulse of the Germans, but they did not want to put up with it, they continued to fight decisively and aggressively. A fierce battle took place for half an hour, and finally, not having achieved success, the Germans were forced to retreat to their original positions. ”
Most of the "Ferdinands" was found on a minefield
The question arises - if Vasily Krysov in his SU-122 “Ferdinands” seemed to be “impenetrable monsters”, then what exactly did the T-70 crews with their 45-mm cannons and shaky armor have to think about them?
It should be noted that his description of the battles with the “Ferdinands” correlates well with the data obtained after studying the battlefield.
Mikhail Svirin wrote about this: “July 15 was padded and destroyed at Art. Ponyri German technology was studied by representatives of the Art Department and the NIBT Polygon. Total on the battlefield northeast of Art. Ponyri remained 21 assault gun "Ferdinand" ... Most of the "Ferdinands" was found on a minefield filled with land mines from captured large-caliber projectiles and bombs, more than half of the vehicles had damage to the undercarriage (broken caterpillars, destroyed support rollers) of mines. Five cars had damage to the undercarriage caused by hitting 76-caliber shells and more. The two “Ferdinands” were disarmed because of the lancing of their guns with Soviet shells and anti-tank rifle bullets. One car was destroyed by a direct hit of an aerial bomb from a Petlyakov bomber and one by a 203-mm projectile hit the roof of a combat compartment. Only one “Ferdinand” had a hole in the port side, made by 76-mm armor-piercing projectile (7 T-34 tanks and 76-mm battery of divisional guns fired at it from all directions from the 200-400 m distance), and only one Ferdinand, not having damage to the hull and chassis, was set on fire by a bottle of KS, abandoned by infantrymen. Part of the “Ferdinands”, who lost their mobility, were set on fire or blown up by their crews during the Soviet counterattack. The same vehicles whose crews resisted the Soviet infantry were set on fire by the CS bottles. ”(The CS Incendiary Fluid is a type of incendiary fluid used in flamethrowers, incendiary ampoules and Molotov cocktails of the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1945 of the year. It was characterized by a high burning temperature, manufacturability and sticking to the surface).
Fatal mistake made the German command, throwing "Ferdinand" in a minefield. And the Soviet self-propelled gunners, tankers and gunners, who quickly guessed that they should hit the Ferdinand to the chassis, found the Achilles heel of a formidable enemy.
No matter how you book a car, its tracks and track rollers remained vulnerable to mines and shells. And no 200-mm frontal armor will not help, if the tracks are broken, it will not save from the Red Army CS bottle. Or from the need for the Germans themselves to blow up their car, which they do not have time to repair or evacuate when leaving ...