Thursday, 10 March 2011


 In late 1942, a new experimental unit was activated at Rechin test center. Named Versuchskommando fur Panzerbekampfung, the unit’s task was to evaluate the best aircraft/heavy weapons combinations to find a viable solutions for the Germans’ major threat on the Eastern Front: Soviet tanks and armours.

When Operation Barbarossa was launched, in June 1941, OKW planners were confident to subjugate the Red Army within the following winter; little priority was placed on development of anti-tank weapons. Ground troops soon find out for themselves that their anti-tank guns were almost ineffective against the sloped armour mounted on the T-34s and KV-1s. Their rounds simply couldn’t penetrate the tanks' protection. This problem became even more evident during the Soviet winter counteroffensive of 1942, when Soviet tank brigades smashed through German lines and penetrated deep inside their territory.

Versuchskommando fur Panzerbekampfung started its activity in Rechlin and then moved to the Bryansk troop training ground in Russia in the spring of 1943 for field trials. Months of trials had showed that the best way of knocking out tanks and armoured vehicles were heavy guns. MK 101 and MK 103 30mm guns were chosen as the main weapon for the Henschel Hs-129. The BordKanone BK 3.7 cm was chosen for the Ju-87. The weapon was a short barreled version of the obsolete 37mm Flak 18 anti-aircraft gun, with a twelve round magazine. Combat-proven Ju-87D were modified to  carry a gun under each wing. The version was given the reference letter G, and soon was nicknamed Kanonenvogel (cannon bird).

The first taste of Ju-87G future capabilities was showed not against tanks, but over water: in the early months of 1943, Army Group A was disengaging from the Caucasus attempting to reach the bulk of Wermacht’s forces in Ukraine. The only viable route was the Kuban peninsula. Trying to take advantage of the enemy’s precarious situation, the Soviets made all efforts to prevent the German from establishing a bridgehead and escape to Crimea. Army Group A’s divisions fought back and kept the route open, so the Red Army tried to infiltrate two divisions behind German lines by amphibious landings. The chosen area was the Gulf of Temryuk; soldiers were carried aboard small crafts and boats, each carrying 5-20 men.
These unusual targets proved to be the final test for the Kanonevogel’s potentialities, as the experimental anti-tank Kommando  - now with the great Hans-Ulrich Rudel within its ranks - prevented the Soviet divisions from landing and threatening Army Group A’s evacuation.
In John Weal’s book, Junkers Ju 87 Stukageschwader of the Russian Front, Rudel’s description of the event is reported:

“We are in the air every day from dawn until dusk, skimming above the water and the reeds in search of boats. In tackling them we do not need our special tungsten-cored anti-tank ammunition – any high-explosive rounds will suffice to smash the flimsy craft. Normal contact-fused Flak ammunition proves to be the most suitable. Anything we catch trying to cross the open stretches of water is as good as lost. I alone destroy 70 of these vessels in the space of a few days.”

John Weal, Junkers Ju 87 Stukageschwader of the Russian Front. Osprey publishing, 2008.

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