Russia Has Tank-Busters - Where Are Ours?

The War Illustrated, Volume 5, No. 120, Page 474, February 10, 1942.

It was recently stated in "The Times" that: "Tanks in the open have proved that they cannot at present be dominated by opposing air arm. No doubt the tacticians of the air have not shot their bolt; possibly armoured aircraft carrying quick-firing cannon may reassert the authority of air fleets over land fleets."

Most of our air correspondents seem to agree that the German heavy tank is not yet being effectively dealt with from the air. Experience has shown that the fast moving tank is a small and very difficult target for the bombing aeroplane, and there is a complete lack of evidence that the panzer units in Libya have been seriously damaged by high or low flying bombers. Many motor vehicles have been destroyed from the air but not many tanks. The "tank-buster" is clearly a very urgent need, but it has taken more than two years of mechanized fighting to disclose it. It is an unhappy comment upon the supposed close cooperation between our air and mechanized forces that, at his stage of the war, it has to be admitted, as more than one commentator does, "that we still need an efficient anti-tank aeroplane". The Beaufighter is the one machine reported in the N. African campaign to be armed with cannon, but it carries only 20 mm., and at least 37-mm. cannon are needed to deal with the heavily armoured German Mark IV tanks. Their cannon fire a shell nearly equal to 4-in. calibre.

The army authorities decided some time ago that the only weapon to deal with the tank was the tank, and we were told at the opening of the offensive that for the first time our men where meeting the Hun on equal terms with equal equipment. All the news from Libya has shown, however, that this method is not quickly decisive and results in heavy casualties in men and machines. We have our air superiority, and the R.A.F. has done excellent work both in cooperating with our troops and in in destroying the enemy's supplies and communications. Without this domination of the skies the desert offensive would never have had hope of success.

Tanks with air support are a chief weapon of the German offensive and specialized weapons are needed to deal with them from the air. This is particularly important in view of Rommel's proved capacity in repairing damaged tanks on the field and putting them into service again. Well-armoured planes able to fly low and attack with heavy cannon in power turrets are required, and it is understood that such machines were designed many months ago.

Our Russian allies saw the need for an effective air weapon against the heavy tank early in their fighting, and with the quickness of decision which they have so frequently shown, put anti-tank planes into production at once. They first made a new Stormovik, well armoured and provided with 37-mm. cannon. Their newest anti-tank plane, the "Stalin" type, of which no details have been released is armed with large bore cannon and is claimed to posses unprecedented armour-piercing strength. Early in Dec. 1941 one detachment of a Red Air Force unit flying the new plane had destroyed 80 tanks in a short period. A squadron similarly equipped destroyed 608 tanks in three months.

German tanks in Libya, such as those in the photograph above, have mostly been knocked out by artillery fire, especially by the 25-pdr. the "gunhow". illustrated in page 460. Anti-tank guns and artillery have a valuable and well-recognized part in the destruction of tanks, but no gun can have the mobility of the plane.