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Artom Drabkin interviews Otto Carius


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Otto Carius needs no introduction to most of you, but his career spanned loader on Pz-38t - commanding a Jagdtiger formation--with some time spent honchoing Tigers somewhere in the midst of all that.

Artom Drabkin is a bilingual Russian who has interviewed Russian GPW participants and translated many of those interviews into English. He is also responsible for helping get combat accounts by Russian veterans published in English.

This is a most interesting extended interview which has a flavor all its own given the two different worlds from which the participants hail.

http://tankarchives.blogspot.com/2014/08/carius-interview.html

Regards,

John Kettler

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Otto Carius needs no introduction to most of you, but his career spanned loader on Pz-38t - commanding a Jagdtiger formation--with some time spent honchoing Tigers somewhere in the midst of all that.

Artom Drabkin is a bilingual Russian who has interviewed Russian GPW participants and translated many of those interviews into English. He is also responsible for helping get combat accounts by Russian veterans published in English.

This is a most interesting extended interview which has a flavor all its own given the two different worlds from which the participants hail.

http://tankarchives.blogspot.com/2014/08/carius-interview.html

Regards,

John Kettler

That is a very interesting interview, I have read his book once, but I can't believe how much hatred he has for the west and not the Russians! I would think for the majority of German soldiers the Russians were indeed there most hated enemy, many ran off to surrender to Americans etc. His experiences are most certainly more unique than the majority of the men who fought in the east. I also wonder now how many even wanted to live in the DDR its crazy how he did!

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It sounds like he was in the DDR? If, so what else could he say?

Oops I did indeed read that wrong, I thought he meant he wanted to live there!

Nonetheless I am surprised he enjoyed his time there seeing as what I have learned of the DDR.

I suppose this article is a great example of the individual and how easy it is to just lump everyone into one group, and in doing so getting a lot of things wrong.

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very interesting, I like these little tidbits:

i.e. effectiveness of air power, artillery, AT guns:

Did you have many losses from artillery, aircraft, or mines?

We had few losses from aircraft. Artillery is only dangerous when it shoots with an observer. Without an observer, they rarely hit, it was not dangerous. But when an observer sees you and corrects fire, then you have to move. Overall, long range artillery hits tanks rarely, the deviation is too large.

Were you more afraid of Russian AT guns or Russian tanks?

Artillery is more dangerous. I can see a tank, but an AT gun can be hidden so it cannot be seen. The Russians could hide so well that the gun could only be noticed when it shoots. This is bad.

(...)

Could Sturmoviks destroy tanks?

Yes, with rockets. Honestly, they were imprecise. We had no losses from them, but they looked menacing. It was scary, but they did not hit.

shooting on the move:

Did you shoot while moving or when still?

Only when still. Shooting from the move was too imprecise and unnecessary

mechanical reliability:

What position would you give reliability?

I can only talk about my company. You mean Tigers, right? They say that it was unreliable often. In my company, barely any Tigers were lost in battle due to technical reasons. They mostly broke down on marches. I did not have a single Tiger breakdown in combat!

It depends on the driver. It's a 60 ton vehicle with 700-800 horse power. You cannot treat it lightly, you have to drive with feeling. Otherwise something breaks. I repeat, I have never had a Tiger break down in combat for technical reasons!

fuel supply:

Did you use Russian gasoline?

We never had problems with gasoline, there was always enough.

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And these kind Western Allies...they burned what supplies we had. In Rheingau, and other places. I have no complaints about the Russians or Eastern Europe. It is the Western Allies that were the most horrible. They had everything, and destroyed what little some people had.

Fascinating!

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And these kind Western Allies...they burned what supplies we had. In Rheingau, and other places. I have no complaints about the Russians or Eastern Europe. It is the Western Allies that were the most horrible. They had everything, and destroyed what little some people had.

War is hell Otto.

I guess he didn't complain about the Russians doing it because the Germans had done that and much worse in Russia.

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Amizaur,

I noticed that as well. As you know, I've been hammering away at this issue because it directly affects Russian combat effectiveness. In my view, having the Russian TCs fight their AFVs the way the Germans did creates ahistorical easier force coordination, greatly improved spotting and, consequently, much greater usable firepower. I'd go further than that and argue the high armor ERs for the Germans in the East are significantly attributable to the Russian combat practice of fighting buttoned, a practice which continues to this day. The Russian veteran accounts speak of the practice as being a (combat) regulation. And German account after German account speaks of it in terms ranging from wonderment to disdain. I've even got accounts from Clark's Kursk book in which a German talks about how helpless the hatches closed Russian tanks are after the radio (transceiver) command tank is knocked out and a Russian tanker's account of--wait for it--two crewmen passing out in the blazing hot, fume choked interior of a T-34. It was decided to violate the combat reg requiring hatches be down and locked in order to revive the two, after which the tank again buttoned. Would love to see someone find the Combat Regulations for the Armored Forces, or whatever the appropriate doc is called and see what's there.

Regards,

John Kettler

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Well this refers to hatches being pragmatically closed in urban combat - but doesn't necessarily generalise to this practice in more open combat in the countryside.

Did you lock your hatches during combat in built-up areas?

- We absolutely locked our hatches from the inside. In my own experience, when we burst into Vienna, they were throwing grenades at us from the upper floors of buildings. I ordered all the tanks to be parked under the archways of buildings and bridges. From time to time I had to pull my tank out into the open to extend a whip antenna and send and receive communications from my higher commander. On one occasion, a radio operator and driver-mechanic were doing something inside their tank and left the hatch open. Someone dropped a grenade through the hatch from above. It struck the back of the radio operator and detonated. Both were killed. Thus we most certainly locked our hatches when we were in built-up areas.

http://english.iremember.ru/tankers/17-dmitriy-loza.html?q=%2Ftankers%2F17-dmitriy-loza.html&start=3

Then here is a reference to open hatch for better visibility...

One more shortcoming of the Sherman was the construction of the driver's hatch. The hatch on the first shipment of Shermans was located in the roof of the hull and simply opened upward. Frequently the driver-mechanic opened it and raised his head in order to see better. There were several occasions when during the rotation of the turret the main gun struck this hatch and knocked it into the driver's head. We had this happen once or twice in my own unit. Later the Americans corrected this deficiency. Now the hatch rose up and simply moved to the side, like on modern tanks.

http://english.iremember.ru/tankers/17-dmitriy-loza.html?q=%2Ftankers%2F17-dmitriy-loza.html%3Fq%3D%2Ftankers%2F17-dmitriy-loza.html%3Fq%3D%2Ftankers%2F17-dmitriy-loza.html

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I noticed that as well. As you know, I've been hammering away at this issue because it directly affects Russian combat effectiveness. In my view, having the Russian TCs fight their AFVs the way the Germans did creates ahistorical easier force coordination, greatly improved spotting and, consequently, much greater usable firepower. I'd go further than that and argue the high armor ERs for the Germans in the East are significantly attributable to the Russian combat practice of fighting buttoned, a practice which continues to this day. The Russian veteran accounts speak of the practice as being a (combat) regulation. And German account after German account speaks of it in terms ranging from wonderment to disdain. I've even got accounts from Clark's Kursk book in which a German talks about how helpless the hatches closed Russian tanks are after the radio (transceiver) command tank is knocked out and a Russian tanker's account of--wait for it--two crewmen passing out in the blazing hot, fume choked interior of a T-34. It was decided to violate the combat reg requiring hatches be down and locked in order to revive the two, after which the tank again buttoned.

Might be interesting if Russian tanks were simply unable to unbutton in this game... just like Italian infantry is not able to split squads.

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Maybe unbuttoning is only allowed for HQ tanks? Makes them more valuable and heightens their importance for C2.

Btw would loosing (in RL) a Russian HQ tank have a higher hit on leadership than loosing a German tank HQ all else being equal? If so is this modelled in the game?

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I'm not sure if the buttoning of Russian tanks reduced their spotting capabilities in regard of range. I mean - using their optics (periscopes, PT-4, gunners periscopic sights) they definitely COULD spot a tank at 1000m or more. What was really restricted was their all-around vision and situational awarness. Russian tank would spot quite well - not much worse than German tank (using dusty 1x optics - especially on the move - may be at times not as good as that using naturally stabilized and cleaned naked eye) - but it would spot only in direction the commander periscope and/or gunner's sight was turned at the moment. It was blind in other directions, so it could often seem to be "just blind". Tunnel vision. And it's a very bad thing for tanks.

Unbuttoned status restricted for Russian HQ tanks - interesting idea, I would love to see that as an option for increased realism. It would help balancing scenarions with historical tank rations (Russian having 5x to 10x advantage in tanks during Bagration)

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"One more shortcoming of the Sherman was the construction of the driver's hatch. The hatch on the first shipment of Shermans was located in the roof of the hull and simply opened upward. Frequently the driver-mechanic opened it and raised his head in order to see better. There were several occasions when during the rotation of the turret the main gun struck this hatch and knocked it into the driver's head. We had this happen once or twice in my own unit. Later the Americans corrected this deficiency. Now the hatch rose up and simply moved to the side, like on modern tanks."

There is not a single word here suggesting that opening the driver's hatch was allowed DURING THE BATTLE. It could be opened by drivers during road marches, maneuvering and other non-combat activities that sometimes also require rotation of the turret.

AFAIK it was forbidden to leave open hatch during the battle - most Russian tankers say in their memoirs it was forbidden and they would not allow that, as it was dangerous. But but some T-34 drivers/crews kept them _slightly_ ajar anyway, in fear they would burn alive if the hatch is blocked by a hit.

On the other hand, it could be that some drivers opened Sherman driver's hatch in a battle, in places when they were safe from small arms fire. Forbidden things were still done, sometimes...

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War is hell Otto.

I guess he didn't complain about the Russians doing it because the Germans had done that and much worse in Russia.

Absolutely. In fact in this interview I think he still implies plenty of post-war German "good ol days" poetry about the war. He's probably the kind of guy who would continue to feign ignorance about the Einsatzgruppen too.

An attack on the credibility of western "war innocence" is always interesting to read though. Especially from a guy who has every reason to direct his venom at the East.

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@John Kettler

Thanks a lot for the hint to this great interview!

I proudly own Carius' amazing book "tigers in the mud" with a personal signature. Such a humble man...

Good book. I have a collection of most of those Stackpole Books (Panzer Aces, II & III, Michael Wittmann vol. I&II, Armor Battles Of The Waffen SS 43-45, Grenadiers, Infantry Aces, etc), all good reads.

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Bulletpoint,

In fairness to the opposite side of the debate, I have to report I've found the exception to the many times reported general rule. This guy was clearly fighting his T-34/76 unbuttoned, and apparently, his driver-mechanic was, too. He explicitly describes himself in the first excerpt as being (head) out of the hatch, seeing and hearing the foe and the foe's ATGs. He also describes himself as dropping down to the gunsight, and nowhere does he reference a periscope. This is the first time I've ever encountered a Russian tanker describing himself as sticking out of the hatch.

Fadim Alexander Mikhailovich

http://english.iremember.ru/tankers/68-fadin-alexander-mikhailovich.html?q=%2Ftankers%2F68-fadin-alexander-mikhailovich.html%3Fq%3D%2Ftankers%2F68-fadin-alexander-mikhailovich.html%3Fq%3D%2Ftankers%2F68-fadin-alexander-mikhailovich.html&start=2

(Fair Use)

"Presently, the artillery raid began and I commanded: “Start up!” and seeing three green signal flares up in the air: “Go forward!” A blanket of smoke and shell bursts were ahead, occasional explosions of short-fallen rounds were seen. The tank jerked heavily – we had passed over the first line of trenches. After awhile I was becoming calm. Suddenly I saw to the left and to the right of the tank running and shooting infantrymen. The tanks running to the right and to the left were firing in motion. Coming down to the gun sight I saw nothing but heaped trees. I commanded to the gun-loader: "Splinter load!” - "Yes, the splinter” – Golubenko clearly answered. I fired the first round at the heaped logs believing that it was the first enemy line. Watching my round burst I calmed down completely feeling like being at a firing range shooting at targets. I was firing at running figures in mouse colored uniforms. I was excited by firing at the figures rushing about and commanded: “Accelerate speed!” There was a forest. Semiletov slowed down abruptly. “Don’t stop!” – “Which way do we go?” – “Go forward, forward!” The old tank engine was growling heavily while we were smashing a few trees one after another. To the right there was the tank of Vanyusha (Ivan) Abashin, my platoon commander, also breaking a tree to move forward. Sticking out of the hatch I saw a narrow clearing passing inward of the forest. I headed the tank over to it.

Ahead to the left, I heard tank guns firing and the reciprocating yapping sound of the fascists’ antitank guns. To the right, I just heard the roar of tank engines but did not see the tanks. My tank was advancing over the forest clearing. “Watch out, boy!” – I thought to myself and opened up gun and machine gun fire in turns along the clearing. It became lighter in the woods and all at once, there was an opening. Seeing the Hitlerites rushing about the opening I fired a round. And at once saw an intensive machine gun and submachine-gun fire delivered from behind the hills on the opposite side of the opening. I caught a glimpse of a group of men between the hills, and all of a sudden – a flash: an antitank gun. I delivered a multiple-round burst from the machine gun and shouted to the gun-loader: “Splinter!” And then we felt a blow and the tank, as if had run against a serious obstacle, stopped for a moment and then moved forward with a sudden pull to the left. Again, like at the firing range, I caught in the gun sight a group of men bustling about the gun and fired a round at them. “The gun and gunners are torn to pieces!” – I heard the cry of Fedya (Feodor) Voznyuk. The mechanic cried out: “Commander, we have our right track broken” - "You and the radio operator, go out through the escape hatch and restore the track! I will cover you with fire”. By that time more tanks and, a bit later, riflemen entered the opening. Track repair with a guiding link (for we had no driven ones) took us about an hour. Besides, while spinning on the left track the tank had been swamped in boggy soil, and ahead to the left, some ten meters away, there was a mine field set by the fascists on the dry part of the opening. Therefore, self extraction of the tank had to be performed backwards, which took about two more hours."

Subsequently, in a night action, we find this happening. He seems to have been a very good TC, but the driver-mechanic seems to have lacked the wits to drop his hatch--and was none too happy about it.

"I commanded to the driver-mechanic Semiletov: “Vasya, at low speed move a little forward, for a tree standing in front of us prevents me from firing at the enemy head-on”. After two days of battles we had forged a good friendship and the crew read my mind at half word. Having improved our position I saw the enemy tank. Without waiting for the driver to bring the tank to stop, I fired the first sub-caliber round at the head tank, which was already at a distance of fifty meters from us. An instantaneous flash at the frontal part of the enemy tank and, all of a sudden, it burst into flames illuminating the whole column. The driver-mechanic cried out: “Commander, damn! Why did you fire? I haven’t closed the hatch yet! Now the gases made me blind”. I had forgotten about everything that moment but the enemy tanks."

And almost at the end of 1943, this guy is still operating unbuttoned.

"Sticking out of the turret I saw the entire battalion in the field to the right of the houses deploying into combat order to face the enemy tanks head-on."

Later, in conditions of terrible visibility, he gets more extreme.

http://english.iremember.ru/tankers/68-fadin-alexander-mikhailovich.html?q=%2Ftankers%2F68-fadin-alexander-mikhailovich.html%3Fq%3D%2Ftankers%2F68-fadin-alexander-mikhailovich.html%3Fq%3D%2Ftankers%2F68-fadin-alexander-mikhailovich.html&start=4

"Having stuck breast-high out of the tank I saw through the haze, outlines of a big populated place. I thought that it could be the town of Chernyakhov. Just as I thought so, heavy enemy artillery banged at us."

These are by no means the only times he talks about fighting head up or higher. Also, he doesn't mention any of his colleagues fighting as he does. Equally, it's clear that someone close to the tank, when the engine's not running, can be heard from outside with the hatch down and locked. With the engine running, though, and the tank unbuttoned, people must shout to be heard, and it's tough even then. Page 10 has a reference to his looking through the triplex (armored glass?), after nearly being the hatch took a bullet strike on the edge as he tried to open it. I think this means he had a T-34/76 with the commander's cupola added in fall of 43.

This is simply too wild not to share. Those who you who've ever seen the comic book with the Stuart tank connected to the ghost of "Jeb" Stuart will appreciate this. In the comic book, the Stuart climbs an embankment and successfully engages a Stuka with the main gun. Here...

"Suddenly, from behind the grove, which was to the right of our position, a plane flew across the road (at the front we called those “Caproni” – of Italian production, which dived well). It turned around at a height of 50-70 meters and flew along the ravine, which was to the left of the village, at the opposite edge of which I had killed the group of German officers. The mechanic drove the machine out from behind the house again and I started watching the plane. Turning around, the plane flew along the ravine again towards us. The Germans launched three green flares and it responded to them with one green flare. Once again it turned around, dropped a big box and flew further. I must mention that along the opposite side of the ravine behind a small bush, there might have been a road perpendicular to the one, which we had sealed up, and a telegraph line passed along it. The plane was cruising along that line, and knowing approximate distance between telegraph poles I calculated its speed. It was not great, some 50-60 km/h. When the plane dropped the load and flew over us, I decided that if it turned around, I would try to shoot it down. I ordered to Fetisov to unscrew a cap and load a splinter round. The plane turned around, I led it -fired. The round hit right at its motor and the plane broke in two. There was a commotion! Where had all those Germans come from?! The field was swarming with flecking enemy figures, who rushed towards the plane wreckage. Forgetting about shortage of rounds, I fired ten splinter rounds at that swarming mass of Fritzes."

Fadim doesn't always fight head out, for late in his story he talks about engaging some sort of well protected German assault gun and losing, winding up trapped under his hatch until the third try succeeded!

From the sum total of all I've read, I believe Fadim is a huge statistical outlier, but even applying a JasonC "haircut" of 50% to his kills, he was a tremendous success in armored warfare.

Regards,

John Kettler

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