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"When would a tank commander button up?" Topic

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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Schogun20 Jan 2018 8:59 a.m. PST

I know he would want to stay up as long as possible for maximum spotting and directing fire, but wouldn't he most likely button up after taking fire? Not even counting MG fire (if within range), he's more exposed to the effects of shots?


Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian20 Jan 2018 9:23 a.m. PST

It's complicated. Buttoning up protects the tank commander, but increases the risk to the tank.

Grelber20 Jan 2018 9:45 a.m. PST

There is the issue of national regulations/procedures (and the degree to which they could be ignored).

I understand that the IDF regulations at the time of the Yom Kippur War specified that the tank commander would go into action with the hatch open. They lost a lot of tank commanders, but tended to win their battles.


Legion 420 Jan 2018 9:56 a.m. PST

When taking too much/effective fire where the TC would believe he may be hit. And no longer be able to lead his tank or unit. You would generally button up.

It is always easier for the TC to command/have better situational awareness, etc. being unbuttoned. Usually at what was called "name tag defilade". But a TC could expose himself to, e.g. between his waist and name tags. To get a better LOS/FOF also.

Even if the AFV is in cover & concealment, i.e. Hull or Turret Down. The TC could stand up completely with his boots on the hatch combing and get even better LOS/FOF. However you wouldn't want to do that for to long or very often.

The more you expose yourself the higher probability you will get hit. But with better situational awareness, you may have an advantage over your enemy.

The bottom line you want to keep your AFV in as much cover and concealment as possible based on the terrain and situation. But in many cases that is always not possible.

If you start getting rounds hitting near you, your AFV and nearby terrain. And things start blowing up all around you, you button up.
Then unbutton as soon as you think it is "safe"/less dangerous. But as always in certain terrain, snipers will always be a threat. And in some cases by the time you start taking a lot of indirect fire, it may be to late.

"Discretion is the better port of valor." But you can't command anything if you are dead or seriously WIA.

Having served in 3 Mech Bn '79-'90. All with M113s and commanding an M113 Company. As well as being cross-attached to Tank Bns. In all situations even if you dismount part of the squad. The Driver and TC must remain in the AFV. Tankers normally don't dismount unless the Tank needs maint., resupply, KO'd or for Chow and mail call … wink

Korvessa20 Jan 2018 9:57 a.m. PST

I know there are many more experienced tankers than me out there (just a weekend warrior who went through AOBC in 88), but the basic rule they taught us was open in attack, closed in defense.

Andy ONeill20 Jan 2018 11:25 a.m. PST

Soviet commanders were buttoned up for assaults. Early war the exception was company co for flag comms iirc.
In 41 they were padlocked in, literally, in some units. This was after several instances where crews abandoned vehicles and fled when ordered to attack. Dark times.

Other than that.
Common to leave the hatch open unless there was a specific reason. The co might duck down and still leave the hatch open.


Tgunner20 Jan 2018 1:00 p.m. PST

We were told to stay unbuttoned as much as possible. It's really risky for the TC but it is necessary to keep situational as high as possible. Even in an Abrams you just can't see worth a crap… I don't even want to think what it was like in a WWII tank with their rude vision slits.

In my platoon everyone was unbuttoned for as long as possible except, maybe, the driver. The driver was forced to button up on the move because of the gunner doing his job. However the TC and loader kept their hatches open as long as possible to keep eyes up and open to assist the gunner and to direct the driver.

But like the other guys said, discretion is the better part of valor and a dead TC isn't helpful to anyone except the enemy.

28mm Fanatik20 Jan 2018 1:00 p.m. PST

When a TC feels compelled to while under fire of course. Some commanders are braver (or more reckless) than others.


Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP20 Jan 2018 2:19 p.m. PST

Given how tough it is to open the hatch on a Panther, I'd say TC's would probably only close it when it was raining shells.

Fingerspitzengefuhl20 Jan 2018 2:21 p.m. PST

What about the open protected option on some AFVs such as Panther and Abrams?

Legion 420 Jan 2018 4:30 p.m. PST

28mm has figured it out … wink

Wolfhag20 Jan 2018 5:37 p.m. PST

The Panther and Tiger II had a crank that could open the cupola hatch only a few inches and still give overhead protection.

Sometimes it was a design issue for the TC to be buttoned up, The early T-34/76 turret hatch was too heavy to open and observe. The KV-1 had the turret hatch directly in the middle rear of the turret. If the gun was fired anyone in the hatch would be crushed.

Then there is what's best for the tactics. If you are a Russian tank company you'll need to get within 800 meters to make a dent in the German Panthers and Tigers. You might as well button up, haul ass and evade until you get close enough.

Also, early war Russian tactics had tanks firing by platoon. The Company commander selected the target and all of the tanks fired. How the other tanks were able to coordinate this tactic without a radio and using signal flags is a mystery to me. If the goal was to break through and not engage in a firefight having the TC buttoned up may not be a bad idea. All you need is speed and numbers.

The way I handle being buttoned up is it increases the minimum detection range and it can generate an engagement delay when getting off the first shot. It also increases the range estimation error from 20% to 30% making the first shot much less accurate.


Mobius20 Jan 2018 6:00 p.m. PST

I remember reading about the Ferdinands at Kursk with units being led by highly experienced commanders with Knights crosses, etc. A number were killed in their open hatches from snipers or artillery. The wind went out of their sails when these guys were no longer there to lead.

Range estimation should come from the gunner. He has the equipment to do that.
AORG Report No. 514


Wolfhag20 Jan 2018 7:35 p.m. PST

I read another report (can't locate it right now) that said the TC was better able to estimate range. The reason was the gunner, looking through his magnified optics (sometimes clouded), normally with one eye, could not readily estimate it as well as the naked eye using binocular vision. Now if that British War Office report had the gunner with some type of rangefinder and the TC without then I could see how that would be. Did it state why?

But then there is the German gunner sight on the Panthers and Tigers that was basically a stadiametric rangefinder for the gunner. However, the TC may have binoculars with mil marking and the gunner no such aid. Many times the TC spotted the target first and then directed the gunner to it having more time to make the range estimation. Sounds like teamwork.

There are times when the gunner, using battle sight gunnery, does not need the TC to help and can get the round off 3-4 seconds sooner.

So I can see many cases for or against, but in reality, I think they operate as a team.

I'd be interested in hearing for some tank crewman from the Cold War period, laser rangefinders don't count here.


Mobius21 Jan 2018 6:53 a.m. PST

There is a US 1982 research paper (AD-A132 616) about range estimation. It says soldier training can improve range estimation. Also says binoculars can improve range judgements (for infantry with training). This can be up to 50% better than unaided eye judgements. Though binoculars with mil-scale did not significantly improve estimates to targets of unknown sizes. When binoculars were used on targets of known sizes the error estimates were 21% of true range. When binoculars were used and the target was an familiar size the range estimates were 36% of true range.

The Germans incorporated a milli-radian system into their tank optics. This helped find the range very quickly. The Russian used that idea and improved their sights during the war. Sadly US sights had none of this and were pretty rudimentary the entire war. So maybe a TC with binoculars would be a lot of help for a US Sherman.

I came up with an algorithm of sight quality factors to give a range estimate number for different types.

Legion 421 Jan 2018 8:41 a.m. PST

IIRC … the M113 TC hatch cover could lock out at about half-way … I think ? old fart Providing some protection without exposing too much of the TC. IIRC the troop hatch in the rear could do the same ? Of course, I don't think the TC could fire the .50 cal. And you wouldn't has the same LOS/FOF in either case.

The ACAV turret addition gave the TC a little more protection. We had those on all our M113s in the ROK. IIRC, at Benning, we were told we'd get the ACAV mod once deployed to a combat zone. old fart

Wolfhag22 Jan 2018 12:20 p.m. PST

Thanks, that's an informative report but then it makes me think that the bottom line on accurate range estimation is "it depends".

The Russian TSh-16 seems like it would give excellent results with stadiametric RF capability. The German milliradian sights would give the gunner a good range estimation but at the expense of extra time.

I see the initial tank engagement as a risk-reward effort to get off the first accurate shot with the advantage going generally to the tank with an unbuttoned commander. If you are in an ambush position take all of the time you need. If you are within 1-second ToF the gunner will most likely take over but the TC may just tell him over, on or under (where to aim) using battle sight. If you just knocked out a target and the next one is in the FoV of the gunner at about the same range the gunner is most likely going to take over and keep engaging targets at the same range unless the TC assigns a different one. It comes down to a matter of timing and that's what I've modeled and give the player the option of different aim times or engagement methods.

I have a pair of US Army binoculars from WWI that my grandfather had in France that have the horizontal and vertical mil scale. They are a little hard to use correctly.

I know what you mean about the training, it makes a big difference. When I went through the Scout Sniper program (shortened version) it was more of an art than a science to estimate the range, wind, and mirage. I had a Unertl scope with a 1/4 minute dot that could assist in range finding. I never got to use the ART (Automatic Ranging Telescope) scope on the M21 rifle. The best way, of course, was to develop a range card as soon as possible.

For the range estimation errors on my spreadsheet formula, I'm assigning Ace crews 15%, Veterans 20%, Trained 25% and Green 30%. Rangefinders are 10% but take 15 seconds to use. Being buttoned up adds another 10%. If the target is at an assigned point (landmark, crossroad, etc) for a range card or known range the shooter can use the ranged in accuracy value rather than a ranging shot.

Optics quality and magnification determine the aiming error (about 0.3mil from the info I can find) and the maximum range you can adjust your hit location die roll or place the crosshairs on a weak spot on the target image is based on magnification.

To determine the maximum range to target weak areas, I took my 2.5x to 7x rifle scope to the top of a hill in my neighborhood (minus the rifle of course). Sighting in on cars and trucks at various ranges and magnifications gave me a good idea and also an idea of aiming errors. At 2.5x and long range, the crosshairs almost block out the entire car or truck.


Legion 422 Jan 2018 12:44 p.m. PST

that's an informative report but then it makes me think that the bottom line on accurate range estimation is "it depends".
Yes, that basically is what many things are on the battlefield, it appears. I.e.: Terrain & Situation … dependent …

RudyNelson22 Jan 2018 4:48 p.m. PST

I can only speak to modern combat. WW2 combat was a different situation with unique problems.
Artillery and MG fire would make a crew button up.
Enemy being face terrain type and tactical mission would all influence the button up status. Based on the terrain, the driver and asst driver may button up just to protect themselves from bushes and debris.
Too many variables in situations and tactics to give absolute answers.

Legion 423 Jan 2018 8:51 a.m. PST

All very true Rudy, I tried to get that across. But you did a much better job explaining it than I … thumbs up

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