Help support TMP

"How vulnerable to strafing are tanks really?" Topic

38 Posts

All members in good standing are free to post here. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the posters, and have not been cleared with nor are they endorsed by The Miniatures Page.

For more information, see the TMP FAQ.

Back to the WWII Discussion Message Board

Back to the WWII Aviation Discussion Message Board

Action Log

22 Mar 2023 4:13 a.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Removed from Wargaming in the USA board

Areas of Interest

World War Two on the Land
World War Two in the Air

Featured Link

Featured Showcase Article

Cheap Buys: 1/300 Scale Hot Wheels Blimp

You can pick up a toy blimp in the local toy department for less than a dollar.

Featured Profile Article

The Simtac Tour

The Editor is invited to tour the factory of Simtac, a U.S. manufacturer of figures in nearly all periods, scales, and genres.

Featured Book Review

1,907 hits since 12 Mar 2023
©1994-2024 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Bashytubits12 Mar 2023 9:12 a.m. PST

I was looking at photos of Tiger 1 tanks knocked out of action and was wondering how many were attributed to strafing, this article was interesting to me and here is the link.


So what are your thoughts, opinions, facts you can add on this? The quality of the tank crew, area the tank is operating in and hitting the right spot all seem to be important.

Andrew Walters12 Mar 2023 10:09 a.m. PST

Depends on who's doing the strafing. Rudel claims to have knocked out any number of them with a 37mm cannon.

As for the M-2 vs Tiger I, this article is pretty convincing because of the ground confirmation. You could argue that late war and thus low morale German crews abandoned the tanks unnecessarily, and that they were later damaged because everyone who spotted them shot at them instantly and only later realized it was already done for. But the Tiger I crew were picked, and even if all you did was get the crew to abandon a tank you stopped the tank.

I think everyone involved thought P-47 strafing could stop a Tiger, and I wouldn't want to second guess them all without better evidence.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP12 Mar 2023 10:45 a.m. PST

I don't think a single pass is going to do much in most cases. In this case the pilots did not have to worry about ground fire, and they could swarm individual tanks and make multiple passes.

Martin Rapier12 Mar 2023 11:38 a.m. PST

Making the deck and turret armour thick enough to resist MG and cannon fire was a concern for tank designers. In WW2, air attacks with automatic guns were far more likely to actually hit a tank than bombs or rockets. The CEP for a Stuka was 25m and the hit probabilty air delivered rockets was around 1%, although in both cases a fairly big bang close to the vehicle could disable it. Cluster bombs and napalm had a much higher probability of course. A Typhoon rocket salvo delivered as much HE as a TOT from a Regiment of 5.5" guns.

The most vulnerable part of a tank to air cannon attack was the engine deck, particularly those models with great big ventilation grills in the top. For the aircraft it was a question of braving the AA defences, avoiding crashing into the terrain, and actually getting enough rounds towards the target to damage/destroy it. Ground attack missions were incredibly dangerous, whether attacking transport or even worse, airfields, so many pilots just let rip with everything on one pass and got the hell out of Dodge.

The morale effect on tank crews was huge, but even if strafing was more effective than rockets or bombs, there was still vast overclaiming of ground kills.

BattlerBritain12 Mar 2023 11:43 a.m. PST

One of the best examples of Air Support in Normandy was when RAF Typhoons, and some US P-47s, flew hundreds of sorties over a period of hours against a German armoured attack near Mortain on August 7th 1944.

The air support stopped the attack but how many German tanks were taken out by air attack is disputed.


I have seen copies of the ORS report that claimed just 1 tank was taken out by air attack.

I think that a handful of tanks might have been taken out, certainly not the hundreds claimed by the air crews.

The real damage was done to all the soft transport and trucks which were badly affected.

The main effect of air attack seems to have been to scare the tank crews into vacating their tanks just in case they were hit.

The wiki article states that a Typhoon firing rockets had a 4% chance of hitting a tank. I remember the ORS report stating it was a 1 in 200 chance of hitting, ie 0.5% chance of hit.

With regards to strafing with guns Typhoons had x4 20mm cannons compared to the x8 50s on a P-47. Even with 20mm cannons I don't think they took out any tanks and it was the rockets that were the main threat to tanks.

20mm cannon were however very effective against trucks and soft skins.

mkenny12 Mar 2023 1:20 p.m. PST

Very easy to check location and dates for Tiger involvement. No losses reported by the two Tiger Units in that general area(not just Stommel) for that date.
No confirmation.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP12 Mar 2023 1:26 p.m. PST

As I understand it, a lot of the weight increase between the Tiger I and the Tiger II was increased armor to the turret top and hull deck specifically to reduce losses from air attack, so someone thought Tiger I's were vulnerable, which this seems to confirm.

As for "tanks" generally--well, clearly some more than others, and how concerned you need to be depends a lot on how much hostile air power you're dealing with. The Germans are beefing up those Tigers at the same time we're making open top TD's.

But it's rarely a miniature wargaming thing in WWII, except when someone has tac air support in "cab ranks," radio contact to match, nearly complete air superiority and clear weather. I do not personally fight battles on my tabletop when such conditions prevail.

Wolfhag12 Mar 2023 8:34 p.m. PST

I could not find much on the topic:

Here is some video from p-47 strafing: YouTube link

Seems to be mostly 2-3 one-second bursts that don't seem to be very accurate. I doubt very much bouncing the rounds off the ground.

There is a published document of A-10 range firing trials in 1978 against a T-62. The results are a hit of about 5% from the front/rear and about 15% from the side.

A two-second burst from a P-47 is around 200 rounds. I'd expect an effectiveness of about 1/2 of the A-10. At 5% that's 10 rounds hitting. A common ammo loadout is 2x AP, 1x tracer and 2xAPI. The rounds that can do the damage are the API so we have 4 hitting the tank. What are the chances of one of them starting a fire or doing any damage?


Bunkermeister Supporting Member of TMP12 Mar 2023 8:54 p.m. PST

A handful of .50 caliber rounds hitting the optics, the exhaust, the tracks, the road wheels might damage a tank enough to stop it for a while. If they are moving into the attack and you stop them for 1/2 hour it gives time for the defenders to move up more anti-tank weapons, call in more artillery, or even withdraw.

Destroy the fuel and ammo trucks and the attack might have to stop because they don't have enough fuel to complete the mission.

Knock off the tracks, or puncture the gun barrel, and the tank might be scuttled by the crew if Allied tanks are approaching.

You don't have to get a explosive destruction with the turret flying 200 feet in the air to win the air / ground battle. Although that is more impressive.

Mike Bunkermeister Creek

BillyNM12 Mar 2023 11:44 p.m. PST

Muzzle brakes and crosses on the turret (?) are hardly unique identifiers for Tiger tanks; by this period the former pretty much applies to all German tanks and the latter, I think, more typical of Panzer IV with schutzen on the turret?

emckinney12 Mar 2023 11:59 p.m. PST

.50 bounces off of roadworks (larger shells bounce) and tracks are proof unless a pin takes a perfectly-placed hit, and even then it's iffy.

BattlerBritain13 Mar 2023 1:29 a.m. PST

One thing about aircraft strafing: the fired rounds are guaranteed to ricochet if the firing plane is below an angle to the horizontal, 30 degrees I think.

That's why pilots are taught to turn left or right when they pull up, in the RAF at least.

Otherwise they collect their own fired rounds on the pull out and shoot themselves down.

And no this isn't BS.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP13 Mar 2023 3:26 a.m. PST

When you're all done explaining how WWII aircraft can't hit anything as small as a tank, and couldn't hurt one if they did, you might take a look at that engagement in Lorraine where the 2nd DB took out a panzer brigade virtually without losses by continually calling down airstrikes on it.

mkenny13 Mar 2023 6:05 a.m. PST

Let us substitute '20mm armed truck' for 'P47'and what do we think the attacked tank would fear from such an attack?

Murvihill13 Mar 2023 6:29 a.m. PST

I've seen a picture taken from the ground of a Panther destroyed by aircraft. Strafing caught the engine on fire and cooked someone riding on the back deck. Not pretty…

Wolfhag13 Mar 2023 8:09 a.m. PST

2nd DB took out a panzer brigade virtually without losses by continually calling down airstrikes on it.

Yes, in that respect the O-1 Bird Dog Piper Cub is probably responsible for more enemy losses of personnel and equipment than all of the fighter bombers put together being responsible for directing artillery and air strikes. One even mounted bazookas under the wings and knocked out tanks.

I've never seen a model of one on a game table (including me) but I'm sure someone has used them.

Regarding the 20mm: Doing the numbers, a two-second burst from four guns is 80 rounds. A 5% chance to hit gives 4 hits. Depending on the loadout it could be from 1-2 AP-HE rounds hitting that would be most likely to set the tank on fire and 1-2 AP rounds that may penetrate the engine deck. Penetration of about 15mm at 400 yards and 20 degrees or 20mm at 200 yards. Firing at less the 20 degrees greatly increases the chance of a ricochet. The Panther deck and turret roof armor were 16mm. Come to your own conclusion on damage and penetration.

The Germans thought it serious enough to add armor over the Panther turret and engine deck. It appears there were two spaced plates probably 5mm each like the Shurtzen.

There were enough Allied strafing sorties in WWII that even if there was a small chance of strafing damage there were most likely quite a few (hundreds?) that were mission kills or set on fire.


4th Cuirassier13 Mar 2023 9:40 a.m. PST

AIUI the optimal method for both dive bombing and strafing was to stand the aeroplane on its nose. This minimised the need to guess at the rounds' / bomb's trajectory whether the target was a tank or a ship, and gave a normal angle of impact or nearly so. From directly above, I'd think either 0.50" or 20mm would be quite unpleasant.

Of course it would also be quite unpleasant for the pilot, because the point where he pulls out would be quite predictable. So whether this was done over land much I couldn't say. Against ships the usual dive angle was 80 degrees.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP13 Mar 2023 11:35 a.m. PST

Let me position that armed truck to fire at the thinnest armor on the tank, mkenny. Thicknesses varied greatly.

steve dubgworth13 Mar 2023 12:31 p.m. PST

maybe the collateral effect was the true use of strafing by aircraft.

track damage would stop the tank but not destroy it but in a fast mobile battle where the germans did not control the ground after the battle then damaged tanks were "lost".

the morale effect of many hits not in themselves damaging would have hit the crew hard and the effect would range from stunned for a while to abandonment of the vehicle.

then there is the lucky shot hitting a vital but not lethal part of the engine or if the hatches were open due to hot weather one shot bouncing around the cabin could do damage to the crew – one out of 200 or more shots just possible.

Thresher0113 Mar 2023 1:52 p.m. PST

Would have to penetrate the engine deck armor, and then hit a fuel or coolant line.

A very small chance of that. Not zero, but definitely hard to achieve I suppose.

I think bombs and naval gunfire were responsible for damaging/destroying most of the Tigers in France, other than those destroyed by their crews. IIRC, about 80%+ of the Tigers were destroyed or disabled by their crews once they broke down or ran out of fuel.

Only 5 10% were destroyed by direct enemy gunfire tanks, A/T guns, and bazookas/PIATs.

Maybe 5%+ to air attack (my guess), and perhaps another 5% or so to mines and other causes.

typhoon213 Mar 2023 2:21 p.m. PST

A few quick points:

Strafing might not penetrate the armour but there are instances of ground, as well as air machine guns and cannon setting ablaze stowage. This would certainly distract the crew, even if it didn't lead to a Kill.

It's been documented that some Panzer crews would bale out as soon as there was an air threat, rather than risk being caught in their vehicles. There is also ample evidence that German vehicles would avoid moving during the day wherever possible, hiding up under cover of orchards and woods. Regardless of what Goebbels might say about the strength of Krupp steel and the power of Maybach engines, the soldiers under Allied air supremacy felt that strafing and bombing were a serious enough threat.

The same psychological effect was experienced in the 1940 'Blitzkrieg', where even empty Ju87s would scream down and render the troops beneath frozen with fear, tank crews and infantry alike.

Continuing with the psychology idea, if a .50 or 20mm or whatever is whanging off the armour, the crew won't know necessarily what it was that hit them. One hit can be followed by more, so at the very least evasive action and other responses that don't follow the mission plan would be the norm.

mkenny13 Mar 2023 5:22 p.m. PST

Let me position that armed truck to fire at the thinnest armor on the tank, mkenny. Thicknesses varied greatly.

The point is how can a crew that routinely goes into battle where 75mm shells are coming at them from all directions suddenly become 'frightened' when 20mm rounds start bouncing of it? We know that all war is dangerous but of all the things that would worry a tank crew up to 20mm rounds come very low on the list. Barring an extremely 'lucky' shot no aircraft gun is going to pose a threat TO THE CREW.

Skarper14 Mar 2023 1:08 a.m. PST

A strong case has been made that the impact of air attack was exaggerated by the Germans to excuse their failures and put the blame on the Luftwaffe.

The early Operational research study on the Falaise gap is conclusive. Tanks were nearly invulnerable. The most effective aircraft were the fighters who had to use 20mm cannons in direct fire and not the specialists with rockets or bombs. These devastated the all important transport units however and logistics is what wins wars…

The value of aircraft is far too high to squander on attacking hard targets like AFVs. Hence the desire for stand off weapons that allow attack from a safer distance albeit with much less lethality.

The value of disrupting units under attack and psychological/morale impact seems to have been significant and of real value however.

In the East, commanders asked Shturmovik units to continue making passes even after all munitions had been expended due to the fear inducing effect.

This is, in the end, another case of the real effect of weapons not being in losses inflicted but in suppression and disruption.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP14 Mar 2023 11:00 a.m. PST

The Germans thought it serious enough to add armor over the Panther turret and engine deck.

They also added zimmerit to their tanks. Just saying….

Bashytubits18 Mar 2023 8:56 a.m. PST

So the consensus seems to be being strafed in a tank is definitely problematic. I found this forum discussing the topic.


mkenny18 Mar 2023 12:17 p.m. PST

So the consensus seems to be being strafed in a tank is definitely problematic. I found this forum discussing the topic.

The lead Stug is towing the rear and clearly has driven into a hole/bomb-crater. The Tiger in the first post in the linked thread was used as a target by a number of weapon systems AFTER it was knocked out by AP shot.

UshCha19 Mar 2023 2:44 p.m. PST

Comparing any ww2 plane to the A10 is fraught with issues. The A10 rate of fire was set finally at 3900 rounds per minute. This is a plane with high tech sights compared to a WW2 plane. It can hit reliably at 5% but with a high rate of fire and normal 1 sec bursts. Not realistic for Ww2. I have read the tanks we taken out not by a fighter in WW2 but by a squadron, that way even a 1% hit rate is effective. Itvwas a good while after the war before rOckets became accurate enough to hit point targets

Wolfhag20 Mar 2023 4:15 a.m. PST

I think you've got it right on the StuG. It's hard for me to believe any reports of damage, kills, and how they occurred because the forensics are so hard to figure out and the people doing the data gathering aren't always the most knowledgeable ones. Even first-person accounts can be inaccurate and not reflect the overall occurrences. Even "official" reports are fraught with errors, people do the best they can at the time and with the knowledge and resources they have.


Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP20 Mar 2023 11:27 a.m. PST

From the thread on the forum in the link 4 posts prior:

I dug around for some British information and found relevant stuff in a study of 2nd Tactical Air Force ground strafing of motor transport and locomotives. Gun camera films from Dec '44 to Mar '45 were selected and only 750 were clear enough to discern all of the important details (this was only about 15% of those available. British gun camera film was notoriously bad quality).

- relatively steep diving angle of about 30 degrees (7% of attacks on MT), produced limited results as "it is impossible to press the attack home to a sufficiently short range; it is necessary to stop firing and to pull out at about 500 yards from the target, to avoid passing too close over flying debris, etc."​

- medium dive angle of 10 to 20 degrees (I assume about 87% of attacks on MT), attack usually pressed home to well below 500 yards. "the proportion of these attacks with a closing range above 500 yards is less then 0.5%". Average closing range was 310 yards.​

- very shallow dive of 0 to 10 degrees (6% of attacks on MT), "usually results in poor shooting. It is difficult to hold the sight down on to the target, when the aircraft is flying so near to the deck".​

So much for hitting the top armor, diving at 80 degrees, using penetration data at 200 yards, etc. That is just not a reasonable assumption set for strafing tanks in WW2.

Please note -- at angles of 10 20 degrees if you are you are hitting the top armor it is at an angle that is quite likely to deflect your rounds. Even 15mm thin armor is not going to be over-matched by a .50cal bullet.

Your angle on the side or rear armor will be closer to 70-80 degrees, at which you might get something like your rated penetration. But it was the rare pilot who could hold himself on the target at that angle to anything like 200 yards when traveling at 300+ mph.

The most effective weapons for actually damaging tanks from the air seem to have been the higher-caliber auto- and semi-auto-cannons (30mm, 37mm, 40mm, 50mm), and bomblets (early cluster bombs). It is entirely possible that the roof armor seen on German tanks was a response to the growing Russian use of PTAB bomblets than to anything happening on the western front (Don't know, but wouldn't be surprised. Worth doing a bit more research to see if there are primary sources on the German decisions / testing of the roof armor).

(aka: Mk 1)

Heedless Horseman Supporting Member of TMP20 Mar 2023 3:05 p.m. PST

WW2…word is 'SUPRESSION'. Actual 'hits' on Armour, problematical. just ain't going anywhere! Crews prob in ditch. OUT of target! V few actual KOs. Soft skins/Horse transport… DEAD.

Blutarski20 Mar 2023 9:34 p.m. PST

The lead Stug is towing the rear and clearly has driven into a hole/bomb-crater.

Taking a closer look at that bomb crater, it appears that the large rectangular plate half-buried vertically in the crater MIGHT have been part of the right-side schurzen plate from the lead StuG. This suggests to me the possibility that the vehicle might have taken a very close miss from an aerial bomb.


Wolfhag21 Mar 2023 1:24 a.m. PST

It does look like a bomb crater. However, I think if it was a close hit the StuG would be a lot more damaged, maybe flipped? Shutzed is hung onto the side with a hook-like function. It looks as if it got popped off when the vehicle slid into the hole. A blast would have put debris on both tanks unless a rainstorm washed it off.

The danger to the crew is when they are attacked and not in their vehicle which is most of the time.

Further down this page has some good gun camera footage of the Stuka 37mm cannon firing: link


Andy ONeill21 Mar 2023 5:35 a.m. PST

Looks to me like someone could have just leant that late against the side of the stug.
Those guys sat on top of it or the previous owners.

How heavy is one of those things? Are they something 4 blokes could pick up?

Andy ONeill21 Mar 2023 5:44 a.m. PST

What was that one about percentage of published statistics just being made up?

Turned out, someone made that percentage up.

I think it'd be quite difficult to work out what destroyed many German tanks. Eg Common for ko tanks to be shot up again after.

mkenny21 Mar 2023 1:16 p.m. PST

I think bombs and naval gunfire were responsible for damaging/destroying most of the Tigers in France, other than those destroyed by their crews. IIRC, about 80%+ of the Tigers were destroyed or disabled by their crews once they broke down or ran out of fuel.

Only 5 10% were destroyed by direct enemy gunfire tanks, A/T guns, and bazookas/PIATs

Its absurd to believe only 10% of Tigers were destroyed in a 'fair fight'.

Wolfhag06 Sep 2023 8:49 a.m. PST

Here are some stats I've found:

Just like any other WWII stat, they are not 100% reliable or give you the context of the loss but do give you an idea.


donlowry07 Sep 2023 11:18 a.m. PST

When you say "strafed," I take that to refer to machineguns, rifle caliber or .50 caliber. Cannon, rockets and bombs are not "strafing."

Strafing with MGs would at least cause the crew to button up, which would cause them to drive very slowly, if move at all.

Were there not holes in the grating over the engines? That is, not solid? How else could the engine get air? So the MG round does not have to penetrate armor if it hits one of those "holes." Right?

Wolfhag07 Sep 2023 4:53 p.m. PST

I would have to agree. I think the .50cal API (armor-piercing incendiary) round is underrated in its ability to cause a fire. It would not have to penetrate the engine grating and could start fire on exposed storage and leaked gas and oil around the engine which was common for the Tiger and Panther.

Fast forward to 2:00 in this video: YouTube link

This is a good example of 20mm rounds hitting the Panther engine grating: link

I think the P-38 would be the best strafer with 4x .50cal and a 20mm all nose mounted better than wing-mounted guns.


Sorry - only verified members can post on the forums.