Above you see the "aiming help" or
recticles the Germans had in their Zeiss Optics. Its an early version,
the later version differed a little in layout, but the functionality
remained the same. Note that the gunner only saw the 4 small and
the large triangles, I added the description to explain their use.
What you have to understand is that the shell travels
in an arc. The shape of the arc is dependent on the muzzle velocity
among other things. Late German guns had a very high muzzle velocity
and traveled in a stretched arc which gave the Germans more advantages
than just penetration power.
In World War II there were no laser range finders.
The gunner had to rely on his sight in the scope to judge distance
to the target and to raise or lower his gun accordingly to increase
the range the bullet flies. If the gunner raises his gun the bullet
flies far, lowering does reduce that range. Sounds easy, right?
Wrong. How did they guess the distance?
How to aim at a T-34 (from the Tigerfibel
Take a look at the center large triangle. That triangle
was calibrated to be "4 Strich" (in German) wide, or
4 mils. On 1000 meters range one mil resembles 1 meter if the gun
was properly calibrated (thats a big "if"). Lets say
there is a target 4 meters wide. Align the center triangle to the
target and see if its larger or smaller and reduce the range accordingly.
If the target is half the size of the triangle its twice a far
away, ie. 2000 meters. If it is covering the large triangle and
a small, ie. 6 mils wide, its:
4 mils = 1000 meters for 4 meter size, 6 mils =
750 meters for 4 meter size
So all you got to do is to know the targets size
and match it against your sights. The small triangles are 2 mils,
the large 4 mils, the distance between the small is 2 at their
base, 4 mils at their tip. German gun crews knew the size of their
targets from target tables and later instinctively knew distances.
They practiced with their thumb all the time. Your thumb is on
average 40 mils wide on 1000 meters, if you stretch your arm. Try
it and guess ranges and verify if you're right or wrong. When aiming
use the left and the right eye and the thumb will switch "targets".
that jump is 100 meters or 100 mils at a distance of 1000 meters
Now the exact range is NOT the range you want to
aim to. Why? Because the shell would hit the ground exactly in
front of your target, the range you guessed. But you want to HIT
the target, ie. you have to aim higher. In order to hit the gunner
has to change his "Visier" (turn the range wheel) of
his sight which raises or lowers the aiming sight shown above,
thus forcing him to lower or raise his gun to set the aiming sight
again on target. The aiming sight of the Panzergranate 39 (Armor
Piercing ammunition) was ranged form 0 to 4000 meters. Note that
there is a different aiming set for each ammunition the tank carried
because its flight path differs from the different muzzle velocity.
Tanks with early Zeiss optics needed to add/deduct from their guessed
range for each ammo type while later ones had different recticles
Its not as easy as its sounds. Some more factors
are playing in. On sunny clear days targets seem to be closer,
on dawn or cloudy days targets seem to be further away. If a target
drives you have to aim in front of it because the bullet needs
its time to reach the target. Muzzle velocities of 750 meters/second
means that the shell needs 1.3 seconds to reach its target. A tank
driving with 25 km/h travels 7 meters in 1 second. You have to
take that into account.
German gunners were known to hit weak spots on enemy
tanks. The gunner in German tanks sits to the left of the gun (to
the right of the gun in American tanks). So the gun shoots a little
over 70 centimeters to the right if you aim perfectly. The machine
gun even hits over 1 meter to the right of the spot you aimed at.
Also the shell is set to a spin and that spin will force the shell
from its ideal path slightly to the left and down. Ask an Engineer
why that is. all those factors were trained properly and the german
gunners were experts taking those into account during combat. In
order to calibrate their guns they bore sighted it against a target
they knew the size and range. They calibrated the optics to that
target and test fired a few shells.
Now analyzing what a higher muzzle velocity meant
is simple. Besides having a higher penetration power it also allowed
a higher margin of error in range guessing. Because the shell was
flying in a stretched arc you can guess wrong up to 200 meters
and the shell still hits your target because when aiming too high
simply raises the aiming point by less than a meter, still small
enough to hit a 3 meter high tank when aimed at its center.
Because you can see where your shell hit you immediately
know if you guessed too high or too low. If you have a good sight
to the target you can even judge the exact distance you miscalculated
and thus can correct your sight and refire. That's why most experienced
crews on German tanks could guarantee a hit on the 2nd shot. Variation
in gun powder and differences between guns allowed precise shooting
under 1000 meters, while those factors added a random element beyond
1000 meters. Shots beyond 2000 meters were considered lucky hits,
at 4000 meters pure luck.
The longest confirmed kill to our knowledge was
14 kilometers. It was shot by an 88 Flak in the desert war vs.
the British forces. When analyzing the above shooting procedure
you know what they had to do in order to hit. They had two large "V" shaped
optics in an exact distance from the Flak positioned. Both guessed
the range and triangulated theirs to set the Flak to the fire range.
The Flak shot and they observed the miss and corrected accordingly
until they hit their target.
The americans had poor optics and could NOT measure
the range through them. All shots beyond 800 meters were lucky
guesses on their part.
This is an excerpt of an article originally
posted on the Wings
Simulations web site.