Anatomy of War: Placing the Spotlight on Search Lights

Hobby Master’s inaugural M60A1 medium tank sports the Reliability Improved Selected Equipment (RISE) IR/White Light Spotlight, a failed concept which quickly gave way to the less cumbersome and more survivable Passive night-fighting system seen on later Patton tanks.

With the announcement that Hobby Master plans to produce a scale model of the M60A1 medium tank (HA5601), we thought it made sense to take a moment and explain one of the principal differences between a standard M60 Patton tank and the updated M60A1. Affixed to the main gun barrel is the Reliability Improved Selected Equipment (RISE) IR/White Light Spotlight, which differs from the Passive version that replaced it later on in a number of important respects. Essentially, the device was used to gather low ambient light so that the vehicle could identify and engage targets at night, thereby turning the battlefield of the sixties into a potential 24-hour long engagement. The problem was that the searchlight threw off so much light when aimed at the enemy that the vehicle, in turn, could be quickly spotted and fired upon, thereby negating the vehicle’s temporary night-fighting advantage.

Back in the sixties, when the apparatus was first introduced, the concept of night-fighting wasn’t exactly new. Germany’s Wehrmacht actually tinkered with the concept as far back as 1936, as explained in this discourse posted on Achtung Panzer.

“In 1936, the AEG was ordered to start the development of infrared night-vision devices and in 1939, first successful prototype unit for use with 37mm Pak 35/36 L/45 anti-tank gun was constructed. In autumn of 1942, unit for use (infrared headlamp with viewer ZG 1221) with 75mm PaK 40 L/46 anti-tank gun was constructed and was also mounted on the Marder II (Sd.Kfz. 131).

In mid 1943, the first tests with infrared night-vision (Nacht Jager) devices and telescopic rangefinders mounted on a Panther started. Two different arrangements / solutions were created and used on Panther tanks.

Solution A – Sperber (Sparrow Hawk) was made up of one 30cm infrared searchlight (with range of 600m) and image converter operated by the commander – FG 1250.From late 1944 to March of 1945, some Panzerkampfwagen V Panther Ausf G (and other variants) mounted with FG 1250, were successfully tested. From March to April of 1945, approximately 50 Panthers Ausf G (and other variants) mounted with FG 1250, saw combat service on the Eastern Front and Western Front. Panthers with IR operated with SdKfz.251/20 Uhu (Owl) half-track with 60cm infra-red searchlight and Sd.Kfz.251/21 Falke (Falcon). This solution could be easily mounted on any type of armored fighting vehicle.

Solution B – Second more complicated arrangement / solution was “Biwa” (Bildwandler), which provided driver (installed on the front hull), gunner (installed on the mantlet in front of the gun sight) and commander (as in Solution A) each with one 30cm infrared searchlight (with range of 600m) and image converter. Various variants of the Panther tank were converted and mounted with “Biwa”. It was reported that tests were successful, but there were very few combat reports from the Eastern or Western Front. Due to the lack of evidence, the existence of Solution B is still questionable and even considered a hoax.

Various units received IR Panthers including 116.Panzer Division (3rd company of 24th Panzer Regiment, Western Front, Summer of 1944), Sixth SS Panzer Army (Hungary, early 1945), Panzer Division Muncheberg and Clausewitz.One combat report is by a veteran of the 1st SS Panzer Regiment, 1st SS Panzer Division “LSSAH”, who states that few Panthers equipped with infrared night-vision devices possibly from 116th Panzer Division were used in 1944/45 during the Ardennes Offensive.In April of 1945, Panthers equipped with IR equipment (solution B) joined Panzer Division Clausewitz and in mid April near Uelzen destroyed entire platoon of British Comet cruiser tanks. Also on April 21st of 1945, same Panthers overran an American anti-tank position on the Weser-Elbe Canal.Most of those reports can’t be confirmed and are questionable.

In addition, it is reported but not supported that single unit equipped with Jagdpanthers also received and used infrared night-vision devices.”

 
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