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  • Tanks 101

    In your opinion concerning WW2:

    What is a tank?

    What is/are the main role(s) of a tank?

    What is a heavy tank and what are its roles?
    What is an infantry tank and what are its roles?
    What is a medium tank and what are its roles?
    What is a cruiser tank and what are its roles?
    What is a light tank and what are its roles?
    What is a MBT (or Universal tank) and what are its roles?

    What are the atrributes most important to each classification of tank?
    Was a MBT or 'Universal' tank a possibility in WW2?
    Could the MBT role be carried out by another class of tank to an acceptable level in all its roles?

    What are the requirements of different nations concerning tanks?
    How does a nations strategy determine TO&E that includes tanks?
    How effective was a nations units TO&E that included tanks in practise?

    The scope of this thread is to understand the role of tanks, rather than the focus on a particular tank. It is also a top down approach to look at what was desired, what was feasible, and what was actually deployed and why .
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  • #2
    In your opinion concerning WW2:

    What is a tank?

    What is/are the main role(s) of a tank?

    What is a heavy tank and what are its roles?
    What is an infantry tank and what are its roles?
    What is a medium tank and what are its roles?
    What is a cruiser tank and what are its roles?
    What is a light tank and what are its roles?
    What is a MBT (or Universal tank) and what are its roles?

    What are the atrributes most important to each classification of tank?
    Was a MBT or 'Universal' tank a possibility in WW2?
    Could the MBT role be carried out by another class of tank to an acceptable level in all its roles?

    What are the requirements of different nations concerning tanks?
    How does a nations strategy determine TO&E that includes tanks?
    How effective was a nations units TO&E that included tanks in practise?

    The scope of this thread is to understand the role of tanks, rather than the focus on a particular tank. It is also a top down approach to look at what was desired, what was feasible, and what was actually deployed and why .


    Sheesh ! Pick an easy one.

    As an aviation specialist, this is tough, but I'll do my best.

    A tank is a tracked vehicle with its main armament enclosed in a revolving turret (there were exceptions). It's attributes are firepower, speed and protection.

    Tanks engage enemy tanks, strongpoints and infantry. They also have a psychological role.

    A heavy tank's primary role is the demolition of fortifications and their defending infantry. It's slow, but very heavily armoured - often with a low-velocity but large-calibre gun.

    An infantry tank supports and protects friendly infantry - because infantry are actually the people who win battles. Slow, heavily armoured and generally armed with machineguns.

    Medium tanks engage enemy tanks, using manoeuvrability and higher-velocity guns to neutralise the inherent advantages of a heavy tank. Medium armour, smaller calibre high-velocity gun and reasonable speed.

    Cruiser tanks are much the same, but faster.

    Light tanks sacrifice firepower and protection for speed, they're primarily intended for reconnaissance, but may be used in a secondary role against un-armoured vehicles. Machineguns, light armour but an impressive turn of speed.

    Unfortunately, the enemy aren't exactly well-known for co-operating with your plans, so the MBT was developed to fulfil all of the above except that of light tank - which has passed on to armoured cars, which are faster and thus, less vulnerable.

    An MBT with a high-calibre, high velocity gun, good armour and an engine powerful enough to give decent speed is perfectly capable of all but the light tank roles, although it needs machineguns for infantry support/self-defence.

    It's easy to think different nations have different requirements, but if your opponents have tanks, you'll both end up using them the same way, so the classes are artificial divisions at best and a good way to lose your people at worst.

    Germany's concentration on ever-bigger tanks didn't do them much good in the practical sense, but they were actually blundering around the path that would lead to an MBT. The Soviets created an MBT almost by accident by turning out vast fleets of T-34s. The US' Sherman was also a step in this direction.

    Not a perfect summary, but the best I could come up with at short notice.
    Indyref2 - still, "Yes."

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    • #3
      In your opinion concerning WW2:

      What is a tank?
      Broadly speaking in the context of WWII, a tank is a tracked armored fighting vehicle with a turret, who's primary purpose was not the destruction of other tanks, though that certainly became a major secondary role and often a very important use of a tank..
      What is/are the main role(s) of a tank?
      Armored attack or defense in support of the overal strategic objectives.
      What is a heavy tank and what are its roles?
      A tank which usually was used for attacking difficult defenses and then passed on the exploitation to other elements. This it's role does not automatically imply a certain actual weight as compared to friendly or enemy tanks.
      What is an infantry tank and what are its roles?
      A tank used to directly support infantry units, often sacrificing mobility for armor.
      What is a medium tank and what are its roles?
      A tank with a rather better balance of mobility, firepower, and protection that formes the core of armored divisions. It is a general purpose tank used for for exploitation, sometimes attack, and sometimes defense. It is the closest WWII vehicles come to a modern MBT in terms of its multi-role capability use.
      What is a cruiser tank and what are its roles?
      A tank more used for exploitation and cavalry role which tended in earlier versions to sacrifice armor for mobility.
      What is a light tank and what are its roles?
      A usually lighter vehicle mounting a smaller gun used for scouting and recon.
      What is a MBT (or Universal tank) and what are its roles?
      Modern MBTs did not, in my opinion, exsist in WWII, though vehicles approaching them did begin to appear towards the end of the war. (T34/85, Panther, and M4A3E8/76, and Comet were probably the closest IMHO) Their role today is armored attack and destruction of enemy units by use of firepower, surprise, and shock effect.

      What are the atrributes most important to each classification of tank?
      Heavy: Thick armor, powerful gun, mobility.
      Light: Mobility, gun, armor.
      Medium: Mobility, gun, armor, but in more balance than a light tank.
      Infantry: Armor, tactical mobility, gun.
      Cruiser: Mobility, gun, armor in earlier tanks, more balanced in later marks.
      Was a MBT or 'Universal' tank a possibility in WW2?
      No, but it was getting close. A more powerful engine to allow heavier armor would have made it feasible by the end of the war.
      Could the MBT role be carried out by another class of tank to an acceptable level in all its roles?
      Probably not due to the vulnerability to AT weapons of the time. Had the mediums been able to retain their mobility and been more thickly armored then yes.

      What are the requirements of different nations concerning tanks?
      How does a nations strategy determine TO&E that includes tanks?
      How effective was a nations units TO&E that included tanks in practise?
      Wow, I doubt I could ever effectively answer those, and even if I could there's not enought space. However, I believe what was needed by most nations were large numbers of decent tanks which could be moved about the world easily. The TO&E is determined by how a given nation intends to use their tanks. Breakthrough, exploitation, scouting, defense, etc, and what balance they seek to acheive in their units. For example, the Soviets tended to be more tank heavy in their ratios than western armies later in the war. My impression is that I'd rank the TO&E of armor by the various combatants as follows: Soviets, Western Allies, Germans, Japanese.
      The scope of this thread is to understand the role of tanks, rather than the focus on a particular tank. It is also a top down approach to look at what was desired, what was feasible, and what was actually deployed and why .
      Good luck.

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      • #4
        [QUOTE=Nick the Noodle;2384983]In your opinion concerning WW2:

        What is a tank?[/guote]

        A tracked vehicle with complete (all sides and top cover) armor protection, equipped with a weapon or weapons and intended for use on a battlefield.

        What is/are the main role(s) of a tank?

        What is a heavy tank and what are its roles?
        What is an infantry tank and what are its roles?
        What is a medium tank and what are its roles?
        What is a cruiser tank and what are its roles?
        What is a light tank and what are its roles?
        What is a MBT (or Universal tank) and what are its roles?

        What are the atrributes most important to each classification of tank?
        Was a MBT or 'Universal' tank a possibility in WW2?
        Could the MBT role be carried out by another class of tank to an acceptable level in all its roles?

        What are the requirements of different nations concerning tanks?
        How does a nations strategy determine TO&E that includes tanks?
        How effective was a nations units TO&E that included tanks in practise?

        The scope of this thread is to understand the role of tanks, rather than the focus on a particular tank. It is also a top down approach to look at what was desired, what was feasible, and what was actually deployed and why .


        That, I think depends on the nation that built it doctrine.

        A few examples:

        France: They had two lines of development: Cavalry and infantry. Each had designs and built a light, medium, and heavy tank for service within their doctrinal branch of service.
        So, the cavalry had AMR, AML, and AMC vehicles for long range, short range, and battlefield reconnissance. These included armored cars or halftracks for long range reconnissance, light machinegun armed tanks for short range reconnissance, and a heavy (by the day's standard) tank for battlefield reconnissance (R35 or S35).
        The infantry had light, medium, and heavy support tanks. The lights were small machinegun armed tankettes. The medium ones like the H35, were for direct close support of the infantry. The heavies like the B1 were for breakthroughs on the battlefield.

        The US had light, medium, and heavy tanks initially assigned to the infantry branch but later to the seperate armor branch of service. Tank destroyers, cavalry, etc., didn't have "tanks" initially.
        The lights were fast and lightly but adequitely armed to fight (37mm and by late WW 2 a 75mm). The medium was the workhorse and had an all-purpose gun and decent armor. The heavy ended up more of a line of experiments than operational vehicles. These just proved too expensive and too limited in function for US doctrine to need them.

        Britain initially had infantry, cruiser, and light tanks in service. Each had a very clearly defined role. Infantry tanks in seperate brigades supported the infantry attack and breakthrough. Cruisers were the new "cavalry" for armored divisions and for mobile warfare. Light tanks were for reconnissance and liasion duties.

        Russia: Before WW 2 their doctrine had alot of features from French doctrine. Very specialized units and vehicles. These included the TPP (Tankii Poddierzhki Piechoty or infantry support tanks), TDD (Tankii Dalnogo Dieystviya or long range tanks... ie., exploitation), NPP (reconnissance), and DD (breakthrough) units and vehicles.
        By WW 2 they had adopted something very much like the US did: Light, medium, and heavy tanks for (respectively) reconnissance and other auxiliary duties, mediums for battlefield use, and heavies for breakthroughs and main efforts.

        The MBT is simply a development where the heavy and medium classification combined into one vehicle. Light tanks remained for reconnissance and support duties.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Nick the Noodle View Post
          In your opinion concerning WW2:

          What is a tank?

          What is/are the main role(s) of a tank?

          What is a heavy tank and what are its roles?
          What is an infantry tank and what are its roles?
          What is a medium tank and what are its roles?
          What is a cruiser tank and what are its roles?
          What is a light tank and what are its roles?
          What is a MBT (or Universal tank) and what are its roles?

          What are the atrributes most important to each classification of tank?
          Was a MBT or 'Universal' tank a possibility in WW2?
          Could the MBT role be carried out by another class of tank to an acceptable level in all its roles?
          In WWII, a tank is an armored fighting vehicle, entirely armored, and equipped with at least one revolving turret mounting its main armament. It must be able to engage with some degree of effectiveness both enemy personnel and tanks.
          The turret requirement is traditional but there were exceptions, and several armored fighting vehicles having the main armament in a casemate or sponson were also called tanks or could be and were used interchangeably as tanks.

          The ace has mentioned that its key attributes are firepower, speed and protection. I respectfully disagree. Its key attributes are, in this order, protection, off-road mobility, and firepower, in my opinion.

          The role of a tank is being able to bring - thanks to its mobility - its firepower to bear on the enemy, while being able to ignore, thanks to its protection - armor - at least artillery fragments, small arms fire, and rifle-caliber MG fire; ideally it should also have good chances to withstand heavier fire.
          This combination of its three key attributes and their result in this role makes it usable for several tactical, operational and strategic tasks; the most obvious being in the attack (mobility is less needed when defending) and exploitaiton of attacks. Defensive counterattacks are also a possible task.

          This role and these tasks are firstly and most easily carried out in WWII by the general-purpose medium tank; a vehicle of average weight and armor thickness, not being particularly specialized. During the war, there was a mid-war threshold in the incarnations of this category. Initially, the weight was relatively low and the armament was typically based on MGs for engaging personnel, and small-caliber guns - derived from WWI infantry guns - for engaging enemy tanks and other targets. Later in the war, the weight went up, due to both a thickening of the armor and the increase in the caliber of the main gun.
          This happened because of two reasons. In the first years of the war, enemy infantry often came without anti-tank defensive weaponry and relatively often in WWI-era trenches. But an anti-tank gun could take out a medium tank armored only to withstand artillery fragments and small arms fire, and if that ATG was sited in some better fortification or a RC bunker, the infantry gun the tank was equipped with could not take the ATG out. The tanks needed thicker armor to withstand the ATG's fire, and a main gun big enough to fire meaningful HE rounds (which thus replaced the MGs as the main weapon to be used against enemy personnel).
          The second reason was the enemy tanks; tank-vs-tank battles became more and more common and they obviously brought about an offense-vs-defense escalation. Bigger bores, thicker plates.

          All other tank types are specializations with respect to the medium tank - with the exception of the MBT.

          The infantry tanks were medium tanks, but specifically suited to support infantry attacks. The idea was that the speed of the attack would be dictated by the speed of a man on foot across broken ground. This meant that a tank designed to accompany and support such an attack did not need high speed. It could sacrifice speed and increase its armor, in comparison with a faster tank having roughly the same engine power. However, infantry tanks were not suitable for exploitation.

          Cavalry tanks, on the other hand, were designed for this (and they were typically used by former horse cavalry units, of by mixed mech and horse units). They sacrificed protection in order to have higher speed (and sometimes better mobility overall). Naturally, they were less suitable for breakthroughs against heavily defended front sectors.

          Light tanks brought the cavalry tank concept to the extreme: even faster, even less armored. Thus more suitable for exploitation and even more just for armored off-road reconnaissance. They were also built, before the war, as a sort of test-bench product (as countries began building their first armored vehicles), and also as a heritage of the WWI-era idea that a tank was a... mobile MG nest.

          Heavy tanks brought the infantry tank concept to the extreme, and they were initially designed especially to take out fortified enemy positions, while withstanding heavy fire. Even more powerful guns, even thicker armor. Later in the war, with the increasing importance of tank-vs-tank battles, they were intended to take out enemy medium tanks, too.

          Main battle tanks are a concept that came into being later than WWII, but it can be "retorfitted" to WWII. Also thanks to technology improvements, the main battle tank is more or less capable of carrying out all tasks mentioned above. The core of it is a big but not too weighty engine; so that it can be fast without sacrificing armor too much, and viceversa protected without sacrificing speed too much, and all the while sporting a gun that is big enough to deal with everything or nearly so. We could say that late-war mainstay tanks of the main combatants - the Sherman, the T-34, the Pz IV in their later versions - are a sort of main battle tanks ante litteram.

          I have not answered all the questions but this is becoming too much like a treatise...
          Last edited by Michele; 07 Nov 12, 02:54.
          Michele

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          • #6
            In terms of design, I'd say the most important aspect in a WW 2 tank was the communications system. That is, the intercom, radio, etc. These integrated the tank into the unit it was in and also connected it to other units like infantry and artillery.
            Second was firepower but in this score its ability to throw a useful HE shell and machineguns are actually more important than its tank fighting abilities. Now, that doesn't diminish it needing to have a good antitank capacity but it would be far better served most of the time with a more general purpose gun rather than one optimized for tank killing.
            Next, is mobility and finally armor. Heavy tanks have repeatedly been shown to have serious limitations in attempts to use them in some general way in combat. They can be very useful in breakthroughs or against heavily defended positions where their armor is a definite plus. But, their low speed, general lack of mobility, and often high maintenance requirements make them undesirable compared to a lighter more mobile and general purpose vehicle.

            The one category that proved near worthless was the tankette. These almost universally were nothing but expensive targets. Their lack of firepower, lack of communications (rarely having a radio, usually a two man crew, etc.) and thin armor simply made them blind and vulnerable to everything on a battlefield.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
              In terms of design, I'd say the most important aspect in a WW 2 tank was the communications system. That is, the intercom, radio, etc. These integrated the tank into the unit it was in and also connected it to other units like infantry and artillery.
              I'm thoroughly convinced that C3I, and therefore the communications systems that make that possible, are key to combined arms tactics. But they aren't the most important aspect of a tank, and your argument itself, above, proves it. If it's so important that tanks can talk with infantry and artillery that the ability to talk is the most important aspect, then evidently the same applies to the others for whom, in turn, is very important to be able to talk with tanks: infantry, artillery. So you would have to say that communictions is the most important aspect for infantry and artillery too. And I suppose engineers and whatnot. And what about aircraft, isn't communications that makes them integrated as a unit? And for warships?

              In short, your argument above means that C3I is all-important (and that it should make use of the most advanced tech available, in the case of WWII, radios) - but that applies to all weapon systems and all armed forces, not just to tanks. Therefore it isn't a key or most important aspect of tanks, specifically.
              Michele

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Michele View Post
                I'm thoroughly convinced that C3I, and therefore the communications systems that make that possible, are key to combined arms tactics. But they aren't the most important aspect of a tank, and your argument itself, above, proves it. If it's so important that tanks can talk with infantry and artillery that the ability to talk is the most important aspect, then evidently the same applies to the others for whom, in turn, is very important to be able to talk with tanks: infantry, artillery. So you would have to say that communictions is the most important aspect for infantry and artillery too. And I suppose engineers and whatnot. And what about aircraft, isn't communications that makes them integrated as a unit? And for warships?

                In short, your argument above means that C3I is all-important (and that it should make use of the most advanced tech available, in the case of WWII, radios) - but that applies to all weapon systems and all armed forces, not just to tanks. Therefore it isn't a key or most important aspect of tanks, specifically.
                Essentially, it is. A perfect macro example of this is found in the October - November German counter offensives around Nancy in 1944. The US creamed German formation after formation primarily by their better communications. I won't write a book on details here, suffice it to say that the radio was the single most important thing there.

                In the Brocage the US started installing field telephones on the back of tanks (something the British very quickly copied by the way) so the accompanying infantry could talk directly to the tank crew and act as their eyes and ears when they were buttoned up.

                In naval warfare today the integrated warfare systems are all-important and on land similar systems are now in place allowing armies to do like formations of ships and have an integrated command and control picture of the battlefield.

                So, at an increasing rate it is becoming far more important that you can find the enemy, commuicate his location to some correct weapons system, and then deliver a killing blow using it. Armor, firepower, and mobility take a back seat to situation awareness through an integrated communications system.

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                • #9
                  I think this is a great thread...actually I think this is four or more great threads in one. A bit too much to try to discuss and cover effectively.
                  John

                  Play La Marseillaise. Play it!

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
                    In the Brocage the US started installing field telephones on the back of tanks (something the British very quickly copied by the way) so the accompanying infantry could talk directly to the tank crew and act as their eyes and ears when they were buttoned up.
                    The US copied the British . The radio on the back of the tank was factory fitted in 1943 as standard.
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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Nick the Noodle View Post
                      The US copied the British . The radio on the back of the tank was factory fitted in 1943 as standard.
                      The US placed a field telephone in an .50 ammunition box and wired it into the intercom system of the tank as a field expedient first in Italy then in Normandy. It proved so useful that it was moved to a factory modification.
                      The British did likewise.

                      The idea was to allow accompanying troops to walk up behind the tank and talk to the crew inside from relative cover. No radio needed... That way they could direct the tank against enemy positions the crew itself couldn't see.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
                        The US placed a field telephone in an .50 ammunition box and wired it into the intercom system of the tank as a field expedient first in Italy then in Normandy. It proved so useful that it was moved to a factory modification.
                        The British did likewise.

                        The idea was to allow accompanying troops to walk up behind the tank and talk to the crew inside from relative cover. No radio needed... That way they could direct the tank against enemy positions the crew itself couldn't see.
                        I could name the tank , but a certain British model had a factory fitted telephone before the invasion of Italy as a result of experiences in Tunisia.

                        However, I am hoping this thread will not name specific tanks except in passing. This is a general thread about general attributes of different tanks, not a varient of 'best' tank thread.
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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Nick the Noodle View Post
                          I could name the tank , but a certain British model had a factory fitted telephone before the invasion of Italy as a result of experiences in Tunisia.

                          However, I am hoping this thread will not name specific tanks except in passing. This is a general thread about general attributes of different tanks, not a varient of 'best' tank thread.
                          I know your the name of your secret tank.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by flash View Post
                            I know your the name of your secret tank.

                            Most people here do .

                            I'll get around to answering my own questions this weekend, although I don't 100% know the answers .
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                            • #15
                              What is a tank?
                              A tracked afv with a turret designed to carry firepower around the battlefield.

                              What is/are the main role(s) of a tank?
                              Primarily to bring mobility to an army in the attack, or to quickly reinforce a defence. The tank is usually to provide direct and accurate firepower, and therefore a weapon of precision. It should be noted that weight is not always a good indicator of a tank type's specific role.

                              What is a heavy tank and what are its roles?
                              A heavy tank is designed to give an army dominance at the tactical level, either through firepower or armour or both. Operational mobility is less important. In the attack, it either spearheads an attack or shoots on overwatch. In defence, a heavy tank is used to blunt an enemies attack.

                              What is an infantry tank and what are its roles?
                              The infantry tank was initially designed to support the infantry in the attack, and then use its AT weaponary to stave off enemy armoured counter attacks.

                              What is a medium tank and what are its roles?
                              The Medium is usually an armies standard tank. Its balance of armour, firepower and mobility marks it best for armoured divisions. Therefore it is required to have operational mobility as a major strength.

                              What is a cruiser tank and what are its roles?
                              The Cruiser was initially intended to be armoured cavalry, and able to operate alone. It had a main gun in one turret and sometimes mg's in one or more seconadary turrets, theoretically enabling the tank to target many and varied targets. Later designs of cruisers saw no real difference between themselves and mediums.

                              What is a light tank and what are its roles?
                              A light tank is primarily a recon afv, tracked to give it superior cross country performance, and usually has the armour and gun to give it an edge over armoured cars.

                              What is a MBT (or Universal tank) and what are its roles?
                              The Universal tank combines the infantry and cruiser tank roles. It is a tank that can facilitate a successful assault, and then also has the necessary operational mobility to act in an AD role immediately. The Universal tank is therefore primarily an offensive weapon. The MBT is essentially a heavy tank with mobility and reliability. As its name describes, it can carry out any medium or heavy role.

                              Was a MBT or 'Universal' tank a possibility in WW2?
                              Very debatable imo. Early in the war, only the T34 came close, and that had too many issues to be successful in such a role. Later in the war, all tanks lacked at least one element to be used as a MBT.

                              Could the MBT role be carried out by another class of tank to an acceptable level in all its roles?
                              Probably not. There were some good tanks, but none could fulfill ever major niche.

                              What are the requirements of different nations concerning tanks?
                              Given the vastness of the USSR, the tank was seen as a means of deploying force quickly when needed. Operational mobility and firepower are the most important elements.
                              For the Germans, quick victories were imperitive. Therefore, mobility takes centre stage, at least during 1939-41. As important are comms to make sure force can be applied to the right place at the right time.
                              The tank for the British meant the ability to win a battle without excessive loss of life. Metal rather than mettle was to be used where possible.
                              The US wanted the tank as a purely offensive weapon, TD's were to deal with enemy tanks. Operational mobility and HE capability were the key elements.

                              An extremely simplified view of course, and to be continued .

                              Feel free to correct any mistakes on my part .
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