this is not really a new issue, just never got the time to write. But the day before yesterday, I was talking to a friend who brought this up and I realized, it’s actually still a valid question. Check this out:
This is the model of the Panzer IV Ausf.H in the game, with its elite turret, featuring spaced armor belt. Spaced armor on German tanks was developed to counter the anti-tank rifles, that were used en-masse by the Soviet forces. Contrary to their reputation, these weapons were quite nasty and could penetrate the side armor of various Panzers (including, in some cases, Panthers), damaging the internal parts and wounding or even killing the crew. Various methods of fighting this menace were considered by German engineers from 1941 onwards, including simply making the side armor thicker (that was the main raison d’être of the Panther II project), but in the end it was discovered that placing a spaced armor plate at certain distance from the vehicle has the same effect than creating a whole new tank model with improved side armor. From 1942 or so onwards, various tanks were equipped with the “Schurzen” and this protection on some models included the turret.
On the model above, the spaced armor around the turret is 8mm thick, with 16mm near the gap in the armor (and that’s what this post is about). With the tank in question however, there is a problem. As you can see, a portion of the armor is “missing” (there is a hole over the hatch), simply because the tank was modelled with the retractable parts of the spaced armor open (hence the 16mm, that’s to simulate the “doors” forming the second layer):
The question is, why was the tank modelled with the spaced armor doors open?
I mean, it’s not really logical. The crew hatch is not thicker than the rest of the armor and even if it was, in combat the doors would be closed to offer maxium protection of the crew. Personally, I think that (like many things), the decision to model it with the doors open was an arbitrary one, not a balancing one – they simply gave modellers some photos and the modellers picked the ones with the doors open.
In a way it is logical. Most photos of German tanks come from two different situations: non-combat (propaganda, repairs, shots when the fighting stopped and the tanks are moving) and destroyed Panzer IV tanks.
The first situation can be seen for example here, a crew working on their Ausf.H. It’s logical that the spaced armor doors are open, there is no reason for them to be closed, the crew needs to access the compartment and the tank is not in combat.
With the destroyed tanks, it’s really logical – obviously the crew was trying to escape (and apparently succeeded). I’ve heard of an argument that the doors were kept open sometimes for easier crew escape, but I haven’t seen any mention of that in any book I’ve read. Not saying it didn’t happen, but it certainly wasn’t something recommended (after all, there was a reason the spaced armor doors were there in the first place).
Here, a Panzer IV drives in combat with the doors closed:
Obviously, World of Tanks is not based on reality and crew issues and safety are not considered – in WoT fantasy world, the crew escapes every time anyway (in order to keep the game rating favourable) and so there is no real logical reason to have the doors opened. 8mm of armor won’t save you from most tank guns (neither does 16mm on a thin strip), but it could detonate HE shells and low-grade HEAT and that’s already something worth considering.