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"The US Army’s World War II Tank-Destroyers: Waste of Time " Topic


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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP21 Oct 2017 3:50 p.m. PST

…or Wonder Weapon?

"During the 1940s, the U.S. Army developed a special weapon to counter the tanks of the German Wehrmacht. Most of these vehicles had the hull of a Sherman tank and a turret with a long-barrel cannon.

But don't dare call them tanks. These were tank-destroyers.

After the war, the U.S. Army concluded tank destroyers were a waste of time. Official histories excoriated the failure of the program.

But a look at historical records shows that tank destroyers actually did their job well…"
Main page
link


Amicalement
Armand

Personal logo Mardaddy Supporting Member of TMP21 Oct 2017 7:19 p.m. PST

Neither. They had a purpose, seemed to do their job well so long as they were deployed in their job, and the decades that followed does not show evidence they were a waste of time.

If they were "proven" to be a waste of time, why did the western armies then continue to test out concepts in tank destroyers following the war, and even field some?

Ontos, Scorpion, Sheridan, Charioteer, Jagdchieftain.

With the introduction and evolution of AT missile technology, yes, TD's became woefully outdated.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 1:05 a.m. PST

The original concept of separating the exploitation of a breakthrough with armoured vehicles into one branch and the knocking out of a massed armoured attack by the enemy with armoured vehicles into another seemed logical at the time, but didn't quite work out as expected.

By 1944 conditions were such that the Germans no longer had the liberty to stampede their tanks through enemy lines in all impunity and the TD's job organically changed from waiting to rush to an ambush position and knock out attacking enemy armour to that of just another tank, which by this time mounted a similar gun and had a roof over its head.

When they did operate in the anti-armour role, the TD was far more effective than towed guns and achieved quite a bit of success. So the vehicles were not obsolete in themselves as a weapon system, it was the reason why they existed that didn't make sense.

So while the TD vehicles proved to be effective in combat, the concept of keeping tanks as a purely offensive weapon and the TD as a purely defensive weapon didn't make sense from experience in the field where everything was lumped together and it would be a waste to keep on producing a mix of fairly similar vehicles with overlapping characteristics if an MBT supported, if necessary, by mobile AT assets could do the job.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 2:44 a.m. PST

Patrick sums it up pretty well. It's worth noting that many TD units were re-equipped with towed weapons for a while, but gradually shifted back to self-propelled.

UshCha Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 3:13 a.m. PST

Its really hard to see how the US TD fleet was logicaly produced. By D-day the Brits had already got 1 in 3 Shermans fitted with the deadly 17 pounder. The US seemed to lag well behined in fitting a big gun to their Shemans. It would have made much more sense if the US TD's had addopted a similar gun to the 17 pdr much earlier on. Opened topped was never a good idea. A tank can be open topped but has the option of closing up. The spotting gain for being opened topped is a bit questionable. A vehicle in ambush will have a much better view of the killing ground, be it a tank open topped or a TD, being camoflarged and stationary will always have the advantage anyway. The Germans did it better, they put much bigger guns on their TD's so they had a real advantage over a tank of the same age. Their later sucessful ones had significant armour as well.

TD's were great if you could get a big gun in ahead of what you could get in a tank. However none of the US guns were upto the best of the germans till very late. By then TD's were not much use in that role anyway.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 5:12 a.m. PST

By August 1944, the program started a year earlier to deliver improved Shermans with a 76mm delivered the first improved tanks. Sherman was continually improved with features that wargamers consider utterly unimportant, but make a world of difference to the actual tankers, like an extra crew hatch on the turret, a cupola for the commander, better sights, wider tracks and a new glacis that removed the weak bulges and offered larger hatches for the hull crew.

The hugely improved M36 was introduced in September 1944, from a program that was initiated in 1943.

Despite a troubled history the M26 with 90mm was greenlit for production in November 1944.

The US army was far from complacent between June 1944 and January 1945. It took the Germans quite a bit longer to implement some of their upgrades.

And like the Germans did in 1940 and 1941 the US army (and Allies) fought remarkably well against opponents which had "superior tanks" and defeated the bulk of the German army in the West over a period of three months.

Not bad for an army that had useless equipment facing an army of Teutonic demigods fighting with infinitely superior weapons or so the story goes …

Incidentally if the 17 pounder made such a huge difference how come the British didn't carve a path through the German forces and leave the Americans to struggle in their wake ? The answer young Padawan is that counting rivets and citing a higher muzzle velocity doesn't always tell the whole story and the way an army functions as a whole is often far more important than the caliber of their guns.

Vigilant22 Oct 2017 5:22 a.m. PST

The Sherman was largely a story of quantity over quality. The Germans said that it took 10 Sherman to defeat a Tiger, and the allies always had 11. As to why the Brits didn't carve a path through the Germans you need to look at the terrain being fought over, issues with supply that put limits on all the allies and strategic policies of the allied command. Had the allies up-gunned all the Sherman perhaps things would have been different, but we will never know.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 11:24 a.m. PST

Steve Zaloga on the subject that it took a billion shermans to scratch the paint of a single German tank :


No, that whole business about five Shermans for every one German tank, I don't really know where that comes from, that seems to be totally apocryphal. My suspicion of where it comes from is not the US use of the Sherman but probably from the British use of the Sherman. And I think that that issue has been misunderstood. The Brits took very heavy losses with their Sherman tanks in the Normandy fighting against German units, in the Caen sector in Summer of 1944. In a lot of early tank writing, we're talking 1960's and 1970's, practically everything that was written about tanks, and written about US tanks were written by British authors. There weren't a lot of US tank books out at the time. So a lot of the stuff that came out about the Sherman came out from the British side. And the British side did take disproportionate casualties in Normandy. And it's largely for tactical reasons. I'm not going to get into it, it's way too complicated to explain, but yes the British did suffer very high losses against the Germans for a variety of reasons. That was not the case on the US side.


What people don't realize is that the US tank force didn't really encounter very many German tanks in Normandy. The first month of the fighting was concentrated mostly up the Cotentin Peninsula during the drive by 7th Corps to Cherbourg. The Germans in Cotentin Peninsula had two tank battalions, both equipped with war booty French tanks, so basically very poor quality tanks. There wasn't a lot of tank fighting. Then in the month of July the US pushing through the boscages country, finally resulting in operation Cobra, the big breakout operation by 2nd and 3rd armored divisions at the end of the month. The Bocage country wasn't very good tank country either. The Germans did have a couple of tank divisions there, the Panzer Lehr Division, the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich. 2nd SS Panzer Das Reich didn't see a lot of tank fighting simply because the terrain wasn't suitable. Panzer Lehr did launch one major attack in the middle of July and got completely shot up by the US side. But in the case of both German Panzer divisions they didn't see much fighting against US tank forces, they were fighting mostly against US infantry and tank destroyers and they took significant losses. And then in August of course the breakout operations, so US tanks are running like wild through Brittany, through France to Paris and there are scattered encounters with German tanks but on a very small scale.


The first time the US has a really big tank on tank encounter with German armor is Arracourt, the fighting in Lorraine in September of 1944. Fourth Armored Division is confronted by a few of the new German Panzer Brigades. And that's a lopsided victory on the US side. Patton's Third Army trounces the Panzer Brigades in Lorraine, largely because the US unit involved there, the Fourth Armored Division, by that stage was a well experienced, well trained unit and the new Panzer Brigade, even though they had lots of brand new shiny Panther tanks, were new units with varying experience and they performed very badly. And that remains one of the most intense series of tank battle the US Army fought in World War II where there were really significant numbers of tanks facing tanks in a relatively small area.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 11:26 a.m. PST

link

Now for some evidence provided by the US Army's Ballistic Research Lab which studied WW2 ETO tank vs tank engagements(98 of them if you were wondering) and concluded the following: The most deciding factor of who wins a tank engagement is who engages first. Crew training and other factors also played a large role. The average distance at which a US tank kills a Panzer(late IV, V, & VI) was 893 yards(816 m). Comparatively the average distance Panzers killed US vehicles as 943 yards(862 m). During Panther v. M4 engagements the Panther had a 1.1:1 advantage while on the defensive, however the M4 had an 8.4:1 advantage while on the offensive. Overall the M4 was 3.6 times as effective in combat versus the Panther.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 11:28 a.m. PST

https://youtu.be/XXH02YX7gxY?t=13m51s

Why didn't the US army use guns comparable to the British ones ?

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 11:30 a.m. PST

An example of how useless a Sherman 75mm was against a Tiger I

link

christot22 Oct 2017 12:39 p.m. PST

"My Tank/gun is better than your tank"…
its all irrelevant nonsense.
None of it is war winning/losing.
The Germans swept through France in 1940 with inferior tanks and weapons, They had way superior strategy, and operational capability/doctrine, likewise in 1941 in the Soviet Union, with some differences (the strategy was not superior).
In NWE The allies possess apparently inferior tanks, but their overall Strategy is superior, their combined arms doctrine is superior and, most crucially, they have the logistical capability to make it all work. The Germans NEVER possessed this.
In NWE every single German tank could have been a Panther/TigerII/whatever, it made absolutely no difference, just as if every single Allied tank had been a Firefly/Pershing, again, irrelevant.
The allies got it right, the Germans never even got close.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP22 Oct 2017 2:26 p.m. PST

Thanks Patrick!!


Amicalement
Armand

Lion in the Stars22 Oct 2017 4:48 p.m. PST

The US Army has ended up bringing back the Tank Destroyer, but we call it the Attack Helicopter these days. They have the same role and employment: to rapidly move to ambushing positions and hit attacking armor. Sure, the helo also acts as air support, but it's primary role is as a Tank Destroyer.

The reason the WW2 TDs were open topped was for situational awareness. Even the armored tops that were later installed on the M10s and M36s had a ~4" gap between the top of the turret and the bottom of the roof.

shaun from s and s models Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2017 12:18 a.m. PST

after ww2 they decided that tank destroyers were a waste of time and then developed the scorpion 90mm sp at gun and the ontos 6 rec rifles on a light weight chassis!

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2017 3:42 a.m. PST

Here is the whole TD history :

YouTube link

14th NJ Vol Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2017 4:58 a.m. PST

"The US Army has ended up bringing back the Tank Destroyer, but we call it the Attack Helicopter these days. They have the same role and employment: to rapidly move to ambushing positions and hit attacking armor."

Bingo well said Lion in the Stars.

Blutarski23 Oct 2017 7:55 a.m. PST

"In NWE The allies possess apparently inferior tanks, but their overall Strategy is superior, their combined arms doctrine is superior and, most crucially, they have the logistical capability to make it all work. The Germans NEVER possessed this."

- – -

There was nothing "apparent" about it, in so far as the performance of the Sherman in the anti-armor role against the newer German tanks is concerned.

The Allies had –

> Absolute air supremacy, up to and including use of strategic bombing assets in tactical applications.

> Massive artillery superiority.

> Tremendous numerical superiority, particulary in terms of AFVs.

> Much superior overall unit mobility.

> Major logistical superiority.

> Superior intelligence capability.

all of which served to mask the innate technical inferiority of the Sherman tank in the anti-armor role versus the more modern battle tanks.

B

donlowry23 Oct 2017 8:21 a.m. PST

The average distance at which a US tank kills a Panzer(late IV, V, & VI) was 893 yards(816 m). Comparatively the average distance Panzers killed US vehicles as 943 yards(862 m).

How the heck could they possible determine that accurately? Especially the latter.

Decebalus23 Oct 2017 10:34 a.m. PST

Ok., it is the internet and so everybody talks about his own personal interest.

But …

How is
"the US army (and Allies) fought remarkably well against opponents which had "superior tanks" and defeated the bulk of the German army in the West over a period of three months"
the answer to
Were Tank destroyers a waste of time?

Dynaman878923 Oct 2017 2:47 p.m. PST

Tank Destroyers per say were not a bad idea, reality just got in the way. If the tank was the offensive weapon and the TD defensive then the Allies should have figured that the Germans were going to use their tanks or TDs to defend against the US tanks and thus the tanks would need the capability to deal with enemy tanks or TDs. The idea was just never though through properly.

Deadles23 Oct 2017 3:27 p.m. PST

"the US army (and Allies) fought remarkably well against opponents which had "superior tanks" and defeated the bulk of the German army in the West over a period of three months"

In itself a misconception. The average German "tank" was a StuG! Most of the Panzer units were generally deployed in the East other than some "surges."

The Germans were seriously lacking in tank numbers and lacked air cover (which made movement and force concentration difficult even if it didn't result in too many destroyed AFVs).

Even the Bulge German tank formations were pale shadows of their former glory. Spearhead units ala 1 SS Panzer Division had a mere 86 tanks on the eve of the battle, instead of about 180 as per 1943-44 TOE. All were lacking in fuel.


As Steve Zaloga pointed out, the allies often had 10+ AFVs in the field for every single German one. And he recalled the number of times that US forces faced Tiger Is in the whole period from Normandy to May 1945: 3! And in one instance the Tigers were being loaded onto trains and the other's involved single Tiger tanks.


In fact US forces seldom faced German armour and very often it was penny packeted and lacking in fuel, experienced crews, adequate reconnaissance, air cover or artillery cover.

The Brits faced a lot more German armour in Normandy but also had the 17 pounders which made a mockery of German armour as well as air support.

But the British sector in Normandy is the last time the Allies ever encountered "whole" Panzer divisions and even then the air and artillery advantage and terrain made life difficult for the Panzers.

Dynaman878923 Oct 2017 3:59 p.m. PST

> And he recalled the number of times that US forces faced Tiger Is in the whole period from Normandy to May 1945: 3!

But how many times did they face Panthers?
True – Germany's biggest problem was quantity of tanks and much more so of aircraft but that does not negate the fact that US tanks were woefully under-gunned.

Blutarski23 Oct 2017 4:29 p.m. PST

Were TD's worth it? I submit the following for consideration:

TD battalions featuring towed proved to be a bad investment.

TD battalions armed with turreted fully tracked AFVs (M10/M18/M36) were very definitely worth the investment. These vehicles carried more powerful main guns compared to the 75mm of the standard production Sherman and (apart from the miniscule number of Jumbos delivered to the ETO) there was little functional difference in their armor protection; both could be penetrated from all angles at all reasonable ETO battle ranges. And, apart from the miniscule number of Pershings that reached the ETO in early 1945, the M36 carried the best anti-armor weapon fielded by the US Army during the entire war. The M36 might have been officially named "Jackson", but the troops affectionately called it "Slugger" and for very good reason – its 90mm gun was the only weapon capable of engaging heavy German armor on more or less equal terms. Zaloga's "Armored Thunderbolt" (p.344) cites the dramatic increase in number of M36s in the ETO from Oct 44 -

Oct 44 – 170
Nov 44 – 183
Dec 44 – 236
Jan 45 – 365
Feb 45 – 826
Mar 45 – 884
Apr 45 – 1054
May 45 – 1029

Including M36 losses over that period (152 by Zaloga's count), the number of M36s delivered to the ETO was about 1200+ units. By Apr 45 there were more M36s on strength in the ETO than M10s and M18s combined.

B

Fred Cartwright23 Oct 2017 4:53 p.m. PST

Incidentally if the 17 pounder made such a huge difference how come the British didn't carve a path through the German forces and leave the Americans to struggle in their wake ?

Something about facing the bulk of the German army in Normandy and all the best Panzer divisions may have had something to do with that. Facing mostly infantry formations with Sherman tanks, which as folks on here incessantly point out was the better tank for the role with its superior HE performance, one wonders what took the Americans so long to break out.

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2017 6:54 p.m. PST

The average distance at which a US tank kills a Panzer(late IV, V, & VI) was 893 yards(816 m). Comparatively the average distance Panzers killed US vehicles as 943 yards(862 m).

How the heck could they possible determine that accurately? Especially the latter.

It was rather easy, actually. You send a team to the battlefield. You stand at the point where the US tank was hit, and you walk the distance to the point from which the shot was fired. Then you write it down in your log.

If you are advancing, if you occupy the ground after the battle (which the allies did, pretty consistently, from August 1944 onward), and you have the unit AARs available to you, it is a perfectly reasonable task. Just takes some will, and some manpower.

But how many times did they face Panthers?

Depends on the unit. Most units didn't face any Panthers, or any German tanks at all. Most of the German army was foot-bound and horse-drawn. There were NO tanks in the German infantry divisions, and no tanks assigned to support most infantry divisions, while most US Infantry divisions in ETO had more AFVs than a German Panzer Division.

But some US divisions managed to see Panthers.

Take for example the US 3rd and 4th Armored Divisions. During the period from August to December, 1944, before Shermans with 76mm guns became common, between these two divisions there were 19 separate engagements of Shermans vs. Panthers. These 19 engagements involved 104 Shermans and 93 Panthers. See that whole "the Allies needed 5 Shermans to take on a Panther" thing going on? No? Well maybe that's because it was simply not true.

In those 19 engagements 5 Shermans were destroyed, and 57 Panthers were destroyed (as confirmed by wrecks were recovered from those battlefields, so not counting any knocked-out Panthers that the Germans managed to recover). See that whole "1 Panther can take out 10 Shermans, but there's always an 11th Sherman" thing at play? No? Well maybe that's because it was simply not true either.

True – Germany's biggest problem was quantity of tanks and much more so of aircraft but that does not negate the fact that US tanks were woefully under-gunned.

Under-gunned? Yes. Quite agree. Could have, and should have, been better armed.

Woefully under-gunned? Don't see the evidence in the results. Shermans were enormously successful weapons of war.

Casualties went down, and success rates went up, in actions where Sherman tanks were present.

The same can be said of Pz IV tanks, by the way. And StuGs.

But the difference was that about 8 out of 10 US battalion-scale attacks had tanks in support in 1944/45, while only about 1 out of 10 German battalion-scale attacks had any armor in support, and then half the time it was StuGs or PzJgers, which were rather poor stand-ins for tanks. Useful, no doubt. Certainly better than nothing. The landsers loved 'em, because hey, an armored vehicle with a gun is a good thing to have on your side. But clearly inferior to turreted tanks when you are advancing into the depth of the enemy's position.

What mattered most in 1944 was getting a medium AFV onto the battlefield. If you did that you won 80% of the time, and you took substantially fewer casualties doing it.

If the tank was the offensive weapon and the TD defensive then the Allies should have figured that the Germans were going to use their tanks or TDs to defend against the US tanks and thus the tanks would need the capability to deal with enemy tanks or TDs. The idea was just never though through properly.

Yes the idea was thought through properly. It was the job of the US tanks to engage and destroy enemy armor when met during offensive operations. Period.

By doctrine it was their first priority. Even over stated objectives in their orders. When enemy armor appears, the tanks lead the fight, and all other arms support them, until the enemy armor is effectively neutralized. Period.

Shall I quote chapter and verse from the field manuals (again)?

But there was a period of time in which the US armored force fell behind in the guns vs. armor race.

Not like that never happened to the Germans (read 1940, and again in mid-1941 through late-1942). Not like that never happened to the Brits (read 1942 through 1943). Not like that never happened to the Russians (read 1943 through mid-1944).

The difference was that the US Army, with a production-to-field flow that was 6 months LONGER than any of those other three combatants, was behind for about 6 months SHORTER time than any of those other 3 combatants. But those pesky German uber-tanks all died so fast that the US Army hardly got a chance to play with its newer, shinier toys, and so wargamers will forever be shamed by the history of American armor in WW2.


-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP23 Oct 2017 9:42 p.m. PST

"…In those 19 engagements 5 Shermans were destroyed, and 57 Panthers were destroyed …"

Question.

All of those Panther went down by Shermans?… or some Air support help them?…


Amicalement
Armand

Dynaman878924 Oct 2017 3:39 a.m. PST

> Woefully under-gunned? Don't see the evidence in the results. Shermans were enormously successful weapons of war.

Yup, woefully. When you HAVE to manuever for a side shot in order to have a chance at killing the target that is my definition of woefully under gunned.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP24 Oct 2017 3:58 a.m. PST

"…In those 19 engagements 5 Shermans were destroyed, and 57 Panthers were destroyed …"

Question.

All of those Panther went down by Shermans?… or some Air support help them?…

Read : Those Panthers are superior, Shermans couldn't possibly have defeated them with pop guns and tinfoil armour, they must have cheated !!!

In one of the Think Tank videos I posted earlier David Fletcher mentioned how important the men inside the tanks are.

US crews got better while German crews got worse as they were scraping the bottom of the barrel and sent units with brand new tanks and raw recruits into battle. Even with their "powerful high velocity armour and sloped guns"™ They were not easy to operate, a novice driver had a good chance of prematurely killing the transmission (something German commanders complained about as the requirement for driving in the German army was to have at one point driven a car more than a 100m) The gun sights had a narrow field of view and the turret was on the slow side. Which made target acquisition very slow. Reloading was awkward because the ammo was huge with little room in the turret to move it about. And getting out of a buttoned up Panther in times of crisis was a feat in itself.

It took a while for a Panther crew to get their act together. By the fall of 1944 few crews got that luxury, they were sent to the front with the barest minimum of support, because somebody higher up on the German chain of command made the same assumptions many of us make :

"We won battles in 1939 and 1940 with tin foil tanks and popguns, with these tanks we'll simply walk all over the enemy."

Allied tank crews had learned to use their Shermans effectively, they didn't stupidly charge headlong at the enemy trading shots until one blew up. They flanked, ambushed, pulled back and counter-attacked like the best. And over time get got better Shermans and other tanks that were increasingly more capable of defeating German tanks.

As for the question/assumption of "Air Support surely must have done most of the killing !"

link

In short "tank busting aircraft" were much bark, little bite.

I would like to conclude this bit and return to the original question :

The Tank Destroyer doctrine didn't work as planned. It was silly to expect a whole arm of your army to sit on its hands waiting until somebody shouted "Incoming Blitzkrieg !"

The equipment that was designed for this doctrine was a mixed bag. The towed 3-inch AT guns were too big and clumsy compared to similar German and Russian guns to be effective in a time where everyone was putting AT guns on a vehicle. The M10/M18/M36 family was quite capable if not perfect, but in retrospect they offered little advantage over tanks. Which lead to the conclusion that the Tank Destroyer Branch was not a good concept and should be left to integrated tank and anti-tank assets incorporated into units.

Post war, we see that tank-based tank destroyers armed with guns fade away in favour of recoilless rifles and anti-tank missiles mounted on a variety of chassis, jeeps, hummers, APC's, armoured cars and IFV's. Tank Destroyers don't go away they just change to suit the mission and role within specific units.

Analysis shows that the Tank Destroyers performed adequately, they were not a wonder weapon, nor a failure, but dealt out more punches than they took.

Fred Cartwright24 Oct 2017 4:21 a.m. PST

Post war, we see that tank-based tank destroyers armed with guns fade away in favour of recoilless rifles and anti-tank missiles mounted on a variety of chassis, jeeps, hummers, APC's, armoured cars and IFV's.

I don't think those are directly comparable to WW2 tank destroyers. They were used to replace the AT guns in infantry units and provide rapid deployment forces with some tank killing capability.

mkenny24 Oct 2017 5:19 a.m. PST

The average German "tank" was a StuG! Most of the Panzer units were generally deployed in the East other than some "surges."

In the West Panzers far outnumbered Stug. In the east it was rough parity.
In 1944 The West enjoyed absolute priority over the East in terms of Panzer production. Indeed in summer 1944 numbers were the same both in the East and the West.
The critical difference being that in Russia the c 2000 panzers were spread across 1000s of miles and in Normandy you had the highest concentration of German tanks and AT weapons ever seen on any battlefield. The entire British front line was just c 50 miles for 2 months. In terms of panzers per km the area around Caen had a concentration that was insane.

mkenny24 Oct 2017 5:37 a.m. PST




Absolute air supremacy, up to and including use of strategic bombing assets in tactical applications.
Because previously they had engaged and destroyed the Luftwaffe. They were not gifted air superiority. They won it in battle.

Massive artillery superiority.
Because they worked out a system to negate German tactical advantages. It was know as 'blowing the enemy to pieces'. It was a deliberate action designed to assure victory on the battlefield. No one gifted them their advantage. They worked it out and devoted resources to artillery at the expense of Infantry. It worked.
Tremendous numerical superiority, particulary in terms of AFVs.
A deliberate decision to concentrate of reliable and one size fits all tanks and build them in numbers. They refused to engage in making finely honed and polished immobile pill-boxes that achieved more in blocking the roads of the Allied advance than they ever did in battle.


Major logistical superiority.
I would question the assumption that an army having to land everthing across the beaches has any advantage over an Army that was in place for years and had dumps throughout the country. The fact that the Allied did gain an advantage is due to superior ability. They were just better at it thann the Germans.

There was no real innate superiority' of any German tank in Normandy. The circumstances conspired to negate any German advantage and persual of Bayerlein will confirm that fact.

Towit:



While the PzKpfw IV could still be used
to advantage, the PzKpfw V [Panther] proved
ill adapted to the terrain. The Sherman
because of its maneuverability and height was
good . . . [the Panther was] poorly suited for
hedgerow terrain because of its width. Long
gun barrel and width of tank reduce maneu-
verability in village and forest fighting. It is
very front-heavy and therefore quickly wears
out the front final drives, made of low-grade
steel. High silhouette. Very sensitive power-
train requiring well-trained drivers. Weak side
armor; tank top vulnerable to fighter-
bombers. Fuel-lines of porous material that
allow gasoline fumes to escape into the tank
causing a grave fire Hazard. Absence of vision
slits make defense against close attacks impossible

Blutarski24 Oct 2017 1:31 p.m. PST

mkenny -

Your comments re air supremacy, artillery superiority, and general numerical superiority are technically correct, but irrelevant.

Your suggestion that, during the Normandy campaign, the Allies labored under logistical constraints akin to those endured by the Germans is quite unique. Can you supply factual data to support that argument?

Bayerlein's observations regarding the drawbacks of the Pzkpfw V are by no means unreasonable. However, the Sherman tank of Normandy would have its own share of tactical flaws if a similar critique were to be undertaken – inability of its main armament to frontally defeat opposing heavy tanks at any range beyond a long baseball toss, mediocre optics, comprehensive vulnerability of it armor protection to opponent's standard AT weapons from any aspect at any reasonable battle ranges, flammability when hit, inability to pivot turn, inability to operate in deep mud.

In fact, the standard Sherman's tactical relationship to the German Mk V and Mk 6 was very similar to the relationship between the German Mk III(37) and the Matilda in the Western Desert campaign ….. or the German Mk III(short 50) and the T34/76.

B

mkenny24 Oct 2017 1:54 p.m. PST

mediocre optics

RAC Liason Letter No 2.
July 10th 1944, 2 Panthers at Map ref no 994633 engaged by 75mm Shermans at 993651. 10 rounds fired. Hits observed in sides. 1 Panther smoke seen from turret. Other flames seen from engine. Est. range 1800 yds

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mkenny24 Oct 2017 2:20 p.m. PST

July 11th same area as above. 1 Firefly fired 2 rounds at a Tiger at 1850 yds. Frontal hits obtained. Tiger began to smoke. Tiger was moving when engaged.

Sights seemed to work ok when needed.

Lion in the Stars24 Oct 2017 3:26 p.m. PST

Post war, we see that tank-based tank destroyers armed with guns fade away in favour of recoilless rifles and anti-tank missiles mounted on a variety of chassis, jeeps, hummers, APC's, armoured cars and IFV's.

I don't think those are directly comparable to WW2 tank destroyers. They were used to replace the AT guns in infantry units and provide rapid deployment forces with some tank killing capability.

I agree with that, the AT missile (regardless of ground carriage) is a replacement for the AT gun.

The US Army's WW2 Tank Destroyer doctrine required a very fast vehicle to respond to breakthroughs, and quite frankly no ground vehicle is capable of the speed needed in reality. But a helicopter is capable of the speed needed.

Blutarski24 Oct 2017 5:39 p.m. PST

Fine shooting indeed, mkenny … but clearly anecdotal examples, with important details omitted.

Go here –
link
["Report of the new Weapons Board", Army Service Forces, April 1944] to read the US Army's own internal assessment of the multiple problems observed in connection with gun sights of the M4 (75mm) Sherman tank and the desirability for development of a new gun sight.

Also see General I D White's report to Eisenhower, "A Report on United States versus German Armor", 20 March 1945, which demonstrates that US tank gun sights were still in arrears a year later:
> Pg 10 – General White's introductory remarks: "The main armament of our tanks, including sights, is not comparable to that of the Germans."
> Pg 15 – Digest of opinions of tank officers and crews of 66th and 67th Armored Regiments, under the name of BGen J H Collier, commanding Combat Command A: "German tank sights are definitely superior to American sights."
> Numerous further "end-user" accounts by all ranks support the above judgment.

B

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP24 Oct 2017 6:20 p.m. PST

Question.

All of those Panther went down by Shermans?… or some Air support help them?…


Read : Those Panthers are superior, Shermans couldn't possibly have defeated them with pop guns and tinfoil armour, they must have cheated !!!

I would interpret the question without reading so much into the motivations behind it.

But the answer is much the same.

These were engagements between Shermans, primarily armed with 75mm guns, and Panthers.

Not only was tac air's effectiveness at destroying tanks wildly over-rated, but in fact tac air almost NEVER engaged targets that were already engaged with friendly troops. Tac air's role was behind the battlefield. Once the shooting started, tac air backed off. When tac air was called in (by observers) the friendlies on the ground backed off to let the fly-boys do their thing, and then re-engaged when they were done. It was exceedingly rare for the aircraft to swoop in between shots in a ground engagement, as we are all so fond of doing in our wargames.

However, this question, and the question that I quote below, caused me to go back and review my source materials. I have mis-quoted the stats, and wish to correct them.

US3AD and US4AD were involved in 29* engagements with Panthers, not 19.

Of those 29, in 19* cases the US forces were on the defensive, while the Germans were advancing. This is the portion of engagements I described, and the rather lop-sided results pertain specifically to these cases (US tanks on the defense).

In 10 cases the US tanks were advancing, and the Germans were on the defense.

When the US Shermans were on the defensive, they enjoyed an 8.4-to-1 kill rate advantage over the German Panthers. When the German Panthers were on the defensive they enjoyed a 1.1-to-1 kill rate advantage over the American Shermans. Overall the Shermans enjoyed a 3.6-to-1 kill rate advantage over the Panthers.

These engagements were documented and examined in a study done by the US Army Ballistics Research Laboratory (BRL)*. The purpose of their work was to identify mechanisms of achieving success in tank combat – what worked and what didn't. It was not a propaganda exercise, but rather an exercise to determine what should be incorporated into new tank design efforts. As such it was unflinching in it's criticisms, but also managed to compile the truth on the ground, at least as related to these particular engagements.

When you HAVE to manuever for a side shot in order to have a chance at killing the target that is my definition of woefully under gunned.

First – it was relatively rare, in WW2 combat, that there was no option but a frontal engagement.

The majority of hits on tanks were side-on. This was true of Panthers, Shermans, even T-34s. Even with their uber-weapons the Germans tended to assume positions from which they could engage in flanking fire, and hold their fire until they could get a side-armor shot. It was simply good tactics.

It is a by-product of wargaming mechanisms that we have AT guns and tanks commonly facing off in frontal slug-fests. It was not the normal practice for the German, American, British or Russian armies.

But that said, there is no evidence that US tanks HAD to maneuver for a side-shot. That is also a by-product of wargame mechanisms.

The BRL study identified the key components that led to successful engagements. The overwhelmingly dominant factor was who fired first. The Shermans showed an overwhelming advantaged over the Panthers on this issue. In the cases where the Shermans were defending the Shermans fired first in all but one of the engagements. In the cases where the Shermans were attacking, and the Panthers were defending, the Shermans still fired first in 50% of the engagements!

It is perhaps telling to note that in the 50% of cases where the Shermans were advancing, and managed to fire first, they enjoyed a 5-to-1 kill rate advantage over the defending Panthers.

For all of our criticism of the "inferior" optics of the Sherman vs. the Panther, the Sherman optics system was notably superior for getting the gunner on to the target. Also the turret traverse was superior. And it was possible to load and re-load the gun faster. And the stabilization system, while not good enough for effective fire-on-the-move, was quite useful for quick laying on target from the short-halt.

There is also a strong component of crew quality involved. This has been widely mentioned in our discussions, but in truth throughout the second half of 1944 US tank crew quality improved, while German tank crew quality collapsed. Part of the reason for this was that US tank crews tended to survive in combat longer, and since the US was winning (well, that IS what tanks are there for, isn't it?) fewer crews who had their tanks shot-out from under them were taken captive.

That, plus the superior recon / tactical awareness capacity of US armored formations, combined with the superior tactical mobility of the US armored formations meant that even though the US Army was on the offensive, when the Panzers appeared the Shermans usually managed to get advantageous defensive positions from which to fight. Yes despite all the calculations about Mean Peak Pressure and flotation, Shermans tended to operate more effectively cross country, not to mention fitting down smaller roads and lanes.

But it all together, and it was not so much that they HAD to maneuver for side-shots, but rather that they DID maneuver for ambush positions.

These were the factors that made a difference in the engagements of the 3rd and 4th Armored Divisions. The penetration-vs-armor was a minor factor in the overall results, somewhere below the size of the turret hatches in terms of the impact on the overall outcome of combat.**

Or so I have read. Wasn't there, didn't count the tanks myself. Just studied what I can from those who did.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

*Note: My sources disagree on one detail -- whether it was 29 or 30 total engagements. Unhappily I do not have the primary source materials, only a compilation of extracts from multiple secondary sources.

** OK, I made that last part up.

mkenny25 Oct 2017 12:55 a.m. PST

Fine shooting indeed, mkenny … but clearly anecdotal examples, with important details omitted.

It is an extract from 21st AG RAC Liaison Letter 2 Appendix D.
Though titled 'Letter' it should be recognised as a Report.
Far from being 'anecdotal' it give map references for both sets of tanks. It gives the calibre, rounds fired and observed effect. Range is estimated, Reactions of the targets are given. It could hardly be more factual. It is an example from the field where we do not have to consult theoretical testing but can look at how it worked.
Clearly long-range engagements were carried out and hits were obtained and thus disprove any notion that the sights were 'mediocre'
I should also point out the source you gave to claim 'Numerous further "end-user" accounts by all ranks support the above judgment' is a bit of a puzzle to me. In one section (the invulnerable German tanks part) numerous tales are told of attacks on Tigers where hits are obtained at very long range but 'bounce off'. Later in the 'Allied sights are rubbish' section they same crews complain they cant see and engage the German tanks that engage them at long range. Both can not be true.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP25 Oct 2017 2:19 a.m. PST

In the more immediate post-war era our primary sources for tank combat were either British or German memoirs. The British had a mixed experience with tanks from 1940's France, North Africa all the way to Western Europe.

By then the narrative from the British perspective was often one of plucky tommies fighting in the best tradition of the Thin Red line fending off hordes of Panthers and Tigers like so many Zulu's or Afghans.

Actual reports, and military analysis of tank battles only became available in the 1970's and were often fragmentary, with an emphasis on things like losses and casualties rather than actual analysis of fights and conditions.

And then there are things like Villers-Bocage. A story so often told and retold, it's become the default mental picture of tank action in WWII, it's no longer a highly unusual action, it's now what happened on average, with supremely skilled knight-like Germans in invincible tanks running roughshod through hapless Allied troops who suddenly discover to their horror that their guns are utterly useless against the Teutonic metal monster. What was a fluke becomes proof that the average German soldier will produce a perfect tactical handbook on paper whenever he wipes his bottom.

It doesn't help that we have books like Belton Cooper's "Deathtraps", which is a very poignant (probably ghostwritten) memoir of a soldier who did see the results of a lost tank battle more often than anyone should. Cooper's book remains a highly recommended memoir, it's not an analysis, and makes claims based on personal experience. Some of his claims are demonstratively wrong with no basis in reality. He accuses Patton for personally holding back the deployment of the Pershing. We now have documented evidence that shows that the Pershing was nowhere ready by D-Day and other problems. If they had made it available by then, Belton Cooper would have accused Patton of approving a tank that didn't work … He also blames the "Yankees" in command for naming tanks Grant and Sherman because they somehow hate Southerners.

There are the nuggets like "It took x number of Shermans to defeat a Panther/Tiger but they always had one more …" A claim that no tank historian has been able to trace back, but has become one of those truisms people have read in one history book and is then repeated ad nauseam, only because other sources mention this, and therefore it must be true …

The Allies did have a huge advantage in terms of tank numbers and could afford to lose more of them than the Germans. It was also the cornerstone of the strategy of the British in Normandy to use tanks to spare their manpower. This meant very high tank losses. This doesn't mean that the Allies were merely throwing tanks blindly at the enemy and hope that by sheer force of numbers at least one lucky random shot got through.

Today we have a lot more evidence, we have the primary sources, we have the data both the British and Americans compiled. And this is not self-serving propaganda designed to make a faltering army look better than it did in reality and is only winning because it's stacking the deck against an opponent that is vastly more skilled and better equipped, it's about making sure things are run correctly and training doesn't teach things that are useless in actual combat.

We're also finally getting a look in German and Russian archives and we are seeing a story that doesn't quite match the memoirs of German generals who usually claimed that that they had the best men and skill on their side, but the Allies simply "Zerg rushed" them with overwhelming numbers. The new picture that emerges is of a German army that does quite well in the initial stages of the war, but progressively falls behind. Yes a small core of German troops does quite well, but they are too few and ill-equipped to really turn the tide of battle. And a good look at reports shows that German tanks were also vulnerable to brewing up as the alleged "Tommy Cooker" because Panthers store their ammo in exactly the same way as the Sherman does and a flank shot will set it on fire just as easily …

Another major aspect is a propensity to believe that if one piece of equipment is better, the other is automatically useless. Joe may have the lastest AR-platform rifle with 6.5mm "Instakill" ammo and a fancy "Ne'ermiss" scope and in perfectly flat open terrain at one hundred yards he's probably going to make sure Bob and his vintage 1911 is going to have an uncomfortable conversation with a guy with a beard and a halo. But put them in built up terrain and Bob given a little tactical insight might end up standing behind Joe without him even noticing … A 1911 may be a 100 years old, but it will kill you just as stone cold dead as the unfortunate one who first saw it shot in anger at them. The fact that something is better than something else does not negate or invalidate the other's ability to function.

The Sherman and the Tank Destroyers were adequate much of the time and were not really different from most other tanks in their class, rather it was the Panther which was unusual because it was a heavy tank masquerading as a medium and when you look at similar tanks in the same weight class they often end up the same kind of armour and often have a bigger, better gun, be it the Pershing, the Centurion or the IS II. Incidentally the IS II, unlike yet another popular myth is not a "Tiger killer" designed to slug it out with the Tiger II, it's a 45-ton breakthrough tank designed to shoot mostly HE at the enemy, ample proof that even after all these years the Soviets still had no clue on how to build a proper "killer tank", right ?

Or did they ?

Coming back to Belton Cooper and the claim that the US didn't bother to get better equipment is silly at best. You can't have a month go by after D-Day without a new piece of kit or upgrade becoming available. Sure, some of them are ridiculous fancies like adding an extra hatch rather than try to fit a bigger gun or up the armour, but to the tanker that hatch was a lot more welcome than a bigger gun. One of the top US tank commanders of WWII, Creighton Abrams, a guy with acutal hands on experience in dealing with German tanks was reluctant to switch to a 76mm gun and was told to do so as an example to the other guys. Either these guys were complete idiots or they knew something more than their armchair critics. You also have to remember that the German army collapses in late August and despite one last attempt in the Ardennes where German armour performs poorly at best the game is over less than a year after D-Day. It took the Germans nearly two years to finally get to their heavy tank killer, the Tiger and another to get the Panther, both suffering significant technical problems because the Germans were unable to deliver a properly battle-ready design, something the US AGF insisted upon and one of the reasons why the Pershing was being held back.

Finally there is the actual combat data and facts. When you look at the fighting at Arracourt (and not just the fighting in the mist in the morning, but the rest of the day and subsequent days where mist played no part) Honestly were I a German player and I saw US tanks and tank destroyers move so easily into my flanks and shoot off my Panthers, I'd ask my money back. I'd be seriously asking if there was something wrong with the rules because they could maneuver into my flank and shoot me while I was barely able to react and often did it slowly and ineffectively. If Arracourt was played using any common ruleset currently available, the US would get slaughtered about 8 times out of 10. The Panthers would take some losses in the early phases, but in subsequent mist-free turns they would probably take out the majority of US forces very easily. Even if a game imposes some measure of friction and has limitations for poorly trained green crews, most rules will still err to the advantage of the Panthers because getting to move your tanks into the flanks of the enemy in somewhat cluttered, but mostly open terrain rarely works in the average game.

To be fair, most rules don't cover something like Villers-Bocage accurately that well either. I often got a mobility hit or a lucky shot that did knock me out in the early moments of the game and rarely tallied up the same score Wittmann did.

This is not meant as a dig at WWII rulesets, but shows that reality is sometimes quite hard to simulate. Most games aim for a "plausible average" in which troops will perform to a level that makes them active, but without turning them into Wittmann or giving them the opportunity to flank Panthers while their crews are either unaware of them or are fumbling to get their act together.

As I said before the US army's equipment wasn't spectacular, and there was a lot of criticism at the end of 1944 that they didn't have enough "big gun" tanks and tank destroyers to even up the game, the first Pershings appeared in January and crews had to train with them and the first saw action in February. I By then the "Bulge Crisis" had passed, and the German army's ability to keep significant armoured forces going in the West was all but lost.

Imagine if the Germans had encountered the KV tank in June 1941 and were able to field the Tiger by August 1941 we'd have people slapping you in the face with the awesome Teutonic efficiency of the German army, the US actually manages to pull it off and all you get is a "It should have been here sooner and it should have been better and it wasn't produced fast enough and still shells bounced off the front glacis of a Tiger II and Panthers could still kill it …"

Fred Cartwright25 Oct 2017 3:41 a.m. PST

Well trained crews are a significant force multiplier as the Israelis have demonstrated on many occasions. Training or the lack of was a major problem for the Germans late war, with diminishing numbers of veteran crews and the majority having minimal training. The German army was well past its sell by date by the time the allies landed in NWE.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP25 Oct 2017 5:28 a.m. PST

The Germans may have been over their prime in June 1944, but they still could field some formidable elite units like the Panzer Lehr, unfortunately much of the slack had to be taken up by "static" divisions.

The initial attempt to destroy the Allies became a stalemate in which the Germans were being ground to pieces. If they had had the reserves, they could have pulled out the Panzers and try to use them to stop the breakout.

The strength of the Panzers was their ability to achieve knockout results and stop an enemy cold. By July they were stuck in a war of attrition they couldn't hope to win and were ground to pieces.

After Normandy the Germans were unable to make up for these losses. The Bulge was partially doomed because it relied too much on second class divisions expected to perform way above their actual skill.

The Allies suffered significant losses too, but were able to maintain the skill level of their units.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP25 Oct 2017 6:35 a.m. PST

Mark 1

I do have a reprint of BRL Memorandum Report No. 798. According to the summary chart they looked at a total of 30 engagements between the M4 and the Panther. On 20 of those engagements the Panthers were attacking/advancing. On 9 of the engagements the M4s were attacking/advancing. On 1 engagement they could make no clear determination of who the attacker was.

I suspect the one where there is no clear attacker accounts for some talking about 29 and some 30 engagements.

Fred Cartwright25 Oct 2017 6:42 a.m. PST

I am with Frank Chadwick, that the success of the Germans was not largely due to the Panzer divisions, but the quality of the infantry divisions. While the infantry maintained its edge the Germans were winning, when it declined they started losing. That was the problem in Normandy, the German infantry were unable to hold the line and the Panzers had to be thrown into defensive operations.

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP25 Oct 2017 9:56 a.m. PST

This is a narrative of the German Panzer Brigades attacks against the US forces around Arracourt. It's a good example of the strategic challenges the Germans had of getting armored units into battle and the inherent weaknesses of the German Panzer-Brigades. For the Germans, Arracourt seemed to turn out to be a perfect storm of poor decisions, fog of war, poor intel and American readiness. It's a good illustration of how you can use your strengths against the enemies weakness to overcome your weapons platform inferiority (tank destroyers).

Unfortunately, this would be a very "unfair" scenario for a war game.

link

Wolfhag

Deadles25 Oct 2017 2:48 p.m. PST

The Germans may have been over their prime in June 1944, but they still could field some formidable elite units like the Panzer Lehr, unfortunately much of the slack had to be taken up by "static" divisions.

Most of those "formidable" Panzer divisions were newly reconstituted with many untested components – France was after all an area for refitting units destroyed in combat in USSR! A lot of them were incomplete too.

Panzer Lehr especially never seems to accomplish much despite it's much vaunted strength on paper and experience of individual soldiers.

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP25 Oct 2017 3:29 p.m. PST

The Germans may have been over their prime in June 1944, but they still could field some formidable elite units like the Panzer Lehr, unfortunately much of the slack had to be taken up by "static" divisions.

Most of those "formidable" Panzer divisions were newly reconstituted with many untested components ….

Panzer Lehr especially never seems to accomplish much despite it's much vaunted strength on paper and experience of individual soldiers.

If I recall correctly, Lehr was formed largely from the staffs of the Panzertruppenschulen (Panzer troop schools), as witnessed by the name: Panzer Lehr Division (which can be translated as "Armor Teaching Division").

It is remarkably bad decision-making to put your teachers into combat. One would think the Germans would have learned this after the disastrous affect on Luftwaffe training that came out of the Stalingrad fiasco (where pilot-instructors from across Germany had been put into the cockpits of Ju-52s in the resupply effort).

I wonder if the precipitous decline in German tank crew quality can in some part be attributed to for formation (much less the repeated decimation) of Panzer Lehr.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Deadles25 Oct 2017 3:49 p.m. PST

Mark1, totally agree that it's beyond stupid to assign your training staff to combat assets. I once read a comment by an RAAF officer that the training schools were the most important formations in the organisation (and indeed were maintained even when the rest of the airforce was effectively dismantled in late 1920s/early 1930s).

Training units ensure current and future capability whereas combat formations are ultimately expendable.

116 Panzer was also created from the Reserve 179th Panzer training division.

From my limited knowledge, the German propensity for constantly creating new units (including Lehr and Panzer Brigades) just diluted the strength of their existing combat formations too.

Again my knowledge is limited, but when you read the unit histories of a number of Panzer Divisions ala 23rd, 24th or 25th it seems they spent much of the last couple of years of the war as skeleton kampfgruppes with limited combat capability.

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP25 Oct 2017 5:38 p.m. PST

…it's beyond stupid to assign your training staff to combat assets.

Yep yep yep.

The USAAF took experienced pilots out of combat and made them instructors. The Luftwaffe took experienced instructors out of flight schools and made them combat pilots.

By 1944 the much-vaunted German military, which had shown all opponents what-not in the early war, was filled with units of very uneven quality. But of course on our wargaming tables they're all elite troops, 'cause their Germans.

…when you read the unit histories of a number of Panzer Divisions ala 23rd, 24th or 25th it seems they spent much of the last couple of years of the war as skeleton kampfgruppes with limited combat capability.

Even at Kursk in 1943 this process was becoming visible. Guderian pushed so hard, for months, to rebuild the panzer divisions. Yet in the German OOBs I can't think of a case I have seen of a standard panzer division going into Citadelle with more than 120 tanks and StuGs, even though most were authorized 160+ tanks.

At the worst of the "Sherman crisis" in the autumn of 1944, US tank divisions almost never went in to action with less than 90% of their TOE available.

When you look at the unit histories, many of the standard wehrmacht panzer divisions are quite remarkable. So many folks on forums like this yammer on about the SS Panzer and Panzer Grenadier divisions, or the SchwPzAbt's full of Tigers. But look at the history of the standard divisions, for example the 11th Pz Division, if you want to see what real, capable, trained, experienced divisions were capable of. And that, mostly with Pz IIIs and IVs.

It was remarkable what some of those kampfgruppen could do with a few "old hands", but the core of the issue is what more could have been done if those panzer divisions, with those experienced "old hands", had been preserved and rebuilt, rather than funneling off the new stuff to build new formations of stumble-bumbles in shiny toys.

Fortunately rational decision making was not the home turf of the Nazi leadership.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP26 Oct 2017 1:47 a.m. PST

It helps if you abandon the idea that Panzer divisions were "armoured fists", "battering rams" or "sledgehammers"

They were cavalry, mobile troops, who had the ability to strike if necessary, but mobility was their main ability, not firepower nor armour.

Their job was to disrupt and surround an enemy force so that it could be destroyed.

This helps to explain why the Germans did so well with the majority of their tanks lacking cannons in 1939 and still 30%+ without a "proper gun" in 1940. And they are at the top of the game in 1941 Russia with only a few upgrades. They would maneuver through the gaps, outflank the enemy and leave them isolated and vulnerable to destruction.

1942 We see significant upgrades, both Panzer III and IV get a major armour/firepower boost, yet they start to perform less effectively and they are less successful.

1943 Is the last hurrah. One last headlong charge at the fortifications around Prokhorovka and it's the downward slope.

1944-1945, the Panzers are at their strongest, but despite all the extra armour and firepower they fail to turn the tide.

It's often been explained by the idea that the Allies simply overwhelmed the enemy with cheap tanks and barely trained crews, sacrificing them to defeat those German war gods in their invincible machines.

The reality is that the Allies learned to deny the Germans the tactic and strategic mobility of their armoured divisions.

And it's not that hard, one way is called Tobruk, El Alamein, Stalingrad, Kursk …

If you hear somebody claim that static defenses were obsolete by WWII, it's probably coming from their colon. If mobility is your main weapon, how do you mobile a fortification ? You either take it by force or isolate it and starve it out.

If you're going to take it by force your tanks become a support weapon to the infantry and must face prepared defenses where the enemy has done everything they can to channel your tanks into killing zones where they are easy prey for anti-tank weapons.

You can try to isolate it but good defensive positions are hard to turn. Stalingrad was sitting on a river, El Alamein was anchored by the sea and the Quattara depression. Again denial of mobility. Tobruk could be resupplied by sea. Kursk was layer upon layer of defensive works backed up by ample reserves to drive back the enemy. It was a textbook WWI battle fought with tanks and oddly enough the tanks didn't plow straight through them as somehow they should have done by all conventional wisdom.

The same problem happens in Normandy. The Panzers cannot move against the Allied forces. They are thrown at the enemy in the hope of breaking them and defeating the invasion, but this fails and being unable to pull back and reform they are simply eaten up in a battle of attrition, something the Germans were so keen to avoid in 1939-1941 and ended up doing anyway.

Another way to defeat the tanks is to refuse to let yourself be caught, something the Russians did very effectively in 1942 and was performed unconsciously by the British in North Africa as they fell back, stretching the DAK's supply lines to near breaking point.

And finally the self-evident method, the proper counter-attack, ironically the one method everyone thinks of, but probably the one that didn't happen so much. The classic encounter battle is more of a 19th century thing where armies still were long lines on the map rather than moving frontlines. It's a bit unusual for two moving armies to collide in WWII unless you have two offensives that coincide.

And the Germans lost the thread on other levels. The people in charge of making the new panzers were building them according to their idea of a good tank and not necessarily according to what the troops in the field needed or wished.

In hindsight the plethora of gun carriers and assault guns the Germans began to use proved to be a highly expedient solution to a major problem, but Guderian had to admit after the war that a quick-fix became a problem later in the war. These weapons were not equivalent to proper tanks and lacked their flexibility.

Whenever the Germans tried to use their panzers as battering rams it often was a major risk and they usually ended up with heavy losses. The fighting in Alsace is an excellent example. The Panzer Brigades are formidable forces on paper, but they lack the critical support elements like good reconnaissance elements and they blunder almost blindly into troops that very quickly and effectively set up a solid defense, unlike their enemies in 1939-1941 who were not equipped or trained to stop armoured attacks. But without proper training and support the Panzer Brigades are nothing more than blunt hammers a stupid experiment in which they put too much faith in the ability of the Panther to simply roll over the enemy by virtue of its armour and firepower.

And here is that key factor. Equipment is nothing compared to the context in which it is used. On the small scale level of say a Sherman against a Panther it gives the Panther a significant edge. But without eyes, without support on certain terrain, without proper training a massive force of Panthers isn't a devastating battering ram, it's a big juicy target.

Looking at it from a higher echelon the Panthers simply bounce off a US division, which on paper it could tear to shreds. And it's not a fluke and it's not the morning mist or some other excuse it's a reality that all the virtues of the Panther fade away at a certain level and the brigade lacks the means to fight as effectively as a US armoured division.

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