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"British vs US Tank Crew Losses" Topic


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963 hits since 7 Dec 2017
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Whirlwind07 Dec 2017 4:01 a.m. PST

I was just skimming through this: link and having a look at those comparative tank losses between some US Armor units from the the US 6th Armd Div and the British Armoured Regts losses from Operation Goodwood. To me, the only way that you can account for those casualty figures is if the Brit crews were, by-and-large, abandoning their tanks before they were lost, whereas the US crews were being killed in their tanks. What are the alternative ways of reading this data?

Fingerspitzengefuhl07 Dec 2017 4:15 a.m. PST

British Casualty figures are for three days
American for 10 months

Not exactly comparable data

British designed tanks were difficult to abandon due to poor hatch configuration! The Cromwell being a good example.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP07 Dec 2017 4:34 a.m. PST

I'd demand a recount on the US figures. Some of the serious treadheads can correct me, but my understanding is that a loss of a man or two per knocked-out tank is the normal WWII range, so the British figures are about right. And they're for a period of only a few days, while the US casualties represent almost a year of fighting and 3-4 men lost per tank. Offhand:
1. US "casualty" figures may include a lot of non-combat losses. Frostbite and trenchfoot that winter would be obvious.
2. US tank losses may only include destroyed tanks. A tank can easily be "knocked out" with loss of crew three or four times before it catches fire or the ammo cooks off and they have to write it off. (Same thing, you can be listed as a casualty three times by being wounded twice and killed or captured once--and you'd be listed as three casualties. But is the tank listed as "destroyed" every time the ARV has to fetch it back?)

The first thing I'd do is grab a history of the 6th AD--there are at least two--and see what the tank/crew loss was in much shorter periods of time. I bet the numbers look very like the British.

Whirlwind07 Dec 2017 5:07 a.m. PST

Not exactly comparable data

I'm not generalizing for that to be the British experience in the entire war. That said, since the US can't lose more casualties per tank than there is crew, there doesn't leave much range for low crew casualty events.

@Robert,

Good points at all.

Pizzagrenadier07 Dec 2017 6:04 a.m. PST

It's my understanding the British faced off against a much larger portion of German armored forces for that time period as well, so I'd expect for their losses to be higher.

Vigilant07 Dec 2017 6:19 a.m. PST

As said above the data is not comparable. The sample size for the British is far too low to be statistically valid. Also it doesn't take into account the different tank types in use by the British compared to the standardisation within the US forces. Survival rates would differ between Churchill, Cromwell and Sherman tanks, and between petrol and diesel powered Sherman.

Whirlwind07 Dec 2017 6:52 a.m. PST

The sample size for the British is far too low to be statistically valid.

Erm, not really. If I were attempting to draw conclusions about the experience of British tankers at any battle or than Goodwood it would be invalid. But I'm not, so it isn't.

Also it doesn't take into account the different tank types in use by the British compared to the standardisation within the US forces. Survival rates would differ between Churchill, Cromwell and Sherman tanks, and between petrol and diesel powered Sherman.

All interesting points of course. But the discrepancy is so big that minor variations between tank rates couldn't make any major difference.

Kelly Armstrong07 Dec 2017 7:11 a.m. PST

Looking at the situation from another angle, why would one expect the data to be significantly different? No general data I am aware of suggests US crews were more or less likely to stay with a threatened tank compared to UK or even enemy crews given a rough battlefield parity.

there is general data/studies that show if you are getting your ass kicked, then folks lose motivation in the near future if all they can expect is another ass-kicking (see "battlefield parity" comment above). But that is not tied to tank crews specifically but more to human nature.

I suspect any difference is due to sampling problems or reporting problems.

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP07 Dec 2017 7:17 a.m. PST

Apples and oranges.

Was the comaparison from the same time period?

The nature of 'Goodwood' and a number of the other british attempts during the summer of '44 were to make a massive tank drive over open country. Getting hit by a projectile at 800 to 2,000 yards was an indication you were being targeted. If the first round didn't brew up the tank the next two or three would. Long ranges commanded by high velocity guns were tha nature of the game. As a crewman, you might have had a better chance to bail out.

The US at the same time was fighting in bocage country. A panzerfaust at thirty to fifty feet is catastrophic. If you were lucky enough to survive the initial blast, then you would probably have been subject to small arms fire from the panzerfaust guys accompanying friends. Whatever the result, it was instantaneous. It would easily account for the disparity in higher tank losses directly and less chance for crew survival.

Whirlwind07 Dec 2017 7:25 a.m. PST

@Robert P,

I checked the 6th Armd's Divisional History link and those numbers are the battle casualties only.

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP07 Dec 2017 7:25 a.m. PST

There may have been a few more contributing factors that are often overlooked.
.
PTSD
Veterans of the desert may have been shot out of tanks before or have had or seenmany friends shot oout ofr killed. The equivalent of what today is called ptsd. While a fifteen pound slag of metal hitting your tank at a thousand yards a second may not have taken it out, if you were suffering from any such thing, your reactions would have been predicatable.

Manoiwer and production
At this point in the war it was far easier for the UK to make tanks than to replace soldiers. World wide commitments and losses add up. It was easier to make a new tank or get one from generous uncle Sam than to replace the crew. If you look at the statistics from the desert war, this is old hat or practice as well.

Overloading of ammo
Ammunition carried tended to catch fire or explode. Around this time ideas like wet storage of ammo was just being introduced. In addition the idea of stowing ammo below the hull line was relatively new. In addition to this, british crews were in the habit of carrying more ammo than actually intended. It didn't help with comfort or sasfety. Getting hithit, again would cause predictable reactions from crewman.

Specific tank design
Let's face it while the Churchill tankwas loved for its' armour, you can't say that about too many other british tank designs. Some were out and out stinkers that inspired no confidence in their crews. Tank units that came from the desert and were given Cromwells instedad of their trusty Shermans,,,well their morale hit rock bottom despite attepts to instill confidence in it.

Numbers don't say it all.

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP07 Dec 2017 7:41 a.m. PST

As some have pointed out, the loss verses the ability to repair or retunr to service of a vehicle. A lot of battles were considerred won if you controlled the field of wrecked vehicles at the end.

Are casualties only taken from while at station in your crew in the tank, or while bailing out or activity beyond the operation of the tank.

Legion 407 Dec 2017 8:01 a.m. PST

I would think if you were part of a crew that had their AFV/BT KO'd previously. E.g. UK crews who fought in NA, etc. You might be a little more "reluctant" to let that happen again, and maybe bail out little more "readily". But that is only a bit of a "guess" on my part. For a number of reasons …

Griefbringer07 Dec 2017 8:30 a.m. PST

Also, one should check what was the definition of tank loss for the British in the source data used to construct those tables.

In another recent thread here it was mentioned that the tank regiments by default would mark as loss any tank that was not operational at the end of the day, regardless of the level of damage. Thus a simple mobility kill could result in a vehicle being marked as a loss if it could not be repaired quickly.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP07 Dec 2017 8:38 a.m. PST

Thank you Whirlwind. But I'll stand by my suspicion that it's the amount of time covered that's keeping the numbers so far apart. "Destroyed" may be an absolute on the tabletop, but it's a lot fuzzier in real life--especially when you get to keep the battlefield.

Tank gets hit, and is in some critical way inoperable. Everyone bails out, but maybe one is wounded and one is killed. One tank knocked out, two casualties. That night, someone hauls the tank back for repairs, and next week, it's knocked out again, this time permanently, with the same crew casualties. Now you've got four casualties, but when the division totals losses, it's only counting that tank once. Those Goodwood figures are too little time to reflect that sort of thing. Get US figures for a few days of battle, or get British figures for a year of campaigning, and see whether you still have a serious discrepancy. My guess is you won't.

Whirlwind07 Dec 2017 9:02 a.m. PST

@Robert,

Okay, it might be that tank casualties are being recorded in a different way (the crew casualties seem to be recorded in at least an approximately similar way) – does anyone know if that was the case?

Those Goodwood figures are too little time to reflect that sort of thing. Get US figures for a few days of battle, or get British figures for a year of campaigning, and see whether you still have a serious discrepancy. My guess is you won't.

I guess my question is more why should a period of short intense battle for the British tankers be reflected in a lower crew casualty rate than a US Armd Div's tanker casualties taken over the course of the campaign.

Dynaman878907 Dec 2017 9:42 a.m. PST

It is due to the US tanks (possibly) not being called killed since they were put back in service, and thus tank crew losses would look higher since one or two may have been killed and the tank out of service for a short while.

Fingerspitzengefuhl07 Dec 2017 9:52 a.m. PST

Goodwood historians state more than 450 of the 750 or so British ‘tanks' taking part where destroyed. It appears that of this 450, 217 were destroyed during the operation, the remaining 233 were repaired.

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP07 Dec 2017 10:20 a.m. PST

What Fingers just said.
Operations like Goodwood wiped out or lost four or five hundred tamnks in the space of an afternoon.

Overall, the british and US casualties were similar in the long run. The phenomanal operations like Goodwood really skew the numbers pretty badly. A few of the other Normandy tank drives by the UK/Canada/Poland turned out pretty much the same.

The only other european fight where the tank numbers were skewed so badly is probably Operation Veritable when the UK and Canada cleared out the reichwald forest and into the Rhine crosing. The reports and returns every night were atrocious with maybe a third to a quarter of tank strength being available. Of course by morning, enough repairs would have been done to return tank strength back to three quarters if not better each morning!

In the long term, it was a fifty/fifty rate for crew caualties against those who got away. Losses of tanks by numbers I have no idea but don't see it as overly off from each other either.

While specific opeations had staggering losses of tanks for their operations, in the long run of the 1st Canadian and 2nd British army through France, Belgium, Holland and into Germany, the losses tended to be a slight bit lower. The British were so used to being out gunned that they tended to play very cautiously in their advance. This probably kept numbers overall more comparable to US statistics. The Us losses in their droive across France and Germany was far more bold, but that comes with risk and loss. The US also had no problem relying more on firepower available through the radio like artillery and air power.

I hope this makes a bnit of sense.It is a big topic and like I said, numbers may not give meaning.

mkenny07 Dec 2017 11:00 a.m. PST

Goodwood historians state more than 450 of the 750 or so British ‘tanks' taking part where destroyed. It appears that of this 450, 217 were destroyed during the operation, the remaining 233 were repaired.

The 4-500 tally of 'knocked out tanks' for GOODWOOD is a mistake. That number originate in a post-war study of the battle that had several major errors. The most serious of which was double-counting of the casualties on July 18th. From memory total losses were c 150 with casualties being around 150.

mkenny07 Dec 2017 11:05 a.m. PST

In NWE 1944-45 it was established that every knocked-out tank would produce 1 KIA & 1 WIA. It was also found that c.4 in every 10 KIA died as a result of wounds received whilst outside the tank.

troopwo Supporting Member of TMP07 Dec 2017 11:44 a.m. PST

Probably based on reports and returns at the end of each day.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP07 Dec 2017 12:36 p.m. PST

I notice folks mentioning survival rates based on whether a petrol (gasoline) or diesel fueled Sherman. Numerous studies showed that differences were negligible. The determining factor was detonation of the ammunition on board. And while gasoline has a lower flash point and is generally more flammable than diesel the temperature of penetrating fragments were more than enough to set either off.

The relocation of the ammunition out of the vulnerable sponsons, which took place with the so called "wet stowage" upgrade, significantly reduced fires in Shermans and increased survivability.

Whirlwind07 Dec 2017 12:45 p.m. PST

In NWE 1944-45 it was established that every knocked-out tank would produce 1 KIA & 1 WIA. It was also found that c.4 in every 10 KIA died as a result of wounds received whilst outside the tank.

It is from here I think: PDF link

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP07 Dec 2017 1:34 p.m. PST

I'd demand a recount on the US figures.

I have great respect for the Dupuy Institute's research. I have had extensive conversations with two of their researchers, and I am fully convinced that they are disciplined and rigorous in ensuring their sources of information.

And yet …

I understand the sentiment. I think the issue though, is not so much a recount of the figures, but how we use the figures.

We are trying to draw inference from the data on something other than what the research covered. It is often the case in research that what subset of data is presented, which may be representative in addressing one question, is an outlying case if you are addressing another question.

As others have pointed out, this was a very limited sample. Looking to larger samples (also present in Dupuy Institute research) may give a very different perspective.

Some of the serious treadheads can correct me, but my understanding is that a loss of a man or two per knocked-out tank is the normal WWII range, so the British figures are about right.

My understanding, from data I have seen including extensive data provided by Dupuy Institute analysts, is that British tank units tended to suffer on average just more than 2 casualties per tank lost. Germans suffered about the same. Russians tended to suffer just more than 3. In ETO US tank units tended to suffer just more than 1 per tank lost.

Here is some Dupuy Institute research on that subject from the full US 1st Army stats of the ETO campaign:

This can be found in the book "ATTRITION: Forecasting Battle Casualties and Equipment Losses in Modern War" by Trevor Dupuy, 1990.

Note that the 1st Army losses during the campaign totaled just less than 1 per tank. As I understand, though, the overall number for US armor in ETO was a bit above 1.0. I might expect a couple possible reasons for the difference …

First we might see slightly higher numbers in the other US Army formations.

Or second, this specific set of numbers might not include that portion of crew losses that occurred outside of the tanks. It is important to keep this in mind. Generally (as others have pointed out…) a substantial portion of total tank crew casualties during the campaign were inflicted outside the tank … sometimes after bailing out in combat, sometimes when walking a foot recon of the terrain or standing guard duty, sometimes when in line for chow at a bivouac, etc. With this particular table I don't know if those are included or not.

In general I understand that US forces in ETO had about 50 – 60% of the crew fatalities per vehicle lost as the Brits (NOTE: fatalities does not equal casualties). This has variously been attributed to smaller escape hatches (with some really difficult twists and turns required of the crewmen in Cromwells and Comets, btw), and / or to the provision of crash helmets for US tankers which British tankers typically did not wear -- not so much that it was a matter of being knocked to death on the head, but rather that when seconds count during the evacuation of a tank, not being dis-oriented by a knock on the head might make all the difference between surviving or not.

-Mark
(aka: Mk1)

CalypsoCommando07 Dec 2017 2:31 p.m. PST

It's perhaps instructive to look at the further breakdown in numbers from the same study Mk 1 has presented (US 1st Army postwar analysis.) The numbers I've seen are specifically for M4 Sherman types written off as total losses.

Roughly half the numbers in the "gunfire" tally presented above are from indirect fire (either artillery or mortars.) The number of Shermans lost to direct fire anti-tank (tanks and ATG, presumably mostly ATG) were only 20% of total tank losses.

I'm not an expert on the battle, but what little I know of Goodwood would suggest a much higher proportion of tank losses due to direct fire, which might skew the numbers somewhat.

The Courier Vol.2, No. 5 has an interesting breakdown of this data. (Mar/April 1981)

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP07 Dec 2017 2:34 p.m. PST

Mark;

I suggest another reason was the switch to "wet" stowage on the Sherman. Of all the Shermans delivered to the Commonwealth only some 1,330 (according to Hunnicutt) were wet stowage and all of those were M4A1(76) which, while used in Italy by UK forces, were not used in ETO by UK forces. Meanwhile the mainstay of the US tank force became, over time, the M4A3. Hunnicutt puts production at 3,071 (75) W and 4,542 (76) W. And of course the M4A1 (76) W was also found with US forces in the ETO. I realize not all the production went to just the ETO of course.

Zaloga states that an Army study in 1945 concluded only 10-15 percent of wet stowage Shermans burned when penetrated. This contrasted with 60-80 percent of the older so called dry-stowage Shermans.

In summary a far greater proportion of US tanks had the wet stowage with the ammunition removed from the sponsons then British Shermnans. This would also contribute to a lower per tank casualty rate for US tankers.

Legion 407 Dec 2017 2:40 p.m. PST

Something else to consider. Most AFVs that are KO'd do not suffer catastrophic destruction. Like sometimes seen in the movie and on TV.

And generally many/most crew members survive … as seen on Mk.1's chart. And, again, based on whose tanks they are, i.e. UK, US, etc.

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