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Tango0117 Apr 2018 12:34 p.m. PST

… The Second World War.

"In May 1945, as the war in Europe drew to a close, six prototypes of a brand new British tank were hurried to the front in the hope that they could be tested in action. The tank was the Centurion, which went on to become one of the most successful of all post-war British designs. After years of struggle, Britain had finally produced a well-armed and well protected battle tank. Sadly for many British tank soldiers of the Second World War, it was far too late. Germany was defeated, but its tanks and anti-tank guns had proved lethally superior to the very end.

For much of the Second World War, the British Army was saddled with a succession of tanks that ranged from the bad to the barely adequate. Some were rushed into service too quickly and proved notoriously unreliable. Others spent too long in development, or only achieved a degree of usefulness after numerous modifications. Most lacked the armour to resist enemy anti-tank weapons, and nearly all were under-gunned…"
Main page
link


Amicalement
Armand

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP17 Apr 2018 3:20 p.m. PST

So…

The problem was BOTH that Britain failed to develop a doctrine for tank warfare, and that their doctrine was wrong? Are we not multiplying prime causes unnecessarily? I'd stick with "wrong doctrine" myself.

And I don't think anyone seriously thinks Britain would have been ahead of the game to retool at the expense of production in the immediate aftermath of Dunkirk.

What we're left with is not thinking ahead. If, in the post-Dunkirk crisis, a small team had been designing a new cruiser--up-gunned, up-armored, roughly equal to the Pzkw IV, the Sherman and the T-34--they'd have been OK. Instead, they keep trying to tweak unsatisfactory designs. Perhaps if they'd given Hobart some authority and a small team of designers in 1940, instead of packing him off to the Home Guard? Oh, well…

mysteron Supporting Member of TMP18 Apr 2018 3:22 a.m. PST

IMO we did have some good tanks.

The Valentine- The Russians luvved them and couldn't get them quick enough , hence the production was switched to Canada.

The Cromwell would have been a good tank if it came out on time. Alas it came out rather late but was still comparable to the Sherman as regards performance and armour.

The Comet- Possibly our best tank but again later than what it should have been .

But yes we did have plenty of mediocre and poor tank designs mainly dues to an outdated doctrine .

On reflection I don't think we were much worse than our other allies its just the German tank design was far superior and the Russians struck lucky with the T34 which incorporated a discarded ( by the Americans) chassis design.

4th Cuirassier18 Apr 2018 4:47 a.m. PST

On the one hand it's impressive that so many new designs were able to be put into production so rapidly. The Germans deployed only three new tank designs throughout the war (and only one fighter aircraft too FWIW).

On the other, it's depressing that they were all so poor. The Cromwell and others' respectably thick armour did them little good. They were so undergunned that to defeat a German tank they had to bring themselves into penetration of its gun, which was much further away than their own.

Tired Mammal18 Apr 2018 5:52 a.m. PST

All gamers talk about the ratios between armour speed and firepower. The main lessons that the British took from the Desert campaign was that reliability is the most important aspect of any tank.
Finally having enough Merlin's being available so that they could develop the meteor tank engine was the major step forward. Also the "77mm" on the Comet was originally supposed to be on the Cromwell from the start. I think it was ammunition problems which were eventually resolved by storing the propellant under high pressure into a 3" AA case.
Basically the British tanks came 2nd place behind the RAF especially when there was an Ally building all we actually needed.
I have an untested idea that if there were just a few less big bomber raids on Germany and they phased out the 2pdr earlier then the British might of had 6pdr Cromwell's ready for Tunisia but that ignores the hard decisions that the war office were making.
With the Centurion we got there in the end.
Oh and the Churchill was actually pretty good for Normandy in its correct role of infantry support.

Walking Sailor18 Apr 2018 7:09 a.m. PST

The Cromwell…Alas it came out rather late but was still comparable to the Sherman

Damning with faint praise. By the time the Cromwell was deployed the Sherman was obsolescing. At this time the greatest asset of both tanks was availability, i.e. reliability x production. Just what you need to fight a war of attrition, if you can afford the casualties.
But the article is a great short history.

Fred Cartwright18 Apr 2018 10:12 a.m. PST

Two main problems. Sticking to the loading gauge for width of tanks and giving so much priority to the bombers. In fact the focus on bomber command impacted on more worthy areas. Coastal Command was also starved on the necessary aircraft they needed and it wasn't until US Liberators and Catalinas came along that they started to get adequate numbers.

UshCha18 Apr 2018 2:00 p.m. PST

So who does the Sherman Firefly belong too. It was British, reliable and its 17 pdr was as good as anything the Germans had and 1 in 3 British Sherman's in Normandy were Fireflys. Plus nobody mentions the comparative cost of 1 Unreliable very expensive Tiger tank vs a reliable Sherman Firefly. And don't even get me started on the VERY limited endurance of a Tiger.

Lee49418 Apr 2018 4:03 p.m. PST

Unbelievable! When the Germans outfought and overran the French in 1940 with tanks that had less armor and firepower than the French ones had they were hailed as geniuses. When the Germans got overrun in 1944 by British and American tanks with less armor and firepower … the Germans were still hailed as geniuses. Go figure!

mysteron Supporting Member of TMP19 Apr 2018 3:56 a.m. PST

Its all about opinions but I agree in the main with what Tired Mammal has stated .Our tanks were always about 2-3 years behind. Much of this was due to red tape.

The perception of British tanks may be different if the Cromwell was ready for Africa and the Comet for Normandy , with the Centurion to come in perhaps around Varsity .

At end of the day I would still rank the British around 4th behind the mighty USA and USSR with Germany being in No1 spot.

Sometimes we also seem to forget at how small a country we are despite access to the Commonwealth's resources

Blutarski19 Apr 2018 8:27 a.m. PST

"the Germans got overrun in 1944 by British and American tanks with less armor and firepower …"

Not to put too fine a point on things, but the crushing Allied superiority in artillery, overall numbers, supply and logistics, not to mention tactical air supremacy also played minor roles.

B

Thomas Thomas19 Apr 2018 9:22 a.m. PST

As Fred mentioned (and why is Fred always so on top of stuff?), obsession with RR gauge and fitting on flatcars limited options, need to rebuild quick with existing designs after Dunkirk and concentration on air power all served to limit UK designs – but with all those limitations they did produce a tank in '44 (Cromwell) about as good as an M4/7.5 or T34/7.6 and a better tank killer (Firefly) than US or USSR. Not to mention Achillies better than M10 or SU85 (but lets not mention Archer). Churchill was useful heavy tank (and more numerous than US Jumbo M4) and Comet the best of the too late late war tanks.

So I'm giving the UK a nod over US and maybe a tie with the USSR (in '44) (T34/8.5 nominally better but ergonomics still a bit behind. ISII/12.2 probably better than Churchill…)

Had Allies marshaled US production with UK ingenuity (as they did with the Mustang), we would have a different story…

TomT

Windy Miller20 Apr 2018 1:24 a.m. PST

"Not to put too fine a point on things, but the crushing Allied superiority in artillery, overall numbers, supply and logistics, not to mention tactical air supremacy also played minor roles."

Didn't that help the Germans a bit in 1940? Especially the last one.

4th Cuirassier20 Apr 2018 3:28 a.m. PST

ISTR hearing – probably at Tankfest – that for every hour of operation a Tiger I required 10 hours of maintenance.

I don't know whether they meant all Tiger Is then or Bovington's now, but either way, it's a huge price to pay for tactical superiority. It implies 9% of the tanks you build will be available for actual combat over any given timeframe.

Fred Cartwright20 Apr 2018 4:20 a.m. PST

Didn't that help the Germans a bit in 1940? Especially the last one.

There was no crushing superiority for the Germans in 1940. Not in numbers of tanks, artillery pieces, aircraft, troops etc. The allies had twice as many guns, more tanks and about the same number of aircraft, although Britain didn't commit all its aircraft to the battle.

Legion 420 Apr 2018 7:28 a.m. PST

Unbelievable! When the Germans outfought and overran the French in 1940 with tanks that had less armor and firepower than the French ones had they were hailed as geniuses.

There was no crushing superiority for the Germans in 1940. Not in numbers of tanks, artillery pieces, aircraft, troops etc. The allies had twice as many guns, more tanks and about the same number of aircraft, although Britain didn't commit all its aircraft to the battle.
All So very true … The Germans were superior at fighting mobile modern combined arms maneuver warfare. Much of the rest of the world was still fighting the last war so to speak.

As far as Western Allied tank designs. IMO it was not until the UK fielded the Firefly and the US the M4 versions with the 76mm. Did they actually "get it". And the US was behind the power curve with not producing something liked to the M25 or M26 sooner. Of course I was not there … so I could be wrong.

And by that time of the war, the Germans were deploying "monsters" per se, e.g. the Big Cats, i.e. the Panther, Tigers I and IIs. Plus a variety of assault guns/TD types with some very powerful main guns and heavier armor protection. But the Germans lacked numbers again. However this time the Allies massive numbers of all types of weapons systems matched with experience … Was one of the reasons for the end of the Reich.

But as the Germans had tactical superiority in the first years on the war. The Allies on both fronts had numbers very much in their favor. And the USSR with the T34 and beyond had produced not only some very effective AFVs, but had massive numbers on their side as well.

The German ability to produce effective AFVs in larger numbers especially later in the war was one of their many, many downfalls.

Legion 420 Apr 2018 2:03 p.m. PST

Errata: That should read … "German inability" … DOH !!!!! huh?

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP20 Apr 2018 2:40 p.m. PST

All those fancy, expensive, over engineered cat tanks could still be blown up by the far less complex and cheaper sherman with a 17pdr.
Don't help if you got the best tank in the world if that best tank, can be blown up by the 8th best tank with a big gun MacGyvered on it.

Tango0120 Apr 2018 2:50 p.m. PST

…. and outnumbered 10 to 1… (smile)

Amicalement
Armand

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2018 4:45 a.m. PST

Actually Gunfreak if you can't get those "cats" fuel, parts and ammunition they become overly engineered, complex speed bumps :)

Legion 421 Apr 2018 7:02 a.m. PST

All those fancy, expensive, over engineered cat tanks could still be blown up by the far less complex and cheaper sherman with a 17pdr.
The weapon is only as good as the troop/crew behind it. But it also was helpful that the Allies generally after the battles of @ '42 out numbered the Germans. With AFVs, aircraft etc., and were much more "capable" in their use/deployment. After some very hard lessons learned, etc.

if you can't get those "cats" fuel, parts and ammunition they become overly engineered, complex speed bumps :)
So very true … What is that saying ? " Amateurs study tactics … Professionals study logistics." The Germans were "masters" of the over engineered design. That in many cases were maintenance nightmares. E.g. those interwoven road wheels on the later designs, i.e. Panther, Tiger Is & IIs, etc.

To be Fully Mission Capable a weapon system has to shoot, move and communicate. If it at least can't do the first two you just have a large paperweight …

Fred Cartwright21 Apr 2018 8:15 a.m. PST

That in many cases were maintenance nightmares. E.g. those interwoven road wheels on the later designs, i.e. Panther, Tiger Is & IIs, etc.

Although as the the link in the OP points out the Germans were not unique in that. Many of the British tanks were maintenance nightmares too. The engines used by all the British cruisers until the Cromwell were very unreliable and the early designs were known for throwing tracks on a regular basis. Even the Sherman variant the Brits were mainly equipped with the M4A4 was not easy to maintain. Keeping the 5 engines in synch was difficult and even changing the plugs required the whole power pack to be pulled.

Blutarski21 Apr 2018 8:28 a.m. PST

One is, of course, required to ask what the battlefield reliability and availability of Allied tanks might have been had their maintenance, service and logistical services been forced to operate under the conditions endured by their German counterparts. The Sherman tanks in service in NWE were powered by three different types of engines and mounted three different types of main gun. No problem, so long as the supporting services can attend to their duties well supplied and undisturbed. Otherwise?

As to the question of Great Britain's inability to develop a "world class" tank until the appearance of Centurion, I would submit that British industry arguably possessed precious few assets to devote to design and development. It was fighting a losing production battle simply trying to supply existing vehicle designs to the battle front. By the second half of 1942 (Alamein), if memory serves, fifty percent or more of 8th Army's tank park consisted of American Shermans, Grants and 'Honeys'.

B

donlowry21 Apr 2018 8:47 a.m. PST

if memory serves, fifty percent or more of 8th Army's tank park consisted of American Shermans, Grants and 'Honeys'.

Sounds more like a symptom than an excuse.

Legion 421 Apr 2018 9:40 a.m. PST

Although as the the link in the OP points out the Germans were not unique in that. Many of the British tanks were maintenance nightmares too. The engines used by all the British cruisers until the Cromwell were very unreliable and the early designs were known for throwing tracks on a regular basis. Even the Sherman variant the Brits were mainly equipped with the M4A4 was not easy to maintain. Keeping the 5 engines in synch was difficult and even changing the plugs required the whole power pack to be pulled.
I have heard that as well … Just looking at some of them or reading their stats I could see they may be "challenging". And yes, some looked like they'd probably throw or break track fairly easily/often. Which is a real PIA !

The Sherman tanks in service in NWE were powered by three different types of engines and mounted three different types of main gun. No problem, so long as the supporting services can attend to their duties well supplied and undisturbed. Otherwise?
True probably though overall the M4s generally easier to keep running than most. But with more different systems type, the harder it is to keep supplied, especially when it come to spare parts. And ammo of course …

Fred Cartwright21 Apr 2018 10:25 a.m. PST

As to the question of Great Britain's inability to develop a "world class" tank until the appearance of Centurion, I would submit that British industry arguably possessed precious few assets to devote to design and development.

Yeah not convinced. Britain was able to produce numerous designs for aircraft, a whole gamut of "Funnies", oddities like the Praying Mantis for firing a couple of Brens over a wall, TOG's 1 & 2, the Tortoise, the Panjandrum, bouncing bomb etc. That suggests more then enough design resource, just not applied in a very effective way.

Blutarski21 Apr 2018 12:44 p.m. PST

My previous post displayed a certain imprecision of language. British technological creativity was first rate. My comment was actually intended to point to the inability of British industry to take a new design, test it and rapidly translate it into mass production. A great deal of prudent industrial development practice was sacrificed for the sake of getting tanks to the fighting front as rapidly as possible.

B

Fred Cartwright21 Apr 2018 1:15 p.m. PST

A great deal of prudent industrial development practice was sacrificed for the sake of getting tanks to the fighting front as rapidly as possible.

Probably true from mid 40 to the end of 42, but after that with increasing numbers of US tanks filing out the RAC the pressure was off to a large extent. It still took another year to get the Cromwell into service, a design started in 1940 and planned for service in 1942. The first prototype was ready in March of 42. British tank production was actually scaled back in 1943 under US pressure due to an excess in Sherman capacity for US requirements. So I don't think the claim holds up from mid war onwards.

Blutarski21 Apr 2018 2:18 p.m. PST

Couldn't agree more, Fred. Development of the Centurion, which was started in 1943, resulted in a "world class" tank in the field by 1945.

B

Fred Cartwright21 Apr 2018 2:48 p.m. PST

Development of the Centurion, which was started in 1943, resulted in a "world class" tank in the field by 1945.

Sort of. It was subsequent development that turned it into a world class tank, as produced in the Centurion Mk 1 was roughly equivalent to the Panther in gun power, mobility and armour protection.

Blutarski21 Apr 2018 3:42 p.m. PST

Nothing wrong with the 1945 version, Fred. The Panther was IMO itself a world class AFV in 1945 – the first "next step" in the evolution of the medium tank.

B

Legion 422 Apr 2018 7:04 a.m. PST

As much as I like a lot of the UK and French AFVs of the early days of the war, e.g. '39- @ '42 … From an esthetic POV. Until later in the war, the US and some of the UK's designs were what I'd consider "effect". E.g. M4 with 76, Firefly and Comet. However, I still believe both nations were a bit behind the power curve, generally when it came to going head2head with Pz Vs and VIs, etc. But again, the Germans couldn't produce enough, the designs were complex, had poor maint. records, etc.

Add to it the fact the Allies had pretty much total air superiority in most cases after Normandy in NWE. And in the East for a long time too.

The US & USSR production rates of everything, e.g. AFVs, FA, aircraft, etc., etc. Gave them the "winning" edge … so to speak.

"General Motors, General Foods, General Electric … "

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP22 Apr 2018 8:40 a.m. PST

One advantage was the Sherman was designed with maintainability in mind. Almost all work, to include changing out a transmission or engine, could be done at a field facility without need to ship back to a major depot or the factory.

Blutarski22 Apr 2018 12:04 p.m. PST

One of the relatively unappreciated factors that affected serviceability rates of the German Mk V and Mk VI series tanks was the decision to maximize output of complete new vehicles by skimping on the amount of parts and component that should have been allocated to spares inventories for maintenance in the field. As a result, a great deal of triage maintenance was practiced in the latter part of the war, with usable parts taken from one otherwise repairable donor tank to repair another tank that could be returned more rapidly to service. This resulted in (a) a tremendous emphasis upon recovery of knocked out tanks from the battlefield and (b) the great problems involved when these donor "hangar queens" were lost when repair and maintenance facilities close behind the battlefield were overrun.

There is a good document in the DTIC archive which discusses German tank maintenance issues during WW2.

B

Fred Cartwright22 Apr 2018 12:24 p.m. PST

Almost all work, to include changing out a transmission or engine, could be done at a field facility without need to ship back to a major depot or the factory.

Not unique. Most tanks were designed that way. Certainly the Germans were able to swap out engines etc at field maintenance facilities.

One of the relatively unappreciated factors that affected serviceability rates of the German Mk V and Mk VI series tanks was the decision to maximize output of complete new vehicles by skimping on the amount of parts and component that should have been allocated to spares inventories for maintenance in the field.

Speers fault AFAIK. The spares were used to increase production of new vehicles at the expense of having enough to repair those already made. Early war the Germans had large inventories of spares.

foxweasel22 Apr 2018 2:26 p.m. PST

Well we can't have been that bad, remind me who won.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP22 Apr 2018 2:34 p.m. PST

Blutarski, remember reading, source fails me at moment, that in Russia they were desperate for replacement engines for the Mk IIIs and instead priority was shipping complete new ones.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP22 Apr 2018 2:42 p.m. PST

A rather interesting read. Army Historical Study 20-202 German Tank Maintenance in World War II June 1954
PDF link

Fred Cartwright22 Apr 2018 4:33 p.m. PST

Well we can't have been that bad, remind me who won.

The war or the peace? :-)

Legion 423 Apr 2018 7:38 a.m. PST

Early war the Germans had large inventories of spares.
That is one of the best ways to keep'm run'n ! Have the stuff on hand so you can get them fully mission capable ASAP.

Well we can't have been that bad, remind me who won.
As I said … Certainly many of the UK designs in the early war years were equal to or better than much of what the Germans produced.

E.g. the bulk of the German Panzers in Panzer Divs were outfitted with Pz Is & IIs, generally. IMO, the UK A9, A10, A12, A13 were far superior than those. The same could be said about many of the French AFVs.

link

Vs.

link

Andy ONeill23 Apr 2018 10:05 a.m. PST

I wouldn't write the cromwell and valentine off. Mistakes were made but then the vaunted german designs were full of mistakes.

Mark 123 Apr 2018 11:13 a.m. PST

Not unique. Most tanks were designed that way. Certainly the Germans were able to swap out engines etc at field maintenance facilities.

Not so much.

The single biggest point of failure in the Panther was the final drive. It had a life expectancy of just a couple hundred Km … which could be reduced to almost zero if the driver actually used the neutral steer feature that left American GIs so impressed.

To change the final drive, the turret had to be removed. Then the hull roof over the driver and co-driver compartment had to be removed. Then all of the driver and co-driver workspace materials (seats, ammo, radio, instrument panels, etc.) had to be removed. Only then could the final drive be removed out through the roof space.

On a Sherman, the nose casting was unbolted, and the transmission and final drive were fully accessible. Removing and replacing the entire transmission and final drive was a front-line repair facility task that was typically accomplished in less than 4 hours. As in a tank that was redlined in the morning could be back in the field for the afternoon.

The Panther was IMO itself a world class AFV in 1945 …

If armies really wanted Armor, Gun and Speed for their tanks, I would agree.

But it turns out that those "big 3" are not what actually defines a useful tank.

The French Army operated Panthers for several years after WW2. They had spares available to maintain them. The production facilities were largely intact, and could have been re-started if the French found Panthers to be productive enough. But they were not particularly effusive in their praise for the tank.

Panther failed on reliability and maintainability. So it failed on operational and strategic mobility. It also failed to give the crew members what they needed to do their individual jobs to maximum productivity.

Separate from the French experience with the Panther, one big point of failure for the cats in general was fluid line couplings. As I understand it they did not use rubber (or other compressible material) gaskets. They relied instead on finely machined metal-to-metal interfaces. While this may be adequate in one-off artisan builds, it is not the way to engineer a mass-production automotive product. And so, they tended to leak.

Even that great historical documentary "Kelly's Heroes" noted that the fuel line on the Tiger leaked all over the place. But that same perspective has been offered to me by those I know who restore WW2 vehicles -- they are amazed at the hazards of fuel line leakage that seems to be endemic to the cats.

What is that saying ? " Amateurs study tactics … Professionals study logistics."

This is a key perspective. But it is only the tip of the iceberg in understanding the dynamics of British, American and/or Russian armor vs. German armor.

Logistics is the field of supplying materials to the troops. Backing up one more step, we get to the field of generating the materials to be supplied. That was where the Germans failed. Fail in the Ordnance field, and you fail in the Logistics field almost by definition.

Tilting back towards British tanks (at least a little) …

British technological creativity was first rate. My comment was actually intended to point to the inability of British industry to take a new design, test it and rapidly translate it into mass production.

Creativity wasn't the shortcoming. And while getting a new design into mass production was not exactly Britain's pride in WW2, it also was not their biggest failure. The problem was getting USEFUL designs into production.

First, you need a coherent definition of what is useful. Then you need some of those creative minds to understand and apply themselves to designing something that fills that definition of what is useful. Only then can you worry about turning the design to mass production.

It's easy to criticize. But this was a hard thing to do.

The fact that the Germans managed to get it right with the Pz III and IV, and that the Czechs got it right with the Lt. Vz.38 (aka Pz 38t), should not be accepted as some sort of normal baseline. That these tanks were so well matched to the doctrine and requirements of the Wehrmacht was extraordinary. The Germans themselves failed to repeat this matching in their follow-on designs.

The Brits did not manage to come up with tanks that effectively matched their doctrine for Armoured Divisions until late 1944 with Comet, and 1945 with Centurion. Although, in fairness, the Mathilda (then skipping over the Valentine) and Churchill did match the doctrines of the Tank Regiments fairly well.

Valentine was an odd beast in this regard. It fit neither the Tank Regiment requirements (not well enough armored) nor the Armoured Division requirements (not mobile enough). However it had a small window where it was uniquely available and reliable, among British tanks. So it was used.

It did, however, fit Russian doctrine for a light tank. The Russians liked heavily armored light tanks, as they saw light tanks as cheap infantry support vehicles. The Russians also liked reliable tanks. So they found Valentine to be quite useful, for longer than the British did.

Cromwell was competitive in armor, gun and speed in 1943. As with Sherman it was falling behind on gunpower by the first half of 1944. But it could never compete with Sherman in terms of reliability.

When we look at the "big 3" in tank design, we often use the term "mobility". But here I have used the term "speed". This is because, as wargamers, we are more focused on tactical mobility, which is mostly speed (well modeled in most wargames) with a little HP/weight ratio and flotation (not so often well modeled).

But to be useful to an army, particularly in WW2, the more important aspect of mobility was operational mobility. How fast the tank is on the battlefield takes second place to getting the tank to the battlefield. This was where the Pz III, Pz IV, and Pz 38t did better than any other tanks in the world in 1939-1942. This was the capability that the Germans abdicated with the cats. This was what the Sherman (and American TDs) did better than any other tanks in the world in 1943-45 (although the T-34 was very much a competitor).

The British A13 cruiser was a perfect example of a tank that had speed, but did not have operational mobility. On this Cromwell was perhaps adequate, but it was no all-star. As an interesting side-comment, as a young wargamer I was frustrated that the British had limited the later marks of the Cromwell to a top speed of 32mph. I was far more enthused by the earlier models with top speeds of 40mph.

Clearly, from a wargaming perspective, 40mph was better than 32mph. But also clearly, from a military effectiveness perspective, 40mph meant almost nothing, and putting a governor on the tank actually made it a more useful design.

That's because operational mobility means not only speed (and sustained roadmarch speed is more critical than top speed), but unrefueled range, reliability, and maintainability by front-line resources.

When you read German accounts of 1944 combat, you see again and again how they were always outnumbered in tanks. Yet, in truth, they were not so heavily outnumbered in terms of the number of tanks in theater at any given moment, neither on the western nor eastern fronts. Yes, outnumbered. But on the order of 1.5 to 1. Yet the western allies' tanks appeared in about 8 times more combat actions than Panzers. And T-34s typically out-numbered the Panzers by 3- or even 5-to-1 when decisive actions took place.

This was not because Germany didn't have enough tanks. Well yes, they didn't have enough tanks. But more importantly, their tanks could not be concentrated in space and time to achieve decisive results. They could not road-march without extensive delays for maintenance and repair. And so they were sent by rail for most operational moves of more than 50km, a process that takes a LOT of time and resources to manage … a process that limits the application of tanks to areas near to railheads … a process that places the tanks at great vulnerability to airpower (aircraft destroyed few tanks, but lots of railway equipment) … and a process that places the tanks at great vulnerability to being engaged when they are not in a position to maneuver and fight. And they very consistently lost more tanks to maintenance or logistical failures than to combat action.

Play a campaign of 10 wargames. Give the allies tanks in 9 of 10. Give the Germans tanks in 2 out of 10. In the 2 where the Germans get their tanks, throw 1D6 for each tank, and on a 1 or 2 that tank does not get to appear. The proviso is that the allied tanks need to be mostly Shermans or T-34s. If the allied player insists on Cromwells, well they'll show up in maybe 4 or 5 out of 10.

Tell me who is going to win the campaign? I can already tell you who. Hardly matters if the Germans have Panthers, or Tigers or E-100s. Big shiny toys, but not very useful tools.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Andy ONeill23 Apr 2018 12:44 p.m. PST

Quite some time back i did some analysis on the speed of advance of churchill units in nwe.
Considering how they're so much slower than other tanks you might think that'd show in miles per day.
Not so much difference as it turns out.
They were well liked by their crews and capable of crossing ground and gradient other western tanks couldn't match.

Legion 423 Apr 2018 3:21 p.m. PST

Even that great historical documentary "Kelly's Heroes" noted that the fuel line on the Tiger leaked all over the place.
"It's a piece of junk"!

What is that saying ? " Amateurs study tactics … Professionals study logistics."
Hey that's what they taught/told us at the Army Infantry School and Combined Arms Services Staff School … evil grin

Logistics is the field of supplying materials to the troops. Backing up one more step, we get to the field of generating the materials to be supplied. That was where the Germans failed. Fail in the Ordnance field, and you fail in the Logistics field almost by definition.
Indeed, served as a Bn Log and later a Bde Asst Log Ofr. As well as a Bn and later Bde Maint Ofr. All in Mech units … From what I see … based on my "experiences" … I guess it is true what we were taught at those schools and courses. Again … " Amateurs study tactics … Professionals study logistics."

Again … if it can't shoot, move or communicate it's just a very heavy paperweight …

Blutarski23 Apr 2018 4:22 p.m. PST

Mark wrote -
"If armies really wanted Armor, Gun and Speed for their tanks, I would agree. But it turns out that those "big 3" are not what actually defines a useful tank."

Are you arguing that gun/armor/"speed" are not the fundamental measures of the tank as a weapon of war? Hmmmm – it must depend upon how one chooses to define the term "useful tank". You may want to consult American end-user commentaries re their Sherman tanks in NWE. Hanson Baldwin's writings and Isaac White's report to Eisenhower are good resources. US tankers saw the Panther as a much superior combat weapon in terms of armor protection, gun power, tactical maneuverability (not to mention optics and weapon discharge signature). The Sherman tank was certainly a delightfully reliable, easy to maintain tank in automotive terms, but that came at the price of a less than mediocre capability in tank versus tank combat. One can argue that the Sherman, by virtue of its stupendous numbers on the battlefield, the air supremacy envelope beneath which it was able to operate, the great artillery superiority it had on call and the relatively miniscule numbers of opposing tanks it faced, "won the war", but none of those factors bear any relationship to the intrinsic design shortcomings revealed in tank-versus-tank combat. The Sherman was, in essence, not a tank in the conventionally understood sense but more akin to an armored exploitation vehicle – painfully vulnerable to all up to date anti-tank weapons, slower than a tank destroyer, armed with a main gun optimized for engaging non-armor targets. The US would have IMO been better served by ceasing M4 production and concentrating upon the M36.

Panther mechanical weaknesses and problems. How much worse were they than T34s? or the M26 Pershing which, similar to the Panther design, was rushed into production and updated on the fly?

B

mkenny23 Apr 2018 6:45 p.m. PST

The Sherman was, in essence, not a tank in the conventionally understood sense but more akin to an armored exploitation vehicle painfully vulnerable to all up to date anti-tank weapons,

So which tank in late 1944 was not vulnerable to all up to date anti-tank weapons?

Panther mechanical weaknesses and problems. How much worse were they than T34s?

Try Spielberger. Panther & Its Variants page 257

Date 23 January 1945.


Meeting of the Panzer Commision


there continues to be serious complaints regarding final drive breakdowns in all vehicle types……………….General Thomale explained that in such circumstances an orderly utilisation of tanks is simply impossible………..

Prior to the 1945 eastern offensive there have been 500 defective drives on the Pz IV, from the Panther 370 and from the Tiger roughly 100…………the troops lose their confidence and in some situations abandon the whole vehicle just because of this problem

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP24 Apr 2018 3:27 a.m. PST

Tank A has 3 feet of armor and a gun that can penetrate 10 feet of armor

Tank B has 2 feet of armor and a gun that can penetrate 9 feet of armor.

Tank A looks better on paper. But in reality there is no difference.

Those who shoot and hit first wins.
And since tank B has better sights….

Fred Cartwright24 Apr 2018 5:44 a.m. PST

Removing and replacing the entire transmission and final drive was a front-line repair facility task that was typically accomplished in less than 4 hours.

But at least you didn't have to pull the engine to change a plug, which was a problem with the radial and Chrysler multi bank engines. My great uncle was a REME fitter and worked on most of the British WW2 tanks and some of the post war ones before he left. He hated working on the Sherman as even the most basic maintenance required pulling the power pack. His favourite tank was the Centurion, which was easy to work on and the Horstman suspension was rugged and easy to replace if damaged. They had Cromwell ARV's for most of his service and being mechanics removed the governors from the engine and when no one was looking would run them flat out. According to him the reason for reducing the top speed of the Cromwell was to extend track life, not for reliability issues.

But on the order of 1.5 to 1.

Not sure where you got that statistic from Mark, but from my reading total German tank strength remained fairly constant on the Eastern front at around 4,000 tanks, assault guns and TD's, apart from summer of 1942 when it drops to around 3,000. Russian tank strengths fluctuated a lot, but the lowest ratio I can find was at the start of Case Blue when the Red Army only enjoyed a 1.34:1 advantage. At its greatest it was 6:1 or more. In NWE it was only for the first 6 months that the allies faced significant numbers of German AFV's. After the Bulge the bulk of German armour went east and there were only a few hundred left to oppose the allies.

And so they were sent by rail for most operational moves of more than 50km, a process that takes a LOT of time and resources to manage.

Often wondered why the Germans never developed tank transporters of the likes of the Scammel and the Diamond T, but I guess if oil is short that doesn't help much. Trains can run on coal.

Legion 424 Apr 2018 6:28 a.m. PST

Trains can run on coal.
Agreed … But from another POV, the German leadership wasted too many rail assets. Transporting "non-mission essential" cargo, vs. what would actually contribute to the war effort. Which included @ 12 million that died in camps. May they all RIP …

deephorse24 Apr 2018 6:53 a.m. PST

Often wondered why the Germans never developed tank transporters of the likes of the Scammel and the Diamond T

Are you excluding the Sd.Ah.116 trailers? I know they were limited in what they could carry, a Pz IV being the largest load I believe. Other trailers of up to 68 ton capacity were developed, though I don't know if they were just prototypes or limited production runs. I've seen one photo of a King Tiger on a 68 ton trailer.

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