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"The myth of the superior weapon" Topic


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Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP23 May 2018 3:58 a.m. PST

Please imagine the following fictional setting, we are in pre-WWII Germany, and a number of military theorists have jumped on a concept that has been discussed in Denmark for a while of a "universal machinegun"

Several prototypes are made and one of them is a highly promising design by Rheinmetall, but the planners don't see the advantages of the design and it is shelved in favour of a mix of designs, a maxim-like heavy machinegun and a light machinegun based on the ZB vz. 26 and a flawed follow up design that attempts to turn it into a belt-fed weapon.

This all does very little to affect WWII in general, and our mostly identical counterparts in that alternative reality are aware that Germany never put the MG-34 in full production, they tested it during the Spanish Civil War and despite performing quite well it is considered far too complex for production and the planners end up preferring separate bespoke designs for each task rather than a single weapon for every task. A certain topic becomes a classic recurring topic : "What if Germany had adopted the MG-34 for general service ?"

And the usual answer is : "The Germans would have won, of course, they would have mowed down the enemy with superior firepower."

Anyone who disagrees is either blind or stupid to the obvious.

Let's look at the long list of "superior weapons" Germany cranked out : Tanks with a three man turret making them more efficient than the enemy, piling up armour and guns onto said tanks, they had great planes, introduced jets, produced cheap, easy to use anti-tank weapons, they had one of the finest bolt-action rifles ever made and still the standard for such rifles today, they introduced assault rifles and a cheap and easy to make SMG with a folding stock. They had a practical helmet that offered excellent protection and even if you remove or add to this list, somehow all this marvelous equipment doesn't seem to have made a huge difference.

Again I could substitute the MG-34 for something like Tiger I or the Me-262 should they never have made it into production, again everyone would be convinced that a tank with that kind of firepower would simply roll over the enemy and have guaranteed victory ? Ditto for the Me-262, it could blast any plane out of the sky.

In reality troops adapted their tactics, found out ways to counter an negate any advantage a particular piece of equipment could do and often they introduced a new piece of equipment to counter it. Tigers begat bigger guns to hunt it down, the Me-262 would have had to fight other jets sooner or later.

And yet when we talk about the weapons that were still being designed, they are almost a guarantee of victory, they will once and for all be so dominating that the Allies will be unable to come up with answer. We know the design history of most German equipment and they have many flaws, the MG-34 was extremely sophisticated and complex to make, Tiger suffered from many problems, some were due to technological limits, design errors and problems linked to it sheer size and weight. The Me-262 had fragile engines with a limited lifespan, and the proper alloys that would have made it reliable were only first created 30-40 years after the end of the war.

Yet we seem to have faith in that the Germans would produce not only a devastatingly superior secret weapon, but also be able to make it flawless as well, despite a well-established track record while we also assume that the Allies would be permanently flabbergasted by this sudden new development and would utterly unable to come up with a suitable response.

I think that trying to come up with an example like the MG-34, a truly superb weapon that did quite well in actual service, but never became the radical game-changer some might believe it would been had it never seen common service shows that blind faith in certain things is perhaps a bit too common …

advocate23 May 2018 4:16 a.m. PST

Not sure I agree with your premise that "we" all think this.
I'm constantly amused by the fact that the "side with the better tanks" tended to lose in WW2, at least in the West. French and British tanks in 1940 were better armoured and at least as well armed as the Germans: much good it did them. In 1944 the Sherman was – tank for tank – not great when compared to the opposition. Now when you start looking at other factors – not least mechanical reliability – things start to change, but certainly the 'paper strength' of weapons is no deciding factor.

Durrati23 May 2018 4:25 a.m. PST

'Yet we seem to have faith in that the Germans would produce not only a devastatingly superior secret weapon, but also be able to make it flawless as well, despite a well-established track record while we also assume that the Allies would be permanently flabbergasted by this sudden new development and would utterly unable to come up with a suitable response.'

Sorry, who is this 'we' you talk of?

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP23 May 2018 4:29 a.m. PST

There are plenty of examples of superior weapons not being employed in large numbers. Like the Spencer and Henry rifles during the Civil War. Now THOSE might have been war-winning weapons :)

I was just reading the other day about the French Meunier rifle, a semi-automatic weapon introduced in 1910. Apparently it was a very good weapon, but bureaucracy kept it out of service for a few years and then when WWI came along it was too late to try and re-equip the army.

Last Hussar23 May 2018 4:47 a.m. PST

The other factors AT THE TIME outweigh the effect of the weapons. What if Churchill hadn't been Prime minister at Dunkirk? What if the Japanese hadn't attacked Pearl Harbour? Etc. With the odd nudge of history (no Enigma decoding) those weapons may have well have been the difference.

Dynaman878923 May 2018 5:30 a.m. PST

The problem with the German wonder weapons is they could not produce them in enough quantity. None of them were really that far advanced of Allied weaponry at the time as well. Bigger not really meaning better – though any Allied armor guy who had a gun that could not penetrate the front armor of his German opponent would disagree, then again the German infantryman facing enemy tanks with no friendly ones nearby would agree.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP23 May 2018 5:45 a.m. PST

Better weapon does not always equate to winning

The Chassepot was unquestionably better then the Dreyse but it didn't help Napoleon III that much!

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP23 May 2018 6:39 a.m. PST

Actually the MG34 is a good examples of what you are postulating, whereas the Tiger and the jet plane are not as good. They both had major design & production issues and required too many special resources that impacted the production of other armaments, the MG34 did not.

No allied nation produced a MG equal to the MG34 design in either versatility or battlefield performance. The Russians produced tanks more effective than the Tiger before the end of the war – at about 30% of the resource cost and build time. Allied jets were already in production at the end of the war and were better than any German designs in their role.

I'd say that the MG32 did have a significant impact in that it allowed Germany to keep fighting with limited manpower in those areas where infantry fighting was the norm.

Legion 423 May 2018 6:57 a.m. PST

A weapon is only as "good" as troop/crew behind it. Along with capable effective leadership. E.g. in GW1/Desert Storm, the Iraqis had the 4th largest Army in the World … then …

4th Cuirassier23 May 2018 8:07 a.m. PST

As a general point I think if you're going to posit any counterfactual you must also, in the interests of reasoned discussion, admit what other counterfactuals must follow.

For example, suppose Germany had built a fleet of aircraft carriers to accompany the BBs: could she then have defeated the Royal Navy?

From this, two questions arise: 1/ what could Germany then *not* have built, because the resources went to carriers instead; and 2/ what would opponents' reaction have been?

In that example, a force of say 2 or 3 aircraft carriers would have probably meant no U-boats due to lack of steel, an altered course of aircraft development (as it did in every other country that operated carriers), and an enemy response in the form of, oh, four to six Ark Royals being built rather than one, with likewise altered aircraft development to reflect the fact that carrier aircraft would now be expected to attack and defend against other carriers.

It's often been noted that Germany by 1945 had ballistic missiles and jet fighters, but walking infantry and horse-drawn artillery. The latter are broadly the consequences of the former.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP23 May 2018 8:37 a.m. PST

The MG42/M34 didn't have much higher volume of fire then any of the other LMGs over a period of several minutes.

Guns are generally of little consequence. I know the men on the ground feel their weapon are very important (for good or bad)
But infantry tactics are basically the same today as 100 years ago.

All the money spent on finding a new infantry rifle every few decades is waste of time and money.
Giving you're infantry a 416 instead of a M4 or more extreme an 416 instead oof an G3A3. It won't effect anything on the grand scheme of things.
Small tactical advantages or disadvantages. Is just that.

You could take away all guns from the taliban. They would be exactly as effective as their type of "war" as they are now.

It's not taliban bullets that kill the vast majority of their enemies.
It's bombs of various flavours (suicide, IEDs etc. )

It wasn't AKs that have IS their victories. Give IS Mausers and Lee Enfield. And they would still have taken the territory they did.
And it wasn't AKs or M4 that stopped IS. It was the fact they were outnumbered 20:1.

mwindsorfw Supporting Member of TMP23 May 2018 8:58 a.m. PST

One of my favorite gags (can't remember if it was Monty Python or old SNL) was "What if General Custer had a Sherman tank at the Little Bighorn?"

Then there's a whole series of books about what if Robert E. Lee had AK-47s.

Dynaman878923 May 2018 10:23 a.m. PST

> Then there's a whole series of books about what if Robert E. Lee had AK-47s.

Turtledove (if that is who you are referring to) only wrote one book like that. The other book series is separate and starts with the premise that the cigars were not lost – no time travel involved.

mwindsorfw Supporting Member of TMP23 May 2018 10:53 a.m. PST

I knew it was out there, but never read it. I thought there were a bunch of them.

Wherethestreetshavnoname23 May 2018 12:30 p.m. PST

"The Me-262 had fragile engines with a limited lifespan, and the proper alloys that would have made it reliable were only first created 30-40 years after the end of the war."

The F4 Phantom was flying in 1960 with turbojet engines that were making 5 times the thrust of those in the Me262.

UshCha23 May 2018 1:19 p.m. PST

The Machine gun Myth runs on. The Bren and BAR controversy is just one such which is better. They all worked none had a massive edge. Tactical advantage is very rarely overwhelming ( except for badly written war games rules). Put Tigers in real western terrain and they struggle. Its great out ranging your enemy but is of little use if the enemy waits for you at 500 yds on a reverse slope,. Tigers were never as effective in the close terrain of Normandy. Better CHEAP technology has an an advantage but quantity has a quality all of its own. A few very expensive bits of high tech does not a battle win.

advocate23 May 2018 1:53 p.m. PST

But did Germany have the manpower – or the fuel – to take advantage of a fleet of shermans in 1944? Maybe they are better making few good tanks. They might have lost faster without them

Blutarski23 May 2018 2:22 p.m. PST

The "Thermopylae Factor" comes into play here – even the best trained, most highly motivated, well-equipped and wisely led force can be defeated when the odds against it stack up to a sufficiently high degree.

Blutarski23 May 2018 2:54 p.m. PST

The Me262 was ground-breaking aviation technology. It was not only the first practical jet-powered combat a/c, but its impotrant swept-wing design did not appear in the West (IIRC) until the F86 Sabre series.

The Jumo 004 did indeed possess a short operating lifespan (10-25 hrs in its initial production iteration according to Wiki). But it was very inexpensive (<35% of the cost of a military piston engine), required far less in the way of both time and skilled labor to manufacture, and ran on J2 fuel instead of difficult to produce conventional high octane avgas.

B

AlexWood23 May 2018 3:09 p.m. PST

a light machinegun based on the ZB vz. 26

You are assuming that the Mg34 sprang full formed from the Mauser factory.

They worked from the Rheinmetall Mg30 which was itself developed into the Mg15 (which did see some use as an infantry LMG in the event).

The Wehrtmacht also did actually use the Mg08 and 08/15 in 1939/40 because of a shortage of the Mg34.

Jozis Tin Man Supporting Member of TMP24 May 2018 8:59 a.m. PST

I like your analogy. Since the introduction of gun powder, has having quality superior weapons ever beaten "Good Enough" weapons and troops in quantity in wars between the "Great Powers?"

I think the answer is no, but would love some counter examples.

Andy ONeill24 May 2018 9:41 a.m. PST

I think the garand might be a better example than the mg34. Seeing as the vast majority of riflemen hugely underperform in combat whilst crew served weapons just under perform.

The v2 might have been scientifically impressive but a surface to air missile would probably have been a better idea. Although the choice wouldn't have made much difference.

catavar24 May 2018 12:18 p.m. PST

They did; the Luftfaust A & B. If it had been perfected early enough it may have made a profound difference. Lucky for our pilots it didn't.

Blutarski24 May 2018 6:44 p.m. PST

"The Wehrmacht also did actually use the Mg08 and 08/15 in 1939/40 because of a shortage of the Mg34."

Second line German and allied (Hungarian, Romanian) formations pressed all manner of stop-gap automatic weapons into service just about any type of automatic weapons acquired from the nations overrun early in the war (Netherlands, Belgium, France, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, etc.) were taken into service. I've also seen references to Luftwaffe MG17s fitted with a bipod and distributed for ground use as infantry squad automatics.

What a logistical nightmare it must have been …

B

AlexWood25 May 2018 5:59 a.m. PST

It's the Mg15 that was pressed into service as a ground LMG. Fitted with a bipod and a skeleton stock.

I think Forgotten Weapons did a video on it.

Blutarski25 May 2018 1:11 p.m. PST

+1 AlexWood – You are quite correct. My error.

B

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP25 May 2018 2:19 p.m. PST

If it had been perfected early enough it may have made a profound difference.

Would it?

This posting reflects exactly the perspective that the OP describes, and criticizes.

I am intrigued by Patrick R's original posting, and can see the point he makes quite regardless of nit-picking about MG-34 vs. Bren.

There were SEVERAL breakthrough weapons that were successfully fielded in WW2. By "breakthrough" I think we mean weapons that had significant and notable advantages over other weapons of similar class, that had enough impact to influence doctrine, and that took weapons development into a whole new direction for decades to follow.

- MG34 (and later MG42)
- Garand
- MP44 (StG44)
- T-34
- HEAT ammunition
- APDS ammunition
- Proximity fuzed ammunition
- Bazooka (hand-held rocket launcher with HEAT warhead)
- Panzerfaust (disposable launcher with HEAT warhead)
- Radar
- Airborne Radar
- Sonar (Asdic if you prefer)
- Acoustic homing torpedoes
- Magnetic influence sea mines
etc. etc. etc.

But any time we happen upon another new "breakthrough" weapon that was NOT put into production soon enough to be fielded widely, we are suddenly to believe that if it had been fielded widely, it would have "made a profound difference".

Why?

Did ANY of the above breakthrough weapons, that actually WERE fielded widely, make a profound difference?

I suggest they did not. I think each and every one was valuable to the nation that fielded it. They often conveyed a very real and tangible tactical advantage -- but typically for a relatively brief window of time before counter-tactics or counter-devices were developed. And even if they had never been countered, given the enormous span of the war, from national population changes to resource availability to factory capacity to control of the world's oceans to battlefields in every clime and place, how significant could any single tactical advantage be? In even the most extreme cases they may have had a 2 or 3% influence on the outcome of the war.

The Germans and Japanese were not out-matched by a 2-3% margin. Rather, it was more like a 70-80% over-match that they faced by 1944 (as in they were over-matched by 2 1/2X to 4X).

So why should we believe that any breakthrough weapon, or combination of 2 or 3 breakthrough weapons, would have made a profound difference?

I think Patrick is right on point.

Except maybe for one case -- that whole atomic bomb thing.

That one case, I think, stands alone. But even there, it requires not just a working design of a bomb, but also a resource base and industrial base for production, and a working delivery system that can be brought in to effective range.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Legion 425 May 2018 2:35 p.m. PST

Agreed … it's more than just effective "break thru" weapons, etc. … Again its the troop/crew behind it under capable, competent leadership …

Lion in the Stars25 May 2018 4:48 p.m. PST

Let's pick on the Russians for a moment. They were planning on replacing all their shot-out and ~50-year-old Moisin-Nagant rifles with a new design semi-auto. The Tokarev SVT38 (later polished into the SVT40).

It's significantly lighter than a Moisin, the troops loved it. Held 10 rounds of the same ammunition as a Moisin in a detachable box magazine.

But it requires a special tool to disassemble for general cleaning, had a lot of small pieces critical to function, and takes a lot more careful machining (= costs a lot more) to make. So it wasn't chosen to replace the Moisin.

Even so, the Soviets ended up making some 1.5million of them.

Too bad they needed about 10x that number to re-equip their entire army, but the Naval Infantry tended to use them.

Blutarski25 May 2018 6:08 p.m. PST

The Tokarev certainly did not come anywhere close to matching the Moisin-Nagant in terms of overall numbers issued, but it did see extensive service during the war – it was far from a rarity on the battlefield. In fact, photo evidence suggests that captured Tokarevs (The SVT-40 version at any rate) were often put to use by German infantry.

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ScottS29 May 2018 10:16 a.m. PST

Dear Diary-

Today on TMP I learned that radar did not make a difference in WWII…

catavar29 May 2018 11:07 a.m. PST

No one weapon would probably have won the war for Germany but to say something in the pipeline couldn't have profoundly affected some aspect of it (in this case in the air) is short sighted I think. The Germans were being picked apart by allied air power in the west from '44 on. A hand held anti-air weapon in mid '44 may have have been worth it's weight in gold at Falaise.

I may be mistaken, but I thought radar had a profound effect in the Battle of Britain and at Leyte Gulf.

I'm sure allied tank crews would have something to say about the potential of the panzerfaust. I believe it's affect (it was still being improved) grew as it's range did. Your mileage may differ.

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP29 May 2018 2:33 p.m. PST

…to say something in the pipeline couldn't have profoundly affected some aspect of it (in this case in the air) is short sighted I think.

I guess in large part it depends on what we mean when we say "profound impact". I read, from the OP, a perspective that takes issue with assertions that I will paraphrase as: "if this one weapon had reached production soon enough, it could have changed the course of the war". This is what I would view as a profound impact. Not that it would have necessarily "won" the war, but changed the path, changed the course, shifted the timeline by more than a trivial amount.

Today on TMP I learned that radar did not make a difference in WWII…

I hope you didn't get that from me. I suggested Radar on the list specifically because it is a prime example of a breakthrough technology that DID go into production soon enough. And (as I had suggested) it was valuable to those who had it, as it conveyed a tactical advantage.

But are we really willing to suggest that it changed the course of the war? Did the British Home Chain radar shut down the German bombing of Jolly Old England? Did RAF Fighter Command fold up and go away when the Germans succeeded in knocking out some of the Home Chain sites? Or did they just adjust their patrolling schemes, and put more ground-spotters in place? Did German night-fighters with airborne radar shut down the British bombing campaign -- or did they just inflict a higher cost, and cause some adjustments to RAF Bomber Command tactics?

I'm sure allied tank crews would have something to say about the potential of the panzerfaust.

They already have said a fair bit about the potential of the panzerfaust. Just as the German tank crews did about the bazooka when it was first introduced.

The panzerfaust can fairly be described as a breakthrough weapon, a superior solution for the infantry to use against tanks in close-quarters fighting. But by 1944 every army had weapons for dealing with tanks in close-quarters fighting, and every army had tactics for using tanks in close-quarters that took into account the weapons the enemy had. Tanks were still useful and significant, and the presence of the panzerfaust did not prevent allied tanks from rolling through the streets of Aachen, Budapest, or Berlin.

A hand held anti-air weapon in mid '44 may have have been worth it's weight in gold at Falaise.

Worth it's weight in gold? Yep, quite agree. But a profound impact on the war? That's the question.

Let's take the challenge to imagine 1,000 Strelas or Blowpipes transported back in time to the Germans just as they started to pull back from Normandie.

Let's further assume that the troops were well enough trained to use them as effectively as trained troops could use them in their actual heyday. And that production was set-up well enough that there would be more coming (eventually) after the first 1,000 were used, so there was no driving need to conserve the first 1,000.

Talk about a breakthrough weapon! A 1973 technology solution to a real 1944 German problem.

So how do we envision it's impact on the war? I say, it gives the USAAF and RAF a real shock for the first week or so. Then they start to adapt. The gives the Germans a tactical advantage -- their ground forces have more effective low-level anti-air capability.

But let's remember that they already HAD very capable low-level anti-air capability. Quad-20mms were nothing to sneeze at. And as the Germans started to scale up quad-20s into higher volume production, they rather suddenly started to shift to their pre-existing 37mm AA gun. Why? Because the allied tac air started flying higher … outside of the effective range of the 20mm gun.

So give the Germans Strelas and Blowpipes and you imagine that suddenly the allied airforces will disappear from the skies? I don't. I see them dropping bombs or firing rockets from 2Km instead of 1Km. I see them capturing one or two as their ground forces advance, and discovering ways to spoof or out-maneuver. So by the time of the Bulge tac air has flares and is trained in high-G evasive maneuvers with wingmen watching for and alerting on ground-launch. Yeah, it degrades their capabilities a bit, and their loss rates go up a bit, and the war goes on and Germany is stomped into roadkill, because a 2-5% change won't profoundly change a 3-to-1 advantage.

If we instead somehow magically transport the German army forward to a 1973 technology base across the board in 1944, then yes maybe we can have a profound effect on the war. Give them APDS, 800hp diesel engines, IR guided missiles, SAR missiles, man-portable SACLOS AT missiles, and effective vehicle IR combat equipment to go with their assault rifles and disposable infantry AT launchers, and maybe you do have a profound effect on the war. Or maybe not, because you still haven't addressed the resources and population problem, and you can't build all those things if you can't staff and supply the factories or access and distill the oil.

(Because in fact the Germans were pretty close to most of those things. But I don't think any one of them, if debugged and put into production in 1944, would have had a profound impact on the war.

That is not to say they would not have been useful to the Germans. Not to say they would not have been problems for the allies. Only saying that the issues Germany faced were bigger than any one or two weapons were going to resolve.)

An interesting topic. Much to consider…

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Legion 429 May 2018 3:12 p.m. PST

I think I heard some historian say, "The A-Bomb ended the war … but Radar won it … "

GreenLeader01 Jun 2018 2:27 a.m. PST

I think its an excellent discussion point very thought provoking and made me realise how often I've found myself thinking: 'if only they'd had x'

'We' do seem to be obsess a little about the minutiae of weaponry, whereas as someone pointed out before it would be interesting to somehow calculate just how less effective an infantry section carrying SMLEs would be than one carrying SA-80s (of course, some old sweats would say it would be more effective).

One can equally say the same for the use of DPM instead of khaki, or the advantage of having radios at fire team level, rather than section level etc etc etc.

I guess it all comes down to a thousand tiny steps forward.

Of course, in certain battles having *better* weapons might have altered the outcome (eg. what if the British had had a few Gatlings at Isandlwana?) but not easy to think of a war which might have ended differently (eg. the British still won the Zulu War in pretty short order and were always going to).

UshCha01 Jun 2018 5:58 a.m. PST

Its interesting to think about this. Radar, ignoring it as a weapon but as a data gathering system it has a lot of advantages over a superior weapon. You don't need even thousands to make it effective only a relatiely small and a relatievly small number of folkto run it, so its actually very cost effective. The same may be said of Turin's code cracking computer it was a data system and did not require much manpower. Now a superor weapon system is equally expensive to produce but to make it war winning, it needs thousands of men and machines to be diverted to its production. Given the expense it may not be worth it, cheaper more prolific weapon system will have the advantage.

In reality the atomic bomb proably did not have, relatiuely that much of the war effort diverted to produce it.

4th Cuirassier01 Jun 2018 6:59 a.m. PST

With radar I would suggest the biggest factor in its ability to make a difference was how it was deployed.

The RAF deployed it via the Dowding system, whose principles are still in use in all air defence systems today. The Germans in effect considered it a form of searchlight and attached it to AAA batteries, which trundled it around with them. IIRC the Kammhuber system used one radar to track its own fighter, which was tethered to a beacon and was steered onto the target by another radar which searched for enemy aircraft.

The fundamental technology was much the same, but the implementation was different and arguably decisively so.

Tanks same thing. Early war allied and Soviet doctrines were flawed compared to German. But the doctrine dictated what tanks were built. The allied doctrines resulted in superficially superior tanks but this didn't actually win the battles.

Legion 401 Jun 2018 7:38 a.m. PST

Tanks same thing. Early war allied and Soviet doctrines were flawed compared to German. But the doctrine dictated what tanks were built. The allied doctrines resulted in superficially superior tanks but this didn't actually win the battles.
Totally agree, as I have said before the German's early war victories demonstrated an "almost ruthless" effectiveness and efficiency that the Allies couldn't match at that time.

Fred Cartwright01 Jun 2018 9:05 a.m. PST

Probably the only weapon that could have won the war for the Germans was the development of an atomic bomb before the allies. That assumes of course that they could get enough fissionable material for a reasonable number of bombs. With even their limited resource base they could have produced enough suitable bombers to devastate allied cities, maybe even an Amerika bomber.

Andy ONeill01 Jun 2018 12:05 p.m. PST

I had in mind the cheap SAMs for knocking bombers out the sky over germany rather than hand held missiles.
These were way cheaper and quicker to build than v2 and would have been easier to refine to a production model. They could potentially have been fielded way earlier than V weapons and then no need for me163, me262 and other whackier planes.

I think these magically delivered blowpipe missiles would have had a huge effect making plane based spotting and FB ground attack missions suicide missions overnight.
Yes, these were relatively risky missions as it was.
There's a big difference between 90% death and 5% (or whatever it was).

BTW Standing off to 2km just wasn't an option for a ww2 fighter bomber.
500m was long range. Wildly so for rockets.

Radar had a huge effect.
The plane mounted radar that could detect subs was a game changer.
I seem to recall a naval officer interviewed saying hedgehog also had a pretty big effect. link

Lee49401 Jun 2018 2:55 p.m. PST

Not sure I get the point. If there is one. So I suppose if the Germans had developed the A Bomb first and obliterated London you'd still argue it was all a myth?

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP01 Jun 2018 6:32 p.m. PST

I had in mind the cheap SAMs for knocking bombers out the sky over germany rather than hand held missiles.
These were way cheaper and quicker to build than v2 and would have been easier to refine to a production model.

Not sure what the basis is for this assertion. A guidance and detonation system that reliably reaches and activates within a target box 25m x 25m x 25m moving at 250mph in any of 3 dimensions is somewhat more complicated than a guidance system that reliably hits within 5km of a target point on a 2d plane that is fixed and immovable, with an impact detonation system. And yet, the V2 was never able to achieve the desired accuracy.

But it hardly matters to this discussion. Let us assume away the challenges and start from the hypothetical position that it could be done, technologically.

They could potentially have been fielded way earlier than V weapons and then no need for me163, me262 and other whackier planes.

And yet, every nation that had a choice of fielding SAMs or interceptors from the 1960s to today, chose to field BOTH.

Waaaaay back in my Berkeley college days, I had a room mate who had been a NORAD interceptor ground controller. He had spent a couple years in the USAF vectoring F-106s around the west coast. There were US Army AD (air defense) zones, covered by Nike missiles of various marks (Nike Ajax, Nike Hercules … IDK). I have a hard time getting to the assumption that a German SAM in 1944 was going to be substantially superior to a Nike missile of the late 1970s.

The targets they were intercepting were expected to be TU-95 "Bear" bombers -- big, easy to see targets that flew in straight lines at constant sub-sonic speeds at high altitude -- a bit better than B-29s but within the same parameter set. Clearly not some stealth supercruise terrain huggers.

Yet the US DoD never assumed that all they needed were Nike missiles -- it was ALWAYS a mixed and layered defense. Oh, and their criteria for a successful exercise was never as high as 90%. Meaning that at least 15%, and frequently more, of the intercept targets got through the defenses. And those targets were assumed to be carrying H-bombs. :(

I think these magically delivered blowpipe missiles would have had a huge effect making plane based spotting and FB ground attack missions suicide missions overnight.

For as much as a week, maybe two or three.

Yawn …

Really, do we have any evidence that the presence of hand-held AA missiles shut down ground attack missions by the USAF in Vietnam? Did they even shut down piston-engined air attacks by AD-1s or A-26 (renamed B-26 by that time)?

Or did front-line sophisticated layered AD of long-range SA-2s -3s and -6s, with short-range SA-7s and -9s, and 57mm, 37mm and 23mm radar-directed automatic guns shut down the Israelis in Sinai and the Golan Heights?

What happens to the brilliant German breakthrough radar-guided SAM when someone dumps some aluminum strips ("window", now more frequently called "chaff") out the lead plane in the formation?

Or when a plane in the formation starts broadcasting pulses on the same wavelength that the guidance system uses?

The suggestion that a new weapon system will leave the opposition helpless is simply not shown as the common result in warfare, not in WW2, not before, not after. Yet when we play our historical what-ifs out in our thinking, we somehow presume that the opposition will be fully static. If we do this, they don't change anything, they just fail. Didn't happen that way.

BTW Standing off to 2km just wasn't an option for a ww2 fighter bomber.

Yes it was.

No reason not to drop bombs from 2-3km. Mosquito pathfinders did it all the time, with very good accuracy. B-26s did in much of the French railways with 4km drops.

So even IF you shut down the fighter bombers strafing on or near the battlefield … so what? Yes, it improves the tactical position of the Germans. How much? Show me a single campaign that was won by tac air battlefield strafing.

Bomb the bridge, and does it matter that you can't rocket the tank?

Not as effective as strafing, to be sure. Far less distraction and demoralization on the receiving end.

But was the US / British margin of victory so thin that it would have made "a profound difference"? I don't think so.

US forces won battles in fog. British forces won battles at night. When you have more material to re-supply with, more troops to re-enforce with, better mobility (trucks vs. horses) to put more troops at the point of contact, to re-enforce at the point of advantage and to re-supply at the point of decision, better comms (radios at company and platoon level), better artillery, tanks supporting 8x more of your tactical engagements … etc. etc., you don't suddenly lose when you don't have air support over the battlefield. Maybe you don't win as easily, or as quickly. But it is a difference of a couple of percent, while your advantage is of several multiples.

The plane mounted radar that could detect subs was a game changer.

Yep.

And as soon as the Germans figured out what was happening they put RWRs and schnorkels on their subs.

A decent RWR on a target can detect a radar search for 2 – 5X the range that the radar unit can detect the target. A good one at more than 10x the range.

The problem that the U-Boats had was not that they were technologically surpassed. They were out-produced. Out-produced in every way.

Even on the technology front -- RWR would have saved many U-Boats, but could not be produced fast enough to retrofit the fleet fast enough. Think about it -- how much easier must it be to build a radar receiver for 400 450-ton ships, than to build a radar transceiver for 2,000 airplanes AND 50 blimps AND 800 escort vessels?

But it was not just that they were out-produced in any one class of system. There were just too many anti-submarine assets. Air patrols spanning the whole Atlantic, cheap AS warships built in the hundreds, so that every convoy had multiple escorts close and far, escort carriers forming the center of hunter-killer groups operating independently of the convoys, airborne search radar, magnetic anomaly detectors, sonar/asdic … and at the final point of contact hedgehog, even. So many threat classes operating in numbers against one target class -- the U-boat, that almost always operated alone.

Take any one of those weapon systems out of the mix. No airborne surface-search radar. Does it change the course of the campaign?

It wasn't a few percentage points of advantage the turned the tide against the U-boats. It was an advantage of several multiples.

Or so it seems to me.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Fred Cartwright02 Jun 2018 3:16 a.m. PST

While I agree with your overall conclusions Mark, you are over egging the pudding somewhat. You don't need to kill even 90% of the bombers to cause a rethink by the attackers. The Schweinfurt raids cost the US about 26% of the bombers sent, but that shut down US deep penetration raids in to Germany for 4 months. And for every countermeasure there is a counter, countermeasure. Window disrupted German night fighter operations for a while, but they developed new tactics and better radar that was less confused by it and RAF bomber losses started to go up again. Even the USAF in Vietnam with the most sophisticated anti radar and anti SAM tactics, including new weapons and dedicated aircraft couldn't degrade the NV defences sufficiently to avoid losses. They got so bad at one point that the pilots rebelled demanding changes to reduce B-52 losses. Radar guided SAM's would have been a major boost for the Germans, but not a war winner. It would have forced the allied airforces to divert resources to defeating the threat which might have helped prolong the war. Probably fortunate for the Germans as all it might have achieved for them would have been the dubious distinction of being the first country on the receiving end of an atomic bomb!

mkenny02 Jun 2018 4:23 a.m. PST

And for every countermeasure there is a counter, countermeasure.

Except in the case of WW2. Every German 'back of a fag packet' design/concept is magically assumed to enter service overnight and be a complete success. The Allies on the other hand sit transfixed and are never able to respond to anything.

Fred Cartwright02 Jun 2018 6:24 a.m. PST

Except in the case of WW2. Every German 'back of a fag packet' design/concept is magically assumed to enter service overnight and be a complete success. The Allies on the other hand sit transfixed and are never able to respond to anything.

Eh?! Plainly not true. A couple of examples. German guided missiles and bombs were quite swiftly countered by the use of smoke screens and jamming of the guidance signals and acoustic torpedos by noise maker buoys. WW2 was the start of electronic warfare where each sides technological advance was countered by the other in a continual battle of wits.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP02 Jun 2018 8:35 a.m. PST

Without putting words in mkenny's mouth I believe he was being facetious Fred.

catavar02 Jun 2018 6:42 p.m. PST

I think saying a weapon that has the potential to cause more casualties couldn't have had a marked affect (or profound difference if you like) is not looking at the bigger picture.

Consider the German StG44 being massed produced in '42. Assuming they could supply all the ammo needed wouldn't that have made the typical German soldier more effective? Did the AK47 make a difference in Vietnam? I believe it did.

How about the Panzerfaust? While there were several anti-tank options available here was one effective against most tanks that any Tom, Dick or Harry (as we used to say) could use w/o assistance. Not sure how it works? Just read the simple instructions on the side. Most were effective out to 100ft, but by wars end some could reach 330ft. Would an improved one have made a difference? Did RPG's have an impact in Mogadishu? I think so.

I'm not saying making a difference (profound or otherwise) is the same thing as winning. But consider WWI. Why wasn't Germany occupied in 1918 like in 1945? Could it have been the general exhaustion felt by all involved?

I believe the ability of any weapon that could potentially drag out a conflict or make the cost too high for one side could have a profound effect (sadly, even if it's only felt by the people at the short end of the spear). Could the Luftfaust, or some other similar system, have had the same impact in the air as a Kamikaze plane did in the Pacific? Fortunately we'll never know.

Lion in the Stars02 Jun 2018 9:01 p.m. PST

I gotta laugh at the idea of a bunch of Stingers or SA7s getting anywhere near the B17 formations.

You need bigger missiles for that. Something on par with Patriot or Buk.

Andy ONeill03 Jun 2018 1:56 a.m. PST

Or waterfall.
Yes, shooting a stinger at a b17 would be a strange idea.
I must have missed that being suggested.

4th Cuirassier03 Jun 2018 3:08 a.m. PST

Why wasn't Germany occupied in 1918 like in 1945?

Because they surrendered before it happened. Their armies were smashed, they had been defeated in every battle since April, they had lost 1.8 million men over that time, they were out of food and the navy and army were in mutiny.

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