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"Tanks and Tungsten - Germany’s little big problem" Topic

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Wolfhag22 May 2023 5:18 p.m. PST

We all know about Germany's short supply of Tungsten but this goes into more detail regarding the effects:

PDF link

On their tank's final drive, it seems that when faced with similar engineering issues, German planners and engineers elected to use straight-tooth gear designs, which are easier to manufacture, but more prone to shearing of individual gear teeth.

A clear reason why double-herringbone gears weren't used remains shrouded in the past. However, a lack of tungsten carbide needed for the complex milling of those gears may have contributed to that choice.

While in service during the war, the German Panther tank was especially prone to failure in the final drive unit and transmission. German prisoners of war interviewed post-war as part of the 1951 U.S. Army Operations Research Office technical memorandum ORO-T-117 said that "usually more Panthers were disabled [from mechanical issues] by overland moves than in actual battles.". Though capable of neutral steering — turning in place without moving forward or in reverse — French post-war testing of the Panther found that doing so would cause a failure in the final drive.

Mechanical problems, especially in the drivetrains, bedeviled much of the German panzer fleet and not just Panthers. According to the post-war analysis of ORO T-117, a full 40 percent of German tanks recovered by the Allies were lost to crew abandonment or scuttling. Even the Panther's combat debut had warning notes for the future.


Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP23 May 2023 6:22 a.m. PST

Interesting and helps explain a lot about German tank mechanical failures.


Blutarski23 May 2023 9:19 a.m. PST

Nice find, Wolfhag – a keeper.

Re precision machining, it seems that the USA had a lead in this field in the WW2 period. Precision machine tools and skilled operators enabled the USN to develop reliable double-reduction gearing for their naval turbines through the incorporation of precision-machined helical gears, which were notoriously difficult to produce. The US was the only nation, to the best of my knowledge, to successfully do so on a large scale manufacturing basis.

About twenty years ago, I was fortunate enough to examine the complex internal gearing of the double-reduction gear unit aboard USS Massachusetts. It was a work of great mechanical artistry that should be on display in a museum – just awesome workmanship.


Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP23 May 2023 1:09 p.m. PST

Let is just be grateful that the Axis (well the European ones anyway) were confined to Europe and its raw materials.

Tungsten, chromium, and a dozen other elements vital to metallurgy were denied them, as largely only available in Sub Saharan Africa or the Mid East. As for Oil fields…..forget it. Where did rubber come from for those tyres?

Schogun23 May 2023 2:55 p.m. PST

Same idea for Germany's jet turbine engines. Short of nickel, chromium and cobalt, their turbine blades couldn't handle 1,350+ degrees. Combustion chambers had to be replaced after twenty-five to fifty hours of flying time.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP24 May 2023 6:30 a.m. PST

Where did rubber come from for those tyres?

Germany did have pre-war stockpiles of rubber as well as rubber seized from France and some brought in by blockade runners. However the lions share was synthetic rubber developed by IG Farben. By 1943 this synthetic rubber made up 90 percent of German rubber.

Blutarski24 May 2023 6:44 a.m. PST

Another issue related to the tungsten shortage was the progressive disappearance of tungsten core (pzgr40) composite rigid "arrowhead" anti-tank projectiles after 1942. These were originally available for nearly all major calibers of tank and anti-tank gun in the German inventory (starting with the sBzB41 28/20mm squeeze-bore.

Interestingly, Ian Hogg states that the Germans originally considered use of uranium carbide for the piercing core. Was this perhaps a portent of things to come with use of depleted uranium?


Blutarski24 May 2023 6:58 a.m. PST

Another item I read some time ago was that a side-effect of Operation Bagration driving the Germans out of Belorussia, was that German industry lost its access to certain minerals crucial to its steel-making industry, like manganese, nickel, etc.

I wonder if that might have been the reason in the background for the incidence of brittle glacis plates on late-war Panther tanks.

The more you read, the deeper the rabbit hole seems to go.


Personal logo Mserafin Supporting Member of TMP24 May 2023 8:27 a.m. PST

IIRC, the reason German late-war armor was brittle was due to a lack of nickel. They lost their supply of this when the Soviets took Petsamo in northern Finland, which they have kept to this day.

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