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German Panzers Best Tanks?

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Posted on Feb 14, 2010 6:49:09 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 17, 2010 9:56:22 PM PST
DarthRad says:
Hamburger Dude,

Well welcome to this thread and don't let anybody scare you off. I continue to learn things on this thread. It is getting increasingly hard to slug read through everything that's been written, though, and I find myself in danger of repeating myself.

My thinking about the Tiger tanks and the Panther tanks, etc., was that the big problem that the Germans had, especially Hitler, simply never understood that tank warfare in Europe would change from a combined arms "blitzkrieg" into a grinding combined arms battle of attrition, in which losing one part of your warfare system had a domino effect on your ability to wage war in the other areas.

Hitler had fought in the trench warfare of WWI (and apparently LOVED it - he was never happier than to be down there in the mud and stench and death). and did know a thing or two about the power of tanks and the new theories of combined arms tank warfare, what became the German "blitzkrieg".

Unfortunately for Germany, Hitler knew so much about war that he thought he knew more than his generals and weapons designers, and he was the only head of state who was actively involved in changing the minute details of weapons specifications during WWII.

There is a lot of mythology about the German blitzkrieg. It was simply combined arms assault, using infantry, artillery, tanks, and airpower, all coordinated to bring massive amounts of pressure to one focal spot, in order to achieve a breakthrough. If you accomplish a breakthrough at two focal spots, rapid exploitation of the two breakthroughs allow you to form a pincers and entrap your enemy, and this did become the classic German "cauldron" tactic.

The problem is, of course that blitzkrieg only truly works if your enemy is completely and utterly retarded and/or unprepared to defend or counter this style of warfare. Think the U.S. versus Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Republican Guard. Twice.

Well, the French and British and the Soviets were the Iraqi Republican Guard of their era, during WWII, except they had a better excuse than Saddam in that nobody had ever done this sort of warfare before. And so they had no clue as to how to defend against blitzkrieg. Packing your troops into fortified defenses such as the Maginot line certainly was not the answer. Nor was flinging large numbers of technically superior but completely uncoordinated tanks in counterattacks the answer. Undefended airfields holding all your airpower within striking range of your enemy's bombers were definitely not a good idea.

But, everybody learned. And I do mean everybody. By 1943, blitzkrieg was not happening anymore as all sides learned how to fight it and to defend against it. Instead of "lightening war" you now just had the same old grinding, massive, high casualty battles of attrition just like in World War I, except this time the casualties piled up as the result of multiple weapons systems.

How do you fight against a blitzkrieg? Well, first and foremost, you need lots and lots of anti-armor weapons. Minefields and well concealed anti-tank guns work, as do well coordinated artillery and tactical air strikes.

As WWII dragged on, all sides learned how to defend against a combined arms assault. It became increasingly difficult to bring a force to bear on one spot to achieve a breakthrough, or to close the pincers in an envelopment movement.

Kursk was where the Soviets finally learned how to break the German combined assault in an open battlefield (Stalingrad doesn't count - Hitler was an idiot to order the German Army to entrap itself in the city). At the same time, when the Soviets counterattacked at the end of the Battle of Kursk, the Germans took an enormous toll on Soviet armor. The Germans proved to be the best of all at containing combined arms assaults.

That the sides would even up in tactical know how was something that seems to have crept up on the Germans. They never ever seemed to realize that if the war devolved into a battle of attrition, that they would need to arm themselves appropriately. Instead of building low numbers of the superior tanks, they needed large numbers of good tanks.

They needed a mass produced, cast armor version of the Pz IV, in other words.

I think I posted this earlier, but here it is again. I was astounded to read in this book by a former Canadian-German dragooned into the German tank corps "(PANZER GUNNER: From My Native Canada to the German Osfront and Back. In Action with 25th Panzer Regiment, 7th Panzer Division 1944-45") that after his PZ IV was knocked out, he and his crew spent the next month or more in the rear lines working as cheap labor, while waiting for their next AFV. This was exactly the opposite of the case with the U.S. and British, who always had plenty of tanks, and increasingly few crew.

This lack of tanks meant that the Germans simply could not prevent the Soviets from breaking through in their lines in between defensive points. The Eastern Front was simply too massive. The German tactic of sending in Tigers or Panthers to try to counterattack and reduce each new Soviet salient was seriously flawed.

The Germans were capable of mass producing just about everything else - guns, Panzerfausts, artillery, etc., but simply did not have the institutional mentality for wanting to mass produce tanks. Hitler demanded tank superiority, not understanding that numbers were far more important.

Posted on Feb 14, 2010 7:08:53 PM PST
DarthRad says:
Lai chi Wei,

Well, that was wierd, it took me so long to write that last post that you snuck your post in first. We seem to be saying some of the same things.

Posted on Feb 14, 2010 7:24:38 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 14, 2010 11:58:58 PM PST
Iva Buch says:

I thought you were one and the same !!!!

Scare him off - Darth whatever are you saying !!

Couple of points I believe re Tank Production

The Germans were never setup to mass produce tanks the same way that the USA were able to via the mass assembly lines of the automotive industry.

Plus as you have mentioned they were overly engineered and the designs were quite complex that they did not readily allow them to be mass built.

In 1941 Hitler initially asked for as many as 1000 tanks a month, Todt who was minister for Arnament and War Production said that it would cost 2 billion marks, require a hundred thousand skilled workers and disrupt submarine and aircraft deliveries originally secured by cutting back the construction of new munitions plants.

German engineering as it still is today concentrates on a small number of very technical, hopefully superior vehicles which is the old adage quantity vs quaility.

To try and aleviate the problem of a lack of manufactured tanks, the Germans idea was to try and hold the battlefield so that knocked out tanks could be recovered and repaired.

Unfortunaetly for the Germans they never thought past the point as to how do we recover this heavy AFV if it gets knocked out or suffers mechanical problems which is when the Tigers and Panthers were abandoned on the battlefield.

Their spare parts system was abysmal, I have read many an account where a staff officer or Tiger battalion commander has had to send staff back to the plants in Germany to fast track such items as engines and other spare that were in scarce supply. Speer when he took over from Todt, was only able to keep up production of tanks via transfering resources from the manufacture of other vehicles and by cutting back on spare parts.

The latter dropped from over a 1/4 of tank related contracts in 1943 to less than 10 % in December 1944.

Although tank production did in fact increase at the later stages of the war it mattered little since available resources were already spread over two main fronts as well as the Italian.

The bombing campaign also severly damaged the Germans ability to not only manufacture their AFV but also to get them to the front via the rail network. In the Autumn of 1944, Allied heavy bombers struck repeatedly most of the big tank manufacturing plants, Daimler Benz, Man in Nuremberg, and the Henschel plant at Kassel. Although production was able to be sustained, only around half of the 700 Panthers and PZ IV scheduled for delivery in December reached the front lines.

Tank factories were always on the top of the list for the allies, the Tiger factory at Kassel alone suffering 120 raids during the war. The effectiveness of the bombing was one reason why the Jagdpanther was only built in small numbers.

Yes the allies produced x amount of tanks compared to the Germans, but the allies never had to put up with a massive bombing campaign where all their tanks manufactured made it to the front. (hopefully not meeting a U boat on the way.)

Where as the Germans could only destroy the allied tanks once they took to the battlefield, so they had better be good at it. !!

I agree the whole blitzkreig thing came to a screaming stop after Stalingrad where it did become a battle of attrition and this then is where the heavy tanks came unto their own, problem being when you are on the retreat you cannot recover them

Keep up the good work I am still learning from your posts !!

Posted on Feb 15, 2010 1:15:59 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 15, 2010 1:24:14 AM PST
DarthRad says:
It was really Hitler's fault, more than anything else, that the German Army never had a mass produced tank.

Reading the history of the development of the Tiger and Panther tanks, Hitler repeatedly stepped in to force the tank designers to add more armor.

The Panther tank was supposed to be a 30-35 ton tank, something similar to the T-34 in weight and armor, but with a much better gun. Hitler caused it to balloon to over 40 tons. At Hitler's insistence a Panther II was planned which had even more armor, and would have put it into the same weight class as the Tiger I. But this project mysteriously disappeared, probably quietly shelved by cooler heads who realized how impractical it was.

Hitler wanted tank superiority, and he believed this meant technically superior tanks. He didn't figure out how these would be produced.

The Soviet Union took a completely different approach to the meaning of tank superiority. They understood that numbers were the most important thing. They were able to manufacture the 58,000+ T-34s during WWII only by taking extreme measures, such as lowering their quality control standards. T-34 cast turrets had weak spots, the welded cast armor plate came apart easily, etc. But they had massive quantities of these T-34 tanks by 1943. It was understood very early on by the Soviets that the T-34 had many deficiencies - these were corrected only very reluctantly, as the Soviets wanted to keep the factories churning, and continued to push these dysfunctional tanks out into combat. By the time the T-34/85 came out, solving most of the earlier problems of the T-34, it was completely outgunned by the German Panther.

Now, the Germans understood mass production, understood that if you have several million soldiers, you need several million rifles. And so they mass produced rifles, no problem. They mass produced Panzerfausts, lots of stuff.

And the Soviets certainly had little in the way of a mass produced car industry like the U.S. Early in WWII, they only had a few T-34s and KV-1s. The vast majority of their tanks were obsolete BT tanks and the like.

But through sheer willpower, the Soviets willed into existence a mass production industry to produce the T-34. And the Soviets worked under an even more severe disadvantage than the Germans - they lost two of their early T-34 factories, the one at Kursk, and the one at Stalingrad, to the advancing German Army.

The Soviets pulled what equipment and personnel that they could salvage, and started over in the Ural mountains. The book "T-34 Mythical Weapon" says a lot of nasty things about the T-34, but what it says of the Soviet shift to the Urals is nothing but astounding. And that is the fact that contrary to the usual Soviet propaganda, the shift of the Kursk factory to the Urals was poorly planned and done very late as the Germans were arriving. The replacement factory in the Urals started with almost new personnel, and probably a lot of new equipment. In the midst of the Russian winter. The Stalingrad factory was hardly salvaged at all.

And so, if you look at the historical record, saying that the Germans never set up a mass production system for tanks is correct, but the fact is there were certainly no technological reasons preventing them from figuring out how to mass produce tanks. After all, the dumb ol' Soviets figured out how to do so, under terrible war conditions.

The difference was that the Soviet tank industry was told by Stalin that they had better build lots and lots of tanks, or else, whereas the German tank industry was told by Hitler that he wanted only the best tanks possible from them. Hitler never ever said, OK, we need MORE TANKS! MASSIVE QUANTITIES OF TANKS! Or else all of you will be shot tomorrow! No, Hitler wanted only superior tanks, he wanted the German tanks to be able to shoot holes in the enemy tanks and be impervious to getting holed in return. It somehow never connected in his brain that such superior tanks could not be mass produced in the numbers that the T-34 and M4 Sherman were being produced, and that superior tanks are NOT INVINCIBLE, that simple things such as mines and giant potholes, normal combat wear and tear, simply RUNNING OUT OF GAS even, would cause the loss of a lot of these superior tanks.

Soviet war-making skills remained atrocious throughout WWII, and for every victory, they would suffer massive casualties that would come very close to making it a defeat. For instance, the German defeat at Stalingrad was accompanied by the Soviet defeat (with horrendous Soviet losses) in the second battle of Rhzev (aka Operation Mars). The initial destruction of the German attack at Kursk was followed by the far more massive Soviet tank losses at Prokhorovka. Etc. From what I can tell, the Soviets never really changed their basic tactics of a headlong charge of men and tanks after a heavy artillery barrage. The main difference was that the Soviet attacks stayed strong whereas the German ability to defend against them grew weaker and weaker.

This is why Stalin kept demanding that the Allies open a second front - by themselves, with their crude tactics, the Soviets were getting bled to death by the Germans on the Eastern Front. I recall reading a statistic that if you were a Soviet male born in 1918, there was an 80% chance that you would die in WWII. From the horrendous casualties, I certainly believe it.

The Germans were able to hold off the Soviets through 1943, until the U.S. and British finally opened up a second European front, with the invasion of Sicily, at the same time that the Germans were fighting the Soviets to a stalemate at Kursk. Most German accounts of Kursk blame Hitler's shift of the SS Panzer divisions from Kursk to Sicily for the subsequent unremitting losses to the Soviets. They don't look at the broader picture.

The strategic bombing campaign which started in 1943 from the Western Allies finally bore fruit in early 1944, grinding down the Luftwaffe and sapping ever more of Germany's industrial output. In terms of the war effort required of the Germans to respond, the bombing campaign really was yet another major war front.

By mid 1944, the Western Allies were fighting the Germans on three fronts - in Italy, in the air with the strategic bombing campaign, and then finally in France. All of these arenas required that the Germans divert manpower and war material from the effort to stop the Soviets in the Eastern Front.

Anyway, that is my latest interpretation for why Kursk was a "turning point" for the Germans in WWII. It really wasn't that the Germans got their butts kicked by the Soviets. The German attack was turned back by the Soviets, who then in turn proceeded to immolate their own tank corps against the Germans. A stalemate, in other words, but Kursk was followed by an inexorable sapping of German strength as the other fronts opened up, which was what really allowed the Soviets to gain the upper hand finally on the Eastern Front.

But, I think the Germans certainly could have done much better, fought a tougher defensive battle that could have bled the Soviets white and perhaps produced more stalemates on the Eastern Front, and allowed the Germans to hold onto strategic mine assets in the Ukraine/Finland and the oilfields of Romania. This would have staved off the sudden collapse of the German Army after January 1945.

Key to this would have been more tanks, and key to that would have been a different philosophy about how to build the "best tank" for the German Army. In retrospect, it's clear that the best tank for the German Army would have been simply one that was there in great enough numbers to stop the multiple offensive salients that the Soviets were able to create after the Battle of Kursk. Since the late model PZ IV was more than adequate to stop the T34-85, a mass produced slightly souped up version of the PZ IV, or perhaps a mass produced version of the 30-35 ton Panther tank that was ORIGINALLY PROPOSED by Guderian's Panzerkommission would have been ideal. A cheap, all cast armor turreted tank with the 75mm KwK 42.....

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2010 9:04:35 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 16, 2010 9:08:49 AM PST
S. Heminger says:
Anandasubramanian C. Pranat
RE: the King Tiger. Outran? You seriously believe that with all the tech info out there. Both cross country and on-road performance was fairly lacking due to its high weight and somewhat weak powertrain which also contributed to its lack of value for inability to use many bridges of the time. Granted, the King tiger was a hell of an engineering marvel at the time but it had far too many faults to to call it the best. It was certainly NOT versatile. The best for ballance of positive vs negative would have to be the Panther, or for sheer numbers built and deployed the later MK IV's.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2010 6:12:07 PM PST
Darth Rad
Thanks for the welcome. I used to frequent the newsgroups a few years ago but discovered that a few giant egos dominated them and jumped on anyone who didn't echo their views. Glad to see, so far, that is not the case here.
Your views on tank production, the Allied bombing campaign and the Battle of Kursk closely parallel mine. The Germans, of course, not only wanted better tanks, but better looking tanks. Whereas Soviet tanks rolled off the production lines to the front with rough surfaces still showing the casting marks, the Germans generally machined and painted theirs, wasting still more time on unnecessary detail work. Quality can only overcome quantity to a certain point. Had the Germans set up a real mass-production system for tanks though, how many more could their limited oil supplies have supported? Many more tanks require many more supply vehicles and I wonder just what kind of numbers we'd be talking about.

Posted on Feb 17, 2010 11:24:23 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 18, 2010 12:53:01 AM PST
DarthRad says:
We are sort of getting into the territory of what ifs here, more like the other thread about whether the Germans could have beaten the Soviets. The Germans could have done a lot of things differently early on in the war and made a crucial change in the outcome. I for one do think the Germans absolutely could have beaten the Soviets.

Oil shortages were not a factor until the summer-fall of 1944. That was when the US/British strategic bombing campaign finally started targeting the German synthetic fuel plants. At the same time, in late August 1944, with the Soviets advancing, the Romanians and their oil fields flipped over to the Allied side.

Once the German fuel reserves ran out in late 1944, the military collapsed rapidly. This was especially so on the Eastern Front.

The key thing is that Hitler deliberately changed the designs of the Panther and Tiger tanks to make them into dominant breakthrough tanks. These were offensive weapons. Yes, they were terrific at defensive ambushes also, but a terrible waste of German industrial output to use them as such, because the much cheaper Marders and Stug IIIs and Pz IVs did a pretty good job of defensive ambushes also.

Because the Germans had so few tanks, and not enough even of the Stug IIIs and Marders, they were constantly faced with having to try to stop unopposed offensive salients by Soviet and US/British forces with counteroffensives. And so the Panthers and Tigers would go charging in and try to reduce the salient. And, because they were usually vastly outnumbered, these Panthers and Tigers might exact a huge toll on the Aliied tanks, but would eventually get ground down and attritioned away, and the Allied salient would keep rolling on.

Yes, early on in the war, there were a great many things that Germany could have done to win the war. But the striking thing is that once Germany started losing the war, neither Hitler nor any of his generals could think of a defensive strategy that could at least salvage the war from a total defeat. The only strategy that Hitler ever used in the defensive phase of the war was to demand constant counterattacks to reduce Allied salients, re-take lost territory, and then, when a German force was hopelessly surrounded, to demand that the German soldiers fight to the death and not retreat.

Look at the Western Front. At Caen, the Germans successfully set up a layered anti-tank defense and for a month ground down Monty's tank forces. When the US First Army broke through in Operation Cobra, Hitler's response was to order an immediate counterattack. The German forces were defeated at Mortain, and the very act of counterattacking instead of an organized fighting retreat trapped more of the German forces in the Falais pocket.

At Arracourt, Patton's Third Army had produced another salient, which Hitler demanded be counterattacked. Another defeat for the Germans.

The Battle of the Bulge, Operation Bodenplatte, these were all offensive operations ordered by Hitler which only wasted the remaining German reserves.

As battles such as Caen in the West, and Rhzev and Prokhorovka in the East demonstrated, whenever the German Army was able to put up a really good layered defense, they could exact horrendous casualties on the Allied forces.

But for the most part, Hitler pretty much sabotaged these defensive efforts. He was constantly ordering counterattacks which only wasted the German reserves. And having these powerful Panther and Tiger tanks made it tempting for him to continue to order these counterattacks because these tanks were supposed to be "superior" and thus capable of smashing and turning back these Allied salients. Except that even when they did succeed, the Germans were unable to hold the regained territory because.... the Panther and Tiger tanks would leave as they had to go to yet another salient that had to be smashed.

What Hitler needed to do was to order fighting retreats whenever the Allies broke through, to buy time to set up a new thoroughly organized defensive line. The German Army had the skills to drag out the war indefinitely, they just didn't usually get the right set of orders. More Battles of Caen, more Battles of Hurtgen Forest, more Battles of Rhzev. That's what the German Army needed.

This is a thread about the best German Tank. Yes, the Panthers and Tigers were technological marvels and highly deadly offensive weapons. But they were a waste of Germany's military industry. They were poorly suited for the needs of the German Army after 1943, which needed massive quantities of defensive anti-armor and anti-aircraft weapons to defend against the combined arms assaults of the Soviets and the US/British. The German Army did not need a few superior tanks capable of mounting counterattacks.

When you think about it, Hitler expended an enormous amount of his personal energy selecting weapons for the German armed forces. And he invariably selected offensive weapons that had a lot of sex appeal but were incapable of making any difference in the outcome of the war.

It's striking how Hitler made so many bad choices for which weapons to develop.

The US and British built strategic bombers, and eventually made that investment pay off. Prior to the war, the Luftwaffe chief of staff, Gen. Wever, had started a strategic four engine bomber - the Do-19 (Ural Bomber). When Wever was killed in a plane crash, his successor canceled that project. Hitler never again re-visited this issue. Could he not imagine that it would be easier to destroy Soviet tanks at the factory than on the battlefield?

The German air force never developed a long range strategic bomber, and although it is often said that they did not have the industrial capabilities to do so, I think that is clearly not true. The British built four engine bombers by simply sticking four of the engines that powered their fighters - the Rolls Royce Merlin, into a larger airframe. The Germans could have done the same thing, The Germans could have bombed all those Soviet tank factories in the Urals. They didn't.

Instead, Hitler chose the V-1 and V-2 weapons, which consumed vast sums of time and money to develop. And while terrifying, these were unguided weapons. They were useless for targeting military industries like tank factories.

The Germans came up with the Me-262, which really could have made a difference in the air war against the Allied strategic bombers. Except that Hitler delayed its use against Allied bombers by demanding that it be turned into an offensive fighter-bomber.

The Germans came up with a truly silent and nearly undetectable electro-diesel submarine, which could have won the Battle of the Atlantic for them and isolated the British Isles and prevented it from being used as a staging ground for the invasion of Europe. Except once again, they were too late.

And of course the atomic bomb. The Germans had a huge community of physicists capable of building the atomic bomb. Except most of them were Jewish or had Jewish relatives, and so fled the Nazis for America, where they would build the bomb, for the Americans. And the Nazis never really put much effort into building an atomic bomb, contrary to what is often thought, as the atomic bomb was thought to be a "Jewish" idea, and thus suspect.

Right, so the U.S. built the B-17, B-24, and B-29 and the atomic bomb, weapons that could destroy entire industries and cities. Germany built superior tanks with lots of armor and firepower that could punch holes in everybody else's tanks, but could only built a few of them. The U.S. built more B-29s than the Germans built Tiger tanks. Which weapon system had more firepower? Which one had more of an impact on winning WWII? That much is pretty obvious.

Posted on Feb 19, 2010 10:52:33 AM PST
S. Heminger says:
I know that this is a little off topic but I had to revise my earlier post regarding Showalter's book. Although it is definitely an interesting read it has VERY little value to those interested in serious book on the usage and development of the Wehrmacht's and Waffen SS' Panzer arms. Although I initially recommended it in this very forum, I was only a short ways into the book at the time. The further I read, the more the lack of ANY documentation or bibliography bothered me. Furthermore, Dr Showalter at times ALMOST seems to be lifting text directly books by Col David Glantz in particular without crediting it to him at all...all for the sake of reader friendliness, lol. In any case if anyone would like a closer look at both the positive and negative points as I saw them, take a look at my review. I feel it was written fairly...even though I knew going in that critical reviews typically have a less than 50% helpful rating.
If anyone of you are interested and haven't already read them, the two guides to German AFV's by George Bradford are quite good and really you could just about use a dart to choose a book equal to Showalters. It does synthesize a large amount of information but without sources cited he's just making assertions that NO ONE can prove.
As far as the quality of tanks goes, has anyone brought up the issue of the potential weakness in design because of German use of petrol engines versus the Soviet diesel powered vehicles? I haven't noticed anything, although admitedly I've been inconsistently checking the forum.
I still just can't decide whether as an all around vehicle I like the later PzKW IV's or the Panther as a better overall. The reliabillity of the Panther and the ground pressure of the somewhat narrow tracks just holds me back from latching on to it.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2010 3:39:26 PM PST
Gomez Addams says:
Mr. Creaney's original question starting this thread requires a complex and many-storied answer. Coming to an Internet message board may not be his best bet for that kind of answer. It's part of a life-long interest of mine, so I can't bear not responding at all. The best I can do is very briefly allude to some of the factors that worked for and against the German tanks and tank formations of WW2.
First, IMHO, we should break it down into four different categories. (1) The qualities of the tanks themselves, (2) the qualities of the crews, (3) the qualities of the commanders, staff, doctrine, and leaders of blitzkrieg warfare and armored warfare's central role in that, (4) the qualities of the command, staff, doctrine, and leaders the Germans had at the highest levels - which made them sometimes wildly successful because of the operational and strategic abilities -- but falling far short at the level of grand strategy, (5) the huge economic, demographic, etc. factors arrayed against each other regardless of the military abilities on any side, (6) various things that various Allies got wrong or got right in six years of open warfare with Germany.
It is essential for anyone seriously interested in the subject to understand that, in large part, other nations failed to grasp how tanks should best be used in war (together with not grasping the significance of tactical air support and recon) but the Germans soon grasped it like no others. There were significant glimmers in other nations, and if those nations had paid more attention, then maybe those glimmers would had more influence. Probably the three most important pre-War figures in devising the best theories about armored warfare were J.F.C. Fuller, B.H. Liddell Hart, and Heinz Guderian. The first two were British, and Fuller deserves much credit for developing the first tank offensive in WW1 that understand the new weapon and used it well. The secret of that success was not understood by many though. Fuller, a prophet not much heard in his own land, was certainly heard in Germany where he was guest of honor at Hitler's 1939 birthday party, where the highlight of the day was tank parades and demonstrations. Let's ignore Fuller's political sympathies and only think about military developments, though. Liddell Hart was also a Brit, and a respected historian and military journalist. I'm far from alone in saying that his post-War writing about military theory is the most important since at least Napoleon. Maybe since Sun Tzu. Due to the professional respect and connections that many German officers felt towards Liddell Hart, he was able to correspond and interview a great many of them immediately after the war, and his 'The German Generals Speak' is a classic work that corrected some early gross misunderstandings about German military successes - and later failures. Guderian was a German officer and a prophet and evangelist of the new armored warfare theories who ended up having huge influence and the German tank officers of the War. No other nation had a Guderian -- not with his influence anyway. Only the Germans seemed to really understand what Fuller was writing and saying, and embrace it, and as well they embraced Liddell Hart wider understanding of military theory *including* and a proper role for armor in it.
So, the Germans had a military leadership that fairly embraced a good understanding of these new tank things and just as important how to integrate their use into the overall military machine. To oversimplify what happened, and gloss over some things. It is also an oversimplification, and glossing over, to say the other nations never really picked up on things as they could/should have. This being a primarily U.S. Web site, I anticipate cries of "Patton! Patton!" and they're merited, but he wasn't the influence in the U.S. that Guderian was in Germany. (And, IMHO, not the theorist, either. A great commander, though, and born to command armored formations.) I also have to put in a small plug for my own U.S. Marines, who had understood and developed combined arms in offensive operations with tactical air, for instance.
The big difference between the Germans and the others in the years between the two Wars was that the Germans read everything written everywhere and thought about it with an open mind, and they were energetically seeking some edge that would let them develop a superior army despite the emasculating restrictions under the Treaty of Versailles. So, the Germans made a lot of smart choices, and equally importantly the other nations tended to miss the boat on those choices.
To directly answer Mr. Creaney's original mention of crew training, tactics, and motivation, the Germans had committed themselves to training and tactics for years, and had a relatively small number of personnel in their small army and such an small selection of personnel tends to mean only the most motivated are selected. The degree of cross-training among the members of any given German tank crew in 1940 was fairly unmatched. The armored tactics they employed were not only smart, but also would have been virtually impossible if the doctrine from the highest levels of their army had not already made it possible for them to organize units and operate appropriately at the tactical level. And the frequent overwhelming success of German offensives that made great use of the tank was partly because their opponents had completely screwed the pooch on doctrine and training, which meant that the well-prepared Germans didn't just have the edge but they were heavily overmatching their opponents.
Many have written that in May 1940, the best tank was the French R35, not the German Pz III or IV, although I really can't agree with that sentiment. At any rate, they were at least roughly comparable. But the big differences between the panzers and Renaults were two. First, the French Army had organized itself on a doctrine that spread out the R35s in tiny dribs and drabs throughout the infantry, to operate in their support while the German Army was organized to emphasize using the mobility and power of primarily tank formations to flank and envelop their opponents and destroy the enemy formations by isolating them. The infantry's role was to support the tanks in this. The German Army's doctrine was definitely superior but if they hadn't organized the tanks in the same fashion as the French (and most other armies), then they wouldn't have been able to do much with their doctrine.
So, I argue that the full understanding and use of blitzkrieg was more important than the development of the German tank corps, per se. Yes, blitzkrieg relied heavily on tanks in a central role, but without blitzkrieg then the German tanks would have been just as luckless in affecting the overall outcome of a campaign as the French R35s were, for instance.
The second big difference between the panzers and the Renaults was that -- almost as an accident -- a very small number of the Pz IVs had just been equipped with the long-barreled 75mm gun. The long 75mm had much higher velocity and could hit and destroy enemy tanks from hundreds of yards beyond the enemy tanks' range.
The long 75mm on a few German tanks wasn't nearly as important a factor as the organizations of the tanks in each opposing army, but it was a factor.
It also highlights two somewhat overlooked things. First, the range and destructive power of guns (& their ammo) was a very fast-moving arms race during the war. (In 1939, a really high-powered rifle was a legitimate antitank gun but by say 1942 a 37mm that had been the main gun in the invasion of France was an hopeless pop gun versus most main battle tanks.) Armor increased as part of the arms race, and the important innovation of slanting, or sloping, a tank's armor magnified the effectiveness of a given slab of armor. But the guns in Germany and Russia were always managing to catch up to if not surpass the armor that faced them. If the armor had managed to always dominate the guns, then tanks would have had little ability to make offensive gains, and we might have had WW1 all over again but in slightly updated appearance.
German understanding of how to employ tanks affected not just how they designed the organization of units, but also the designs of the tanks themselves, of course. So, the interior layouts tended to always include a two-way radio in every tank, in close reach of the tank commander, and operated by someone with the technical know-how to keep them in constant touch. Compare to Russian tanks, which were mostly crippled by lack of radio and very poor placement of the radio when it was present. The Germans tended to always have enough machine guns on a tank, and the debacle with the combat debut of the Tiger illustrates (among other things) why it is bad to not have the MGs.
Perhaps consistent with the famed American love of the road, the American AFV designer Walter Christie kept developing ever newer and better suspension systems. Eventually, the American designs benefitted from this more than other countries managed to, and the usual superiority of American tanks in speed and mobility was a factor in how they were able to make progress against the Germans in Western Europe. Earlier in the War, German mobility tended to be superior to the other combatants they fought, and they used this to good advantage, but the tens of thousands of Shermans that usually could outflank and outrun the panzers made it harder to succeed in the defensive role even with superior guns and armor. There were other very important factors in this, but mobility was certainly one of them.
IMHO, you'll never go wrong reading Steve Zaloga when reading about tanks, although his greatest expertise is probably Russian tanks not German. That's okay, Zaloga's almost-best is almost always better than someone else's best. Sadly, a lot of his most productive years were writing inside the U.S. defense establishment and we can't read what he wrote, presumably it will be declassified some day.
Since Amazon is originally a book-selling site, let me recommend the following titles:

'The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers' by Paul M. Kennedy, which is a classic, but in this context read it to remind ourselves of why the German tank warfare of 1939-45 would have had to have been far more effective to materially alter the overall outcome. Also, it hits on why the Germans had such a large number of excellent engineers available to help equip them so well.

'History of the German General Staff, 1657 to 1945' by Walter Goerlitz which is another classic, and apparently was just issued in a new edition after many years, but it will be too specialized for those who don't already have some inkling of European military history during that era, unless the reader is willing to do a lot of background research in order to understand it. But it will help impress the reader with how well the Germans had done at creating a system that created innumerable great officers for their army. Even with Versailles, then Hitler purging it and emasculating it, the system gave the Germans certain advantages regardless of whether they fought with tanks or bicycles and slingshots. Worked best with tanks, of course.

I'm going to refrain from mentioning any titles by J.F.C. Fuller or Heinz Guderian, but that's probably a mistake.

'The German Generals Talk' by B.H. Liddell Hart is an excellent post-mortem written by someone who understand every aspect of the subject and equipped with a first-class mind. Not the last word on the subject, but I think it should be the starting place.

'Strategy' (originally titled 'On Strategy') by B.H. Liddell Hart. Devotes a perhaps surprising amount of pages to some WW2 theaters/campaigns, but that's okay. He spent many years analyzing every single military campaign we have evidence of over thousands of years, and relegates the vast majority of them to the pile of 'not interesting from the theoretical point of view', then treats us to excellent histories and analyses of the 'interesting' campaigns. If I was going to a desert island with only two books for studying military theory, it would be Sun Tzu and this one.

'Encyclopedia of German Tanks of WW II' by Peter Chamberlin and Hilary Doyle. This reference on tanks and guns is just what it says and was instantly the definitive work on the subject as soon as it was published. It includes armored cars and AFVs of every category, as well as artillery and antitank guns. Don't forget to check out the appendices. There is a similar title on the Russian tanks and guns, but I don't remember its exact title or authors.

There are piles and piles and piles more books that I should recommend, but their sheer number prevents me from attempting to enumerate them. My own library is woefully inadequate and there are probably more than sixty shelf feet of relevant books.

Some excellent case studies in "small" German mechanized forces withstanding and sometimes defeating much larger forces can be found in studying the operational history of the so-called 'Ghost Division' - the Wehrmacht's 7th Panzer Division. Their exploits on the Eastern Front are unbelievable, for starters. Contemplate the factors causing their successes, and factors leading to their losses and failures.

Typing in this teeny window is not conducive to presenting organized thoughts in an organized way, so please pardon the mess and I warn that there are surely a few other points I did not touch on and should not gloss over even in this format that's meant for brevity. And accept my apologies for not being as brief as people on the Internet usually expect in our modern world that is defined in sound bites and bumper stickers.

For what it's worth, I think the best all-around tank in the world 1939-45 was either the Panther or America's Pershing. I'll be jeered at by a great many, who will "inform" us of certain Soviet tank designs, and of the British Centurion. But the Soviet tanks had some important drawbacks, like Soviet factories, certain aspects of design, and so on. The Centurion is quite possibly the rightful owner of the greatest tank of all time title, but we have to use Centurion marks that came well after WW2 had finished when we give it that title. Even still, I'm maybe being too generous to the Panther (which also had some manufacturing issues, reliability issues, was too expensive and complicated to build, should have had more speed, and some might say its gun was insufficient to compete against the really top tanks), and showing an American bias in favor of the Pershing (but look at the subsequent evolution of the Pershing and marvel at the brilliance of a design that remained so important, with only tweaking, for the next 35 years). But it's fun to think about how we'd vote, and what difference does it make if we disagree with each other in such a whimsical and subjective poll?

Similarly, I like to play around with what the best all-around Table of Organization & Equipment would be for tank battalion, tank regiment, and tank division. Feel free to mix and match equipment from all over the world and anytime in military history. Then, find people who still play miniatures wargaming and -- if only you could find a truly good set of rules -- buy the appropriate lead miniatures, paint them, and send your fantasy battalions up against each other.

Posted on Feb 21, 2010 4:57:32 PM PST
D. Miller says:
Reliability, length of service, numbers produced - T 34.

Posted on Feb 21, 2010 9:17:51 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 22, 2010 3:19:34 AM PST
DarthRad says:
D. Miller,

Sorry, but the T-34 was NOT a reliable tank during WWII. T-34's were often sent to the battlefield with an extra transmission tied down to the engine deck. They had many problems with defective armor and their other mechanicals.

The myth of T-34 reliability is one of those Soviet era propaganda things that has only recently been countered by published material from the post-Soviet era. A lot of this literature is still in Russian or another foreign language, so it has not made it out in a widespread fashion to the English language tank literature.

Steve Zaloga unfortunately wrote most of his stuff about Soviet tanks based on Soviet era propaganda. At the time, because he was given access to some Soviet tank information, he was widely regarded as one of the "experts" on WWII-era Soviet tanks. Well, he was just being fed Soviet propaganda. And this old stuff that he wrote is still floating around out there as one of the few English language references for Soviet tanks. He was one of the main Western tank experts who helped perpetrate this Soviet myth of the T-34.

One of the few English translations to come out with some of this new information is "T-34-Mythical Weapon". It is unfortunately not a great translation, and the Polish author also unfortunately has a very anti-Soviet POV throughout the book, which taints the book. But he does cite some of the newer post-Soviet Russian literature that has come out which show that the T-34 during WWII was actually a terribly dysfunctional tank, and unreliable.

I am waiting for Zaloga to revise his Soviet tank writings, just as he revised a lot of what he said about the M26 tank in his last book "Armored Thunderbolts". This new information is certainly out there, and Zaloga is certainly aware of it, as he is credited with helping the author of the book "T-34 - Mythical Weapon".

As I mentioned in an earlier thread, the Soviets were not especially gifted with an industrial base that was familiar with high quality mass production, like the U.S. was. They mass produced the T-34 out of sheer brute force, basically cutting out a lot of quality controls, and the result was a product that was very prone to breakdowns.

After WWII, more T-34s were produced that had higher quality standards (e.g., licensed production in Poland, etc.). But during WWII, the T-34s were basically disposable tanks.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 22, 2010 10:34:54 AM PST
DarthRad, always fun to read your posts, got a question for you. At the end of the war, who do you think had the better tank production, the Soviets or the Allies? In other words, had teh war just turned around and went right into World War III between teh Allies and the Soviets, who's armor theory and practice do you think would have been better?

Posted on Feb 22, 2010 11:29:41 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 22, 2010 11:52:59 PM PST
DarthRad says:
Dunno about that one. The U.S. Army and the Ninth Air Force developed the concept of "armor column cover" and has been addicted to tactical air power ever since. The Soviets continued to believe in the concept of massed tank attacks.

Did the U.S. have the firepower to defeat the Soviets immediately post-WWII? Probably. The U.S. did have the B-29 and the atomic bomb, after all. I'm not even sure the Soviets had the fighters that could get up to the flight ceiling of the B-29 at the end of WWII.

However, anti-aircraft weapons were getting increasingly deadly by the end of WWII. The Soviets certainly started developing terrific batteries of AAA. The US Air Force did not really develop a good ground attack airplane until the A-10 in the 1970s, and spent much of the Korean War and the Vietnam War using aircraft that were not optimized for ground attack as ground attack aircraft, e.g., the F-84, F-105, Skyraider, etc.

Soviet tanks were always built with a different philosophy from U.S. and British tanks. Low silhouette was emphasized to the exclusion of everything else. Their guns never had the high manufacturing standards needed to develop the high barrel pressures to get very high velocity rounds. So the IS-2 and IS-3 made up for that by going to the higher caliber 122mm. The T-55 ended up relying mainly on low velocity HEAT rounds.

Generally, in most post WWII conflicts where U.S. tanks met up against Soviet tanks, the US tanks did pretty well.

So it's hard to say. I think ultimately, the U.S. did not have the willpower to keep fighting and so would not have done that well against the Soviets. The attention span of the U.S. for wars is about four years. More than that, and the public starts thinking about withdrawing.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 23, 2010 8:22:45 AM PST
That is pretty simliar to my thoughts, and I believe it was said (can't remember by who) that a democracy can only survive 4 years of warfare. As to ground attack aircraft immediate post WWII, the US Still had the P-51 which was decent as a ground attack craft. And i do not think we would have used the Atomic Bomb on the Soviets especially after we used our only two at the time on Japan. Getting troops from Germany would have been a good supplement to the troops there already however.

I think it just wasn't feasable ultimately, troops wanting to go home and get it over wiith as well as recent friendly dealings with the Soviets. Just would not happen immediately after teh war.

Posted on Feb 23, 2010 9:47:07 PM PST
DarthRad says:
I've read that the U.S. had a number of atomic bombs in production, and would have had around 6 ready to go by October, 1945. There were plans being made for using these on the Japanese for the invasion as tactical weapons. Might have actually worked to literally sterilize the invasion area of the Japanese defenders. Except that there would have been massive radiation side effects on the U.S. soldiers too, since I believe a pause of only 24 hours was planned before the U.S. soldiers landed.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 5, 2010 6:25:49 AM PST
The Tiger was no match for a P-47 with a pair of 500 lb bombs.

Posted on Apr 16, 2010 3:03:00 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 17, 2010 11:31:36 PM PDT
Iva Buch says:

When we talk about the lack of mass production and numbers of tanks produced by the German tank industry, and even if the Germans had been able to get a mass produced tank off the drawing board, there are a number of very important factors to consider when bemoaning the German tank industry's actual numbers built.

I don't believe that the Allied Bombing campaign actually gets its dues.

In 1943 the influence of hostile air attacks was not very noticeable in the tank industry and the more important suppliers and contractors. But by 1944 there was not a single tank producing plant which did not suffer directly and above all indirectly to a considerable extent.

If you look at the Tiger production (surprise!) the numbers NOT built are revealing.

Henschel were hit by a series of 5 bombing raids on 22, 27, and 28th September 1944, and 2, 7th October 1944. As a result of 2906 tons of high explosive and 1792 tons incendiary's 95 % of the total floor area of the Henschel plants were destroyed.
A further raid on the 15th December delayed recovery and further bombing raids in the vicinity on 22/23 October, 30 December 1944 and 1st January 1945 further disrupted production

Tiger production at Henschel, Kassel as a result of repeated air attacks caused extreme difficulties to the power supply and the labor situation.

The allies bombing campaign is believed to have caused the loss in production of at least 657 Tiger II during the period from September 1944 through to March 1945 when allied troops overran Kassel and vicinity.
In reality the Tiger was never designed for mass production and the small amounts of vehicles produced were grouped into the heavy tank battalions.

Added to the difficulties was the large number of stoppages of deliveries on the part of suppliers and subcontractors. The supply of components became increasingly worse as a result caused by the transport situation which deteriorated on a catastrophic scale.

Maybach who produced the HL210/230 series motor, made 8459 between 1942 -45, was completely knocked out of engine assembly by a bombing raid in late April 1944. The destruction was so devastating that that Maybach didn't get back to producing the HL230 until October 1944.

Auto Union, Chemnitz at their Seigmar-Werk produced and delivered 4366 HL230 motors for the Panther and Tigers in 1944/45 until they were hit by a bombing raid on 11 September 1944 dropping production to 198 in September and 312 in October.

In a report from Dr Blaicher the chairman of the Main Committee Armored Fighting vehicles under Speer's ministry for Armaments and war production dated 31 December 1944 he painted a realistic picture of what faced the tank industry.
He states that damage such as that inflicted on the 25 October 1944 in a bombing raid on the Fried Krupp, Essen where the production of PzIV armor components in particular was hindered considerably and the rolling mills and Tiger workshops were also obstructed by continuous attacks on Essen.

But the mere threat of an air raid also caused disruptions to production. eg the plant at Miag Braunsweig lost 300,000 man hours through not only actual attacks but false alarms as well.

The final words were interesting "At this moment one can no longer speak of planned production"

Another problem was the Germans inability to keep skilled labor in their tank plants, with much of the work being done by slave/conscripted workers and reluctance on some plant directors to adopt the mass assembly lines.

At Wegmann Waggonfabrik A.G Kassel who were involved in the final assembly of the Tiger turrets employed 1200 workers who worked in two shifts of 10 hrs which was increased to 11 hours towards the end of certain months to reach the target output set by Speer ministry,

Using trained personnel the complete assembly including the machining process of the Tiger II turret was estimated to take 6 to 7 days but using foreign labor the average time was 10 to 12 days.

There was no rigid Takt (assembly station) system involved in this production of the Turret as the managing director maintained that such work did not lend itself to strict production control.

Henschel and Sohn, Kassel were the only firm that assembled Tiger II chassis in their Werk III plant at Kassel-Mittelfeld where 8000 workers were engaged in tank production working two shifts of 12 hours.(THE NIGHT SHIFT WAS STATED TO HAVE ONLY 50% OF THE OUTPUT AS THE DAYSHIFT).

Here a pure Takt system was employed (9 stations). The total time to complete a tank was said to be 14 days. An average of 18 - 22 tanks were carried in the hull assembly

Speer saw for himself the how a shortage of skilled labor affected the armaments industry when he visited Rheinmetall-Borsig armaments work in Berlin in March 1942.

This was a plant that produced FLAK weaponry, he found that on his late evening visit the plant empty and its sophisticated tools standing idle as there was not enough skilled workers for a second shift.

Another factor was that the Germans had gambled on a quick war, not a war of attrition which German industry was not equipped for.

In Mark Healy's book Zitadelle he has a nice passage on the mentality and attitude of the conservative armaments industry.
When they finally went to a "total war" footing that would require mass production techniques, the shift in emphasis from the production of high quality weaponry (from quality to quantity) would force them to adopt new ways of working.
It would mean a "shift to maximum exploitation of all human and material resources, technical skills, organization and capacity so as to generate the greatest volume of weaponry"

This would require them to adopt values and methods of working with many workers, which management found to be problematic as they were perceived as debasing the distinctive and specialized skills of the individual artisan.
This had always lain at the heart of Germany's industrial culture.

The belief that the war would soon be over and that German Industry could get by on the prevailing output was undoubtedly a major factor

Yes the Germans could mass produce rifles and panzerfuast, but these are far simpler weapons not requiring that much skilled labor or heavy machinery to complete.

Unfortunately German tanks were expensive, complex and time consuming to produce; they would require large numbers of skilled workers assembling electrical systems, turrets, running gear and engines meaning a large number of parts to be assembled to produce a Panzer IV which had thousands of parts to assemble.

While we are still on production, yes the US built the B29 etc etc , but the US was THE world's greatest economy, with an industrial capacity that would outstrip any nations contribution to weapons manufactured.

Whether it be the Sherman built at around 48,000 which eventually equipped nearly all the Western Allies tank force, or the huge numbers of trucks supplied to the Russians, it was the Americans ability to simply churn out the numbers required, as they were well aware of mass production from the automotive industry. It would not require too much time to transform a car plant into one manufacturing tanks.

I think to compare these weapon systems which are totally different from German tanks is a little unfair; a more apt comparison is the Sherman against the Panzer IV/Panther.

Posted on Apr 16, 2010 3:45:09 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 17, 2010 11:30:57 PM PDT
Iva Buch says:
Although you have highlighted some of the more well known defensive struggles such as Caen and Rhzev, there are just as many counterattacks that were successful in "ironing out the wrinkles in the front line".

Manstein's counter attack that used a `flexible defense' in the Kharkov area that restored the Eastern front after the collapse of the 6th Army at Stalingrad in 1943, is one of the more well known.

Prominent in this battle is the well equipped SS Panzer Corps.

Other examples of successful counterattacks are when the Germans are able to repel massive Soviet attacks at Izyum and the Mius river line in the summer of 1943 again using effective armoured counterattacks.

A counter offensive recaptures Zhitomir involving the 1st Panzer and 1st SS panzer among others is also note worthy, as is the attack to relieve the Korsun Pocket and Hube's travelling pocket.

How about the fighting around Praga in July- Sept 1944 involving units of the Herman Goring Division, Wiking and Totenkopf that sealed the fate of the defenders of Warsaw.

Schneider's book "Panzer Tactics" is a gem of information and gives an insight into the doctrine of German armored combat.

The commitment of tanks offensively whenever possible is reflected in the German doctrine for command. In Heeres-Dienstvorschrift (Army regulation) 470/7 Die mittlere Panzerkompanie (The medium tank company) which was also applicable for the Tiger, there are no types of combat presented other than attack.

In 470/10 Panzer regiment und Panzerabteilung the extremely brief section on Defense merely stresses that after allowing the enemy to approach it is necessary to immediately counter attack.

The preeminent role of tanks in the defense is in the counterattack. Where possible counterattacks should be planned in advance and launched when the situation develops favorably. Such counterattacks have limited objectives and do not ordinarily extend beyond the boundaries of one's own positional area

The counterassault offers a contrast to the counterattack in that it is not planned ahead. It is instead frequently carried out with available forces on the initiative of the local commander in response to a critical development of the situation in order to repulse an enemy who has penetrated. The use of this type of attack often made it possible to turn the tables in an almost hopeless situation against vastly superior enemy forces.

In predominantly static types of combat - security or defense - the tank force only has an advantage in the opening phase, if it blocks the enemy and opens fire by surprise. The longer a battle continues the more possibilities accrue to the enemy.. The tank gives away its position with the first shot no matter how well concealed. Room for maneuver is primarily to the rear. The attacking enemy on the other hand takes the initiative. The enemy accrues all the possibilities that go to the active party. He chooses the location and the time to start the action and his array of forces.

After the first shot the initiative goes to the attacker, an armor force that remains in a position stays in the role of the one who has to wait for the next blow.

An attacker who runs into a defensive position will lose the a few leading tanks but can then rapidly pull back beyond the range of dangerous fire and gains an understanding of the situation.

He can then commit an entire array of combat support available including air support. The attacker can then out flank the defender and deliver a decisive blow.

In defense the armor commander also operates by attacking to achieve the decision, and the main task of the panzer division was to seek decision on the battlefield. A panzer division was required to attack every kind of enemy position and to exploit the success using either in depth penetration behind enemy lines or attacking an enemy's rear positions and pursuing enemy remnants.

Attack was the only combat method suited to the Panzer divisions; even in defense they were to counter attack enemy breakthroughs.

Only when facing fixed or fortified positions were they to give way to the infantry, not only to avoid severe losses but also to avoid eschewing the decisive advantage of their speed and maneuverability.

Posted on Apr 18, 2010 3:48:31 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 18, 2010 3:59:24 PM PDT
DarthRad says:
Despite frequent comments otherwise, it's clear that the strategic bombing campaign did have a tremendous effect on the German ability to wage war. Together with the opening of extra fronts in Italy and France, these were the main factors that tipped the balance over in the much larger German- Soviet conflict on the Eastern Front. All of these events started in 1943, which of course coincided with the Battle of Kursk. Although Kursk was a failure for the Germans, the new information on this battle, such as in Healy's book show that the Soviets clearly lost far more men and tanks, massive quantities of tanks. Kursk was much like the rest of the German-Soviet slugfest - a mixed outcome, and so the fact that it is frequently marked as the turning point of the war on the Eastern Front is only incidental, in that the Italian front opened up around that time and the U.S. started their part of the bombing campaign in earnest.

The reason that the bombing campaign is so often dissed is that the German production numbers do not clearly show an effect until German industry pretty much collapsed starting in 1945. The fact most often cited is that German aircraft production actually went UP in 1944, despite the heavy bombing. The Germans did plan ahead, and did manage to disperse their industry, and were also able to salvage a lot of their heavy machine tools from the bombings, which were the main reasons that the bombing campaign had less of an effect than it might have had.

One thing you left out about the Maybach engines was that the Siegmar plant came online right after the Mayback plant was bombed, and so production of Maybach engines was hardly interrupted. Granted, BOTH plants in operation would have produced twice as many Maybach engines....

A bigger effect of the bombing campaign, one only occasionally mentioned, is that it forced Germany to devote scarce resources into a massive new front. Anti-aircraft artillery had to be manufactured, with their ammunition, and this was a huge amount of production that was diverted away from frontline artillery units. Because the Allies were bombing all over Europe, this AAA had to be stocked all over Europe. Manpower was needed to staff the AAA, as well as the Luftwaffe defenders - these also were taken away from fighting the Soviets.

And of course, the biggest effect of the bombing campaign came after the synthetic fuel plants were bombed, starting in mid-1944. I always wondered why the Germans did not put their synthetic fuel plants underground or in caves like with the V2 factory. There must have been technical difficulties with doing this - massive amounts of coal had to be shipped in, mixed with massive amounts of water - there were all these large vessels and pipes holding this stew under very high pressure, etc. An underground or cave mishap would have meant a massive explosion and complete devastation of the plant , whereas one outdoors would have been survivable.

Combined with the loss of the Romanian oil fields in August 1944, this meant that Germany's war machine no longer had the fuel for anything. At the root of the collapse of the German army and industry starting in early 1945 was the exhaustion of the German fuel reserves.

You mentioned the use of imported and forced labor (some of these workers, it should be noted, were voluntary, or semi-voluntary, coming from areas devastated by war, and with no prospects of employment). Yes, that was a key factor, which slowed down the already sluggish German production rates even more. A key reason behind this policy was the refusal of the Nazis, based on pure ideology, to recruit German women into the heavy industries, totally unlike what happened in the U.S. and the Soviet Union. No German "Rosie the Riveter". The Nazi ideal of women was that they were supposed to stay at home and have large numbers of babies for the Reich and be an obedient Hausfrau.

Yes, the use of imported/forced labor, the refusal to recruit women, and the Allied bombing campaign, were all factors that contributed to German inability to mass produce adequate numbers of weapons.

And, as you say, another key was the German cultural preference for producing limited numbers of high quality rather than mass producing items of mediocre quality.

Still, I find the differences between German and Soviet behavior on this issue striking. The Soviets had no mass production system for tanks either, at the start of the war, and in spite of the fact that they were a bigger country, their industrial output was meager compared to Germany's. And yet through sheer force of will, and by severely reducing quality, the Soviets manufactured massive numbers of T-34s and other tanks.

The book "T-34 -Mythical Weapon" is fascinating in its description of all the corners that were cut to produce the massive numbers of T-34 tanks. Fascinating cultural difference - that the Soviets found it quite easy to cut corners to ramp up production, whereas official efforts to do so in Germany met with nothing but resistance. (I digress, but this T-34 book is filled with photos of completely shattered T-34s - during the war, the welding of the armor plates of the T-34 hull and casting of the turret was shoddy at best. When a T-34 was hit, it could blow up in spectacular fashion).

Speer took over as Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production in 1942, but did not start pushing German industry to ramp up production until 1943. A fatal delay, since Germany needed to win against the Soviets in 1942, because after 1943, the extra fronts created by the U.S. broke the German war machine

Posted on Apr 18, 2010 4:58:31 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 18, 2010 5:11:25 PM PDT
DarthRad says:
Regarding this comment:

"Attack was the only combat method suited to the Panzer divisions; even in defense they were to counter attack enemy breakthroughs."

Well, yes, absolutely that was true, I am not disputing that. But that was because Hitler DESIGNED the German Army for offensive attack, not defense. When it came time to defend a territory, it is clear that the best of the German generals knew how to do so and what was needed, but Hitler rarely acquiesced to their recommendations and NEVER carried them out fully. Just look at Rommel and the Atlantic Wall. Never fully built, never fully defended. If the Panzer divisions that were later sent into France had been there in the first place, the Normandy invasion could have been squashed in the first few weeks and the Allies driven into the sea.

Again, a contrast with the Soviet experience is instructive. Look at the major Soviet defensive efforts - at Moscow, at Stalingrad, Leningrad, Kursk. Yep, those Soviets surely knew how to mobilize the population and built MASSIVE anti-tank defenses at all of those sites. Massive minefields, defenses that could withstand attack by artillery and bombing. Large numbers of anti-tank guns.

Hitler always refused to take similar measures. Going to pure defense was a psychological barrier that he could not stomach. He saw it as defeat, as the beginning of the end. However, going on the attack, when the tactical situation was not in favor of lasting success, merely wasted precious reserves and often created an even bigger loss (e.g., the Ardennes Offensive, Operation Luttich, both of which depleted German reserves and hastened and worsened the next defeats).

Look at the final Battle of Berlin. The German defenses set up against the Soviets were puny compared to Soviet efforts at Moscow, etc.

Tanks are not pure offensive weapons. They are terrific at anti-tank defense and counter-artillery support.

But the German tanks that Hitler wanted and foisted upon the German Army were OFFENSIVE tanks. The Panther and Tiger tanks were designed for one thing - offense, to attack, to withstand defensive fire with superior armor; they had these fabulous guns that could put holes into any defenders' tanks. Hitler wanted tank superiority, and he got it with these tanks.

The problem with these superior tanks was that they were expensive, tended to break down, could not do long road marches. And so there just were never enough of them built, and never enough of them that could make it to a battlefield on time.

The key NUMBER ONE most important thing about using a tank, or any weapon, for defense, is that the weapon is there, ready to be used, when the enemy attacks. It doesn't matter how superior a tank is if it is not there at the battlefield. And because of the fact that Hitler chose to build a few superior tanks which could not transport themselves easily, rather than large numbers of mediocre but highly mobile tanks, or massive quantities of shoddy but highly mobile tanks (as the Soviets did), the result was that there usually were few or NO TANKS at all when the Allies attacked.

The early days of the Normandy invasion are again instructive. The breakout from the beaches, at Carenton, so well pictured in the movie "Band of Brothers" - well, there was that episode when two StuGs showed up and terrorized the parachute infantry. One was knocked out by a bazooka and the other by an M4 Sherman.

Where were the other German tanks? Numbers were what mattered here. The Germans didn't need Panther tanks or Tiger tanks at that stage of the battle. The Allies just had the Shermans, and early on in Normandy, did not have many of them. A large number of Pz IVs, or even StuGs, could have wiped out this mostly infantry force.

This was indeed what happened (by pure accident) when the Allies attacked at Arnhem and ran into two SS Panzer divisions which were refitting there. That these divisions had Tiger tanks was incidental to the fact that attacking infantry cannot stand up to a concentrated force of defensive tank forces, regardless of what tanks they were.

So yes, the German panzers were mostly used offensively because the entire structure of the panzer force was designed for offense, and not for defense. The reason the Germans had to counterattack so often was because they lacked the numbers and the approval from Hitler to successfully defend an area in the first place. Counterattacking to "iron out" an enemy salient was useless because the enemy would usually just poke through at yet another location.

Posted on May 9, 2010 3:26:31 PM PDT
What was considered to be the best tank of WWII arrived on the scene just days too late to see action. I'm refering, of course,to the Centurian mk.I. It combined mobility with armor, gunpower and, importantly, streach to make a tank that is still in service in several countries today. To quote the late Ian V. Hogg, "At last the British got it right."

Posted on May 12, 2010 12:43:09 AM PDT
Iva Buch says:

Sure, they learnt the hard way after facing German Armour, too bad it arrived too late to see combat

Posted on May 14, 2010 1:11:53 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 26, 2010 12:57:21 AM PDT
Iva Buch says:

Have been reading Ospreys Panzer Divisions: The Eastern front 1941 - 43 and Panzer Divisions 1944 - 45 by Pier Battistelli (I recommend to you) which are extremely insightful. Also again Schneider's book "Panzer Tactics

He has a good summation of the way by 1942 how the Panzer arm was still an effective fighting force, but along with improvements to the red Army it changed the balance from movement to firepower.

He also goes on to say that in order to spare tanks the German attacks were more often than not led by infantry with artillery support.

The Panzer was no longer the decisive weapon and was now used for support and exploitation while the infantry and artillery were deemed the best weapons for breaking through.
Therefore the structure of the battle group changed accordingly as more Panzer units were broken down to company level since usually only one battalion of the panzer regiment was available.

The fact was that the Panzers were still able to maneuver and strike in depth even to a reduced extent, but the problem was the German Army was no longer able to support them in these roles.

With the Red Army's increased capabilities in defense this produced a significant reduction to the Panzer Divisions speeds and maneuver capabilities.

The main consequence was the inability to drive deeply into enemy territory at least at a tactical level plus the development of tighter command and control at every level. They were no longer able to assure breakthrough and the ensuing encirclement of enemy forces.

As a consequence from 1943 onwards both the Panzer Korps and Panzerarmee were armored only in name.

They turned into a mixture of armored and non armored units which were well suited for defense but lacked the make up for major offensive operations. The need for closer co operation between the Panzer divisions and others imposed by these defensive needs added further limitations to the former.

The Citadel operation marked the turning point of the evolution of German Armored tactics which from that point turned the Panzer Divisions into firefighters.

Balance in the two elements of the attack fire and movement significantly SHIFTED IN FAVOUR OF FIRE.

In a report from the I Abteilung Panzer regiment 24 in January 1945 it goes on to explain that the main opponent of Panzers on the Eastern front was anti tank guns.

Used enmasse for defense and towing them along behind an attack meant they could be swiftly brought into action. Employed in such great numbers and so concentrated the term paknest was coined. Sometimes the Paknest would consist of 6 - 7 guns in a circle of only 40 - 50m and because of the excellent use of terrain and camouflage the Russians would easily manage to open surprise fire at medium and close range and by allowing the lead vehicles to pass by they attempt to open fire on the formations in the deep flank.

It was these types of defenses that Tigers and Panthers attacked into, and with their heavy frontal armor, did have a higher chance of success and survivability than the lighter less heavily armoured Pz IV.

As such the Panther and Tigers provided Panzer units with a tank that greatly outmatched its Allied counterparts and dealt with the Soviet equivalents on an equal footing

Along with the extremely effective main gun a major asset of the Tigers was their thick armor on the front, sides and rear.
The Tigers armor was invulnerable to attack from most tank guns firing normal armor piercing shells or shot at ranges over 800m which included the US 75mm and Russian 76mm.
The Tigers were expected to lead armored attacks against strong positions to break through prepared defensive works and overcome enemy defenses generally and to destroy heavy tanks and equivalent at long ranges.

They had their own training facilities and when building crews there was a nice mixture of veterans and the enthusiasm of new recruits was highly effective in elite crews for these vehicles, the fact that there was a high survivability rate also enhanced success.

Employed by highly motivated and trained crews who perceived themselves as the elite among the Panzer formations, displaced crews usually lived to fight again in sharp contrast to the crews of the Sherman Cromwell's and T 34s. This did much to sustain morale and effectiveness in Tiger battalions throughout the war.

There are numerous post battle reports of individual Tigers or Panthers absorbing heavy punishment but are able to hold up an advance and destroy a great numbers of allied tanks.

Wittmann's charge at Villiers Bocage, or Barkmann's feat in his Panther in France, comes to mind

Tiger companies and battalions proved themselves to be of inestimable value on the battlefield and generated kill rates out of all proportion to their small numbers

The Tiger or Panther could be an effective defensive weapon in a hull down position on a reverse slope and well camouflaged as the battles around Hill 112 in Normandy were to prove

Yes the Marder and Stug were effective in ambush but they also had their drawbacks when comparing them to the Tiger or Panther.
In a situation report presented to Hilter by Guderian on 28th June 1944, he noted that the Stugs were having difficulties in engaging targets in the hedgerow country of the Bocage in Normandy which was not true of the Panzer IVs and Tigers.
He goes on to state that experience reports from Sicily, Italy and Normandy when comparing the Stugs and Panzers unanimously state that in the sunken lanes and hedges of Normandy the Stug is both tactically and technically considerably less favored than the Panzers.
The terrain makes it impossible or at least severely limits aiming the Stug to the sides and as the gun is mounted so low.
The Panzers however can fire out of these lanes and over the hedges because of the height and the traversable turret

In fact on a 3rd July 1944 a list of destroyed allied enemy tanks on the Invasion front revealed that 227 were knocked out by Panzers and only 61 by Stugs and mobile Paks

Tiger Phobia was always one of the Tiger's greatest assets when facing allied tankers.

Numerous reports from Allied after action reports talk about Tiger attacks when in fact very few actually served on the Western Front and every tank seemed to be a Tiger in Normandy even when it was a Pz IV.

It was a weapon that was feared and loathed, and again quoting Healy's excellent passage from Zitadelle ,

In the Tiger and Panther they had a weapon that could put in a counterattack to break through to trapped units such as at Kovel in which the hard hitting Panther was able to break the siege or the Tiger IIs that relieved the garrison at Arnswalde or attack into the teeth of Russian defenses at the Gran bridgehead.

Equally effective in defense the small numbers of Tigers employed at Konigsberg, Danzig and Berlin or on the Seelow heights were always able to take on many times their number with brutal efficiency.

Germany was never able to mass produce sufficient tanks to cover their losses and these "superior tanks that could punch holes in the enemies tanks" however small in number were gratefully received by the front line combat troops, and if you are crewing one of these vehicles don't you think it makes it a difference to them to actually survive the engagement?

Tigers and Panthers stiffened the resolve of many a soldier in a defensive position when they were backed up by this type of tank. The problem was by 1944 Germany's manpower was coming to an end and those counterattacks you talk about were not successful on many occasions due to the lack of Panzer Grenadiers to hold the position once taken, or press forward to capture the objective

The small number of Panthers and Tigers employed could defeat the latest versions of the Russian 2nd generation armored vehicles such as the SU 85, SU 100, T34/85, KV 85, JSU 152, and the JS series of heavy tanks.

The Pz IV was at a distinct disadvantage when fighting these types of vehicles, but granted could more than hold its own against the Western Allies.

Here is a question though, even if the Germans had built the Panzer IV in numbers (mass produce) by late 1944, would they have been in the same position as the Luftwaffe, plenty of tanks but no skilled crews and no fuel to be had for operations?

The facts were that the majority of Tiger losses were due to accidents and mechanical problems which became unrepairable due to a shortage of spare parts as I mentioned in a previous post.

Most losses such as the 75% of Tiger 1 losses of 504th and 70% of 508th were unrepairable breakdowns, lack of fuel or accidents. The 25% and 30% respectively were combat losses.

In regards to the BOB scene sure the stugs were knocked out but it was Hitler's dithering that kept the Panzers in the wrong place, in fact most of them were bogged down by Montgomery's incessant attacks around Caen where the majority of German Armour was including the SS Panzer Korps.

Plus any tank movement in the day warranted massive Allied aerial attack or naval gunfire which was very effective.

Yeap, sure the Allies were defeated at Arnhem by the 9th & 10th SS panzer divisions, (or what was left of them) but Tigers of the Army's 506 heavy Tank battalion did play a part in stopping the XXX Corps drive to Arnhem.

That the enemy was able to poke through at yet another location reflects more on the lack of German manpower, which was at chronic proportions by 1944, to hold the ground won, than on the numbers of Tigers or Panthers or their effectiveness.

In reply to an earlier post on May 31, 2010 6:18:59 PM PDT
Triple Perk says:
Thats really good stuff there Work In Progress. Especially when you combine the total numbers of T-34's produced vs. German Mark V, Mark VI and VII's combined. All things being equal, I'll take a Mark V G over just about any tank produced in WWII - although I believe the T-34 has been voted the top tank of all time according to the Military Channels "top ten" episodes...Nonetheless very informative Work In Progress!!!

Thank You

Posted on Jun 2, 2010 12:49:33 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 3, 2010 10:42:22 AM PDT
DarthRad says:

Been reading, or more precisely, skimming through some books about the Soviet-German conflict post-Battle of Kursk.

Soviet Blitzkrieg: The Battle for White Russia, 1944
CRUCIBLE OF COMBAT: Germany's Defensive Battles in the Ukraine 1943-44
Victory at Mortain: Stopping Hitler's Panzer Counteroffensive

The striking thing about the post-Kursk battles are:

1. There is this constant litany of the German lines being undermanned across the vast Soviet landscape. And the Soviets, with their greater manpower were thus able to poke through at weak points in the German lines. German counterattacks with tanks to close off this salient were sometimes successful, sometimes not, but invariably, as soon as the tanks left the scene, the Soviets were back again. So, basically, this counterattack strategy was one borne of desperation, because of the inability to hold the lines securely in the first place, and it didn't work at all. Whether the Germans had superior tanks like the Tigers and Panthers didn't matter. They couldn't hold the line because of a lack of manpower.

2. There is another constant litany of German commanders being under attack and asking Hitler for permission to withdraw to more defensible ground. The great majority of the time, Hitler would refuse, and the units under attack would be annihilated or surrounded and captured if they did make a last stand. In cases where Hitler relented at the last minute, the units under attack would be thoroughly smashed by the time they retreated. Another common scenario would be for a fresh unit to be rushed to the battlefield to stem a new Soviet assault, and then become completely annihilated in a matter of days. These heavy and utterly senseless losses of course only exacerbated the manpower shortage in the German Army. The overwhelming impression one gets from reading this is that, gee, this strategy of fighting to the death and trying to hold onto all that Soviet territory isn't working, how can anybody not see that in two years of steadily being driven backwards, from 1943 to 1945? A much smarter strategy would have been to set up defensive hardpoints behind these lines, at the borders of Germany itself, and then to retreat, pull back the German Army while it was still intact, before it had lost all those men to the meatgrinder. Remember, minefields work great against tanks. Why not surround the borders of Germany with giant minefields and anti-tank defenses, as the Soviets did when Germany attacked Moscow? The answer was that Hitler was fundamentally incapable of thinking militarily in terms of how to win a defensive war. He was all about offense.

3. This is a tank forum, but we have to remember that the vast majority of the fighting was still infantry vs. infantry, or infantry vs. tanks. Soviet infantry assaults were usually accompanied by massive artillery and tanks. The Germans could not answer with adequate defenses. The book on the Battle of Mortain is instructive. While often thought of as a "tank battle", in fact, the Germans were unable to muster enough tanks to make a difference. The book talks about this battle as being primarily one of infantry units battling against one another, with occasional appearances of tanks in a supporting role. The reason that the U.S. infantry were able to prevail was primarily because (unlike the lightly armed paratroopers in Operation Market Garden), they were adequately armed to defeat tanks - they had good quantities of bazookas and anti-tank guns. And yes, these were not effective against the frontal armor of the Panthers in the assault, but they were still able to knock out a good number of the German tanks, including Panthers, presumably by hitting them in the sides. Nevertheless, the U.S. infantry prevailed only because the German attack at Mortain did not really have a massed concentration of tanks, otherwise the U.S. lines would have been overrun, as they were at the Battle of the Bulge. The moral of this story is that for tanks to be effective in an offensive role, you need lots of them! And that infantry can fight off tanks successfully if they have adequate weapons, and if the tank attack is not overwhelming.

4. I think one must at least give some credit to the Allied bombing campaign in the West. The devastation of German cities caused Hitler and Speer to divert an enormous amount of German production into anti-aircraft artillery and aircraft. While German tank production stayed flat, German aircraft production actually went up in 1944. I am certain that this diversion of artillery production to shooting down bombers in the West had a severe negative impact on the Germans in the Eastern Front. This is a connection that is not often made. German ability to mount counter artillery against the Soviets dropped markedly during the same period that Allied bombers were getting shot down in good numbers by heavy flak concentrations at various heavily defended targets.

So yes, Iva, I think we are more or less in agreement, that Germany after Kursk was basically overwhelmed. In that context, the only way for Germany to try to survive was to fight a smarter, smaller battle. The German Army suffered from a severe shortage of not just men, but tanks and artillery also. The artillery shortage was due to this futile effort to stop Allied bombers with more AAA. The tank shortage was due at least in part from this obsession with producing complex, heavy, and expensive tanks and AFVs.

This tanks shortage was quite severe, to the point that there were more tank crew than tanks. Reading Otto Carius's autobiography, Tigers in the Mud, one gets the impression that he had a lot of downtime, where he was not fighting inside a Tiger, but waiting around for a tank to be available. Same thing with this book, which I had mentioned earlier in this thread:

PANZER GUNNER: From My Native Canada to the German Osfront and Back. In Action with 25th Panzer Regiment, 7th Panzer Division 1944-45

It's one of the few books that is about fighting inside a Pzkpfw IV. There is this memorable section, where, after their tank is disabled, the author and his crew, all experienced tank men, are sent to the back lines as cheap labor, cutting wood, etc. for over a month, while they wait for another tank.
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