Thursday, 30 June 2016

U.S. army vs german army

This essay will attempt to summarise the difference in fighting power between the U.S. and german army during the later stages of world war 2. This is a subject which is still plagued by many myths and half truths, which are regurgitated as fact on some online forums. Fighting power is a military attribute determined by human and organisational aspects rather than technological ones. For this reason alone, it is the most important factor in determining just how tough and capable a ground force really is. Some of the most important qualitys are leadership skills, training, cohesion, initiative, command staffs, personnel selection, resource allocation, inter-branch cooperation, tooth to tail ratio, discipline and justice, etc. According to Martin van Creveld: “While weapons and methods of warfare change, the nature of fighting power does not; though the relative proportion of the individual qualities listed may vary from time to time, the qualities themselves are the same today as they were for Caesars veterans 2000 years ago. Though good equipment can, up to a point, make up for deficient fighting power (the reverse is also true), an army lacking in the latter is a brittle instrument at best. History, including recent history, bristles with examples of armys that, though ostensibly strong and well equipped, disintegrated at the first shock of combat through sheer lack of fighting power.” With that distinction in mind, we can come to grips with a litany of evidence which proves that the U.S. army possessed lower fighting power than the german heer.

The case is on solid ground because combat prowess is best displayed in difficult circumstances, which was certainly the case for germany after the battle of Kursk when they lost any realistic hope of victory. After all, being able to throw a great punch is only half of what makes a champion: The ability to take a punch and keep on going is just as important! But this query is not without its challenges. Those who acknowledge that the german army was more competent than its opponents (or that they achieved things unparallelled in other armys) are frequently given the derogatory label wehraboo. The denizens of are particularly fond of this term. There are many reasons why people would prefer to ignore the heers combat record in WW2, not least of which is the many war crimes they committed. The problem was pointed out by Max Hastings: “The Allies in Normandy faced the finest fighting army of the war, one of the greatest that the world has ever seen. This is a simple truth that some soldiers and writers have been reluctant to acknowledge, partly for reasons of nationalistic pride, partly because it is a painful concession when the Wehrmacht and SS were fighting for one of the most obnoxious regimes of all time.” The current sentiment of the west is that tolerance and diversity are essential values for all successful nations, and the fact that nazi germany displayed none of them creates a disconnect. Hence why people use dismissive labels rather than factual arguments. But thats enough psychoanalysis for today, lets get down to the heart of the matter!

Note: For the duration of this article, notes will be given curly brackets like this {N}, while citations will be given square brackets like this []. This is to help elaborate on certain claims, and to help verify the basis of others claims. To perform a word search, use CTRL-F on a standard computer or laptop.

The U.S. armys perception of fighting 
power, which omits many categorys

Basic training

This is a huge subject which covers the training of every soldier in every branch of the army, and could easily consume several blog posts to give an adequate overview. But for now, we'll take a much narrower focus and just look at the basic training given to all new recruits, before they are assigned to their branch of choice (whether it be infantry, armor, or artillery). While theres a common perception that every man can serve as a rifleman in an emergency, the reality is much more disappointing. Throughout history, it often happens that support troops will unexpectedly get drawn into the fighting, whether they are ambushed behind friendly lines or encircled by an enemy force. Rear area personnel don't posses the confidence and training of infantry soldiers, and hence will often give a poor account of themselves in firefights. In modern war, there have been far too many cases where they surrendered en masse without firing a shot. This is highly undesirable, given that support troops make up most of an armys numerical strength. Ideally, they need to be capable of defending themselves, guarding their perimeter and reinforcing depleted front line units. So how did the two armys compare with regards to basic training? To put it simply, the germans were heads and shoulders above the americans. All of their new recruits were trained extensively as infantry, regardless of the role they would eventually occupy. [1]

Even if these men went on to become barbers, cooks, or chauffeurs, they still possessed skills that made them equal to an american rifleman, and they could be depended on to serve as auxiliary soldiers in desperate occasions. This was seen time and time again throughout WW2, but most notably in the later stages of Stalingrad and Normandy, when german troops were employed in improvised battlegroups called alarmeinheiten. [2] This was an economy of force measure that compelled rear area personnel to take responsibility for their local defense, so that the few combat soldiers remaining could focus their efforts at the center of gravity. The wehrmachts training imparted an action-oriented mindset on the men, who showed an amazing willingness to pickup a rifle and fight the enemy on foot. {N1} This steadfastness was partly the result of their political indoctrination, which gave the rank and file a real sense of what they were fighting for, and thus a place and purpose in the larger scheme of things. (Always important when soldiers are confronted with the carnage of war, which removes them from their normal reference frame) It was also partly because the germans placed a greater emphasis on teaching their recruits about field craft and small unit tactics, before they moved on to their occupation of choice. Meanwhile, the americans were content to give their recruits only a brief and partial overview of the same.

Conclusion: Without accounting for occupational speciality's, the average german underwent more infantry-related training than the average american. That is to say, german support troops were more reliable in combat than were american support troops. A not unimportant factor when considering the shortages of infantry that were experienced by both sides.

Officer training

The importance of leadership skills is obvious in most careers, never mind in the field of warfare where the costs of losing are so high for a nation. No matter how individually skilled the soldiers are, and no matter how well they co-operate as a team, they must be directed by a competent leader if they are to win battles and campaigns, much less a war. Different societys have different expectations on just how much payoff is provided by competent leaders, though. The ancient greeks believed that an army of sheep (led by a lion) was better than an army of lions (led by a sheep). Most nations throughout history weren't quite so optimistic. That question aside, how do we judge which army has the better leadership caste? In order to answer this, we need to know the difference in how both armys selected and trained their officers, and how that impacted their ability to lead men on the battlefield. The biggest distinction between the germans and the americans is how their men received a commission. In the german army, a candidate would be forced to prove his worth as an NCO before he could hope to receive officer training. In the U.S. army, a candidate was able to go straight to officer training after completing basic. The consequences of this should be fairly obvious. Working alongside the enlisted men allowed the candidates to better understand their mindset, and to judge how a leaders actions affected the rank and file. Moreover, this practise meant that all the ranks have been through the grind of field duty (with no shortcuts allowed), and that officers owe their rank to the simple fact that they are a better soldier than the rest. That strengthened the cohesion between officers and enlisted men.
In total, the german candidate underwent 4-6 months of NCO training, followed by 2 months of service at the front. This enabled the school to see how they performed under pressure, before the men were offered or denied a commission (as a fahnenjunker). Thats an entire layer of preparation american candidates never had the opportunity to undergo! {N2} By the time officer training began, they were already behind the germans in a number of critical areas like navigation, flanking maneuvers, using supporting weapons, adjusting artillery fire, etc. More important was the structure of the courses themselves. Germans learned to think on their feet and find solutions in hopeless circumstances. They were encouraged to challenge the instructors when given imprecise answers. Americans dealt with map exercises rather than field problems, and long written orders instead of brief verbal commands. Their thoughts were disregarded by the instructors, who reinforced the importance of sticking with a 'school solution.' [3] The german would have spent 8 weeks at a kriegsschule and 12-16 weeks at a truppenschule, while the american would spend 4 weeks at a preparatory school and 13 weeks at officer candidate school. {N3} Not surprisingly, this resulted in huge differences between how they led men in the field, which is best summarised by Jörg Muth: “American observers before the war failed to recognise upfront leadership as a decisive peculiarity of german combat excellence. German units often were provided with leadership in the most desperate and crucial situations, which enabled them to either attack or defend against heavy odds.”

Conclusion: The disparity in competence between german and american officers is huge. By the time they finished officer training, the german leutnants had a superior grasp of battle tactics, leadership skills, and a more aggressive command style. Its unsurprising that the american 2nd lieutenants (the so-called '90 day wonders') were often at a monumental disadvantage in combat.

 The americans have bosses,
but germans have leaders


For the purposes of this article, initiative will refer to subordinates taking risky courses of action without oversight from their superiors. The mechanisms determining whether or not an army is capable of high initiative are as much cultural as they are organisational. There must be an atmosphere that justifys the ends over the means, and rewards innovation as long as it provides results. Using an example, lets say that a unit leader initiates an attack and experiences lots of resistance, when he decides to leave his sector and follow in the wake of another unit making better progress. [4] Will he be punished for disobeying orders, or commended for arriving at the objective? In such an instance, the american officer could expect reprimand, while the german officer could expect praise. This dichotomy can be observed in any number of engagements between the two armys. [5] In an attack, the americans would rely on a tightly choreographed operation with artillery support and air superiority. After initial successes brought about by the sheer weight of supporting fire, they would soon encounter stiff resistance which stalled the attack. The americans would then become demoralised and wait for additional orders or reinforcements. In the defense, german front lines would often be obliterated by a barrage of shellfire, leaving a nearby group of soldiers with a huge responsibility. Without the time to consult superiors, they would act on instinct and rush forward to plug the gap. Utilising either a counter-attack or hasty defense, the germans would then vigorously fight off the enemy troops who tried to exploit their breakthrough.

These anecdotes hint at the preferences both armys have for the execution of missions: The americans focused on planning, while the germans focused on improvisation. The difference in thought is also reflected in how either side would replace leaders who were killed or wounded in action. The U.S. army had a large surplus of junior officers on standby who could act as substitutes, whereas the german army had NCOs who were trained to think two levels above their rank. [6] [7] When the leader of an american unit was KIA, his men needed to wait for HQ to send a replacement. But when the leader of a german unit was KIA, his subordinate simply took over and continued the mission. This was beneficial on time sensitive missions, or when snipers were out in force and targeting officers. One should not forget the matter of cohesion, either. The american system meant the men would be led by a stranger, while the german system ensured they would be led by someone known to the men. From all indications, the practise of over-qualifying NCOs to replace junior officers appears to be the better approach. While some would claim that the americans and germans were no different when it came to leader replacement, this simply isn't borne out by the facts. Officers only comprised 2.86% of the german army, whereas officers made up 7.1% of the U.S. army. [8] More importantly, 70% of german officers were stationed in fighting units, while only 36% of american officers were.

Conclusion: Success doesn’t depend on having the perfect plan. It depends on changing plans to match circumstances fast enough for the changes to be effective. American leaders were frequently hampered by indecisiveness, while german leaders displayed great initiative at all levels. As a result, unexpected developments in battle affected them less than it would in other armys.

Command staffs

There are many different types of staffs which command many different types of units and formations, but for the intent of this article, we'll be focusing on divisional level headquarters as they existed in 1944-45. A german infantry division had 38 officers, and 446 men of other ranks, for a total of 484 in the HQ. A U.S. infantry division had 79 officers, and 430 men of other ranks, for a total of 509 in the HQ. [9] Whats most interesting here is the disparity in the number of officers: Even if you exclude their divisional artillery staff, which brings the count to 94 officers, the U.S. headquarters contain twice as many officers than the germans. This matter has some consequences for the efficiency of divisional HQs, particularly for the staffs that issue operational orders. Even if all other things were equally balanced (which they certainly aren't, as we will see shortly), the presence of so many extra officers increases the managerial overhead and changes the span of command. {N4} In the words of Jim Storr: “It is also quite obvious that almost everybody above the working level in an HQ is superfluous, except the commander and COS. This applies in almost every HQ, especially the large ones. What the higher ranks achieve is a requirement for more briefings to them and meetings between themselves.” Also notable is that U.S. divisional staffs were far less specialised for operations (I.E, combat leadership) than their german counterparts. Both the american and german staffs had four separate sections. The americans had personnel G1, intelligence G2, operations G3, and logistics G4. The germans had operations SI, personnel SII, justice SIII, and quartermaster SIV.

One difference is that the german chief of staff doubled as the operations officer SI, and was given complete authority over the other three sections. By contrast, the american chief of staff had someone else to act as the operations officer G3, and had no real authority over any of the four sections. [10] [11]  Thats quite a sub-optimal arrangement. Another key factor deserving of mention is the differences in command style. The german army practised something called mission command. This involved a superior outlining a mission for subordinates, but not a plan on how to execute it: They were trusted to use their imagination to provide the desired results. {N5} On the other hand, the U.S. army practised what could be called detailed command. This involved a superior outlining not only a mission, but an intricate plan on how to accomplish it: Subordinates were tasked merely with putting the plan into motion. Why is this important? Because modern war has shown time and again that a commander at some distant HQ cannot hope to get an accurate picture of the situation on the ground. They can't read the enemys mind and predict how they will react, and hence, they can't foresee the best possible employment for their units throughout the mission. When subordinates are neither trained nor permitted to deviate from the plan (or reject it in favor of another), they can't exploit fleeting opportunity's for success, nor can they improvise to avoid certain defeat. In order for that to happen, commanders must delegate authority so that the right man at the right spot can apply ad hoc solutions when they are needed most. During world war 2, only one army in the entire world could do this effectively and consistently.

Conclusion: Though comparable in many ways, german HQs have fewer officers and a greater emphasis on operations. By effectively enabling them to run the show, the germans are able to make decisions and deliver orders more quickly. The decentralised method of problem solving represented by mission command (or auftragstaktik) is also an undeniable advantage, which was imitated by several armys in the aftermath of WW2.

Above is the staff of a german HQ.
Below is the staff of an american HQ.


Cohesion is a term which describes the camaraderie and teamwork of soldiers within a unit. There is both low level cohesion, and high level cohesion. Low level cohesion can be created simply by having soldiers train together on a regular basis, and develop mutual respect and understanding. High level cohesion is more complicated, though: According to William Henderson, it requires the men have a common race, religion, language, and culture. If they aren't among people who they can consider part of an extended family, they won't develop the intense loyalty required to stick together in the heat of battle. The german soldiers all had a very homogeneous background, owing to the racial policys of the nazi party. Some SS formations recruited non-whites into their ranks, and the regular heer had some minoritys in hilfswillige and ostlegionens, but they were segregated from the rest of the army. The american soldiers also had a very homogenous background, because they came from a mostly white nation. Its true that there were small numbers of blacks in the army, but they were employed either in support roles or in segregated combat units. While important, these facts don't properly convey the whole picture. Armys engaged in major wars will experience rapid depletion of their manpower, especially in the infantry branch which comprises only 6-10% of an armys strength but suffers some 60-90% of the total casualties. As said by Dwight Eisenhower: “Modern armies are wholly dependent on men carefully trained in difficult skills. Replacements on a numerical basis do not mean much. It is replacement with trained men that counts.”

Attrition has a deleterious effect not only on skilled labor, but on unit cohesion as well. One advantage possessed by the germans was their system for replacing personnel who were lost in battle. Every division had a training battalion where new personnel were transferred to, and who were all conscripted from the same military district (wehrkreise) as the other men in the division. This gave them a common background that aided with integration. Contrast this to the american system, where the personnel selected came from any number of divisions, and any number of different states. {N6} It was not unusual for southerners to be dumped into a formation of east coasters, and vice versa. This made integration much more difficult and often resulted in poor teamwork. Also important is how the replacements were assigned to their new units after completing basic training, and how they received hard-earned lessons from the veterans (to avoid taking unnecessary losses in battle). The germans had their recruits kept together and sent to the front lines while under the command of decorated soldiers, who would introduce them to the formations history and traditions. [12] [13] Upon reaching their assigned sector, the men would participate in drills with the rest of the division, and comfortably find their place among a larger team. Meanwhile, the americans had their recruits shipped to a replacement depot, where they were then broken up and sent individually (or in small groups) to the front lines. Not only did they have no personal connection to the formation, but veterans were often wary of the men and didn't befriend them, which led to the recruits becoming socially isolated.

Conclusion: The americans and germans were equal in terms of low and high level cohesion, until they started to suffer heavy casualties. Whenever they needed to call on replacements to get back to full strength, the americans suffered from a drop in social cohesion and combat skills, qualitys which rarely wavered among the germans. As a result, they could not withstand the effects of attrition as well.


With regards to the human factors, we can clearly see that the U.S. army was not at the same level as the german heer. Even after the terrible losses sustained after three years of fighting on the eastern front, when many of their best troops were KIA or WIA, the germans consistently displayed greater fighting power than the americans. Mathematical models (which are consistent with field reports from mid '43 to mid '44) indicate that on a man per man basis, the germans were 20% to 30% more effective than the anglo-american forces, and inflicted 50% higher losses than they incurred in all circumstances. Regardless of whether they were attacking or defending. The high fighting power of the heer enabled them to punch above their weight, and eke out a stalemate in battles that they actually should have lost. More than anyone else, they understood the importance of personnel and organisation, and how it forms the bottom line for everything else that follows. Nor is it easy to delineate where one quality ends and another begins, because there is so much overlap between them. For instance, great command staffs provide hidden benefits for the soldiers under their helm, since they are less likely to micromanage subordinates and stifle their initiative. Additionally, the practise of having officer candidates prove their worth as NCOs builds cohesion between the officers and enlisted men.

Over-qualified NCOs who can replace dead or wounded leaders will help safeguard the units morale in times of desperation, when they are at the greatest risk of fracturing. This isn't even touching on the methods used at the officer schools, which included giving the candidates problems that could only be solved by disobeying orders. The dividends this provided for the germans are all too obvious. As one commentor put it: “To a limited degree, all german soldiers were like british commandos – because they were encouraged (trained) to think for themselves... Wehrmacht units, even if all the officers had been killed, would sometimes 'reform' and fight again. Even as late as 1944 german units that had been 'destroyed' came back and attacked. British and american forces thought they were facing new german units – when they were actually facing ones they thought they had already destroyed.” Despite all their disadvantages at the strategic level (including a chronic shortage of fuel, which made it difficult to conduct mobile warfare), the germans were frequently able to confound the americans and bloody them at the tactical level. While some armys have the characteristics of a glass cannon, the heer fought equally well in victory and defeat. They bitterly resisted their foes for the entire duration of the war, regardless of how bleak the situation was.


{N1} That attitude was present even in the luftwaffe and kriegsmarine, which used their own training facilitys separate from those of the heer. Sailors without ships and pilots without planes would choose to fight the enemy rather than surrender, displaying such determination that the OKW decided to deploy them into combat divisions in the last years of the war. While the loss of so many ships and planes was unfortunate, they were clever in utilising every bit of manpower they had.

{N2} Some sources indicate that by the time they received their commission, the fahnenjunkers were done in their training as platoon leaders. Instead, officer training was meant to lay the foundations for a well rounded leader who could perform a variety of different roles in a pinch.  'Any lieutenant may, at any time, have to educate, train, and lead a company, battery, or other similar unit, and any lieutenant may suddenly have to serve as a staff officer or even as an adjutant or aide-de-camp.'

{N3} There are other differences, but giving an adequate overview is difficult. Very important is that german officers were given cross branch training to get familiarised with a different field, i.e, armor officers would go to the infantry, infantry officers would go to the artillery, etc. [14] [15] This gave them a major advantage in combined arms operations. Moreover, the front trials allowed schools to weed out candidates who were not fit for officer rank, before they were entrusted with the lives of 30-50 men!

{N4} There are other oddities as well. The german headquarters had 139 men in the staff, 41 in the military police (and map department), and 304 men in logistics. The U.S. headquarters had 166 men in the staff, 239 in the military police, and 104 men in logistics. Those are some messed up priorities which indicate the americans may have had serious problems with stragglers and deserters. Their justice system was certainly more lax than the germans.

{N5} In order for auftragstaktik to work properly, the subordinate needs to understand the superiors intent, and the superior needs to outline the mission in unambiguous terms, which requires a complete uniformity of thinking on both their parts. If there was any confusion on either end, the results could end up compromising the mission. There also needs to be a culture that witholds judgement from those who fail while daring greatly.

{N6} Comically enough, some of the infantry replacements came from music bands, sanitation teams, and administration staffs! During the invasion of Normandy, only 37% of these men were rifle trained, and fewer still knew anything about small unit tactics. [16] Another fault of the american system was the refusal to return WIA men to their unit after recovery, a practise which was mandatory among the germans.


-Martin Van Creveld. “Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance 1939-1945.” Praeger, 1982. / Reason: General reference.
-Jörg Muth. “Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901-1940.” University of North Texas Press, 2011. / Reason: The officer training of both armys.
-Max Hastings. “Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy 1944.” Vintage, 1984. / Reason: General reference.
-Joseph Balkoski. “Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy.” Stackpole Books, 1989. / Reason: The command staffs of both armys, and their replacement systems.
-R.L. DiNardo. “Germanys Panzer Arm.” Stackpole Books, 1997. / Reason: Training in the german army.
- John English and Bruce Gudmundsson. “On Infantry.” Praeger, 1984. / Reason: General reference.


[1] DiNardo, Page 57.
[2] Hastings, Page 183.  Not be confused with kampfgruppen.
[3] Muth, Page 138 and 195.  These problems were endemic to the CGSS and other schools.
[4] English and Gudmundsson, Page 63.
[5] Hastings, Page 185.
[6] DiNardo, Page 63.
[7] English and Gudmundsson, Page 64.
[8] Hastings, Page 50.
[9] Van Creveld, Page 49 and 52.
[10] Balkoski, Page 102.
[11] Van Creveld, Page 48.
[12] Balkoski, Page 225.
[13] Van Creveld, Page 75.
[14] Muth, Page 166.
[15] DiNardo, Page 64.
[16] Hastings, Page 167.


  1. I see you have nice blog, when you will post something new?:)

    1. Hopefully, I'll publish more articles this month.

  2. Oh my God this is fucking awful

    1. You're probably one of those yahoos who thought the german army of 1941 would have lost to the iraqi army of 1991. (An almost absurd mismatch in human factors)

      Remember this post?

      If you agree with any of the comments posted there, then you are officially a military moron. But if you want to argue the point, I'll be happy to show where you are wrong.

  3. Another load of delusional drivel. Why not you admit that you want to gas a jew?

    1. How about you cut the bullshit? You're obviously one of those morons from the wehraboo subreddit. You claim my article is awful but don't go into any detail. I'm guessing this is another knee-jerk reaction from someone who slept through their history classes. 'Duh, america beat germany, so they are obviously the better army!' Does that summarize your position, oh nameless one?

    2. Well duh. If ze germans were so uber, they wouldn't have had their high command hung like criminal scum, their supreme leader eating his own gun like a coward and their country torn in half like a prized piece of meat.

    3. Germany lost for strategic reasons more than anything else, and they caused far more trouble than world leaders expected prior to 1939. Its a great misfortune that one of the most ruthless men in history just so happened to end up in control of one the most professional armys in history. If hitler had been the leader of ANY country other than germany, he would have been curbstomped in mere months. He never realised that his success' were obtained largely due to the heers professionalism: There was NO other army in the world that could have carried out the OKWs myopic plans to success. In his arrogance, hitler believed they were the product of some non-existent genius on his part. With that being said, what were americas advantages at the strategic level?

      They had a larger and more diversified economy, a better mobilisation plan (devised by leo cherne), and had spent the first two years of the war lending money to the commonwealth. This gave them major financial stability and set the stage for the post-war boom, along with the myth that war is good for the economy. America was also abundant in resources like oil while germany was constantly hampered by fuel shortages, as all of the nations they conquered were net consumers of oil (not producers). Its also worth mentioning that while the U.S. army had lower fighting power than the heer, they were superior to them in other areas, such as logistics, intelligence, medical care, air ground co-operation, and senior leadership.

  4. Oh man, you really don't know when to quit do you? I mean it's pretty damned obvious that they only keep you around as a punching bag.

    Though, I'm delighted to see that you like being someone else's chew toy.

  5. I don't know the meaning of the word quit. Hardly something I would expect an anonymous coward to understand! Why don't you identify yourself and take the opportunity to be properly mocked? Also, who is 'they'?

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