Wednesday, 23 January 2019

RE: On German tank armor

This is the third and final response that will be made to the gaming blog, For The Record. They have written alot of misleading articles on the subject of WW2, so its only natural that they are made the target of a thorough debunking. FTR has been used as a platform to spread revisionist history to unsuspecting readers. One of the main culprits is the individual known as EnsignExpendible. He is a Russian emigre who owns the Red Army themed blog, TankArchives. In theory, the website is supposed to be a neutral resource that translates Soviet reports from WW2. In practise, however, these memos are often selectively filtered and interpreted, and are accompanied with unnecessary opinions from the author. TankArchives consistently exaggerates the performance of the Red Army during 'the great patriotic war', while deflating the performance of the Heer it fought against. This theme is present in nearly every single article featured on the website. When expounding his propaganda on FTR, EnsignExpendible makes extensive usage of his own blog to buttress his faulty arguments. He misrepresents the war on the eastern front to such an extent that it no longer bears any resemblance to reality.

Moreover, he has repeatedly been shown to be dishonest, mendacious, and exceptionally ignorant on certain subjects. In his whopper of an article, the Ensign seeks nothing less than to single handedly rewrite the entire historical consensus about Germanys tanks. His thesis is that from the beginning of the war to the end, the Reich was consistently churning out tanks with substandard armor. He rejects the mainstream theory that their armor quality only declined late in the war. TankArchives theory is that -get this- it was of low quality right from the start. How he came to this preposterous conclusion is anyones guess. In any event, his thesis is built on a mountain of stupidity, ignorance, and hasty generalisations. His poor understanding of metallurgy and ballistics has been demonstrated before, and this article will prove to be no exception. TankArchives has created a Potemkin village that gives off the illusion of strength and soundness where there is none. Much like the Soviet Union itself, it is a colossus that will shatter under the weight of its own inconsistencys.

TankArchives and his Soviet 
propaganda victory

The stupendous claim

Within his article, TankArchives summarises a number of Allied studys conducted on German tank armor. He cites two American metallurgical reports on the Panther, and three Soviet ballistics tests on the Tiger II, Tiger I, Panzer IV and Panzer III. In this way, he attempts to provide a sortof chronology on the quality of their armor, and determine whether or not there was a difference in the early and late war plates. His theory that German armor was of consistently low quality throughout WW2 is put to the test. He quotes a number of passages from the reports in question, showing the substandard and deficient nature of the sampled armor. To an uninformed observer who doesn't know better, TankArchives seems to successfully make his case. But his victorys is entirely illusory, and can only be maintained through the false consensus he builds. A closer examination of the relevant facts causes his entire theory to implode in on itself like a house of cards. To refute it is actually remarkably easy. All we need to do is look through the metallurgical reports that TankArchives cites as evidence, and see whether or their explanation for the flawed armor matchs up with his theory.

The first report he cites is Metallurgical Examination of Armor and Welded Joints from the Side of a German PzKw (Panther) Tank. Heres what it has to say: ''The extremely poor shock properties are traceable to the nonmartensitic microstructure resulting from hardenability inadequate to permit full hardening upon quenching. The steel has been heat treated to a tempered bainitic microstructure containing banded segregates rich in ferrite.'' It also says this: ''Inferior toughness as evidenced by brittle fractures and low impact resistance has been reported in several investigations of German armor that were 2"1 and greater in thickness. The inferior toughness was traced in some instances to an inadequate hardening treatment, and in others to temper brittleness combined with incomplete quench hardening.''

The second report he cites is Metallurgical Examination of a 3-1/4″ Thick armor Plate from a German PzKw V (Panther) Tank. Heres what it has to say: ''However it exhibited extremely low toughness (as indicated by the fracture and Charpy tests) making it susceptible to shattering under a shock type ballistic test. The inferior toughness was attributed to a combination of incomplete transformation to martensite upon quenching and temper embrittlement...'' It also says this: ''It will be shown that the extremely low toughness in the plate under investigation is a result, in part, of temper embrittlement, a factor which may have been partly responsible for the inferior toughness in the German armor previously investigated.''

The logical rebuttal

Theres alot of jargon being thrown around here, but the conclusions are damning. Both reports state unequivocally that the brittleness of the tanks armor was caused by improper heat treatment and quenching. The steel mills were unable to achieve consistent quality control with their armor, and were unintentionally churning out many flawed plates. Why does this matter? Because these issues have been explicitly documented to only have occurred from early 1944 onward. This fact by itself completely disproves TankArchives theory that Germany was churning out flawed armor plates from the beginning of the war to the end! This is the key point. Before 1944, there was no evidence whatsoever of problems with armor quality. Whereas after 1944, it has been well documented that steel mills were unable to maintain quality control of their armor. And we know precisely what caused this decline, too.

''By 1944-45 the precarious supply situation of critical alloy materials facing Germany resulted in a program of intentional systematic reduction of nickel, tungsten and molybdenum in the composition of armor steel... Throughout the entire thickness range (the upper limits of which remained conformal with the ever increasing anti-armor calibers and shell types to a maximum of 250mm) first nickel-free and then low alloy steels were introduced in compliance with carefully determined heat treating methods in the smelting of this "standard" steel for all plants.'' [1]

''Improvisations by the German armor industry in the face of declining alloy content included multiple time quenching of plates in order to provide control over heat treatment, a process which must be conducted with care and precision to be successful. Times for immersing and removing steel from quench baths was specified to the second. Given the size and weight of plates such as the Panther glacis, inconsistency from one part of a plate to another would be a natural consequence. As alloy content dwindled, the margin for error in armor heat treatment narrowed.'' [2]

''As the war progressed, Germany was forced to curtail the use of certain critical alloys in the production of armour plate, such as nickel, tungsten, molybdenum, and manganese. The loss of these alloys resulted in substantially reduced impact resistance levels compared to earlier armour... The loss of molybdenum, and its replacement with other substitutes to maintain hardness, as well as a general loss of quality control, resulted in an increased brittleness in German armour plate, which developed a tendency to fracture when struck with a shell.'' [3]

The facts really do speak for themselves. They reveal that from 1944 onward, the Germans suffered shortages of alloying elements that forced them to use a different method of heat treatment for their armor plates. In theory, this interrupted quench technique would enable them to produce armor of the same quality as what they'd had before the crisis. But in practise, this technique was temperamental and finicky. Some mills were unable to maintain quality control, and churned out flawed armor as a result. This is what led to the armor of some German tanks suffering catastrophic failures in battle. It didn't affect all of the panzers made at that time, but it affected them frequently enough to be noticed by the Allys. And since this phenomenon only occurred in early 1944, TankArchives entire thesis is invalidated from the outset. His belief of German inferiority was a product of his own ignorance, bias, and poor research. But the story doesn't end here... There are still loose ends that remain to be tied up. Before this 'hypothesis' can be considered truly debunked, we will need to go one step further and look at the Soviet tests that he falsely cited as proof of substandard armor.

Tiger II destroyed by Russian
women with bazookas

Tiger II armor

TankArchives mentions a Soviet test involving the Tiger II tank, which was fired on by a variety of different weapons. He criticises how its armor held up. ''The front plates of the hull and turret, as demonstrated in the trials, are low quality. When the armour was not penetrated, the armour formed large cracks, and large fragments broke off the rear side.'' There are alot of problems with this statement. One issue is that the tests were conducted in November 1944. The temperatures on that day were -10 celsius, which may have adversely effected the ductility of the armor. Another issue is, of course, that the Soviets were only able to pierce the tanks glacis with the most powerful gun in their arsenal, the 122mm A-19 gun. And even then, it could only achieve penetations from 500 meters. The 100mm BS-3 gun only managed to penetrate when it hit weakened portions of the glacis, or the connections between the upper and lower front plates. The 152mm ML-20 gun didn't manage to penetrate the glacis at all, and some of the shells actually bounced off it! To be fair, the Tiger II did experience burst weld seams and spalling of the armor. But given the caliber of the shells being fired at it, this is hardly surprising.

Tiger I armor

TankArchives mentions a test involving the Tiger I tank, which was fired on by a variety of different weapons. He criticises how its armor held up. ''As a result of hits from 57, 85, and 122 mm guns, the armour cracks and fragments break off... The welding seams are very fragile, and are destroyed when the armour is hit by armour piercing shells.'' Again, there are alot of problems with this statement. One issue is that the Soviets were only able to pierce the tanks glacis with the 85mm S-53 and 122mm A-19 gun. The 85mm gun penetrated the armor from 1000 meters, but only caused cracks when it hear near the edge of the plate (and next to a previous shot). The 122mm gun penetrated the armor from 1500 meters, and caused cracks from the sheer force of impact. However, every other weapon that was fired against the tanks front armor failed. The 57mm Zis-2 gun didn't penetrate, and neither did the 76mm F-34 gun. Regular APBC and APHE shells failed, and so did the special HVAP ammunition! This was a very discouraging result for the Soviet testers. It revealed that the T-34 tanks main gun was completely helpless against the Tigers front armor... The issue of burst weld seams and spalling of the armor was less pronounced than in the Tiger II tests. There is no indication of brittleness in the plates.

Panzer III and Panzer IV armor

TankArchives mentions a test involving the Soviet 45mm anti-tank gun, which was used against three vehicles: The Stug III, the Panzer III, and the Panzer IV. He has no scorn for how the Stug IIIs armor performed, but is quite disparaging of the other two tanks. ''Then the PzIII is swapped in, and the performance is absolutely abysmal. Huge cracks from the same anaemic 45 mm peashooter, the front armour plate falls off, breaches up to 120 mm in size form... The PzIV doesn’t do much better.'' Lets take a look at the article in question and see whether he is giving an accurate description.

-The Panzer III being tested is an Ausf. H, which has 30mm applique armor on top of its 30mm base armor. Two shots against the front failed to penetrate, but do knock the applique armor loose.  Afterwards, more shots are fired against the turret and hull side. One of them penetrates the turret hatch, opening a crack in the armor. Two of them penetrate into the hull, striking near the turret platform and opening another crack in the armor. On its face, this seems to prove TankArchives assertion that the armor was brittle.

-The Panzer IV being tested is an Ausf. H, which has 20mm applique armor on top of its 30mm base armor. Three shots against the front fail to penetrate, but do open up cracks on the back side of the armor. Afterwards, more shots are fired against the turret side. Several penetrations are scored, but there is no cracking. Repeated hits knock the applique armor loose. Overall, these results seems to validate TankArchives belief that the the Panzer IVs armor wasn't much better than the Panzer III. But these are only first impressions!

In order to determine whether or not the plates were acting in a brittle or ductile manner, we need to know something about armor failure modes. This is a complicated subject that is also influenced by the type of projectile that strikes the armor. (In this instance, the 45mm anti-tank gun fired uncapped, blunt nosed shells) What will a deeper examination of these test results show?

First, lets look at the hits against the Panzer IV. The claim that cracking on the back face of the armor indicates brittleness is not true. What we're actually seeing is evidence of something called a star crack. These are associated with the initial stages of a ductile failure mode, either ductile hole growth or petaling. But in this incident, the 45mm shells ran out of energy before they could penetrate. This is not a sign that the Panzer IVs armor was brittle.

Next, lets look at the hits against the Panzer III. The claim that the front armor had fallen off is misleading, as this was merely the applique armor being knocked loose. And as for the cracking of the side armor, its interesting to note where these cracks occurred. The shells struck near stress points like the turret hatch and the turret platform. Hatchs are known to act as stress concentrators that allow cracks to propagate unimpeded for large distances. This is not a sign that the Panzer IIIs armor itself was brittle.

Holes in a metal plate act 
as a stress concentrator

Quotes from Heinz Guderian

In a final bid to solidify his theory, TankArchives attempts to show his readers that German armor was running into quality problems even in late 1941. He provides a quote from Heinz Guderians book to prove this: ''Frontline officers suggested that we should build tanks exactly like the T-34 in order to correct the unpleasant position of our armoured forces, but this position did not receive support from the engineers... Additionally, our hardened steel, whose quality was dropping due to a lack of natural resources, was inferior to the Russians' hardened steel.'' That almost sounds convincing... However, its important to keep in mind that this quote comes from a Russian translation of the book.

In the German and English translation of his book, Guderian didn't say anything about the quality of German armor deteriorating. What he actually says is this: ''The officers at the front were of the opinion that the T34 should simply be copied, since this would be the quickest way to put to rights the most unhappy situation of the German panzer troop: but the designers could not agree to this... Also, as far as steel alloys went, we were at a disadvantage compared to the Russians owing to our shortage of raw materials.'' [4] In his own words, therefore, Guderian believed that resource shortages made it impractical to copy the armor composition of the T-34 tank.

So really, his comment has nothing to do with the 'inferiority' of German armor. Guderians concern lay with the perceived superiority of Soviet armor. The T-34 tank used an MZ-2 steel alloyed with lots of rare elements, which was only practical because of all the USSRs natural resources. At the time, the Germans were quite envious of this type of armor. MZ-2 steel could be heat treated to very high hardness levels without a loss of toughness. [5] This gave it the ability to shatter the uncapped Pzgr shells that were used in 1941, thus rendering excellent protection. However, this situation quickly changed after the Germans introduced the improved Pzgr 39 shell. This was a capped projectile with a hardened nose, which could easily penetrate the high hardness armor of the T-34. This type of plate was so ineffective against Pzgr 39, in fact, that it provided less protection than rolled homogenous armor. In retrospect, it can be seen that the Soviets relied on an innovation that quickly became obsolete.


[1] The Panther & Its Variants, by Walter Spielburger. (Page 82)

[2] World War II Ballistics: Armor and Gunnery, by Robert D. Livingston. (Page 8)

[3] Eastern Front: Encirclement and Escape by German Forces, by Bob Carruthers.

[4] Panzer Leader, by Heinz Guderian.

[5] WAL Report: Review of Soviet Ordnance Metallurgy. (Page 4-5)


  1. Not surprising you don't include Zaloga. Must haunt your boners when you hear something German is actually just shit in real life.

    1. Are you stupid or something? Zaloga isn't an expert on armor or ballistics. Hes much less of an authority on that subject that Livingston. To say nothing of the WAL reports themselves.

      In any case, nothing hes written contrasts with what I've said here. Zaloga accepts the consensus opinion that German armor didn't decline until 1944 or so (just as I do).

    2. That's the thing German armor did not "decline" as the war progressed the idea that the Germans gradually stopped making good armor plate because alloys dwindled is not what caused the alleged “poor quality plates”, the Germans had in fact accounted for & countered the problem of alloy shortages by with different heating & quenching techniques during plate manufacture which met the armor standards implemented earlier for high alloy armor (it was an equivalent) the issue instead is that these same techniques required more precision (timing was very exacting) which ultimately made flaws and mistakes more common. I think it is even described in the WWII gunnery Rexford book so why anyone thinks any different is baffling?
      Anyway what the "muh low quality armor™" wot kiddies & misplaced political junkies fail to realize is that essentially this means that “poor armor plate” is not a blanket argument that would encompass all German vehicle production or even that all late quality plates are bad in fact the converse since these are manufacturing mistakes that slipped through quality control rather a matter of course most late war plate should be of good quality….. But when does context ever matter to leftist political ideologues?
      sorry if double post idk if the first went through.

    3. Thats right. The shortages of alloying elements forced them to use a different method of heat treatment. But this resulted in frequent cases of temper embrittlement in the plates. The Germans weren't always able to control for this. This is the source of the 'armor decline.'

  2. Kesler, have you read Dr. Nigel Askey's
    Operation Barbarossa: the Complete Organisational and Statistical Analysis, and Military Simulation or Dr. Robert Forczyk's We March Against England: Operation Sea Lion, 1940–41?

    The former is just a massive tome that aims to show scientifically as possible how Nazi Germany just rail roaded the Soviets so badly.

    The latter shows how Seelowe was actually viable and could have succeeded in gaining a lodgement and produce a stalemate.

  3. I have read Nigel Askeys books (though not in their entirety). They are very, very good. I haven't had the chance to go through Robert Forczyks book, however.

  4. Don't blame you on Dr. Askey's books. I read all 3,679 pages twice so far and this includes previews of his next volume. Its a lot of information and again demonstrates that building an army requires more than just building Tanks, you need a lot of supporting elements for them to do any good.

    I remember when it first came out and the blowup on Axis History Forum when it debunked so many myths pushed by Carl Schwamberger for years. Last I checked, he still tries to argue by comparing German Capabilities to US Capabilities rather than whether they were able to do the job they were supposed to do in a given time frame. If a German Pioneer Group can lay 20km of Railway Track a day without power tools while a US engineering group lays 21km with power tools a day, who is actually more efficient? The Germans who saved 3,000 liters of petrol or the US which spent 3,000 liters of petrol that could have powered a Tank Battalion forward another 100 kilometers.

    The point still flies past his head.

    As for Dr. Forczyk's book, you can hear it online on but you can't skip to sections as needed like an audio book to read the footnotes.

    1. Yes, Nigel Askeys books have been an uncomfortable reminder (for some) about just how well organised and trained the German army truly was. His work busted the bubble of comfort occupied by American and British jingoists, who like to believe that they won the war because they were simply better. Or even more amusingly, that they would have been victorious even without the Russians. The intrusion of reality is uncomfortable and embarrassing to these jingoists.

      According to Martin van Creveld, only one-sixth of the railway engineer battalions were fully motorised and two-thirds had to make do without any vehicles at all. The fact that they could convert 20 km of track per day (in optimal conditions) is thus as surprising as it is impressive. It was certainly a more lean and efficient group than its American counterpart.

    2. It gets even better. German Pontoon Companies didn't even assemble their bridges, they just transported them to the unit that needed them and the unit then constructed it.

      Again Carl Schwamberger tried to state this was a poor system compared to the US putting a bridge across Remagen which took 3 days to plan which he ignored and accused me of moving goal posts when I pointed it out, he even ignored the fact 5 hours was spent reconnoitering the start points, again accusing me of moving goal posts.

      By contrast, the Germans with just 6 hours of planning, reconnaissance, and preparation massed several pontoon companies together and created a bridge at Ancenis which was 1/3 longer than US Enigneers made at Remagen and did so in 22 hours at a far faster pace than the US Engineers did with all their powered equipment and which supported Panzer IVs. And it was built by regular German Troops...

      Carl Schwamberger still accused me of moving goal posts.

    3. I think I've found the thread you participated in. 1941: What if Germany refuses troops for North Africa.

      Looks like you and Richard Anderson were having quite an argument. Hes always been a snide, condescending little prick. He could never bring himself to admit that his beloved U.S. army was ineffective and poorly organised.

    4. Yep, and he couldn't come to grips with the fact that the Germans didn't need power equipment to corduroy roads sufficient enough to travel on. Once they had something sufficient, they moved on, follow on construction crews could do the rest later.

      Seriously, the dude couldn't grasp that the Germans getting a Bridge across 375 meters in 22 hours with regular troops with no power tools and only a few motorboats at a pace of 17 meters per hour is far more impressive than the US Engineers getting a bridge built in 17 hours at a pace of 13.8 meters an hour while burning 3,000 gallons of gas vs 400 by the Germans.

      The German Bridge even supported the weight of a Panzer IV which also kills his argument that German Forces had to wait a few days to cross Panzers which is nonsense.

  5. Oh if you ever get around to doing an article on Lend Lease to the Soviets and its importance. Volume IIIA is an eye opener.

    The Soviets converted the bulk of its train and truck factories to churning out tanks. This severely hampered the Red Army's mobility and meant their offensives would never had been possible without Lend Lease.

    On page 111, the effects of lend lease become staggering obvious. During WW2, the Soviet Union produced a total of 411 Locomotives and 15,900 railcars. Given its massive losses, no Lend Lease kills the Soviet Logistics network. Hell if not for an emergency shipment of Locomotives, boots, and food in November, the Soviets never would have launched their 1941-42 Winter Offensive and lost a million men to starvation and more to frostbite.

    No lend lease in 1942 means the Germans take Stalingrad as the Soviets won't have sufficient trucks to keep their units from being encircled and destroyed outside the city and lack sufficient communications gear to tell units to retreat before being cut off.

    On top of that, Germany invaded the the USSR with 3 times more trucks than the Red Army had in its entire military... 600,000 vs 200,000.

    Making matters worse, 45% of the Soviet Truck Fleet was non-operational.

    It appears throwing all your manufacturing resources into making tanks isn't a smart investment. Nor is having a Tank Heavy Approach. German Panzer Divisions were actually infantry divisions with a Panzer Regiment backing two Infantry Regiments.

    So the issue for Germany was never weapons production, it was taking on far too many enemies with far few Allies, none of which could match the German Efficiency at war.

  6. Thanks for the tip, I'll definitely check that section out. I knew the Soviets had a shortage of trucks, but I didn't know they also had a shortage of trains. Their strategy of focusing everything into tank production was quite dangerous. It would have backfired dramatically without Lend Lease, like you said.

    Another point Nigel makes in his books is that even though the Panzer divisions of 1941 had fewer tanks than in 1940, they were actually more capable due to being better balanced (in terms of infantry and tank complement, support functions, etc).

    You should try going onto reddit sometime. My friend Christian has a forum called RebuttalTime. He and I talk alot about WW2 history there. Most of our time is spent debunking myths about kill ratios.

  7. Well , ofcourse you can make huge number of tanks when everything else is provided by lend lease.

    This "little detail" is often forgotten.