Thursday, 30 November 2017

RE: Common Myths About WWII

This is a response to a popular article that was posted on FTR (for the record) a few years back. They are a blog associated with the online game war of tanks. They make frequent posts that circle around the game and its setting: Tank combat during the 30s to 60s. The quality of these articles vary wildly depending on the topic in question. They are of respectible quality until it comes to WW2, in which case FTR delves into full on historical revisionism. Among other things, they are strongly opposed to the theory that the german army was a uniquely powerful and competent military force. Any individual who makes that claim is shouted down and decried as a wehraboo. Unfortunately for FTR, this theory happens to be supported by all the known facts about the heers organisation, and from their performance against opposing armys during WW2. The usual consensus among historians is that the germans were simply overwhelmed by the burden of fighting against three huge empires, and the superior industrial resources they could muster. One of the authors at the blog (EnsignExpendible) decided that he'd finally had enough with this theory.

He wrote a misleading and duplicitous article that attempts to dispute the heers superiority in weaponry and tactics. In keeping with the 'war of tanks' theme, the author has most of his criticisms focused on armored warfare. The Ensign was wise to choose a narrow subject that played to his strengths, but even then, he falls well short of managing to do a proper debunking. Normally, this kind of opinion piece wouldn't even warrant a response. But since it is being promoted on revisionist forums like ShitWehraboosSay, it has now become a worthwhile effort to debunk this article. The Ensign is clearly a lightweight without much understanding of warfare in general, and most of his criticisms rely on pairwise comparisons of equipment (17 pounder guns vs Tiger tanks, for example). Worse yet, he relys very heavily on websites like tankarchives for sources. The site in question is run by a russian blogger who makes a career out of translating soviet field reports from the war, and using them to make deceptive claims... Much like EnsignExpendible himself does. Could there be a connection between these two individuals?


These are the kindof stupid memes 
that get promoted on the FTR blog
  
 
Shermans were not especially fire-prone (consider German tanks that also used gasoline engines, but avoid this reputation). Fires were caused by improper storage of ammunition, when it was literally stuffed everywhere inside the tank it could fit. The end of this practice drastically reduced the number of Sherman fires 

Fun fact: In order for a tank to catch fire, its armor has to actually be pierced. Its true that the Shermans weren't any more fire-prone than the german tanks they faced. But the problem is, its armor was pierced much more frequently than the opposition. In one study, 95% of Shermans hit by 75mm or 88mm guns were penetrated, and of those tanks, 65% were burned out. [1] We can safely conclude that its armor was too thin to keep out enemy shells, therefore. Thats one of the reasons why the Sherman acquired a bad reputation after the war. On the other hand, the crews had a pretty good chance of escaping their vehicle alive if it was struck. The roomy interior, spring loaded hatches, ductile armor, and (later) wet ammo stowage were responsible for this.


The Ronson nickname is attributed to the slogan “lights every time”. The slogan was launched post-war, and thus could not influence the nickname.

Are you seriously claiming that the Ronson nickname was a postwar fiction? On what grounds are you dismissing the memoirs of veterans like David Holbrook and Steel Brownlie, who disparagingly compared their tanks to a lighter? Were they all mistaken? Anyway, there are images online which show the slogan years before the war. This ad poster is dated from 1929, and it already has the theme: ''A Ronson lights every time.''


Myth: German tanks in general, and Tigers in particular, were impervious to Allied guns.
Fact: Tigers were vulnerable to even Shermans armed with 75 mm guns. The longer 76 mm gun (superior in AP performance to the Soviet 85 mm gun, which could handle Tigers just fine) had no problem with Tigers or Panthers.

What are you talking about? The 75mm M3 gun used by the Sherman was completely useless against the Tigers frontal armor, and was unable to penetrate it even from point blank range. This is made clear from the data about the armor and gun in question, and is also borne out by countless testimonys from veterans and field reports. In combat, the Shermans 75mm gun was only useful against the Tigers side armor. As for the 76mm M1 gun, while this was certainly a better weapon, it was far from ideal. When using the common M62 shell, it could only penetrate the Tigers mantlet from 100 meters, and the glacis from 400 meters. [2] It was unable to pierce the Panthers glacis from any range at all, and could only penetrate the mantlet from about 200 meters. [3] So where do you get off saying that the 76mm gun had no problem with the german 'cats'? When the enemy tanks can destroy a Sherman from a much longer range than vice versa, that is the definition of a problem!

Your claims about russian tank guns are equally facile. While the theoretical performance of the 85mm S53 gun was at least equal to the 76mm gun, in practise, it was hampered by the choice of ammunition. Due to manufacturing difficultys, soviet AP rounds did not use an armor piercing cap to raise the shatter velocity. [4] As a result, they had a bad tendency to break up against german tank armor: This problem wasn't fixed until sometime in 1944. Even with the improved ammunition, though, the 85mm guns could only pierce the Tigers turret (not mantlet) from 500 meters, and the glacis from 300 meters. The 88mm KWK 36 gun could pierce the T-34/85s armor from a much longer range. So really, your examples only confirm how much of a disadvantage the allies were at in these tank on tank duels. There was obviously a reason why they needed numerical superiority to win battles.


Myth: German tanks and crews were superior to anything the Allies had, and achieved an X:1 kill to death ratio (the number varies greatly).
Fact: The flaws of German kill counts are covered in detail here and here.

The first source you listed is a rant about nothing. Since when does a different method of counting losses qualify as 'flawed' or 'cheating'? A German tank unit would keep damaged vehicles on the unit list and report a reduced operational readiness rate. An american or british tank unit would have damaged vehicles stricken from the unit list and replaced with new vehicles. So the only real difference here is that the germans were simply less willing to send damaged vehicles back to army level workshops. The second source you listed is just as problematic. It talks about BRL memorandum No. 798, which summarises numerous tank engagements in the western front. In order to come to their conclusions, the BRL used after-action reports from the 3rd and 4th armored divisions. Unfortunately, their figures don't add up with the losses actually sustained by the germans. From August 1944 to December 1944 alone, they lost 4973 AFVs on all fronts: Of those AFVs, 2861 were tanks. [5]

The heer then lost a similar number of AFVs again from January to May of 1945. So how many of those vehicles were due to american action in the western front? Well...The 4th AD reported making 847 tank kills, while the 3rd AD reported making 1023 tank kills! Yes, you read that correctly. Those are the actual claims made in their after-action reports. This is so incredible that it needs to be put into perspective to be fully understood. In the last 10 months of the war (when these two divisions were active), the german army lost about 10,000 AFVs on all fronts to all causes. And these guys claim to have been responsible for 1870 of them! Hallelujah, what a pair of tank wrecking monster divisions! Heh. This is just an obvious example of inflated kill counts, and overeager crews counting everything twice or thrice. Even if you increased the german AFV losses to double the actual number (thus providing a better 'vacuum'), the kills claimed by those two divisions would still be laughable from a statistical viewpoint.


Soviet guns do not lack mechanical accuracy, and are occasionally more accurate than their German counterparts. As for optics, Americans praised them at the Aberdeen trials: “Consensus: the gun sights are the best in the world. Incomparable to any currently known worldwide or currently developed in America.”

The 'great soviet optics' claim was made by U.S. army personnel that were used to dealing with crappy american scopes. They weren't comparing it to german stuff because they had none to test. As a matter of fact, the M38 telescopic sight used by the Sherman tank was so bad that the U.S. army was demanding a replacement by early 1943. ''We must have a better optic for our guns, something with a four power to six telescopic power and something focusable. The sight should have a larger reticle and it must be illuminated for night fighting. This is extremely important; it should be changed immediately.'' [6] So while its true that soviet scopes were better than the american designs, this is damning with faint praise. German crews who rode in captured T-34 tanks were disappointed with the optical suite, saying ''the gun sights in russian tanks are far behind the german designs.''
 

 Gunsight of the Tiger I tank

  
Myth: The T-34 was a very unreliable tank, as proven by trials at Aberdeen.
Fact: While trials at Aberdeen uncovered some flaws in early T-34 tanks, the tank sent to them was an obsolete model that went through major refurbishment. Furthermore, American testing was flawed (for example, they failed to oil up the air filter). Read more details here and here.

Thats only half true, Ensign. From all indications, the tank tested at Aberdeen in 1942 was ''specially prepared using the highest quality parts at the Ural Tank Factory (UTZ), which at that time produced the best T-34s in Russia.'' So any automotive flaws encountered with the vehicle are inherent to its very design. We know that the early T-34 tanks had major problems with their transmissions and final drives. One source states that they would require maintenance after a journey of 50 to 80 kilometers. Another claims that the T-34 could not travel more than 200 kilometers without an overhaul. A disappointing performance, to be sure. According to the Aberdeen report: ''On the T-34 the transmission is also very poor. When it was being operated, the cogs completely fell to pieces. A chemical analysis of the cogs on the cogwheels showed that their thermal treatment is very poor and does not in any way meet American standards for such mechanisms.'' These reliability problems were not fixed until 1943, when the tanks received a better clutch and transmission.


Myth: The King Tiger could not be penetrated by any tank gun.
Fact: The Tiger II was penetrated many times by various weapons in trials. Even the meek 85 mm gun on the T-34-85 was capable of dealing a fatal blow to it at 300 meters.

You know what the difference between trials and combat is? The difference is, the 'target' isn't moving around and shooting back at you. The kubinka test you're so eager to mention involved the vehicle being fired at (in sequence) by 122mm guns, 152mm guns, 100mm guns, and 85mm guns. The armor package was already compromised by the time the 85mm guns got their turn. Just look at the firing tests against the glacis plate! The first sequence was done with the A-19 gun, and not the lower velocity D-25T used by soviet tanks. Most of the 122mm shells fired at the Tiger II did not manage to pierce the glacis plate: They only caused spalling and burst weld seams. The second sequence was done with the ML-20 gun. None of the 152mm shells fired at the Tiger II managed to pierce the glacis plate. Even from 100 meters, they could only burst weld seams and spall the armor.  The third sequence was done with the BS-3 gun. The 100mm shells only managed to penetrate when they hit weakened portions of the glacis, or the connections between the upper and lower front plates.
 
This is a trial weighted heavily in favor of the soviet guns, and they aren't even doing that good of a job. Out of those three guns, the only one that could make a clean penetration was the 122mm A-19, and only when using a specially designed shell that came into service in 1945! It pierced the armor at 600 meters, but only made a dent at 700 meters. Smaller caliber guns had no hope of dealing with the vehicle from a frontal aspect. Think about it. The 85mm gun struggled to knock out even the Tiger I. When firing from an angle of 30 degrees, it could only penetrate the Tiger Is turret from 500 meters, and the glacis plate from 300 meters. [7] So what could possibly lead you to believe that this same gun could pierce the much thicker armor of the Tiger II from the same range? They were the heaviest, best armored tanks ever to enter service during world war 2. The kubinka test bears this out in full.
 

Myth: Germans had the best optics in the entire war.
Fact: Not really, just some minor advantages in sight form factors (and not glass quality, like is often said). Daigensui explores the topic here. 

Minor advantages? Your own link acknowledges that those telescopic sights have a wider field of view (FOV) for the same magnification. A german 2.4x power sight had a 25 degree FOV, while an american 3x power sight had only a 13 degree FOV. Thats a pretty big difference, Ensign. And despite your claims to the contrary, the panzer optics did indeed posses higher glass quality. A french army report stated: ''The clarity and ranging reticles of the periscope gun sight was excellent and more effective than of the allied counterpart, the Sherman.'' The telescopic sights on the Tiger or Panther tanks also had adjustable magnifications, meaning they could go from 2.5x power to 5x power. This, along with their stadiametric notches, gave the germans a notable edge in long range gunnery. Don't forget, the tank that strikes its target first will usually win the engagement!


Myth: Germans could knock out Allied tanks at great ranges, and routinely did so from distances as great as 2 kilometers or even greater.
Fact: Research indicates that the average engagement range was only several hundred meters. Shots from over 1 kilometer were either rarely taken, or rarely reached their target.


The article you link to mentions a study by P. S. Igumnov. This survey was about soviet tanks destroyed on the eastern front, where the line of sight (LOS) is longer than anywhere in europe. But the article doesn't elaborate on what year this study was conducted, or what the sample size was. Did Igumnov survey 200 soviet tanks, or 2000 of them? These questions matter. Your own table states that the 88mm guns were scoring kills at longer range than the 75mm guns. The 88s were getting 31.2% of their hits at 600-800 meters, and 13.5% of their hits at 800-1000 meters. The 75s were getting 33.5% of their hits at 400-600 meters, and 14.5% of their hits at 600-800 meters. Anyway, its a well known fact that german guns COULD knock out soviet tanks from great ranges. The T-34s were shockingly vulnerable to the 88mm flak gun, which was later adapted for use in the Tiger I. In October 1943, a tank commander named Kurt Knispel knocked out a T-34 tank from 3000 meters, the longest range tank kill of the war. But of course, these kinds of shots were the exception rather than the rule. Even in the steppes of russia and the ukraine, most kills were made at considerably shorter range.

 
Myth: The Panther was a great tank that could have turned the tide of the war if only _________.
Fact: Panthers, even the latest models, were full of mechanical issues, such as final drives that lasted 150 kilometers. The_Chieftain goes over them here. Additionally, the armour was of exceptionally poor quality, cracking after non-penetrating hits.


Gee, do you think? World war 2 was the largest conflict in human history. The chain of events were far too complex to be decided by a single line of vehicles, no matter how impressive their performance may appear to be. While its true that the Panthers had issue with their final drives (as the early models of T-34 did), the sheer extent of this problem has often been exaggerated. The french experience of the tanks only going 150 km before a break down needs to be tempered with the reality that those crews weren't trained to properly operate the Panther. They had a bad habit of keeping the tank in 3rd gear during long marchs, and then controlling the speed using only the accelerator rather than shifting to the higher gears. This is something that german crews had been explicitly warned not to do, as it would lead to premature stripping of the cogs. [8] The 3rd gear was under-designed because it wasn't meant to spend much time in that position: It was only meant to be a transition to the higher gears. But even so, the notion of the Panthers final drives having a 'fatigue life of only 150 km' is bizarre and anomalous.
 
If these brand-new tanks were breaking down before they had even completed a full march (200 km on road), then thats because the driver is an ignorant moron. The British actually did tests on a captured Panther tank which had 500 miles (800 km) on it. The vehicle was certainly worn out. But after repairs had been made to the engine and steering system, it was able to successfully pass an obstacle course that both the Sherman and Cromwell failed. It was then put through two additional trials, which is when the transmission finally broke down. That means it traveled five times further than the french claimed was possible. Again, thats not to say that the final drives weren't a weak point. They used single-teeth spur gears that were inappropriate for a 44 ton tank, and the war ended before this design flaw could be rectified. Poorly trained drivers who selected gears carelessly would overtax the Panthers drive train and cause premature break downs. This just goes to show that no tank is without its flaws.


Sources

[1] British Armour in the Normandy Campaign, by John Buckley. (Page 125)

[2] Panther vs Sherman: Battle of the Bulge 1944, by Steven J. Zaloga. (Page 25)

[3] M26/M46 Pershing Tank 1943–53, by Steven J. Zaloga. (Page 10)

[4] Soviet Armed Forces Review Annual - Volume 14, by David R. Jones. (Page 260)

[5] Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II, by Steven Zaloga. (Page 223)

[6] M4 Sherman at War, by Michael Green. (Page 85)

[7] Tiger 1: Heavy Tank: 1942-45, by Thomas Jentz. (Page 20)

[8] Panzers at War, by Michael Green. (Page 87)

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