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Go Back   Armchair General and HistoryNet >> The Best Forums in History > Historical Events & Eras > World War II > Armor in World War II

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Armor in World War II Discuss all aspects & disciplines of World War II Armor here.

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  #16  
Old 01 Jul 17, 17:11
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Originally Posted by Don Juan View Post
I think there is a basic problem with the logic that most Panthers were damaged/destroyed by the Allies, ergo the Panther was not unreliable. These are two entirely unrelated phenomena. The best that could be argued in this case is that Panthers were in action for such a short time before they were damaged/destroyed that their nominal reliability was irrelevant.

British reports from Normandy indicate that Panther engines were still catching fire in that theatre, and indeed, engine fires occurred on the Panthers that the British had built for them in mid-1945. But again, even if Panthers were perfectly reliable up to their very maximum 1800 km engine and transmission life, this represents a durability of only 1120 miles against 3000 for the Sherman and Cromwell. As such, the Panther would have been turned down for service in the British Army, as it would have been less durable than a Centaur, which could reliably achieve 2000 miles between overhauls.
One should also point out the US Army would have likewise rejected the Panther on not just the reliability problems, but on difficulty of maintenance. The US was looking very closely at how long and how difficult some maintenance item would take. If a tank needed an engine swap, it had to be something that could be done in the field and relatively quickly with tools the unit had on hand.
Every US division had shop trucks for purposes of repairing the division's gear. For example, one vehicle had a crew that repaired small arms. They could refurbish all but the most damaged small arms to serviceable levels for reissue. It seems rather esoteric, but it was vital to the division that their equipment worked.
For the Germans, you often simply did without, or with less, or with what you could scrounge up. Sure, the US and Britain scrounged equipment too, but they did it to supplement their gear, not make up for shortages of it.
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Old 01 Jul 17, 19:56
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Don Juan View Post
I think there is a basic problem with the logic that most Panthers were damaged/destroyed by the Allies, ergo the Panther was not unreliable. These are two entirely unrelated phenomena. The best that could be argued in this case is that Panthers were in action for such a short time before they were damaged/destroyed that their nominal reliability was irrelevant.

British reports from Normandy indicate that Panther engines were still catching fire in that theatre, and indeed, engine fires occurred on the Panthers that the British had built for them in mid-1945. But again, even if Panthers were perfectly reliable up to their very maximum 1800 km engine and transmission life, this represents a durability of only 1120 miles against 3000 for the Sherman and Cromwell. As such, the Panther would have been turned down for service in the British Army, as it would have been less durable than a Centaur, which could reliably achieve 2000 miles between overhauls.
Bold is mine.

I'm a big fan of the Churchill tank, and consider it to be the best tank of WW2. That said, the earlier models, such as the Mk III's sent to N Africa and Russia were mechanically awful in 42. Not only did the British and Soviets think so, the Vauxhall producers of the tank also agreed, sending engineers to the front lines to report, and if possible, correct deficiencies in the tank. The first Churchills were a reliability nightmare.

That said, these early Churchills fought alongside the new KV-1S in the Stalingrad campaign 42-3. The 'S' KV's were a faster, and more reliable, tank than its previous incarnations, especially the very heavily armoured KV-1C. Churchills proved more effective.

That these first Churchills were totally unreliable is not in question. The fact that they were at least as reliable as a 'reliable' KV type raises doubts on Soviet tanks reliability as well. As another example, Churchills were used at Prokhorovka 1943. These included unreliable Mk III versions that were able to march hundreds of miles with no further losses than T-34's at that time. Given how bad this Mk IV Infantry tank was at the time, it becomes clearer why T-34's, despite theoretical mobility/gun/armour advantage over its opponents failed much of the time.

What the West, the Nazi's and the Soviets considered reliable are three different criteria. I suspect this was down to the enormous losses on the Eastern front, which meant reliability was not a priority in Nazi and Soviet designs.
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Old 02 Jul 17, 08:34
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There's a Soviet evaluation of the Cromwell here, in which they give it an almighty slating due to its unsloped armour, cross country performance etc.

What is interesting is that despite being given six Cromwells, the Soviets don't appear to have tested them on their primary development criteria i.e. the ability to accumulate extensive mileages without compromising reliability. This indicates to me that the Soviets, like the Germans, had no real conception of the importance of mechanical durability and the value of a long overhaul life. In some of their reports, they seem to be proud when their T-34's achieve 1500km (about 930 miles).

I've suspected for a long time that the British definition of "unreliable" was much stricter than that of other nations, and that the British were sidelining tanks which would have been considered perfectly serviceable by other nations (e.g. the Greeks thought the Centaur was perfectly fine). I wouldn't say I've "proved" this, but the information I've found so far is suggestive that this was the case.
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Old 02 Jul 17, 10:16
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I have seen a British report on the campaign in the Western desert that bemoans tank breakdowns and places much of the blame on a shortage of tank transporters so that the tanks often had to travel significant distances on their tracks under their own power. Whilst the Germans had the advantage of a railway network in Europe they were even shorter on tank transporters so that by 1944 these were reserved only for recovery so the Panthers would also have had to trek significant distances, especially after the Allied air forces had turned their attention to that railway network. This could well be one reason for apparently greater unreliability
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Old 02 Jul 17, 11:41
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One area I think overlooked is the degree to which the average American and Briton was far more used to dealing with mechanical transport than their German counterparts. This was especially the case in America but even Britain had greatly outstripped Germany so that by 1939 there were nearly twice as many vehicles on British roads than German ones. On the farms the gap between the numbers of tractors in America and Britain and those in Germany was even greater as the smaller peasant family holdings in Germany were not well suited to mechanisation even if the money had been available (which it seldom was.

About half the vehicles in Britain were privately owned. which amounted to one million cars. In some English counties as much as 16% of households had access to a vehicle (although this figure was much lower in counties like Essex) and it is estimated from planning submissions for domestic garages and other indicators that the overall average might be about 11%. In the USA it was probably higher than 30% and much higher in more affluent states. Many of these vehicles were maintained to at least some extent by their owners. On the farms the tractors would be almost completely maintained on a day to day basis by the farmers. In Germany only about 10% of all the vehicles on the roads were privately owned which amounts to between 100,000 to 140,000 vehicles. Car ownership was for the rich and and high ranking party officials who often left maintenance of the vehicle entirely to a commercial garage.

As a result there would be far more men in the Allied Armies who had had some prior experience of at least the basics of mechanical maintenance on a day to day basis than there would be in the German forces. It's not statistically relevant but back in the 1980s I had a conversation with a former driver of a Tiger II and he had never had any experience of a motor vehicle other than being a passenger on a bus until he started his quite short training as a tank driver.

I have seen it suggested that the greater experience of mechanised transport by the Western Allied soldiery may well have contributed to a greater reliability factor for Allied vehicles which would include tanks.
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Old 02 Jul 17, 12:20
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Nice thoughts Mark, and IMO true. At least to a certain degree.

Especially when it comes to repair&maintenance. It certainly does not hurt to have 10.000s of civil mechanics when you build Up mechanized divisions and train the men fighting & serving in those units
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Old 02 Jul 17, 15:36
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MarkV View Post
One area I think overlooked is the degree to which the average American and Briton was far more used to dealing with mechanical transport than their German counterparts. This was especially the case in America but even Britain had greatly outstripped Germany so that by 1939 there were nearly twice as many vehicles on British roads than German ones. On the farms the gap between the numbers of tractors in America and Britain and those in Germany was even greater as the smaller peasant family holdings in Germany were not well suited to mechanisation even if the money had been available (which it seldom was.

About half the vehicles in Britain were privately owned. which amounted to one million cars. In some English counties as much as 16% of households had access to a vehicle (although this figure was much lower in counties like Essex) and it is estimated from planning submissions for domestic garages and other indicators that the overall average might be about 11%. In the USA it was probably higher than 30% and much higher in more affluent states. Many of these vehicles were maintained to at least some extent by their owners. On the farms the tractors would be almost completely maintained on a day to day basis by the farmers. In Germany only about 10% of all the vehicles on the roads were privately owned which amounts to between 100,000 to 140,000 vehicles. Car ownership was for the rich and and high ranking party officials who often left maintenance of the vehicle entirely to a commercial garage.

As a result there would be far more men in the Allied Armies who had had some prior experience of at least the basics of mechanical maintenance on a day to day basis than there would be in the German forces. It's not statistically relevant but back in the 1980s I had a conversation with a former driver of a Tiger II and he had never had any experience of a motor vehicle other than being a passenger on a bus until he started his quite short training as a tank driver.

I have seen it suggested that the greater experience of mechanised transport by the Western Allied soldiery may well have contributed to a greater reliability factor for Allied vehicles which would include tanks.
Not only in maintenance. The US Army really didn't have to teach troops to drive either. Most Americans already knew how. And, any differences between a tank, truck, or whatever and what they drove as a civilian were pretty minimal and the understanding of how to drive was already ingrained in them.

The Germans had to teach their troops to drive. Most had never been in a motor vehicle beyond maybe a bus or something like that. They lacked the basic knowledge on driving that had to be taught instead.

Knowledge of dealing with things mechanical, as MarkV points out, was also much higher. Dealing with rural situations where you might have a flat tire, or breakdown were something most Americans were experienced in simply because they had to be. Population density in much of the US was far lower than in Europe at the time (it still is). That gives the US troops another advantage. They can often fix some basic problem on their own without a mechanic's help.

It could be something else, like a radio. Fixing one was something most Americans could do at least at the basic level. Most US towns of reasonable size had a hardware store, or other business that had one of these:



I can remember seeing more advanced ones in the 60's in convenience stores for fixing your TV and such.

So, many Americans had some knowledge of how to repair their radio at home. The technology wasn't any different with military service.
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Old 02 Jul 17, 16:13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
Not only in maintenance. The US Army really didn't have to teach troops to drive either. Most Americans already knew how. And, any differences between a tank, truck, or whatever and what they drove as a civilian were pretty minimal and the understanding of how to drive was already ingrained in them.
I agree with much of this - however by 1939 most private cars had synchromesh gear boxes but many trucks still needed to use double de-clutching which was not always easy for the average driver to master and driving a tracked vehicle was something else again so experienced drivers might have to unlearn some things first. However they would still have an affinity for driving.
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Old 03 Jul 17, 01:35
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A larger percentage of Americans would have had knowledge of basic operator maintenance: check oil level, check transmission fluid, check tire pressure, check lights, check battery water levels, etc. and any corrective actions to take for each of these. These are all simple things, but when they are not common knowledge in the population, then they have to be explicitly taught in vehicle schools.

It's the difference between having to learn how to check the engine oil level and having to look at the engine and figure where the dipstick is.
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Old 03 Jul 17, 04:51
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A larger percentage of Americans would have had knowledge of basic operator maintenance: check oil level, check transmission fluid, check tire pressure, check lights, check battery water levels, etc. and any corrective actions to take for each of these. These are all simple things, but when they are not common knowledge in the population, then they have to be explicitly taught in vehicle schools.

It's the difference between having to learn how to check the engine oil level and having to look at the engine and figure where the dipstick is.
And perhaps more important they would be in the habit of making periodic checks without having to be prompted
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Old 03 Jul 17, 05:12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
Not only in maintenance. The US Army really didn't have to teach troops to drive either. Most Americans already knew how. And, any differences between a tank, truck, or whatever and what they drove as a civilian were pretty minimal and the understanding of how to drive was already ingrained in them.

The Germans had to teach their troops to drive. Most had never been in a motor vehicle beyond maybe a bus or something like that. They lacked the basic knowledge on driving that had to be taught instead.
This is certainly true up to a point. However, I do not suspect that totalitarian regimes would leave unpunished any crews who did not service their tank properly. It might be by the numbers, but I suspect it would be done to a reasonable standard.
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I have seen a British report on the campaign in the Western desert that bemoans tank breakdowns and places much of the blame on a shortage of tank transporters so that the tanks often had to travel significant distances on their tracks under their own power.
Imho, if the British do well, it's their men, especially the Generals, that get credit. If they do badly, it is the fault of the tanks. This has been the excuse of British Generals since M-G R Evans, commander of 1st Div in France 1940. Given that these tanks often lacked ammunition, radios and even guns, it is the fault of the relevant officers and not the tanks that the British were totally outfought in this first main campaign.
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There's a Soviet evaluation of the Cromwell here, in which they give it an almighty slating due to its unsloped armour, cross country performance etc.

What is interesting is that despite being given six Cromwells, the Soviets don't appear to have tested them on their primary development criteria i.e. the ability to accumulate extensive mileages without compromising reliability. This indicates to me that the Soviets, like the Germans, had no real conception of the importance of mechanical durability and the value of a long overhaul life. In some of their reports, they seem to be proud when their T-34's achieve 1500km (about 930 miles).

I've suspected for a long time that the British definition of "unreliable" was much stricter than that of other nations, and that the British were sidelining tanks which would have been considered perfectly serviceable by other nations (e.g. the Greeks thought the Centaur was perfectly fine). I wouldn't say I've "proved" this, but the information I've found so far is suggestive that this was the case.
I agree. I also believe that once unreliability was an acceptable excuse for poor battlefield performance of commanders, British manufacturing spent probably too much time perfecting the automative components of their tanks. Indeed Cromwells in NWE 44/5 proved more reliable than Shermans, but do you really need a tank more reliable than the M4 in WW2?
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Old 03 Jul 17, 05:42
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Imho, if the British do well, it's their men, especially the Generals, that get credit. If they do badly, it is the fault of the tanks. This has been the excuse of British Generals since M-G R Evans, commander of 1st Div in France 1940. Given that these tanks often lacked ammunition, radios and even guns, it is the fault of the relevant officers and not the tanks that the British were totally outfought in this first main campaign.

In his diaries Allanbrooke is constantly critical of commanders of armoured formations who he regards as incompetent and there appears to have been a running campaign to identify them and weed them out. This is clearly evident in the Danchev and Todman edited version , much less so in the over edited Bryant version (possibly because many of the named officers in question were still alive when this earlier version was published).
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Old 03 Jul 17, 06:11
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Originally Posted by Nick the Noodle View Post
I also believe that once unreliability was an acceptable excuse for poor battlefield performance of commanders, British manufacturing spent probably too much time perfecting the automative components of their tanks. Indeed Cromwells in NWE 44/5 proved more reliable than Shermans, but do you really need a tank more reliable than the M4 in WW2?
I personally think that British standards for durability were a reaction to conditions in the Western Desert, where frontlines were generally hundreds of miles apart, and a defeat in battle meant a scramble back across hundreds of miles to reach your own lines again. In this scenario, it was not unusual for a British armoured formation to cover 700-800 miles in the space of 10 or 12 days.

This didn't apply in NWE, where the frontlines were proximate, and it took seven months for 21 Army Group to advance 1500 miles. So it's a reasonable argument to say that the Cromwell, Challenger, Comet were over-engineered for the duties they were expected to perform after D-Day, especially as concerns the Normandy battles, where a tank might only last a few days. I do think that the high durability of the British Cruisers did pay off by allowing the armoured divisions to maintain very high operational levels.

That said, if someone were to argue that the low durability of the Panther was not a relevant factor in Normandy, and that it was ultimately realistic of the Germans to treat that tank as relatively disposable, I think that would be a valid point.
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Old 03 Jul 17, 07:03
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According to Zaloga (Panther vs Sherman: Battle of the Bulge 1944) by 1944 German tank crew replacements went through the most minimum basic training before being sent to their units where they were trained "on the job"so to speak Kreigsmarine personnel were transfered into the Panzers if they became available because they already had some military discipline and very likely at least some basic experience of handling machinery. Like the Luftwaffe, panzer crew training was restricted by fuel shortages.

This chimes with the experience of the ex Tiger II driver I spoke with who said that he had the bare minimum of training before being sent into action. As well as degrading the performance of the panzers in action this must also have seriously impacted on the ability of the increasingly motley crews to maintain the beasts. I would put little credence in the idea that a totalitarian regime would be able to enforce maintenance standards in this situation. Despite the propaganda totalitarian and ruthless does not automatically translate into efficient and effective.
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Old 03 Jul 17, 08:30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MarkV View Post
According to Zaloga (Panther vs Sherman: Battle of the Bulge 1944) by 1944 German tank crew replacements went through the most minimum basic training before being sent to their units where they were trained "on the job"so to speak Kreigsmarine personnel were transfered into the Panzers if they became available because they already had some military discipline and very likely at least some basic experience of handling machinery. Like the Luftwaffe, panzer crew training was restricted by fuel shortages.

This chimes with the experience of the ex Tiger II driver I spoke with who said that he had the bare minimum of training before being sent into action. As well as degrading the performance of the panzers in action this must also have seriously impacted on the ability of the increasingly motley crews to maintain the beasts. I would put little credence in the idea that a totalitarian regime would be able to enforce maintenance standards in this situation. Despite the propaganda totalitarian and ruthless does not automatically translate into efficient and effective.
By December 1944, you are undoubtedly correct. However, the report concerns the 12th Pz Rgt in Normandy, a unit that had been there for several months, so we could expect the tanks to be in good running order, and crews at least capable in their roles.
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Originally Posted by Don Juan View Post
I personally think that British standards for durability were a reaction to conditions in the Western Desert, where frontlines were generally hundreds of miles apart, and a defeat in battle meant a scramble back across hundreds of miles to reach your own lines again. In this scenario, it was not unusual for a British armoured formation to cover 700-800 miles in the space of 10 or 12 days.

This didn't apply in NWE, where the frontlines were proximate, and it took seven months for 21 Army Group to advance 1500 miles. So it's a reasonable argument to say that the Cromwell, Challenger, Comet were over-engineered for the duties they were expected to perform after D-Day, especially as concerns the Normandy battles, where a tank might only last a few days. I do think that the high durability of the British Cruisers did pay off by allowing the armoured divisions to maintain very high operational levels.

That said, if someone were to argue that the low durability of the Panther was not a relevant factor in Normandy, and that it was ultimately realistic of the Germans to treat that tank as relatively disposable, I think that would be a valid point.
I totally agree with that last paragraph , with the Caveat that it does mean the Panther was only a defensive afv, which means it fails as a tank, which is an offensive weapon system after all..
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