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Posted on Jan 20, 2011 in Books and Movies

US vs. German Equipment – Book Review

By Jim Zabek

US vs. German Equipment. Major General Isaac D. White. Merriam Press. Paperback $15.95.

Passed Inspection:  Great resource as primary information regarding how Eisenhower was informed of the state of US and German equipment.

Failed Basic: This is a raw military report, and reads like it.  Lots of anecdotal reports; less hard analysis. 

Wargamers love to discuss history. Looking to stir up a lively debate? Ask a wargamer whether the Sherman was better than the Panther tank. Then sit back and wait for the fireworks. There is perennial discussion surrounding the US M4 Sherman and the Panther. The Sherman was the US tank that won the Second World War. Easy to produce in mass numbers, it flooded Europe. Yet when lined up for a one-on-one comparison, it suffers against the German Mark V Panther in nearly aspect; from its turning radius to firepower to defensive armor. Yet, (the well-informed opponent will counter) statistics don’t tell the full story. German armor was more brittle than its numbers would indicate due to shortages of molybdenum. And so the debate goes.

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I was recently involved in one of these debates, and somewhere along the line, someone mentioned that General Eisenhower commissioned a report to study the effectiveness of US and German armor. I was intrigued and instantly knew I had to find that report. My Google skills were put to the test – the report exists but it is not easy to find. Eventually I found a bibliography mentioning it on the Eisenhower Presidential Library website. Once I knew the exact title, finding the book was easier.

Indeed, reading the Publisher’s Note, it is clear the first iteration of the study was commissioned to evaluate US and German armor. The reason for the expansion to cover US and German “equipment” in general isn’t given, but it is easy to speculate once the reader gets a few pages in; the report is almost monolithically critical of US armor. It’s likely the expanded scope was created to discover other deficiencies in US equipment, as well as to highlight material that was superior.

The structure of the report is broken down into seven parts. The first is the Publisher’s Note. The second is the Introduction which has several letters exchanged between Generals White and Eisenhower discussing the report. The third is a “digest of opinions” of a cross section of members of the 66th and 67th Armored Regiments written by Brigadier General J.H. Collier which provides a brief overview. The fourth section is a comparison of equipment written by Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels which run the gamut from tanks and halftracks to clothing, includes a table, and a series of questions and answers, mostly focused on the M36 tank destroyer (which was an improvement over the Sherman but still inadequate). The fifth section, the longest at 76 pages, is a series of “convictions” written by men ranging from privates to a major and are personal accounts of their experiences using US equipment against the Germans. Section six is a summary of the characteristics of the Mark V tank, while section seven are a series of photographs illustrating various pieces of equipment – mostly tanks.

United States vs. German Equipment isn’t the kind of book I found easy to read cover to cover. Instead, it’s far more interesting to pick it up, flip to a random page, and read the gems. And these are gems. They are historical treasures, though not necessarily pleasant ones. The fifth section, the Convictions of Individual Officers and Enlisted Men is perhaps the most interesting. It is a quiet, factual cry for help filled with first-hand accounts of encounters during the war. Captain Henry Johnson’s account is typical:

 

“…having had combat experience with Sherman M4s (75mm and 76mm) I feel qualified to compare them with the enemy tanks…. The higher muzzle velocity of the German tanks enable them to far out-range our Sherman tanks. I have seen them knock our tanks out at ranges up to 1,000 yards and know of no incident when a Sherman tank has knocked out an (sic) Mark V or Mark VI tank at more than 300 yards.”

 

The statement goes on to tell how most of the destroyed German tanks the Captain had witnessed were taken out by air power, whereas most American losses were caused by German armor and self-propelled guns. Individually, his account might be dismissed as a fluke. But after dozens of similar accounts in this report, a consistent picture emerges: our Shermans were getting murdered.

As I mentioned above, the news isn’t all bad, and may have been the reason for expanding the scope from examining just armor to cover all equipment. The US soldiers aren’t simply grousing without cause; they have serious, well-founded, and professionally articulated concerns with their tanks, but they have high praise from many other pieces of equipment, which ranges from ponchos to rifles to the jeep, which was considered the finest vehicle of its type out of all vehicles fielded in all armies – enemy or allied. One statement is almost charming in its brevity. Staff Sergeant Walter G. Trusz says, “Our vehicular gasoline stoves are far superior to the German kerosene stove for individual use.”  No mention of any other equipment was given.  But he clearly liked our stoves.

United States vs. German Equipment is a treasure trove of personal anecdotes, professional discussion of American and German equipment, and a solid analysis of the state of this equipment at the height of the war. Prepared in March of 1945, the US knew it was going to win the war, but was equally cognizant that it had a severe problem with the quality of its tanks vis-à-vis the Germans’. It will be of interest to military history buffs interested in the Second World War, wargamers who game the period, and game developers interested in first-hand, contemporary analysis of US and German equipment. In short, if you’re interested in German and US tanks in World War II, you’ve got to own this book.

The publisher offers three versions of the report: a .pdf, a paperback, and hardcover. The version reviewed was the paperback. The book may be purchased directly from the publisher here: http://www.merriam-press.com/unitedstatesvsgermanequipment.aspx

About the Author:

Jim Zabek has been wargaming for most of his life.  An avid buff of military history he has a small library of books on the subject, to which he constantly adds, to the consternation of his wife. 

 

6 Comments

  1. Creighton Abrams was a Combat Command leader in Fourth Armored Division. At one point he was visited by an ordnance specialist from the Munitions Building in DC.
    Abrams went through a whole litany of problems, but the biggest was the gun on the M4. It was clearly inadequate.
    The specialist replied that ther was a better gun, the 76. The problem was that it burned out its barrel almost three times quicker. This would cause a big shipping problem.
    Abrams pointed to a burned out Sherman, “That’s not the problem I’m concerned with.” (Thunderbolt, by Lewis Sorley.)

    • Nice find. Thanks!

  2. What might be in this book/report that surprised you the most as to the US vs the German tanks?

    Is there any comments on the “diversity” of the various German tanks, SP guns and tank hunters compared to what the Allies fielded through out the war?

    Cheers, I just might have to get this one, not sure yet though.

    Tom

    • I think three things surprised me the most.

      First, there is a uniform agreement that the Sherman was outclassed. Today we see debates regarding the effectiveness of the Panther and Sherman. To those guys’ eyes, there was no debate. They weren’t arguing about how many Shermans were rolling off the assembly line. They were saying, “our gun can’t penetrate a Panther’s armor.” And this report was issued in March of ’45. That meant we had problems throughout the war. Just imagine how many lives could have been saved if we’d had a decent tank.

      Second, there are little anecdotes that are invaluable. A couple of times I read statements about the Germans’ “smokeless powder” which helped them remain camouflaged after they fired. American powder left a pretty big visible cloud which gave away their position. Little stuff like this pops up infrequently, but adds considerable insight when it does.

      Third, is the fact that this report existed at all. And that I found it. This is primary source material written in the closing months of the war and it has (I estimate) hundreds of testimonies of US servicemen. These were real people in the middle of the war having a frank discussion of the state of their equipment with General Eisenhower. It’s not clear they knew who would see the report, but it is clear they were speaking ground truth without sugarcoating. It is a quiet, bureaucratic report that, in its muted tone, screams for help. Anyone who believes the Sherman had even a hint of parity with its German counterpart needs to read this book. It will be a sobering lesson.

    • To answer your question directly, no, I haven’t seen any reference to the diversity of German equipment.

      Also, the book comes in three forms, hardbound, paperback, and .pdf. The .pdf is relatively inexpensive – I think about $7. I wanted the hardbinding but it was pricey, so I settled on the paperback. I’ve gotta say, I consider this book a jewel. I wish I’d bought the hard binding. But if price is an issue, get the .pdf.

      • Thanks Jim

        I may just put in an order for this book when I cruise to the local book store this week!!

        I hear ya on the Panther vs Sherman, any comments on the 75 compared to the 76mm Shermans in there, and perhaps the Pershing?

        I’ve heard about the powder topic, mostly the flash on the Firefly though.

        Did any of the people interviewed have any thoughts on how to practically fix any of their problems on the equipment in question they had “problems” with?

        Thanks again for bringing this book to light, should be very interesting to read.

        Though I’m sure more than a few will always “question” the vets on their “thoughts” that they put down in their interviews, but key here is that they lived it, we did’nt.

        I’d trust their point of view over some of the people posting about WW II topics today, if you know what I mean…… LOL

        Tom

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