US vs. German Equipment – Book Review
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.
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.