THE ARMY OF FREDERICK WILLIAM OF PRUSSIA

01APPYHD; King Frederick William I Of Prussia Inspecting His Giant Guards, Known As The Grand Grenadiers Of Potsdam, Although Most Called Them The Potsdam Grenadiers Or Potsdam Giants.

King Frederick William I Of Prussia Inspecting His Giant Guards, Known As The Grand Grenadiers Of Potsdam, Although Most Called Them The Potsdam Grenadiers Or Potsdam Giants.

Your Excellency will already know [… ] of the Resolution the new King has taken of increasing his army to 50,000 men. [… ] When the state of war [i.e. military budget] was laid before him, he writt in the margen these words, I will augment my Forces to the number of 50,000 men which ought not to allarme any person whatsoever, since my only pleasure is my Army.

When Frederick William came to the throne, the Prussian army numbered 40,000 men. By 1740, when he died, it had increased in size to over 80,000, so that Brandenburg-Prussia boasted a military establishment that seemed to contemporaries quite out of proportion to its population and economic capabilities. The king justified the immense costs involved by arguing that only a well-trained and independently financed fighting force would provide him with the autonomy in international affairs that had been denied to his father and grandfather.

Yet there is also a sense in which the army was an end in itself, an intuition reinforced by the fact that Frederick William remained reluctant throughout his reign to deploy his army in support of any foreign-political objective. Frederick William was powerfully attracted to the orderliness of the military; he himself regularly wore the uniform of a Prussian lieutenant or captain from the mid-1720s onward and he could conceive of nothing more pleasing to the eye than the sight of uniformed men moving in ever changing symmetries across a parade square (indeed he flattened a number of royal pleasure gardens in order to convert them for this purpose and tried where possible to work in rooms from which drilling exercises could be viewed). One of the few indulgences in wasteful ostentation he allowed himself was the creation of a regiment of exceptionally tall soldiers (affectionately known as ‘lange Kerls’ or ‘tall lads’) at Potsdam. Immense sums were squandered on the recruitment from all over Europe of these abnormally tall men, some of whom were partially disabled by their condition and thus physically unfit for real military service. Their likenesses were memorialized in individual full-length oil portraits commissioned by the king; executed in a primitive realist style, they show towering men with hands like dinner plates plinthed on black leather shoes the size of plough shares. The army was, of course, an instrument of policy, but it was also the human and institutional expression of this monarch’s view of the world. As an orderly, hierarchical, masculine system in which individual interests and identities were subordinated to those of the collective, the king’s authority was unchallenged, and differences in rank were functional rather than corporate or decorative, it came close to actualizing his vision of an ideal society.

Frederick William’s interest in military reform predated his accession to the throne. We see it in a set of guidelines that the nineteen-year-old crown prince proposed to the Council of War in 1707. The calibres of all infantry guns should be the same, he argued, so that standard-issue shot could be used for all types; all units should employ the same design of bayonet; the men in each regiment should wear identical daggers on a model to be determined by the commanding officer; even the cartridge pouches were to be furnished according to a single design, with identical straps.49 One of his important early innovations as a military commander was the introduction within his own regiment of a new and more rigorous form of parade drill intended to heighten the manoeuvrability of unwieldy masses of troops across difficult terrain and to ensure that firepower could be delivered consistently and to the greatest effect. After 1709, when Frederick William witnessed Prussian troops in action at the Battle of Malplaquet during the War of the Spanish Succession, the new drill was gradually extended through the Brandenburg-Prussian forces as a whole.

The king’s chief preoccupation during the early years of the reign was simply to increase the number of troops in service as fast as possible. At first, this was accomplished largely through forced recruitments. The responsibility for raising troops was transferred from the civil authorities to the local regimental commanders. Operating virtually without restraint, the recruiting officer became a figure of fear and hatred, especially among the rural and small-town population, where he prowled in search of tall peasants and burly journeymen. Forced recruitments often involved bloodshed. In some cases, prospective recruits even died at the hands of their captors. Complaints poured in from the localities. In fact so dramatic was the first phase of forced recruitments that it prompted a wave of panic. ‘[His Majesty] makes use of such hasty means in levying of [his troops] as if he was in some very great danger,’ wrote William Breton, the British envoy, on 18 March 1713, scarcely three weeks after the new king’s accession, ‘that the peasants are forced into the service and tradesmen’s sons taken out of their shops very frequently. If this method continues, we shall not long have any market here, and many people will save themselves out of his Dominions…’

Faced with the mayhem generated by forced recruiting, the king changed tack and put an end to the practice inside his territories. In its place he established the sophisticated conscription mechanism that would come to be known as the ‘canton system’. An order of May 1714 declared that the obligation to serve in the king’s army was incumbent upon all men of serving age and that anyone fleeing the country in order to avoid this duty would be punished as a deserter. Further orders assigned a specific district (canton) to each regiment, within which all the unmarried young men of serving age were enrolled (enrolliert) on the regimental lists. Voluntary enlistments to each regiment could then be supplemented from enrolled local conscripts. Finally, a system of furloughs was developed that allowed the enlisted men to be released back into their communities after completion of their basic training. They could then be kept on until retiring age as reservists who were obliged to complete a stint of refresher training for two to three months each year, but were otherwise free (except in time of war) to return to their peacetime professions. In order to soften further the impact of conscription on the economy, various classes of individual were exempted from service, including peasants who owned and ran their own farms, artisans and workers in various trades and industries thought to be of value to the state, government employees and various others.

The cumulative result of these innovations was an entirely new military system that could provide the Brandenburg-Prussian Crown with a large and well-trained territorial force without seriously disrupting the civilian economy. This meant that at a time when most European armies still relied heavily on foreign conscripts and mercenaries, Brandenburg-Prussia could raise two-thirds of its troops from territorial subjects. This was the system that enabled the state to muster the fourth largest army in Europe, although it ranked only tenth and thirteenth in terms of territory and population respectively. It is no exaggeration to say that the power-political exploits of Frederick the Great would have been inconceivable without the military instrument fashioned by his father.

If the canton system provided the state with a greatly enhanced external striking power, it also had far-reaching social and cultural consequences. No organization did more to bring the nobility into subordination than the reorganized Brandenburg-Prussian army. Early in the reign, Frederick William had prohibited members of the provincial nobilities from entering foreign service, or indeed even from leaving his lands without prior permission, and had a list drawn up of all the sons of noble families aged between twelve and eighteen years. From this list a cohort of boys was selected for training in the cadet school recently established in Berlin (in the premises of the academy where Gundling had once worked as professor). The king persevered with this policy of elite conscription despite bitter protests and attempts at evasion by some noble families. It was not unknown for young noblemen from recalcitrant households to be rounded up and marched off to Berlin under guard. In 1738, Frederick William inaugurated an annual survey of all young noblemen who were not yet in his service; in the following year he instructed the district commissioners to inspect the noble sons of their districts, identify those who were ‘good looking, healthy and possess straight limbs’ and send an appropriate annual contingent for enlistment in the Berlin cadet corps. By the mid-1720s there were virtually no noble families in the Hohenzollern lands without at least one son in the officer corps.

We should not see this process simply as something that was unilaterally forced upon the nobility – the policy succeeded because it offered something of value, the prospect of a salary that would assure a higher standard of living than many noble households could otherwise afford, an intimate association with the majesty and authority of the throne, and the status attaching to an honourable calling with aristocratic historical connotations. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the establishment of the canton system represented a caesura in the relationship between the crown and the nobilities. The human potential locked within the noble landed estate was now placed even more securely within the state’s reach and the nobility began its gradual transformation into a service caste. Samuel Benedikt Carsted, pastor of Atzendorf in the Duchy of Magdeburg and sometime field chaplain in the Brandenburg-Prussian army, was thus right when he observed that the canton system constituted ‘the final proof that King Frederick William had acquired the most comprehensive sovereignty’.

An influential view has it that the cantonal regime created a sociomilitary system in which the hierarchical structures of the conscript army and those of the noble landed estate merged seamlessly to become one all-powerful instrument of domination. According to this view, the regiment became a kind of armed version of the estate, in which the noble lord served as the commanding officer and his subject peasants as the troops. The result was a far-reaching militarization of Brandenburg-Prussian society, as the traditional rural structures of social domination and disciplining were permeated with military values.

Reality was more complex. Examples of noble landlords who were also local commanders are very rare; they were the exception rather than the rule. Military service was not popular among peasant families, who resented the loss of labour that occurred when young men were taken away for basic training. Local records from the Prignitz (to the north-east of Berlin) suggest that the evasion of military service by flight across Brandenburg’s borders into neighbouring Mecklenburg was commonplace. In order to escape service, men were prepared to resort to desperate measures – even professing their willingness to marry the women in their villages upon whom they had fathered illegitimate children – and they were sometimes supported in these efforts by noble landowners. Moreover, far from bringing a mood of submission and obedience to the estate community, the active and inactive duty soldiers were often a disruptive element, prone to exploit their military exemption from local jurisdiction against the village authorities.

Relations between local communities and the military were beset with tension. There were numerous complaints about the tyrannical behaviour of regimental officers: exemptions were sometimes disregarded by the officers who came to ‘collect’ recruits, reservists were called up during the harvest season despite regulations to the contrary, and money was extorted in bribes from peasants seeking marriage permits from their local commanders (in some areas this latter problem was so pronounced that there was an appreciable rise in the rate of illegitimate births). There were also complaints from the landlords of noble estates, who naturally resented any unwarranted meddling in the affairs of the peasants who constituted their workforce.

Despite these problems, a kind of symbiosis developed between regiments and communities. Although only a fraction of the eligible male population (about one-seventh) was actually called up, nearly all the men in rural communities were listed on the regimental rolls; in this sense, the cantonal system was based upon the principle (though not the practice) of universal conscription. Exemptions came into play only once the enrolments had taken place. All reservists were required to wear their full uniforms in church and they were thus an ever-present reminder of the proximity of the military; it was not unknown for enlisted men to gather voluntarily in town and village squares in order to practise their drilling. The pride that many men felt in their military status may have been sharpened by the fact that the exemption system tended to concentrate enrolments among the less well-off, so that there was a tendency for the sons of landless rural labourers to serve while those of the prosperous peasants did not. Soldiers and reservists thus gradually came to constitute a highly visible social group within the village, not only because the uniform and a certain (affected) military bearing became crucial to their sense of importance and personal worth, but also because the conscripts tended to be drawn from among the tallest of each age group. Boys shorter than 169 cm were sometimes called up for service as porters and baggage handlers, but, for most, diminutive stature was a free ticket out of military service.

Did the canton system heighten morale and cohesion within serving regiments? Frederick the Great, who knew the Prussian army as well as anyone and observed the canton system at work during three exhausting wars, believed that it did. In his History of My Own Times, completed in the summer of 1775, he wrote that the native Prussian cantonists serving in each company of the army ‘come from the same region. Many in fact know or are related with one another. [… ] The cantons spur on competition and bravery, and relatives and friends are not apt to abandon each other in battle.

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Austrian Artillery at Sadowa 1866

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Austrian Troops

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“The last stand.” Artillery units sacrifice themselves to cover the retreat of the Austrian army on July 3, 1866 at Königgätz/Sadowa, the battle that established Prussian/German hegemony in Central Europe.

The Austro-Hungarian artillery was a lot better there than the Prussian. Without the bravery of the Austrian artillery the battle would have ended as a bigger disaster than it already was. The Austrian guns were more efficient and shot “at the point”. Archduke Wilhelm as Inspector General of the Artillery did best work in the days before the battle. Most of the 700 guns were dug in and had pre-measured shooting-plans. The breechloading rifles were a cause for the high rate of dead and wounded but they were not the reason for losing the battle by the Austrians.

In contemporary military opinion, the Austrians were greatly superior in all arms to their adversary. Their rifle, though a muzzle-loader, was in every other respect superior to the Prussian needle-gun, and their M.L. rifled guns with shrapnel shell were considered more than sufficient to make good the slight advantage then conceded to the breech-loader. The cavalry was far better trained in individual and real horsemanship and manoeuvre, and was expected to sweep the field in the splendid cavalry terrain of Moravia. All three arms trained their men for seven years, and almost all officers and non-commissioned officers had considerable war experience. But the Prussians having studied their allies in the war of 1864 knew the weakness of the Austrian staff and the untrustworthiness of the contingents of some of the Austrian nationalities, and felt fairly confident that against equal numbers they could hold their own.

The Austrian Army was maintained by a conscription system which allowed the buying of substitutes. The Army as a whole was not as homogeneous as the Prussian, taking in units from across the empire and it was not as well organized, having no Divisional level of command. The peacetime organization consisted of seven Army Corps, each of 4 brigades, plus cavalry and artillery. For the Austro Prussian war this was expanded to 10 Corps, resulting in considerable disorganization.

Infantry were armed with a muzzle¬-loading rifle. This out ranged the Prussian needle gun but was much slower to load. Moreover, since a soldier was only allowed 20 practice rounds per year, the standard of accuracy was appalling.

Artillery was strong. All guns were rifled and had an effective range of about 2000 paces, again out ranging the Prussians.

The Austrian plan in 1866 was to use interior lines of communication to concentrate and destroy the Prussian forces piecemeal, in classic Napoleonic form. Benedek, the Austrian commander, decided to make his stand at Sadowa, approximately 10 miles west of the Elbe River, which constituted a major obstacle. The Elbe had one permanent bridge and one pontoon bridge, which was anchored on the fortress city of Koniggratz (from which the battle takes its name). This latter bridge could provide a withdrawal route for the Austrians should it be required. In order to hold this defensive position, Benedek deployed 215 000 infantry and 750 guns.

The Prussian 1st Army made contact with the Austrian position at 0400 hrs on 3 July. The commander of 1st Army had decided to commence his attack at 1000 hrs after his troops had been rested and fed. This was over-ruled by von Moltke. A delay in attacking and fixing the Austrians might allow them to slip away before 2nd Army could encircle them. Von Moltke instead ordered 1st Army to attack immediately. Unfortunately, von Moltke had no way of knowing that the Austrians had no intention of withdrawing; this unprepared attack would play right into their hands. The battle ebbed and flowed and degenerated into a confusing morass as commanders lost control of their troops. For a time, the Prussians thought that the battle was lost, but von Moltke was unshaken. By noon, 2nd Army threatened the Austrian right; the Austrians were forced to mount costly counterattacks against massed rifle fire in order to delay the Prussians long enough to enable a withdrawal across the River Elbe. Shortly after the battle, the Austrians conceded defeat and sued for peace. Von Moltke’s doctrine had been a success.

After the war, the Prussians went back to study their own effectiveness to see if there were any lessons to be learned. As a result, they moved their artillery from the rear of its columns to the front and deployed their cavalry well forward to conduct reconnaissance. Within four years, the Prussians would be at war again. This time, with the French.

Ilyushin’s DB-3/Il-4 medium bomber

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Ilyushin’s DB-3/Il-4 medium bomber entered service in 1937 and served throughout World War II as a standard bomber and torpedo-bomber for both the air force and the navy. A few bombed Helsinki during the Winter War against Finland. Three hours after Soviet forces had crossed the border and started the Winter War, aerial bombardment of Helsinki began. The most intensive bomb raids were during the first few days.

Helsinki was bombed a total of eight times during the Winter War. Some 350 bombs fell on the city, resulting in the death of 97 people and the wounding of 260. In all, 55 buildings were destroyed. Finland lost only 5 percent of its total man-hour production time due to Soviet bombings. Nevertheless, bombings effected thousands of civilians as the Soviets launched 2,075 bombing attacks on 516 localities. Air raids killed 957 Finnish civilians. The city of Viipuri, a major Soviet objective, was almost leveled by nearly 12,000 bombs.

In 1938 a version of the DB-3 was developed with a totally new, easily-built airframe and equipped with two 765 hp (570 kW) M-85 engines but these were soon replaced with two 960 hp (716 kW) M86 engines. As a result the appearance of the design was completely changed, the nose being slim, streamlined and with a large glazed area, with the nose turret of the DB-3 (DB for Dalni Bombardirovschik or long range bomber) replaced by a swivel gun mounting. State acceptance trials were completed successfully in June 1939 and by the end of that year the type was readied for quantity production. This new version was known as the lIyushin DB-3F, later redesignated Il-4 when delivered in quantity to the bomber regiments of the long-range air arm, the ADD. A small number had the same type of dorsal turret as the DB-3, but this was soon replaced by a more effective design. Additionally, the ventral machine-gun ring was replaced by a more complex semi-retractable mount.

The Il-4 remained in large scale production until 1944, the number built being 5,256. The original M-87A engine was replaced by the more powerful M-88B with a two-speed supercharger in 1942. Most aircraft built in 1942 were completed with wooden wing spars as a result of shortage of light alloys due to the German invasion, but metal components were reintroduced in late production machines when new plants in Siberia became operational.

In addition to its use for long-range bombing raids, the Il-4s of the ADD’s various long-range bomber corps were used frequently in attacks on tactical targets immediately behind enemy lines, carrying their maximum bombload. The Il-4 also came to be used widely by the mine/torpedo bomber regiments attached to the Baltic, Black Sea and Northern Fleets. When deployed in a torpedo-carrying role the Il-4 was armed with a 2,072 lbs (940 kg) 45-36-AN (Iow-level) or 45-36-AV (high-Ievel) torpedo. There was also provision for an auxiliary external fuel tank mounted under the rear fuselage. During 1943 the Ilyushin Il-4 also saw duties in the reconnaissance role and some even were converted to glider tugs.

The Il-4 was a robust and successful aircraft, a number surviving into the post-war period for use in a variety of support roles. It had sufficient longevity to earn the NATO codename ‘Bob’. Four Il-4s purchased from German war booty stores were used by the Finns against the Soviet forces from 1943 to 1945.

Teutoburg Forest

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Reconstruction of palisade. The building of this palisade is indicative of Arminius’s careful planning, as was his use of terrain to nullify the superior equipment and training of the Romans.

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Date: autumn AD 9 Location: Kalkriese, Germany

In the field, the bones of the soldiers lay scattered about, each where he had fallen either standing his ground or trying to flee. There were bits of weapons, and the bones of horses amongst them, and human heads had been nailed to the trunks of the surrounding trees. TACITUS, ANNALS, 1.61

Germans

  • c.35,000 men
  • Commanded by Arminius
  • Unknown casualties

Romans

  • 20,000 men
  • Commanded by Publius Quintilius Varus
  • 20,000 dead, plus c. 3,000 civilians

In the early years of the 1st century AD the emperor Augustus tried to bring Germany under his control. An unconquered Germany was uncomfortably close to Italy, and Augustus may have felt that a defensive line along the Elbe was easier to maintain than the current one along the Rhine.

By AD 9 Germany seemed sufficiently conquered for Augustus to send a governor whose main concern was the Romanization of the province. This was Quintilius Varus, former governor of Syria and husband of Augustus’s great-niece.

Varus commanded three legions – the XVII, XVIII and XIX. Also, some of the many tribes of Germany were allied with the Romans. Among the young German aristocrats who served with the Roman legions for military experience was Arminius, son of a chieftain of the Cherusci tribe.

Varus was unaware that the despoiling of his native land had made Arminius a bitter enemy of Rome. From the moment Varus arrived in Germany, Arminius plotted to unite the tribes and bring about the Roman leader’s downfall.

These tribes sent to Varus and asked for garrisons to be stationed with them. Varus agreed readily and sent detachments, thus weakening his main force. Finally, in AD 9 Arminius arranged for reports of trouble in a distant part of the province to reach Varus. It was now autumn, and Varus seems to have decided to move his whole camp and deal with the problem on his way to winter quarters. Another German leader, Segestes, pleaded passionately with Varus not to trust Arminius, but he was ignored.

Action

Arminius’s guides led the Romans astray. Then the Germans attacked. Initially these attacks were pinpricks – ambuscades which melted at the first sign of serious resistance, and the threat seemed minor. The Romans had armour, equipment and training, while many Germans fought naked. Though some warriors had swords, others had merely a crude spear (the frameo), sometimes with only a fire-hardened wooden point. But the Romans were uncomfortable in the dense forest, and were made more miserable by a series of thunderstorms. Near modern Kalkriese, on the edge of the Wiehen hills north of Osnabrück, Arminius had prepared an ambush. Here, the forest extended almost to the edge of an impenetrable marsh. The Roman army was caught on the narrow stretch of land between the two when the Germans attacked.

The Romans were penned in by a wall at the forest edge. This was part-rampart, but mostly a fence woven with branches between the trees, of a type that the Germans used to stop their cattle from straying. The Romans were probably split into pockets by the first attack and unable to coordinate their efforts. In confused skirmishes and a running battle lasting several days, the trapped Romans were steadily worn down.

Outcome

Varus was either killed or fell on his sword. Others followed his example, for the Germans had a grisly way with prisoners. In the end, not one single Roman survived. What we know of the battle is from reconstruct ions, the first by the Romans themselves, who returned to the scene a few years later. They found places where senior Roman officers had been messily sacrificed, and the bones of the dead scattered where they had fallen.

Gradually the site of the disaster was forgotten. A massive monument to the battle was eventually erected at Hiddesen, south of Detmold. This was some 50 km (31 miles) from the actual site of Teutoburg Forest, which was discovered very recently by Major Tony Clunn, an amateur archaeologist. He found Roman metal artifacts which suggested a battle, and professional archaeologists confirmed that this was the site of the Varusschlacht – where Varus’s legions had been destroyed. Arminius’s victory ensured that north west Europe had a Germanic rather than a Latin culture. This in turn profoundly affected subsequent European history, and thus the history of the world.

GMC CCKW

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G.M.C. CCKW LWB

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The GMC CCKW is a 2.5 ton 6X6 U.S. Army cargo truck that saw service in World War II and the Korean War, often referred to as a “Deuce and a Half” or “Jimmy”. The CCKW came in many variants, based on the open or closed cab, and Long Wheel Base (LWB 353) or Short Wheel Base (SWB 352).

Built to 812,262 copies, CCKWs were employed in large numbers for the Red Ball Express, an enormous convoy system created by Allied forces to supply their forces moving through Europe following the breakout from the D-Day beaches in Normandy, from August 25 to November 16, 1944, when the port facilities at Antwerp were opened. At its peak the Red Ball operated 5,958 vehicles, and carried about 12,500 tons of supplies a day.

The designation CCKW comes from model nomenclature used by GMC; the first C indicated a vehicle designed in 1941, the second C signifies a conventional cab, the K indicates all-wheel drive and the W indicated tandem rear axles. The term “Deuce and a Half” is not a post war term and was applied to all 2½ ton cargo trucks. Including the DUKW, General Motors in the US produced 562,750 of these 2.5 ton trucks just prior to and during World War 2.

Versions

Truck, cargo, 2½-Ton, 6X6, long-wheelbase / short-wheelbase

Water tanker 700 Gal.

Fuel tanker 750 Gal

Dump

Flatbed

Ordnance Maintenance Truck, Van

K-53 truck Van

K-60 truck Van

M27 Bomb Service Truck

M27B1 Bomb Service Truck

M1 chemical Service Truck

Dental Operating Truck, Van

Surgical Truck, Van

Water purification truck

Fire Engine

Tractor cab

Initially all versions were of closed cab design (having a metal roof and doors) with all steel cargo beds. But as the war progressed an open cab version was designed that had fixed ‘half doors’ and a canvas top/sides and the steel bed was replaced by a wooden one to conserve steel. The wood bed proved unsatisfactory and a ‘composite’ bed with steel sides and framing, but with wooden slats for the bed, was developed. Later on the ‘wood/steel’ composite bed was replaced by an all steel composite bed.

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HMS Agincourt (1913)

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HMS Agincourt was a dreadnought battleship built in the United Kingdom in the early 1910s. Originally part of Brazil’s role in a South American naval arms race, she held the distinction of mounting more heavy guns (fourteen) and more turrets (seven) than any other dreadnought battleship constructed, in keeping with the Brazilians’ requirement for an especially impressive design.

Brazil ordered the ship as Rio de Janeiro from the British Armstrong Whitworth shipyard, but the collapse of the rubber boom and a warming in relations with the country’s chief rival, Argentina, led to the ship’s sale while under construction to the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans renamed her Sultan Osman I, after the empire’s founder. The ship was nearly complete when World War I broke out, and British Admiralty fears of a German–Ottoman alliance led to her seizure for use by the Royal Navy. This act was a major contributor to the decision of the Ottoman Empire to support Germany in the war. Renamed Agincourt by the British, she joined the Grand Fleet in the North Sea. The ship spent the bulk of her time during the war on patrols and exercises, although she did participate in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Agincourt was put into reserve in 1919 and sold for scrap in 1922 to meet the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty.

The Tiger Tank–Overcoming Misperceptions

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A thorough study of various battles and engagements from Allied unit histories and published historical accounts reveals strong biases within the Allied forces. Among the Allied armies, units continually reported that Tiger tanks were in their sector or that they had destroyed Tiger tanks. A casual reading of many Allied accounts during the battle of the Bulge, for example, would indicate that at least half of the German tanks employed there were Tigers. Actually, no more than 136 Tigers were involved, with the vast majority of German tanks in the battle being Panthers and Panzer IVs. The Soviet reports also have to be treated with the same skepticism in some instances. Soviet propaganda, for example, claimed that 700 Tigers were destroyed during the battle of Kursk. This number is five times more than the actual number engaged in the fighting.

Generally, this phenomenon should be attributed to the formidable reputation of the Tiger among its adversaries, and sort of parallel to the insistence by many American infantrymen that they were being continuously shelled by “88s,” when, in fact, they were almost always being bombarded by the 105mm and 150mm howitzers standard to a German divisional artillery regiment. Just as the deadly 88mm artillery piece was the most dreaded German gun, so also was the Tiger the most feared-and therefore, most often misidentified- German tank.

To obtain the most accurate picture possible, this study uses many different sources. Tank kills reported by the heavy tank battalions against the British and U. S. were verified in specific engagements from a variety of records, including unit histories, after-action reports, diaries and other personal accounts. Not surprisingly, Soviet tank losses were often omitted in their unit histories and in personal accounts, making an accurate count much more difficult to obtain. Several western sources provide some analysis of Soviet tank losses in several battles and were used to evaluate German claims.

A source of confusion in reporting tank losses and kills is the definition of what constitutes destruction of a tank. Tanks of World War II, especially the Tiger, were robust and resilient and could be repaired and put back into action if they were recovered and brought back to a maintenance unit. One side may have claimed the destruction of an enemy tank, but in reality, that tank was repaired and returned to service.

The German heavy tank battalions submitted regular reports on Tigers destroyed and also on the quantity that were operational. An unserviceable tank required the unit to make a report, identifying the chassis number, a survey of the damage, and an estimate of the time needed for the repairs. A second report was made at a higher level, indicating the number of tanks in working order for the unit, and the number of tanks under repair.” In all cases, clarity and accuracy were required. This makes obtaining an accurate accounting of the number of German tanks destroyed easier with one notable exception. The records for the King Tiger equipped units, especially those fighting the Russians, are incomplete because the unit war diaries and other unit records were either destroyed or captured by the Soviets.

The accuracy of German reporting, in terms of Tiger losses, can be verified literally almost down to the last vehicle against American and British forces. This is in part from the outstanding historical coverage by both the American and British military establishments at many different levels, from small unit journals to official army level reports. Included in these are a number of battle studies, including the “official histories,” which received exhaustive coverage after the war, incorporating documents and sources from all sides. Another reason is that there were never more than three heavy tank battalions committed against American and British forces at any one time, thereby reducing the overall number of Tigers employed against them. In other words, when American and British forces destroyed a Tiger, it was a noteworthy event.

The result is that, at least in the West, the German daily strength reports- and therefore losses-can be verified with a relatively high degree of accuracy. Usually, in cases where a conflict exists, records and a small amount of research will reveal the truth. For example, on 17 December 1944, in the Ardennes, a King Tiger of SS-Heavy Tank Battalion 501 was immobilized and subsequently abandoned as a result of a strike by P-47 “Thunderbolt” fighter bombers of IX Tactical Air Command. Later, as German forces withdrew, the commander of an American Sherman from the 740th Tank Battalion reported destroying it. Although both forces justifiably claimed the King Tiger, the end result was still only one loss for the Germans.

Given the credibility of German reporting in the West, there is no reason to doubt the veracity of German Tiger losses in the east. Caution must be exercised, however, in assessing the number of tanks operational. As a member of the 1st Panzer Division stated:

I must honestly confess that since 1942 we always reported we had 15-20 percent less than our actual combat-ready strength available to be put into action . . . . Any commanding general of any panzer division at that time was very happy if he could assemble 20 or 25 tanks. For that reason, as we well knew, if he reported we had 60 tanks, we were sure that on the next day, as we defended on our own front line 40 kilometers wide, we would have only 20 tanks because the high command would take them away to where the more critical points were.

Due to extended frontages and heavy demand from higher echelons, it is logical and possible that some heavy tank battalions employed in the East also followed this unofficial practice of reporting fewer vehicles operational than were actually available. Unit commanders, however, wanted replacement vehicles as soon as possible and a replacement vehicle could only be requested if a vehicle was lost, not just inoperable, so it is highly likely that the heavy tank battalions would have been meticulously accurate in reporting the loss of any Tigers. The primary obstacle to overcome in researching engagements in the East against Soviet forces is confirming the kills made by Tigers.

While their accounts and reporting may indeed be accurate for the most part, German sources normally fail to provide a contextual background for the account, especially at the operational level of war. If an opponent’s actions are included in the German account at all, it is usually cursory, superficial, focused at the tactical level, and does little to help explain the reasons behind German actions that resulted in failure or success. German sources may simply state, for example, that a large number of Tigers were destroyed by their own crews to avoid capture after they had broken down. They fail to include in their account how or why those Tigers were threatened with capture and what action their opponents had taken to put those vehicles in an untenable position. Rather than being an impediment that cannot be overcome, however, the lack of context in German accounts simply reinforces the necessity of using sources from as many different perspectives as possible.