Creation of the German Panzerwaffe (Armored Force) Part I

Defeated in World War I due in no small measure to the allied tank forces, and denied tanks by the treaty of Versailles’ article 171, the new Reichsheer was very conscious of the importance of these revolutionary weapons. The question of what kind of tanks, what unit organization, and what operational concepts would be appropriate to create a German Panzerwaffe (Armored Force), however, would divide the German military as these issues divided the militaries of other nations—and in Germany’s case in 1919 they were a moot point anyway.

While the Daimler A7V was the only German tank model actually put into production and committed to combat in World War I, a variety of additional types of tanks were being constructed or had reached prototype stage when the war ended. These included the A7V-U, which had overhead tracks similar to the British Marks, and the super-heavy Grosskampfwagen (or “K-Wagen”) weighing 165 tons, having a twenty-two-man crew, and mounting four 7,7cm guns in side sponsons along with six machine guns. The K-Wagen was so large it could only be transported in twenty 5-ton sections. Two prototypes were built, both powered by Daimler-Benz engines. Conversely, the Krupp–built LK II, which looked like the British Whippet, weighed 10 tons and mounted either a 5,7cm gun or two machine guns in a fixed turret, and the prototype LK I had a revolving turret. While some of these models were destroyed under the treaty terms and the remaining wartime A7Vs were given to Poland, the LK II design and two prototypes were sold to Sweden. Ten light tanks were assembled from component parts there under the supervision of Josef Vollmer, the German engineer who had designed the LK II and the A7V, and were organized into the first Swedish tank unit in 1920. The LK II was produced by the Landsverk Company of Landskrona in southern Sweden as the M 21 (improved later as the M 21/29).

With the Rapallo Agreement and the establishment of the tank center at Kazan in the Soviet Union by 1926, the Reichsheer produced and tested “agricultural tractors,” among them the 10-ton Leichter Traktor with a 3,7cm gun in a revolving turret and Rheinmetall’s Grosstraktor of 20 tons mounting a 7,5cm or 10,5cm gun in a revolving turret and two machine-gun turrets. In 1933 Rheinmetall also produced the multi-turreted Neubaufahrzeug, or New Model Vehicle (NbFz); this prompted the Russian T-28, which became the standard Russian medium tank by 1939. Prototype A had a short 7,5cm gun and a 3,7cm coaxially in the turret, while the B version mounted 10,5cm and a 3,7cm guns. Both had machine-gun turrets, one fore and one aft. However, these formidable-appearing tanks had only thin 14.5mm (.5-inch) armor, thus weighing only 23 tons. The Germans subsequently produced a total of just six of the NbFz, though when they were offloaded at the Oslo docks during the 1940 Scandinavian campaign they created quite a sensation.

Later German panzer commanders who trained at Kazan (code-named “Kama”) included Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma, subsequently commander of the panzer component of the Legion Condor sent to Spain and finally the Deutsches Afrika Korps (DAK) in North Africa. The Rapallo relationship ended after Hitler and his NSDAP came to power in January 1933, and by autumn of that year the German bases in Russia were closed. Nonetheless Marshal Mikhail Tukachevsky, head of the Red Army, helped facilitate the return of some of the prototypes to Germany, including six of the large and three of the light “tractors.” The cooperation had been mutually beneficial for both the German and Russian armed forces, though ultimately they would clash as opponents.

In Germany, thanks to the favorable atmosphere created by von Seeckt’s policies, progress toward mechanization was carried out by the Inspektion der Kraftfahrtruppen (Inspectorate of Motorized Transport Troops) under Oberst (later General der Infanterie) Erich von Tschischwitz. He requested a general staff officer from the Truppenamt, which assigned Hauptmann Heinz Guderian—the man who would become “Vater der Panzerwaffe” (Father of the Armored Force)—effective 1 April 1922. Born 17 June 1888 at Kulm (Polish Chelmno) on the Vistula, Guderian trained with the 10. Hannöversch Jäger Bataillon (Hannoverian Light Infantry Battalion) and was commissioned an officer in 1908. During World War I he served on the Western Front as a staff and signals officer, including at the battles of Verdun and the Aisne, where he learned the importance of communications.

After the war, it was determined that Guderian should acquire some practical experience with transport troops, so in 1922 he was attached for three months to the 7. Bayerische Kraftfahr Bataillon (Bavarian Motorized Transport Battalion) in Munich. This unit was commanded by Maj. Oswald Lutz, with whom Guderian was to work closely in the years to come. While serving in various positions with the Motorized Troops Department, Guderian quickly became aware of the operational possibilities of mobile warfare, especially when Oberstleutnant Walther von Brauchitsch, later commander in chief of the army, organized maneuvers during the winter of 1923–24 to test possible coordination between mobile ground forces and tactical airpower. While Reichsheer maneuvers had to be conducted with canvas and wood mock-ups over wheeled vehicles to simulate “tanks” (at least for the world news media), Guderian was familiar with the tank warfare developments at Kazan and in 1929 witnessed the German-influenced Swedish developments. Guderian was “particularly delighted” to be sent to Sweden for four weeks in 1929, where he actually drove an LK II and witnessed tank maneuvers of the Strijdsvagn Battalion of the Gota Guards. He was also developing the concept of tactical armored formations being balanced formations of tanks and mobile infantry and artillery, the concept of the combined arms team:

In this year, 1929, I became convinced that tanks working on their own or in conjunction with infantry could never achieve decisive importance. My historical studies, the exercises carried out in England and our own experiences with mock-ups had persuaded me that tanks would never be able to produce their full effect until the other weapons on whose support they must inevitably rely were brought up to their standard of speed and of cross-country performance. In such a formation of all arms, the tanks must play the primary role, the other weapons being subordinated to the requirements of the armor. It would be wrong to include tanks in infantry divisions: what was needed were armored divisions which would include all the supporting arms needed to allow the tanks to fight with full effect.

Major Guderian’s conclusions were also the result of his reading the flood of writing on tanks and mechanization of the 1920s, and he acknowledged the work of the English thinkers such as Fuller, Martel, and Liddell Hart. (While some writers also credit the work of Charles de Gaulle as being an influence, de Gaulle’s major book was published in 1934, at a time when Guderian had already formulated his concepts and the first three panzer divisions were already being organized.)

Yet even in the German military there was resistance to mechanization. Tschischwitz’s successor at the Transport Troops Inspectorate, Oberst Oldwig von Natzmer, told Guderian motorized units were only “supposed to carry flour!” and after the 1929 maneuvers the new inspector, Gen. Otto von Stülpnagel, said that whole panzer divisions were a “Utopian dream.”8 But the chief of staff of the Inspectorate was Guderian’s friend, now Oberst Lutz, who secured Guderian command of the 3. Preussisch Kraftfahr Bataillon (Prussian Motorized Battalion) in 1930. Guderian reorganized the unit as a panzer reconnaissance battalion with armored cars, motorcycles, (dummy) tanks, and (wooden) antitank guns. In the following year Lutz, promoted to general, was named chief of the Inspectorate, and he made now Oberstleutnant Guderian his chief of staff. As in other countries, resistance to mechanization came from the infantry and cavalry branches. The Inspector of Cavalry, General von Hirschberg, was committed to developing heavy horse cavalry, although he was willing to pass reconnaissance operations to the motorized troops; but General von Knochenhauer, who succeeded him, sought to regain control of any such units.

Nonetheless, because of the Versailles constraints, the advocates of mechanization in the Reichswehr had support in various departments. In addition, denied tanks, these men could contemplate the types of tanks required to implement the evolving doctrine and organization, rather than fabricating operational and organizational concepts around inventories of (increasingly obsolete) tanks. To equip the battalions of the eventual panzer divisions, a light tank with a 3,7cm gun and a medium tank with a 7,5cm gun were envisioned. Guderian says that he and Lutz felt that the lighter tank should mount a 5cm gun with an armor-piercing shell given the trend toward heavier guns and thicker armor abroad, but the Heereswaffenamt (Army Ordnance Office) insisted on the 3,7cm because it was already in production as an antitank weapon.

The tank types would be similar, however: they had their weight limited to 24 tons (as German field engineer bridging weight limits were a factor), a speed of 40 km/h (25 mph), and a five-man Besatzung (crew) consisting of a Kommandant (commander), Richtschütze (gunner), and Ladeschütze (loader) in the turret, and Fahrer (driver) and Funker (radio operator and bow gunner) in the front hull. Crew intercommunications would be by larynx microphones, and all tanks would have radios. Thus while other national armies too often concentrated on firepower and armor—leading to tanks with poor communications systems and a tank commander acting also as gunner—the German concept would emphasize tactical coordination of tank platoons and tank companies, with individual tank commanders receiving orders and controlling the firing and maneuvering of their tanks. Though German tanks would be outgunned by heavier enemy tanks in 1940 and 1941, their tactical flexibility would enable panzer units to prevail.

In the interim, a small training tank could be more quickly produced, and in 1933 the Heereswaffenamt put out orders to Krupp, MAN, Henschel, Daimler-Benz, and Rheinmetall-Borsig to submit designs under the designation of Landwirtschaftlicher Schlepper (LaS) or “agricultural tractor.” In December 1933 the Krupp chassis and the Daimler-Benz turret and superstructure were selected for development, and production began in 1934. The small, two-man, 5.3-ton tankette had two 7,92mm machine guns mounted in its turret. The LaS model A used a girder to steady the outboard ends of the suspension wheel axles. The B model had a more powerful engine (100 bhp to 57 bhp) and an additional bogie wheel on each side.

When an experimental vehicle was accepted for service, it was given a specific Ordnance inventory number as a Sonderkraftfahrzeug (special-purpose motor vehicle), abbreviated as Sd.Kfz. After Hitler’s Germany announced rearmament, this “agricultural tractor” was redesignated as the Panzerkampfwagen I (armored fighting vehicle) or Pz.Kpfw. I (Sd.Kfz. 101). While it served well its initial purpose as a trainer, it was also available to equip the first panzer divisions. “Nobody in 1932,” Guderian later said, “could have guessed that one day we should have to go into action with this little training tank.” Panzer or Wagen became the term for a tank, though “panzer” in its broader sense came to mean armored forces as a concept.

On 30 January 1933 Adolf Hitler was named Kanzler (chancellor) of a nationalist coalition government. Whatever his ultimate racial and geopolitical policies, there is no question that mechanization of the German armed forces received dramatic stimulation through the personal interest and encouragement of the leader of the government. Guderian first sensed this when the chancellor himself opened the Berlin Automobile Exhibition at the beginning of February. In early 1934 Hitler inspected new equipment at Kummersdorf, sponsored by the Heeresamt, and Guderian was able to demonstrate the components of a panzer force: a motorcycle platoon, an antitank platoon, Panzer Is, and armored reconnaissance cars. The speed and precision movements of these units prompted Hitler to exclaim: “That’s what I need! That’s what I want to have!”

Meanwhile the insistent demands of Hitler’s brown-uniformed Sturmabteilungen (SA), or Storm Troop Detachments, for the “Second (Socialist) Revolution” and the replacement of the Reichswehr with a “people’s army” culminated in the bloody purging of Ernst Röhm and the SA leaders on the night of 29– 30 June 1934. While the suppression of the turbulent storm troopers was generally greeted with relief, many German officers were uneasy when Hitler assumed the office of the president with the death of Feldmarschall Paul von Hindenburg on 2 August and they had to swear an oath of allegiance to the Führer himself.

By 1935 German rearmament was underway. Conscription was introduced and the Reichswehr was renamed the Wehrmacht (armed forces) by the Law for the Creation of the Armed Forces of 16 March 1935. On 27 September 1935 the cover name Inspektion der Kraftfahrtruppen was redesignated Kommando der Panzertruppe (Armored Troop Command), and on 15 October the first three panzer divisions were established: the 1. headquartered at Weimar, the 2. at Würzburg, and the 3. at Berlin. These first panzer divisions were originally organized with a panzer brigade of two regiments of two battalions with four companies each, totaling sixteen panzer companies with 561 Panzer Is. The infantry component was a motorized Schützenbrigade (rifle brigade) of a truck-borne rifle regiment of two battalions, and a motorcycle battalion, totaling nine rifle companies. The motorized artillery regiment had twenty-four truck-towed 10,5cm howitzers in two battalions of four-gun batteries. There was an antitank battalion of towed 3,7cm guns, an engineer battalion, a reconnaissance battalion of armored cars and motorcycles, a signals battalion, and medical, maintenance, and supply units. As artillery carried out fire missions from fixed positions, however, its full potential was retarded, subordinated to the overriding focus on mobility. (Self-propelled field artillery would not come into service until 1942.)

This organization resulted in a ratio of sixteen panzer companies to nine infantry companies, and peacetime maneuvers demonstrated a need for more infantry. Thus the next three panzer divisions—4., 5., and 10., created in 1938 and 1939—had a rifle brigade with a pair of two-battalion regiments, while the rifle regiment in the first three divisions was increased from two to three battalions each. The Cavalry branch also created armored forces in 1938, with four Leichte (Light) divisions (1., 2., 3., and 4.) very similar to the panzer divisions but with only one tank battalion. Subsequently they passed to the Kommando der Panzertruppe, and after the 1939 Polish campaign were reorganized as panzer divisions 6., 7., 8., and 9. In the 1939 organization the panzer divisions had a panzer brigade of two regiments with two battalions each. The battalions had seventy-eight panzers in a medium/mixed company (nineteen Pz. IIIs and IVs) and two light companies (twenty-four Pz. Is and IIs), and the ratio was now a more balanced one of twelve panzer to twelve infantry companies. With command panzers, the 1939 panzer division had 328 panzers, 3,183 troops in the rifle brigade, 24 artillery pieces, and with other elements had a total strength of 11,792 personnel.

Meanwhile the Panzer II (Sd.Kfz. 121), designed in 1935, entered production in 1937. The first prototypes weighed 7.5 tons and mounted a 2cm cannon and a machine gun in the turret. Though soon outclassed, the Panzer II was the primary panzer of the panzer divisions into 1940. It was characterized by having four or five large road wheels and four return rollers on each side (the drive sprocket being in front), and the chassis would later be utilized for self-propelled artillery, tank destroyer, and reconnaissance vehicles. The three-man crew consisted of a driver, the commander (who also traversed the little turret and loaded and fired the 2cm gun and MG), and a radio operator.

Other types of armored vehicles were developed to complement the panzers in the panzer division, including Panzerspähwagen (armored scout cars) in the Aufklärungsabteilung (reconnaissance battalion). Abteilung meant “detachment,” but also meant Bataillon, the two terms not being interchangeable. Thus a panzer battalion was an Abteilung (Abt.), while an infantry battalion was a Bataillon (Btl.). Like other nations, Germany had wheeled armored cars evolved from World War I. By 1939 the two basic types were the four-wheeled Sd.Kfz. 221 series and the eight-wheeled Sd.Kfz. 231 series. The four-wheeled scout car weighed some 4.8 tons, had a speed of 53 km/h (30 mph), and mounted a 2cm gun in an open turret. The thin armor was well-angled ballistically, the average being 55 degrees. The eight-wheeled armored car, the “Acht-Rad,” also mounted a 2cm gun but was larger, weighing 11 tons, with a top speed of 85 km/h (53 mph). Both Panzerspähwagen had full-wheel drive, self-sealing bulletproof tires, and unlike those of other nations, could be driven backward equally well as it could be driven forward, the rearward-facing radio operator serving as rear driver. Variants had the large-frame radio antenna apparatus; later versions of the Acht-Rad mounted a short or a long 7,5cm gun on the hull, while the Puma (Sd.Kfz. 234/2) mounted a high-velocity 5cm gun in an enlarged turret.


Creation of the German Panzerwaffe (Armored Force) Part II

In keeping with the panzer division concept of a balanced combined arms team, the infantry and artillery would be motorized to keep pace with the tanks, and capable of cross-country mobility. This was the genesis of the Halbkettenfahrzeuge (half-track vehicles) of the German Army that played a significant role in World War II. Only the United States developed similar vehicles as armored personnel carriers. In addition, field artillery was initially to be towed by half-tracks. The Halbkette principle was to have front wheels for steering and for road movement, while the weight of the chassis was carried on tracks for cross-country movement. Research conducted during World War I had resulted in Daimler’s “Marienwagen” and Benz’s “Kraftprotze,” though the war ended before these went into production.

In 1932 the Ordnance Office awarded at least six contracts for half-track vehicles of different sizes for specific purposes: a 1-ton series by Demag, a 3-ton series by Hansa-Lloyd-Goliath, a 5-ton series by Büssing-NAG, an 8-ton series by Krauss-Maffei, a 12-ton series by Daimler-Benz, and an 18-ton series by FAMO. Maybach supplied most of the six- or twelve-cylinder engines for these half-tracks. Turning of the steering wheel by the driver turned the front wheels, while turning more sharply braked one of the tracks. High road speed required lubricated track links and rubber track pads, though later wartime shortages of rubber resulted in steel tracks and greater track wear.

The 1-ton series vehicles were designated “leichter Zugkraftwagen 1t” (light traction vehicle 1 ton) and allocated Ordnance inventory number Sd.Kfz. 10. It was intended to tow the 3,7cm antitank gun, a light infantry howitzer, or an ammunition trailer. Later mounting the 2cm Flak 38 gun, the Sd.Kfz. 10/4 was the primary self-propelled flak gun. In 1939 it was modified to carry armor while shortening the chassis and eliminating one road wheel on each side. As the “leichter Schützenpanzerwagen” or light armored personnel carrier (Sd.Kfz. 250), at least ten versions later emerged, including command, communications, reconnaissance, mortar, antitank (3,7cm Pak—Panzerabwehrkanone), and fire support (short 7,5cm) vehicles. As combat vehicles these half-tracks weighed some 6 tons and had a road speed of 74 km/h (46 mph), though the 8–14mm (.3–.5-inch) armor only gave protection from small-arms fire, and the open compartment was susceptible to artillery fire.

The 3-ton series (Sd.Kfz. 11) was intended to tow the 10,5cm howitzer or an ammunition trailer. The Schützenpanzerwagen model (Sd.Kfz. 251) was produced in the largest numbers during World War II, with roughly 15,000 being produced in some twenty-three versions including engineer, mortar, medical, flamethrower, antitank, and flak versions. The SPW was the mainstay of the mechanized rifle units (redesignated panzergrenadier units in 1942) of the panzer division. As such it weighed 8.5 tons, mounted one or more machine guns, had a road speed of 52 km/h (32 mph), and carried a ten-man infantry squad who could quickly dismount through rear hull doors or over the sides. Its armor, however, was a thin 8–14mm, and it was open-topped because its function was as a troop carrier, not a fighting vehicle (although in combat, such as in France in 1940, it would often be used as such). The 251 series were technically sophisticated according to collector Guy Franz Arend of Belgium, but were rather underpowered. The American M3 half-track was mechanically more reliable, but the German version’s steel tracks gave it better cross-country mobility than did the American vehicle’s rubber tracks.

The 5-ton series Zugmaschine (Sd.Kfz. 6) towed engineer bridging equipment trailers or artillery, and later versions were self-propelled mounts for flak or Nebelwerfer (10-barrelled rocket launchers). This was also true of the 8-ton series (Sd.Kfz. 7), the prime mover for the 15cm howitzer or the versatile 8,8cm flak gun, also found to be effective in the antitank role. (In 1944 some were employed to tow the launching platform for the V-2 ballistic rocket and as fire guidance units.) Daimler-Benz produced the first heavy 12-ton half-track in 1931 in collaboration with the Russian government, and later versions of this Sd.Kfz. 8 towed the heavy 21cm mortar, the 24cm long-range gun, or the 10,5cm flak gun, at corps or army level.

The heaviest half-track was the 18-ton Sd.Kfz. 9 series, which provided the standard tank retriever for the army. A spade lowered from the rear gave ground purchase for winching power, and it could tow an eight-wheeled low-bed trailer that could carry the 24-ton Panzer IV. (By 1943, however, the heavier Tiger and Panther tanks required a Panther chassis modified as a Bergepanzer, or tank recovery vehicle.) The lightest tracked vehicle produced was the “Kettenkrad,” Kettenkraftrad or tracked motorcycle of 1940, type HK 101 (Sd.Kfz. 2). This 1.7-ton tracked vehicle with motorcycle steering could go 80 km/h (50 mph) and proved especially useful for negotiating rugged terrain and forest trails to resupply forward troops with ammunition and rations and evacuate wounded.

Most troops and supplies of the panzer divisions, however, were transported in Lastkraftwagen (Lkw, trucks). Contracts had been let to at least eleven different manufacturers, including Ford-Werke, Borgward, Mercedes-Benz, Büssing-NAG, Magirus, and MAN. An attempt at standardization was made with the 6×6 Uniform Diesel, but it proved too heavy and too expensive. The Lastkraftwagen were produced with a cargo weight capacity between 1.6 and 6.5 tons. The most numerous Lkw was the 3.6-ton Adam Opel Blitz Typ 3,6-36S, with a six-cylinder 3.6-liter gasoline engine. It proved reliable, and Daimler-Benz also produced the model under license. Some 95,000 of the standard Blitz-S were built, albeit only with two-wheel drive. In 1940 the Opel Blitz Typ 6700A appeared, and 25,000 would be built. This had 4×4 all-wheel drive, with two driving axles. Staff and officers generally rode in a Personenkraftwagen (Pkw, personnel vehicle), such as the medium Horch Kfz.15 (Kraftfahrzeug, motor vehicle) and the light Volkswagen Kfz.1.

Given the deep mud conditions in Russia during that campaign, wheeled Opel, Ford, and Magirus Lkws were also converted as half-tracks by Daimler-Benz. While wheeled vehicles bogged down in the Russian mud, fatally slowing the 1941 German campaign, the production and improvisation of half-tracks gave the Wehrmacht significant capability in subsequent campaigns.

Ordnance in the panzer division included Pak (Panzerabwehrkanone, antitank guns), Flak (Fliegerabwehrkanone, antiaircraft guns), and Artillerie (artillery). The standard antitank gun was the 3,7cm Pak 36. Its maximum range was some 4,000 meters (4,400 yards) though its muzzle velocity at 762 meters per second (2,500 fps) gave it an armor-piercing capability of only 36mm (1.4 inches) at 500 meters (545 yards) against armor inclined 30 degrees to the vertical with a Panzergranate (armor-piercing round). The Pak 36 was adequate against the slab-sided, thinly armor-plated tanks of the early war period, but after 1939 it was recognized that heavier tanks made better antitank guns necessary. The heavy French Char B1bis had 60mm (2.4-inch) frontal armor, and the British Matilda Mark II and Valentine had up to 76mm (3 inches). The 5cm Pak 38 gave a penetration at 500 meters of 61mm (2.4 inches), and the 7,5cm Pak 40 would penetrate 104mm (4 inches) at 500 meters or 89mm (3.5 inches) at 1,000 meters. In comparison, the standard US antitank gun used later in the war, the 57mm M1, penetrated 68mm (2.7 inches) at 1,000 yards. The Russians initially depended on the 14.5mm (.58-caliber) PTRD antitank rifle, but by 1943 had upgunned to a 57mm antitank gun. The Paks were on a two-wheeled carriage and towed, but were also mounted on Panzerjäger (tank destroyer) chassis. Most deadly against enemy tanks would be the 8,8cm (3.5-inch) Flak gun in a ground-firing role, famous as the “Acht-komma-acht” or “Acht-acht” (“eighty-eight” or 88mm to the Allies).

In addition to machine guns, air defense was provided by flak units (under the Luftwaffe). The 2cm automatic gun might be mounted as Zwillingsflak (twin guns), Drillingsflak (triple guns), or Vierlingsflak (quadruple guns). Next larger was the 3,7cm, the 5cm Flak 41, and then the 8,8cm flak gun. As an antitank gun, the 8,8cm Flak 36 was mounted in the later Tiger I panzer; it had a muzzle velocity of 792 m/s (2,600 fps), and when produced as the Pak 43 and mounted in the Königstiger (King Tiger), its muzzle velocity was 1,000 m/s (3,280 fps)—a speed that could penetrate any tank used during the war. The Russians and Americans used machine guns and automatic cannon as antiaircraft guns, though they do not seem to have used the heavier-caliber AA guns in an anti-armor role to the extent the Germans used the ubiquitous Acht-komma-acht. Larger German flak guns were the 10,5cm Flak 38 and the 12,8cm Flak 40.

The standard German divisional field artillery howitzer in the light artillery battalions of the artillery regiment was the 10,5cm leichte Feld Haubitze (light field howitzer) 18. The le.F.H. 18 had a maximum range of 12,250 meters (13,400 yards). In comparison the American 105mm howitzer M2 ranged 11,150 meters (12,200 yards). In 1941 the gun was fitted with a muzzle brake to control recoil. This permitted a longer-range charge to be fired, increasing the range by 1,600 meters (1,899 yards).

The standard German medium battalion howitzer was the 15cm schwere Feld Haubitze (heavy field howitzer) 18. The 15cm s.F.H. 18 had a range of 13,300 meters (14,630 yards). The later s.F.H. 18/40 had a muzzle brake and higher velocity, increasing the range to 15,000 meters (16,500 yards). The US medium 155mm howitzer M1 ranged a comparable 16,400 yards. The Russian 122mm howitzer M1938 ranged 11,800 meters (12,800 yards), and the 152mm gun-howitzer M1937 ranged 17,620 meters (18,000 yards). Of the longer-ranged Kanone (guns) with higher velocities, the 10cm K 18 had a range of 18,900 meters (20,850 yards) and the 15cm K 18 ranged 24,600 meters (27,000 yards). By comparison the Russian 122mm cannon M1931/37 had a range of 20,800 meters (22,600 yards), while the American 155mm (“Long Tom”) used in corps artillery ranged 23,600 meters (26,000 yards).

In Russia the Germans would encounter the “Katyusha” (“Little Kate”) multiple rocket launcher M13, organized in separate rocket regiments. Though inaccurate, a salvo of sixteen rockets from each launcher flared through the air with a terrifying scream, earning the launcher the nickname “Stalins Orgel” (“Stalin’s Organ”) from the German Landsers. The Russians used the Katyushas as short-range (9,000 meters or 9,800 yards) field artillery, firing massed salvos to saturate a target area, the flaring smoke trails arcing across the sky. Western armies, with their more precise fire-control computing and better communications, could fire accurate concentrations of regular artillery and carry out fire missions within minutes, even if they could not match the massive bombardments of the Russians.

Nonetheless the Germans had also developed multiple rocket launchers, including the Nebelwerfer, or chemical smoke mortar (to be feared in turn by American GIs as the “Screaming Meemie”). The Nebelwerfer was originally the larger 10cm version of the 5cm and 8cm infantry Granatwerfer (mortar) smoothbore, muzzle-loaded, projectile-firing ordnance. But the Nebelwerfer, first designed by Dr. Walter Dornberger (“father” of the later V-2 ballistic missile), were rocket-firing by 1931, evading the restrictions on artillery of the Treaty of Versailles because rockets were not covered.

The rockets were later organized in separate battalions and even regiments. Werfers ranged from the six-tubed 15cm NbW 41 firing its meter-long rockets in sequence, to larger 21cm, 28cm, and 32cm Werfers. A regiment of heavy Nebelwerfer could saturate a target area with 6 tons of explosive in five seconds, and repeat the barrage every minute. The rockets were also fired from frames mounted on the sides of half-tracks, and in 1944 they were mounted on the small 2-ton Opel Maultier (Mule). The Americans later utilized rocket launchers, including a sixty-tubed structure atop the M4 Sherman tank, and in landing craft supporting amphibious operations.

In 1939 the German Schützenkompanie (rifle company) had some 157 personnel in three rifle platoons. Each Zug in turn numbered forty-nine in three squads, and each Gruppe numbered thirteen. The standard Gewehr (rifle) was the reliable Mauser Karabiner 98k (kurz, or short carbine). It was a bolt-action 7,92mm rifle with a five-round magazine capacity. Other nations also had bolt-action rifles, such as the British Lee-Enfield and the Russian Mosin-Nagant. The Americans, however, were equipped with the semiautomatic M1 Garand firing an eight-round clip. But unlike American and British squad tactics, which emphasized marksmanship and support by a bipod-mounted automatic rifle, the German concept was volume of fire based on the squad light machine gun.

The American Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), the British Bren Gun, and the Russian Degtyarev automatic rifles fired from a removable box or drum magazine. The Mauser Werke air-cooled Maschinengewehr 34 was also bipod-mounted, but was a belt-fed machine gun, yet light enough to be carried by one man. It had a rate of fire of over 850 rounds per minute. (It would be succeeded by the even better MG 42 with a rate of fire of over 1,200 rpm, with a quick barrel-change feature given the excessive heat generated.) On a more stable tripod mount both functioned as a schwere (medium) machine gun in weapons companies like those of other infantries.

German officers and vehicle crewmen, in addition to being issued the 9mm Walther Pistole 38, were authorized the submachine gun Maschinenpistole 38, later the MPi 40. Commonly misnamed the “Schmeisser,” the 9mm Ermawerke MPi fired at 500 rpm from a thirty-two-round box magazine, and was nicknamed the “Kugelspritzer” (“bullet-squirter”). Panzer crews and motorized infantry (later Panzergrenadiers) appreciated the metal folding stock of the MPi in the confines of a panzer or a Halbkette. The infantry also used antipersonnel and antitank Handgranate (hand grenades). Little changed from World War I was the Stielhandgranate 39 stick grenade (“potato masher” to the Western Allies), lobbed some 30 meters (33 yards) to explode within four to five seconds. Variants included a fragmentation sleeve, smoke, and illumination versions, as well as the lighter Eihandgranate 39 (egg-shaped grenades). Grenades could also be launched from the Karabiner 98k with a muzzle attachment and a propelling cartridge, extending the range to some 240 meters (265 yards).

Standard infantry-support weapons included mortars, flamethrowers, and mines. The muzzle-loaded 5cm leichte Granatwerfer (light mortar), comparable to the US 60mm mortar, had a range of 518 meters (570 yards). The 8cm schwere Granatwerfer, similar to the US 81mm mortar, had a range of 2,400 meters (2,625 yards). Encountering the large Russian 120mm mortar on the Eastern Front, the Germans copied it as the 12cm Granatwerfer 42, which had a range of 6,000 meters (6,700 yards).

Against fortifications the Pioniere (combat engineers) used hollow-charge explosives and flamethrowers. The Hohlladung (hollow- or shaped-charge) explosive was point-initiating and base-detonating, the blast focused by a cone forward at a standoff distance, “shaping” a jet stream to penetrate armor or concrete, and was used in a variety of munitions. The Flammenwerfer 35 was succeeded by the Flammenwerfer 41. This had two cylinders, one with compressed nitrogen for projection, the other with fuel, ignited by triggering hydrogen. Duration of the fire was ten seconds, in short bursts.

There were a variety of antipersonnel and antitank mines. The Schü-Mine (Schützen, or defense mine) was a bounding type. The 4-kilogram (9-pound) S-Mine 35 was triggered either by 7 kilograms (15 pounds) of foot pressure or by trip wire pull igniter, and a canister was propelled one meter (one yard) above the ground, spewing 360 steel balls or scrap steel with a killing radius of 10 meters (12 yards). The small half-kilogram (one-pound) Schü-Mine 42 was a handy booby trap that would cripple a soldier. Varieties of these AP mines were encased in wood or glass to foil metallic mine detectors, and usually had explosive anti-lifting devices; the only sure way to clear minefields was to probe for them with a bayonet on hands and knees.

There were some forty types of antitank mines. Typical was the 10-kilogram (21 lb) Teller (plate) Panzermine 35 triggered by 180 kilograms (400 pounds) of pressure on the pressure plate. This would disable a tank by breaking the track and often damaging a road wheel. The Soviets would be the most prolific at laying minefields, utilizing their TMB-2 and TM-41 antitank mines. Minefields were most effective with a pattern of AP and AT mines underground, and covered by defensive fire.

Tactically, German infantry procedures were closely related to their artillery operations, though these varied greatly depending on the mission, enemy forces and capabilities, available troops, and terrain and weather. Ideally there were four levels to a linear defense in depth manned by infantry units (though this formation was seldom employed until later in the war when German forces were increasingly on the defensive). The HKL (Hauptkampflinie) was the main line of resistance (US MLR), meant to repulse an enemy attack. The Gefechtsvorposten (combat outposts) were 1,800–4,500 meters (2,000–5,000 yards) ahead of the HKL, within range of the main line’s light artillery (10,5cm le.F.H. 18) batteries; these were more thinly manned than the HKL and intended to absorb the enemy attack. In front of the combat outposts was the Vorgeschobene Stellung (advanced position), some 4,500–6,000 meters (5,000–7,000 yards) beyond the HKL and covered by the longer-range medium artillery (15cm s.F.H. 18); it was manned by light forces tasked with delaying the enemy attack and perhaps forcing premature deployment. A Reserve position was to be several thousand meters behind the HKL, beyond range of enemy artillery, forcing a delay in their displacing batteries forward, and served as a position to which forces could fall back from the HKL and from which counter attacks could be mounted.

Defensive frontage width for an infantry unit was about double the attack frontage. A Kompanie (company) defended 400–1,000 meters (440–1,100 yards), a Bataillon defended 800–2,000 meters (880–2,200 yards), a Regiment defended 2,000–3,000 meters (2,200–3,300 yards), and a Division defended 6,000–10,000 meters (6,600–11,000 yards) or about 6–10 kilometers (4–6 miles). Defensive positions entailed entrenchments, wire entanglements, cleared fields of fire, and primary direction of fire and final protective lines for machine guns. Since World War I, minefields, laid with both AP and AT mines, had strengthened a defensive position. Mortars, AT guns, and artillery would also be sited. More permanent fortifications like the Westwall along the German border had steel-and-concrete bunkers (British “pillboxes”), gun positions, and antitank obstacles built by Organisation Todt (OT) construction units. Preferably field positions were disposed in depth for an elastic defense utilizing counterattack forces to restore a penetrated position, not a strictly linear defense.

Attack tactics had evolved since World War I, moving from the British “wave” tactics slaughtered by the machine guns on the Somme in 1916 to a new model of infiltration and surprise artillery tactics. This approach was developed by artillery Oberst Georg Bruchmüller and Gen. Oskar von Hutier in the Riga attack in 1917 and employed in the Westfront offensives of 1918. The new Panzerwaffe would play a significant role in this tactical evolution, though there were divergent concepts as to what this role would be. Some thought it should decisively strengthen an infantry breakthrough of an opponent’s main defenses. Others believed the primary role should be flanking, flank-and-frontal envelopment, and encirclement maneuvers and attacks. Political and international events in the 1930s began to be factors that determined what the role of the Panzerwaffe would be.

Early Russian Armoured Cars

At the beginning of WWI Russia had virtually no motor industry but its one car company, the Russo-Baltic Russko-Baltiisky Vagon Zaved (R-BVZ, or Russo-Baltic Wagon Factory) located in Riga, Latvia, built an armoured car soon after the war started, and subsequently produced a few more so that a unit could be formed that was sent into action in October 1914. More armoured cars were ordered by the Russian authorities from abroad and especially from Britain. The most numerous of the British cars were produced by the Austin company to a Russian design, which incorporated a very peculiar arrangement of two side-by-side machine gun turrets. Their total, including armoured cars built in Russia on Austin chassis, rose eventually to more than 200. More armoured cars were procured from other companies and some were also built in Russia using imported chassis, bringing the total acquired by the Russian Army to more than 600 in 1917

Russian Empire Armoured Cars

Landships II


Mechanized Artillery of WWII

All major armies also developed tracked or self-propelled guns, while the Wehrmacht and Red Army developed closely related assault guns and attendant doctrine. British and American armies used self-propelled guns in a similar manner, essentially as more highly mobile field artillery that advanced before concentrating in batteries to provide indirect fire support. This differed from German and Soviet practice, wherein self-propelled or assault guns provided close direct fire to support assaulting infantry. The exceptional industrial capacity of the United States permitted the U. S. Army, and most other Western Allied armies, to move toward fully motorized and mechanized artillery. The U. S. Army thus soon caught up in mobility to the British Army, and then surpassed it in terms of overall mobility. The main change in artillery in World War II was this fresh mobility


A subclassification of artillery in which field guns were mounted on tracked carriages, usually the chaises of tanks. For instance, the British Sexton mounted a 25-pounder gun on a Canadian-built “Sherman” chassis. Almost all other Western self-propelled guns were of American design and manufacture but followed the same principle. An exception was that a 75 mm howitzer was mounted on some half-track chassis An early standard, U. S. Army selfpropelled gun was the M8. It mounted a 105 mm howitzer on an M3 “Grant” tank chassis. The British called the M8 the “Priest.” Later models mounted a 155 mm M1918 gun on the M3 chassis to form the M12, and a 155 mm mounted on an M4 “Sherman” chassis to create the M40. The M4 chassis could also mount an 8-inch howitzer and called the M43. A handful of even bigger guns were mounted on a “Pershing” chassis and classed as T92 and T93 self-propelled guns. The main German guns were the “Sturmgeschütz” (or Stug) III and Stug IV. The 105 mm “Wespe” and 150 mm “Hummel” were self-propelled howitzers. Later in the war the Wehrmacht built heavier assault guns by mounting large field guns on Panzer Mk III, Mk IV, and even some “Tiger” chaises. The Soviets and Germans differed in using tracked self-propelled guns mainly for direct fire in a close infantry support role where advancing infantry outran fixed artillery support, or where pieces towed by horse or wheeled vehicle could not go. Western armies tended to treat self-propelled guns simply as more mobile field artillery, combining them in batteries for indirect fire support.


A subclassification of artillery referring to howitzers or other field guns mounted on tracked carriages, usually of surplus or outmoded tanks. They moved and fired in close support of attacking infantry. Although sharing the outer appearance of tanks they usually lacked turrets and sacrificed armor for speed and weight of gun. The main German assault gun was the Stug III (Sturmgeschütz III). It was equipped with a low-velocity 75 mm howitzer. From 1942 that gun was re placed by a high-velocity tube as Stugs took on Soviet or Western Allied tanks more often than they supported German infantry assaults. The Wehrmacht deployed increasing numbers of assault guns (“Sturmartillerie”) as the war continued, often in place of Panzers, which took far more steel, labor, and funds to build. Over time, production considerations meant that units supposed to be equipped with Panzers were instead given assault guns. These served primarily in an anti-tank role as the Wehrmacht moved to permanent defense in 1944-1945. The Stug III was built in large numbers as Panzer Mk III chaises were released with battlefield obsolescence of that model tank. The Stug IV was an upgunned, turretless, wider-tracked vehicle than the Stug III. Very late war German assault guns included squat urban fighting vehicles such as the Brummbär (“Grizzly”) and Sturmtiger (“Storm Tiger”). Their appearance was part of a general trend in design toward gigantism that ill-served actual combat needs, but it also reflected recognition that fighting in the east had shifted into big cities, away from the “happy days” of broken-field running by the fast Panzers of 1941-1943. Not many of the new urban warfare-type assault guns left German factories, fewer than 300 Brummbär and just a few dozen Sturmtiger. Early model Soviet assault guns such as the KV-2, which mounted a howitzer on a KV-1 heavy tank chassis, were easily knocked out during BARBAROSSA in 1941 and again in 1942. By the end of the war, however, the Red Army adapted and deployed a range of powerful and effective assault guns that served in a “tank destroyer” role; that is, as anti-tank guns. The Soviets mass produced the SU-class assault gun calibers of 76 mm and 122 mm and deployed huge SU-152 mm and ISU-152 mm guns. The SU-152 was called “zverboi” (“beast-killer”) by Red Army krasnoarmeets because of its success in destroying Tigers, Panthers, Elephants, and other German fighting vehicles with feral or animal names. British, Common wealth, and U. S. armies did not deploy assault guns as such, relying instead on heavy artillery, air power, and an abundance of tanks. The Western Allies modified some battle tank chaises-including the Sherman, Centaur, and Churchill-in the direction of what the Wehrmacht and Red Army called assault guns, replacing the main high-velocity gun with a howitzer. But Western armies used these primarily in an anti-tank role rather than for close infantry support. Americans termed such armored vehicles “tank destroyers,” not assault guns. On the whole, they did not perform as well as hoped by designers or in early U. S. Army doctrine.

Tanks of WWII

During World War II the tank came into its own as an offensive weapon. This was made clear with the stunning German Blitzkrieg into Poland in FALL WEISS (1939), then again in France and the Low Countries in FALL GELB in 1940, and on a vast scale in the opening months of BARBAROSSA in the Soviet Union in 1941. Tanks also became the major defensive system against enemy tanks, a trend that led to the largest armored battle ever fought at Kursk in 1943, where 12 Panzer divisions met massed Soviet armor and thousands of anti-tank guns. The second largest armor fight of the war took place at Falaise in 1944. Topographical features limited use of tanks in mountainous areas such as the Caucasus and Balkans. They were also less used in fighting in Asia before 1945 than in North Africa, Europe, or the western Soviet Union. Otherwise, tanks were a signature weapon of World War II. They came in multiple varieties, from prewar tankettes that proved worse than useless even during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), to fast light versions and solid medium models, to late war heavy and super heavy types that crushed roads and broke stone bridges as they passed. Uniquely, the Wehrmacht fielded a small artillery observer tank (“Beobachtungswagen”).

The Regio Esercito had the worst tanks in Europe. Italian tankettes were fine for crushing unarmed and unarmored Abyssinians in 1936, but they proved woefully inadequate when facing British armor in 1940-1941. They were merely death traps for their own crews when deployed on the Eastern Front in 1942. The L3/35 weighed 7.5 tons, had a two-man crew, and mounted a 20 mm main gun incapable of piercing opposing armor. Among lesser Axis armies, Hungarian tanks were only slightly better than Italian tankettes. The Toldi III three-man light tank weighed 10.3 tons and mounted a 40 mm gun. The Turan II was a 20-ton tank with a five-man crew that carried a 75 mm gun. The Axis states also used captured Czech Skoda Type-36 and -38 light tanks on the Eastern Front. The Type-38 was produced for several years after the extinction of Czechoslovakia, while some were still used in battle as late as 1945. Germany’s armor spanned a wide range of capabilities and designs. Panzer I and II prewar models were used in Spain and in small numbers by China, but were obsolete by 1939. Panzer divisions attacking into Poland were mostly equipped with the 25-ton medium Panzer III. Still effective in France and the Low Countries in 1940, Panzer III armor proved inadequate and its 50 mm main gun useless against anything but enemy light tanks by the time of the BARBAROSSA campaign a year later. About 5,500 Panzer IIIs were built. The Panzer IV was about the same weight as the Panzer III but had heavier protective armor, a 75 mm main gun, and reached battle speed of 25 mph. The Panzer V, or “Panther,” was a 50-ton tank that originally mounted a 75 mm gun. While it was an effective heavy tank, only 5,976 were built. The Panzer VI/E, or “Tiger I,” was a monster at 63 tons. Its five-man crew operated a deadly and very long-range 88 mm main gun, but Tigers only had a top speed of 23 mph. The Panzer VI/II, or “King Tiger” or “Tiger II,” was even heavier at 77 tons and actually three mph faster than the Panzer VI/E Tiger. It also mounted an 88 mm main gun in a Henschel turret. Its front armor was nearly impenetrable. However, the Tiger II was mechanically unreliable, proved difficult to maneuver in urban fighting, and was much too heavy for many older bridges. Most importantly, it took far too much skilled labor and steel and was therefore not produced in decisive numbers: only 1,354 Tiger Is were built and another 500 Tiger IIs, and not all of those found a way into battle.

Some Chinese warlords and the Guomindang had a hodgepodge of tanks imported during the 1920s, notably several dozen Renault FTs (Model 1918). During the early 1930s, China acquired Carden Lloyd Mk VI patrol tanks, about 20 Vickers 6-ton light tanks, and several dozen Vickers medium tanks, as well as Italian L. 3/35 tankettes and German Pz-1As. The Guomindang acquired Soviet tanks and armored cars in 1938, mainly T-26s, BA-10s, and BA-20s. The United States provided some Lend-Lease Shermans to China from 1944 to 1945. The Japanese were only marginally better off than the Chinese in terms of tank design, but they had many more tanks. Most were light or tankette types, copies of early French Renaults or British Vickers models. The standard Japanese tank from 1932 was the 10-ton Mitsubishi Type-89 Chi-Ro medium, which was basically an infantry assault vehicle mounting a small 57 mm gun. It was produced until 1942. A few Type-95 “heavy” tanks were built. The fi rst Mitsubishi Type-97 Chi-Ha medium tank rolled off the assembly line in 1937. It weighed under 16 tons and mounted a small 57 mm gun. It became the standard Japanese model of the war. The Japanese Army also used its tanks differently. It deployed armor in “tank groups” (sensha dan) of three or more regiments of 80 tanks each. Japanese doctrine dictated that all armor act in an infantry support role, until the Japanese experienced what massed Red Army tank divisions could do at Nomonhan in 1939. It still took Japan until 1943 to deploy its first true armored division, which was sent to Manchuria and saw little to no action. Shortages of all critical materials meant that Japan only produced five light tanks in 1945. Despite improvements to Japanese tanks and doctrine, Soviet armor again rolled over the Japanese during the Manchurian offensive operation (August 1945). The major Western Allied nations fighting in Asia used the same models built in abundance to fight Italy and Germany in Africa and Europe. The topography of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific was not generally conducive to armored warfare. The central plains of Okinawa saw more tanks used by both sides than in any other battle outside China U. S. Army doctrine favored lighter tanks both before and throughout the war. That was partly a result of fighting doctrine that favored mobility and deep maneuver over raw firepower. But it also arose from the extraordinary logistical difficulty of transporting every American tank across an ocean before it could fight in Asia, Africa, or Europe. U. S. forces began the war with several light tank types, all named for Civil War generals. The M3 Stuart was a 4-man tank weighing 12 tons and mounting an inadequate 37 mm main gun. The M5 Stuart was a 15-ton light tank also armed with a 37 mm cannon. The M3 Lee (the designation when issued to U. S. forces) and Grant (British and Commonwealth forces) were mediums, weighing 27 tons. They had a 75 mm main gun plus an anti-aircraft machine gun. The last U. S. light tank built was the M24 Chaffee, which had a 76 mm gun. The M4 Sherman was the main U. S. battle tank. Over 50,000 were built. It was provided in quantity to British and Commonwealth forces and in smaller numbers to the Red Army. Depending on mark, it weighed 29-32 tons and mounted a 75 mm or 76 mm main gun, along with two .30 caliber anti-infantry machine guns and an antiaircraft machine gun. U. S. tanks were usually overmatched on the battlefield during the second half of the war by better-armored and bigger-gun German models. Still, the medium-over-heavy tank preference of U. S. forces proved mostly sound. Unlike late-war German or Japanese tanks, American tanks were on perpetual offense after landing on some distant beach in Europe or Asia. That meant the U. S. Army needed medium tanks that could cross canals and rivers on hastily built pontoon bridges, because the enemy nearly always blew available permanent structures. Wehrmacht tankers discovered in 1944-1945 that while oversize heavies were far more powerful than a Sherman, they were less effective in urban settings and too heavy for most French, Belgian, or Dutch bridges. And there were always more Shermans on the horizon. Western Allied forces also developed armored tactics in which speed and greater numbers of smaller and less powerful tanks outflanked and overwhelmed Tiger Is and IIs. The U. S. finally fielded a limited number of its own heavy tanks late in the war. Although the M26 Pershing mounted a 90 mm gun plus the usual complement of machine guns, it only weighed 41 tons.

In addition to domestic tanks such as the inadequate Mk III “Valentine” infantry tank, the British Army received thousands of U. S.-built tanks via Lend-Lease. Among the first received was the M3A1 supplied in mid-1942 by a diverted emergency convoy. It was used extensively in the desert campaign beginning with the two battles of El Alamein. It was known to Tommies as the “Honey.” British and Canadian armored divisions were also consigned M3 Grants. The British were not always content to use undergunned American tanks. They re-equipped Shermans with more powerful 17-pounder tubes to create an upgunned British version in 1944: the “Firefly.” Royal Engineers also developed a series of highly specialized tanks for the OVERLORD invasion of France. The most famous were formally known as “Armored Vehicles, Royal Engineers”(AVRE). These were amphibious assault tank adaptations inspired by Major General Percy Hobart, and thus most commonly referred to as “Hobart’s Funnies”. The “Funnies” were usually modified British “Churchills.” They included “swimming” tanks fitted with rubber floats and canvas screens; “crab” tanks, equipped with thrashers and flails for clearing mines; “bobbin” tanks that rolled out mesh as a temporary road over sand and clay; bulldozer tanks; “Crocodile” flame-throwing tanks; Armored Ramp Carriers; and other tanks fitted with specialty tools such as demolition frames or fascine layers. One AVRE was fitted with a petard spigot mortar that fired a 40 lb bomb-called “flying dustbins” by British troops-for demolishing pillboxes. All these fine adaptations helped British and Canadian troops get onto their beaches in Normandy on D-Day ( June 6, 1944), then get off them and move inland.

Soviet armor was plentiful before the German invasion on June 22, 1941, but varied greatly in quality. The 11-ton T-26 was the most numerous Soviet tank when the war broke out. T-60s weighed 6.4 tons, had a crew of two, and mounted a 20 mm gun. They were the Red Army scout tank equivalent of the Italian L3/35 tankette. The 10- ton T-70 was still rolling off the line in 1942. It was a death trap for its two-man crew when facing Panzers or anti-tank guns. Yet, with the main medium and heavy tank factories lost at Kharkov and surrounded at Leningrad, a critical decision was made to concentrate on producing T-60s in automobile plants while fevered completion of new tank factories was underway, notably at Chelyabinsk (“Tankograd”). Chelyabinsk became the main manufacturing center of the superb T-34 medium battle tank, the mainstay of Soviet tank armies by mid-1942. The 1940 model weighed 28.5 tons while mounting a powerful 76 mm gun. Its four-man crew could attain a battle speed of 34 mph, faster than any Panzer. The 1943 model was nearly six tons heavier; the extra weight came from additional armor. The 1943 T-34 was turned out at the extraordinary rate of 1,200 per month. The T-34-85 did not add much weight. Its great advance over earlier models was its 85 mm high velocity gun, which could smash the heaviest Panzers. Its turret was also enlarged and modified, providing better sighting and gun handling. Even with the extra weight it still attained a top speed of 34 mph. About 11,000 were built in 1944 and 18,500 in 1945. The T-44 was comparable to the T-34, but with thicker armor (3.5 inches frontal).

Alongside T-26s, T-60s, and the first T-34s, the Red Army deployed the KV-1 in 1941. Named for Kliment Voroshilov, it weighed 53 tons. It outmatched the armored protection and weight of shell of German Panzer IIIs and IVs, could withstand multiple hits, and mounted a powerful 76 mm gun of its own. Protection and firepower made up for a slow, 22 mph top speed. The KV-1 so impressed the Wehrmacht that German tank designers modeled the Panther and Tiger types on it. The Soviets introduced a new series of heavy tanks late in the war. The KV-2 weighed 57 tons and mounted a 152 mm howitzer. Capable of just 16 mph and with insufficient frontal armor, it proved highly vulnerable. The 1943 KV-5 was a 50-ton tank with an 85 mm gun. The “Joseph Stalin,” or JS II, was a variation of the KV line under a new name. It weighed over 50 tons and had a top speed of 23 mph. It mounted a 122 mm gun and had 3.5-4.7-inch frontal armor, along with a remarkable 3.5-inch side armor. The JS III weighed an additional 1.5 tons but was two mph faster. It had an exceptional 4.7-6.0 inches of frontal armor. Some 2,300 “Stalin” tanks were built in 1944, and 1,500 in 1945.

American Armored Doctrine And Equipment I

American armored doctrine and equipment were first tested in combat in North Africa. One of the first illusions to evaporate in the heat of battle was the effectiveness of the light tank.

On November 26, 1942, Lieutenant Freeland A. Daubin and his platoon of M3 light tanks from Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division, fought the first engagement of the war between American and German tanks. Daubin and his crew entered the battle with a “great and abiding faith in the prowess of the 37mm ‘cannon’” with which their tank was armed. When a German Panzerkampfwagen (Pzkw)IV came into range, Daubin confidently ordered his crew to begin firing. His confidence soon turned to panic:

The 37mm gun of the little American M3 light tank popped and snapped like an angry cap pistol…. The Jerry seemed annoyed by these attentions. Questing about with his incredibly long, bell-snouted, “souped-up” 75mm Kw K40 rifle, the German commander spotted his heckler. Deciding to do the sporting thing and lessen the extreme range, he leisurely commenced closing the 140 yard gap between himself and the light tank, but keeping his thicker, sloping frontal plates turned squarely to the hail of 37mm fire.

The crew of the M3 redoubled the serving of their piece. The loader crammed the little projectiles into the breech and the commander (who was also the gunner) squirted them at the foe…. The German shed sparks like a power-driven grindstone. In a frenzy of desperation and fading faith in their highly-touted weapon, the M3 crew pumped more than eighteen rounds at the Jerry while it came in. Through the scope sight the tracer could be seen to hit, then glance straight up. Popcorn balls thrown by Little Bo Peep would have been just as effective.

One hit from the German’s high-velocity 75-mm gun ended the contest. As Daubin lay bleeding on the floor of a wadi, he watched the Germans destroy five more M3s. Fortunately, Major William R. Tuck, commander of Company B, was able to maneuver his light tanks to the flanks and rear of the enemy force. Firing at close range, the 37-mm guns knocked out seven enemy tanks before the Germans withdrew. Tuck’s tactical innovation—maneuvering to engage the less heavily armored sides and rear of a German tank—was one that American tankers came to rely on heavily.

As the campaign proceeded in North Africa, General Devers, commanding general of the armored force, arrived from Fort Knox. Devers headed a mission “to examine the problems of Armored Force units in the European Theater of Operations.” Overseas from December 14, 1942, until January 25, 1943, Devers found few flaws in armored force equipment and claimed that “the M-4 (General Sherman) [was] the best tank on the battlefield.”

The ordnance annex to his report probably fueled Devers’s enthusiasm. British Generals R. L. McCreery and C. W. Norman were noted to have said that the “American M3 tanks had stopped the Germans at the El Alamein line and that the M4 tanks defeated the Germans in the break through.” The report cited interviews with British soldiers that led to the blanket conclusion that the M4 tank with its 75-mm gun “could easily defeat any German tank.” The British tank crews also stressed that they preferred to use the M4 in a “hull-down,” or defensive, position. Thus, the M4s were concealed and largely protected from return fire. The report further noted that the 75-mm armor-piercing (AP) ammunition “was found capable of penetrating all German tanks at ranges as great as 2,500 yards.”

British soldiers also commented that the M4, with its high explosive (HE) shell, destroyed antitank guns at ranges up to 3,500 yards. Range was particularly important in North Africa, because the German 88-mm antiaircraft gun, also used in an antitank role, was the most feared tank killer on the battlefield. The fragmentation of the HE round killed the German crews servicing the 88s, because they had virtually no armor protection. The British tanks, which fired only AP rounds designed to penetrate armor, were not effective against personnel. Consequently, British tank crews had not been able to silence the 88s before the advent of the M4. This report must have been particularly encouraging to the Americans personnel were a target—because the M4 had been designed to handle. Finally, the ordnance team reported that it had interviewed a number of Americans. Incredibly, Lieutenant Daubin’s battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel John K. Waters, had “praised the 37mm gun and stated that it gave good results in battle destroying the German Mark 3 and Mark 4 tanks at about 300 yards.” Either the ordnance officers were hearing what they wanted to hear or Colonel Waters was not aware of how his battalion felt about its M3 tanks.

Devers was also pleased with Armored Force tactics. He noted that the British Eighth Army had used “the same tactical principles and doctrines taught by the Armored Force” with great success, but Devers did not find everything to his liking. He noted that the “present war is definitely one of guns” and that successful offensive operations were those that integrated “air, tanks, and artillery,” while a viable defense required “air, concealed antitank guns, and artillery.” Devers then reasserted his earlier arguments against tank destroyers, stating that “the separate tank destroyer is not a practical concept on the battlefield.” In Devers’s opinion, “the weapon to beat a tank is a better tank. Sooner or later the issue between ground forces is settled in an armored battle—tank against tank.”

Shortly after the Devers mission departed the combat zone, American armored forces experienced blitzkrieg firsthand. On February 14 General Curt von Arnim attacked FaÏd Pass and overran the haphazard American defenses. The 1st Armored Division’s Combat Command C counterattacked and was soundly defeated by the veteran Germans. As von Arnim continued his advance, the Americans retreated in disarray. On February 19 Field Marshal Erwin Rommel attacked American positions at Kasserine Pass, and the next day the panzers broke through. Fortunately for the Allies, the Germans lacked sufficient resources to exploit their offensive successes. The Allies poured in men and matériel to bolster their defenses and checked the German advance.

For the Americans, their first experiences against a determined and professional German offensive were unnerving and humiliating: “American armor was employed piecemeal, not massed…. American tankers had been outwitted by veteran Germans. The Army Air Force had been ineffectively coordinated…. Worst of all, American troops had fled in panic before the enemy.” Eisenhower, believing they “had proven to be indecisive in crisis,” relieved the II Corps commander, Major General Lloyd R. Fredendall, and the 1st Armored Division commander, Major General Orlando Ward.

The Americans attributed the defeat at Kasserine to “green troops” and poor leadership. The War Department believed that “failures or tactical reverses…resulted from misapplication of…principles, or from lack of judgment and flexibility in their application.” The Army applied the traditional correctives of training, discipline, and leadership—all of which were abundantly supplied when General Patton replaced Fredendall as the II Corps commander. Unfortunately, obvious breakdowns in the human dimension obscured doctrinal and technological deficiencies.

General McNair, commanding general of the Army ground forces, received a copy of Devers’s report and on February 19 wrote a letter to Major General A. D. Bruce, commander of the Tank Destroyer Center at Camp Hood, Texas. McNair stated that he had discussed with Secretary of War Stimson “that Devers seemed not to care much about tank destroyers.” McNair then reassured Bruce that Stimson was still on their side: “The Secretary bounced right back with the statement that he was one of the original backers of the tank destroyers, and that he would have to have Devers in for a talk on the question.” McNair also believed that American combat experiences verified his position and wrote to Bruce that he was “confident that the track we are on—in both tank destroyers and antiaircraft—is both sound and not in jeopardy.” He was also convinced that “developments in Africa only serve to demonstrate the soundness of this conception.” Indeed, he believed that “if they had piled in tank destroyers instead of armored units, the 1st Armored Division would be still intact.”

By September 1943 the lessons from North Africa had been applied to the American armored forces. The adaptations were evolutionary: The structure of the armored division changed to a more balanced organization whose combat elements included three tank battalions, three armored infantry battalions, and three armored field artillery battalions. These units were combined or “task organized” for operations and controlled by three combat command headquarters (A, B, and Reserve). The thick German antitank defenses, consisting of guns and mines, had discredited the notion of unsupported tank attacks and established the need for more infantry. The number of light tanks in the divisions was significantly reduced. All three tank battalions had three medium tank companies and only one light tank company, which was primarily used for reconnaissance.

Armored doctrine remained largely unchanged. On September 29, 1943, the Army ground forces issued a field manual that reaffirmed the exploitation role of the armored division. Infantry divisions were to make holes in enemy lines so that “the armored division may pass through the gap created and exploit the success.” Exploitation was defined as “an attack to destroy enemy installations or formations, to seize critical terrain.” Furthermore, the manual again clarified that “the primary role of the tank is to destroy enemy personnel and automatic weapons.” The armament of American tanks supported this mission: “The main purpose of the tank cannon is to permit the tank to overcome enemy resistance and reach vital rear areas, where the tank machine guns may be used most advantageously.” The publication also stated that “antimechanized protection,” if required, would be provided by attaching tank destroyer battalions.

In May 1943 General Devers departed the armored force to command the European theater of operations. Major General Alvan C. Gillem, an infantryman, replaced Devers, which probably explains the increased emphasis on medium tanks and infantry support in the armored division. Gillem brought his own assumptions about armored warfare. In September he reversed his earlier decision to arm all future M4 tanks with more powerful 76-mm guns. In keeping with vintage infantry tank doctrine, he believed that the 75-mm cannon had a better high explosive shell than the 76-mm cannon. Therefore, the 75-mm cannon-equipped M4 was a better weapon against the targets that tanks were doctrinally designed to defeat. Gillem believed that only one-third of the Shermans should have the better antitank gun.

McNair supported Gillem’s decision to use the 75-mm cannon, and when Devers cabled from Europe to request that the development of the T26 tank, armed with a 90-mm gun, be given highest priority to counter German tank developments, McNair’s response was predictable: “I see no reason to alter our previous stand…essentially that we should defeat Germany by use of the M-4 series of medium tanks. There has been no factual developments [sic] overseas, so far as I know to challenge the superiority of the M-4.”

McNair was firmly committed to the tank destroyer concept. He believed that the Americans had experienced nothing in combat against the Germans that justified heavier tanks, with their attendant mobility and overseas shipping problems. American forces had encountered German Pzkw V Panthers and Pzkw VI Tigers in Italy and had been able to stop them with seemingly little difficulty. Since he controlled the promulgation of American armored and tank destroyer doctrine, his opinions were in effect law, and he was not alone in his conclusions.

McNair’s position on tank and antitank missions was shared by many ground officers. In April 1944 General Patton sent McNair a copy of his “Letter of Instruction No.2,” in which Patton gave his views—in accord with McNair’s—on armored tactics. Patton stressed that “the primary mission of armored units is the attacking of infantry and artillery. The enemy’s rear is the happy hunting ground for armor.”

Although the doctrinal debate was relatively tame, the Ordnance Department and the Army Ground Forces squabbled intensely over tank technology. This friction closely resembled the prewar disputes between the chief of ordnance and the chief of infantry. The Ordnance Department wanted to standardize heavier armored and armed tanks to remain competitive with new German designs. The Army Ground Forces did not interfere in ordnance development programs but blocked standardization in most cases. The Army Ground Forces believed that if the Germans developed a significantly more powerful tank, the appropriate technological response was not to abandon the proven M4 design but to develop more powerful tank destroyers. Consequently, the most powerful tank available to American troops when they landed at Normandy was the M4 with a 76-mm gun.

Even after the invasion the M4 initially seemed adequate to deal with German armor because long-range engagements were rare in the thick hedgerow country. Nevertheless, the difficulty of defeating German armor was becoming a concern. Soon after D day, the First Army conducted test firings against a captured Panther. The results were alarming. Only the 90-mm antitank gun and the 105-mm howitzer could penetrate the front glacis of the German tank—and even these guns were effective only at close ranges.

Particularly disconcerting was the ineffectiveness of the new 76-mm gun mounted on the M4 medium tank. General Omar N. Bradley, commander of the Twelfth Army Group, noted that “this new weapon often scuffed rather than penetrated the enemy’s armor.” In July 1944 General Dwight Eisenhower was dismayed when Bradley told him of the failings of the 76-mm gun: “You mean our 76 won’t knock these Panthers out? Why, I thought it was going to be the wonder gun of the war.” When Bradley responded that it was better than the 75-mm gun but still not good enough, Eisenhower was irate: “Why is it that I am always the last to hear about this stuff? Ordnance told me this 76 would take care of anything the German had. Now I find you can’t knock out a damn thing with it.”

Unfortunately, little could be done to correct the inadequacy of American tanks in the summer of 1944. Following the breakout and the drive against Germany, the deficiencies of the Sherman and the inappropriateness of tank destroyer doctrine became increasingly obvious. The M4 Sherman, even with its 76-mm gun and the new hypervelocity armor-piercing (HVAP) ammunition, could not take on Panthers or Tigers head-to-head—nor could any other American gun at ranges outside the engagement envelope of German tanks.

American tankers had to employ the tactics learned in the North African desert of maneuvering to attack the more vulnerable sides and rear of the German tanks. The costs were high. One battalion of the 2d Armored Division lost 51 percent of its men and 70 percent of its tanks in two weeks of action. American soldiers began to lose faith in their tanks—with good reason. Sergeant Thomas P. Welborn explained the risks in trying to overwhelm a German Panther:

On 5 August in the vicinity of St. Sever Calvados, France, [I] witnessed a German Mark V tank knock out three M4 and three M5 tanks during and after being hit by at least fifteen rounds of 75mm APC from a distance of approximately 700 yards. All of these shells had ricochetted, with the exception of a sixteenth round which finally put the Mark V tank out of action.

The closer the Allies got to Germany, the more determined the German resistance became. In mid-November the 1st Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, 2d Armored Division, was on the Roer River plain near Puffendorf, Germany, preparing to attack toward Gereonsweiler. Suddenly, between twenty and thirty German tanks, including Tigers and Panthers, opened fire. As the Shermans tried to maneuver for flank shots, they became mired in the muddy ground and were picked off. In only two days the 2d Armored Division suffered 363 casualties and lost 57 tanks. Most of these losses occurred at Puffendorf. It had been an uneven exchange; the 1st Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, claimed only two German tanks destroyed by Shermans and two by M36 tank destroyers. Corporal James A. Miller expressed the overwhelming sense of fear and frustration the American tank crews felt:

One morning in Puffendorf, Germany, about daylight I saw several German tanks coming across the field toward us; we all opened fire on them, but we had just about as well have fired our shots straight up in the air for all the [g]ood we could do. Every round would bounce off and wouldn’t do a bit of damage. I fired at one 800 yards away, he had his side toward me. I hit him from the lap of the turret to the bottom and from the front of the tank to the back directly in the side but he never halted. I fired one hundred and eighty four rounds at them and I hit at least five of them several times. In my opinion if we had a gun with plenty of muzzle velocity we would have wiped them out. We out-gunned them but our guns were worthless.

American Armored Doctrine And Equipment II

American and German gun penetration against armor at 30 degrees obliquity at 500 to 2,000 yards (in millimeters)

Americans were also finding that German tanks had better “flotation” in the muddy terrain of the Roer Plain and the Hürtgen Forest. German tanks had wide tracks that enabled them to maneuver in the boggy terrain. The Shermans, with their narrow tracks designed for speed on good surfaces, no longer had a maneuverability edge over the panzers. Additionally, the Germans had long since figured out American flanking tactics and positioned their tanks so that only the virtually impenetrable front was exposed to any avenue of approach.

The U.S. Army felt the full power of a determined German panzer attack when on December 16 Hitler launched his assault in the Ardennes, spearheaded by 1,500 tanks and assault guns. Any lingering faith in the M4 vanished in the face of the determined German attack. American tankers, writing home to their families and friends, told how their tanks could not stand up to German panzers. They were right—between June and December 1944 the Twelfth Army Group had lost more than 2,000 medium tanks.

In January 1945 American newspapers were asking for answers. Hanson Baldwin, the distinguished New York Times correspondent, wrote some of the most critical editorials and urged a congressional inquiry. The Army leadership closed ranks, and a flurry of articles appeared in February lauding the quality of American equipment generally and the M4 tank specifically. Major General Levin H. Campbell Jr., the chief of ordnance, released a letter that General Eisenhower had written to him to defuse further criticism. In it, Eisenhower wrote that “the mobility of our ordnance enabled us to exploit our first successes in the drive across France, into Belgium and Germany.” Campbell also cited two other popular American generals, Devers and Patton, “who made their reputations in tanks.” While General Devers indicated that he was satisfied with American equipment, General Patton was more effusive in his praise: “We’ve got the finest tanks in the world! We just love to see the German Royal Tiger [Tiger II] come up on the field.” General Campbell concluded that “our commanders…still prefer the ‘more mobile’ lighter and earlier M-4 model for general tactical action.”

Still, the press would not leave the tank issue. Even when the War Department announced the deployment of the new M26, correspondents nagged Eisenhower. On March 18 he wrote to Brigadier General I. D. White, commander of the 2d Armored Division, and Major General Maurice Rose, commander of the 3d Armored Division, that he kept finding newspaper stories in which reporters purportedly quoted noncommissioned officers as saying that American tanks were inferior to German panzers. Eisenhower doubted the truth of these accounts and cited his own conversations with armored soldiers as evidence:

Our men, in general, realize that the Sherman is not capable of standing up in a ding-dong, head-on fight with a Panther. Neither in gun power nor in armor is the present Sherman justified in undertaking such a contest. On the other hand, most of them realize that we have got a job of shipping tanks overseas and therefore do not want unwieldy monsters; that our tank has great reliability, good mobility, and that the gun in it has been vastly improved. Most of them feel also that they have developed tactics that allow them to employ their superior numbers to defeat the Panther tank as long as they are not surprised and can discover the Panther before it has gotten in three or four good shots. I think that most of them know also that we have improved models coming out which even in head-on action are not helpless in front of the Panther and the Tiger.

Eisenhower concluded by asking for White’s and Rose’s personal opinions on the quality of American tanks and for their assessment of the potential of the new M26 tank to cope with the Panther. He also asked for a sampling of their soldiers’ views on the two issues.

White and Rose were quick to respond to Eisenhower’s request. Within two days, White and his staff queried more than 150 officers and enlisted men and prepared a 76-page packet for Eisenhower. White’s comments on his division’s equipment were balanced. He believed that the M4A3E8 with a 76-mm gun was an improvement over earlier models, particularly with HVAP ammunition. Unfortunately, HVAP ammunition remained in short supply, and his tanks had less than four rounds each. Nevertheless, lest Eisenhower conclude wrongly that the HVAP shortage was his central concern, White stressed that “the 76mm gun, even with HVAP ammunition, is not effective at the required ranges at which we must be able to effectively engage enemy armor.” He was concerned that the M26, without HVAP ammunition (none of which had been fielded), would be as disappointing as the M36 tank destroyer, which mounted the same 90-mm gun. White believed that “the most important point, and upon which there is universal agreement, is our lack of a tank gun and anti-tank gun with which we can effectively engage enemy armor at the required range…. The correction of this deficiency has made progress, but the problem has not as yet been satisfactorily solved.”

White’s subordinate officers were more openly critical of their tanks. All believed that the M4 placed a poor second behind the German Panthers and Tigers. Brigadier General J. H. Collier, commander of Combat Command A, wrote that “all personnel in the 66th Armored Regiment” believed that German tanks and antitank weapons had better flotation and mobility than the American models. Furthermore, German gunners had crucial advantages in any engagement since they had better sights, higher-velocity guns, and smokeless powder. Additionally, the “better sloped armor and better silhouette” of the German panzers made them much less vulnerable than American tanks. Collier’s despair over the equipment his men had to fight with must have emboldened him, because he contested some of Eisenhower’s principal rationalizations:

The fact that our equipment must be shipped over long distances does not, in the opinion of our tankers, justify our inferiority. The M4 has proven inferior to the German Mark VI in Africa before the invasion of Sicily, 10 July 1943.

It is my opinion that press reports of statements by high ranking officers to the effect that we have the best equipment in the world do much to discourage the soldier who is using equipment that he knows to be inferior to that of the enemy.

The other officers in the division echoed White’s and Collier’s frustrations with their tanks. For example, Lieutenant Colonel Wilson M. Hawkins, commander of the 3d Battalion, 67th Armor, stated bluntly: “If such a choice were possible, I would prefer to fight in the present German Mark V or VI tank against the present U.S. medium tank and tank destroyer with the 90mm gun.” Colonel S. R. Hinds, commander of Combat Command B, although concurring with the M4’s technical deficiencies, also attacked doctrine: “In spite of the often quoted tactical rule that one should not fight a tank versus tank battle, I have found it necessary, almost invariably, in order to accomplish the mission.”

The comments from the 2d Armored Division’s citizen soldiers were even more damning than those of their officers. Sergeant Chester J. Marczak left little doubt about how he felt:

The German’s high-velocity guns and souped-up ammunition can penetrate our thickest armor. At a range where it would be suicide for us to shoot, they shoot. What we need is more armor, higher velocity, not necessarily a bigger gun, souped-up ammunition, and a means whereby we can maneuver faster, making sharper turns. I’ve seen many times when the air force was called out to wipe out scattered tanks rather than letting our tanks get slaughtered. All of us know that the German tanks are far superior to anything that we have in combat. They are able to maneuver on a space the length of their tank. How can we outflank them when all they have to do is pivot and keep their frontal armor toward us? Their frontal armor is practically invulnerable to our 75’s, except at exceptionally close range—and they never let us get that close. We’ve got a good tank—for parades and training purposes—but for combat they are just potential coffins. I know! I’ve left them burning after the first few rounds of German shells penetrated our thickest armor.

Sergeant Joseph O. Posecoi agreed with Marczak and asked a probing question: “If our tanks aren’t out-armored and out-gunned, why does every outfit that has ever been up against a German Mark V tank use 100 to 150 sand bags for added protection?” Almost every one of the more than 150 respondents recounted his own bitter experience of watching well-aimed rounds bounce off German tanks and of seeing friends die trying to maneuver for a side or rear shot to compensate for the inadequacies of their tank guns.

The soldiers also told how they had been able to contend with the superior German panzers. Sergeant Nick Moceri said it well: “The only reason we’ve gone as far as we have is summed up in ‘Quantity and Co-operation of Arms.‘” Sergeant Harold E. Fulton was even more explicit: “Our best tank weapon, and the boy that has saved us so many times, is the P-47 [fighter airplane].”

Rose’s March 21 response to Eisenhower, although only five pages long, echoed White’s views on American tanks. Rose wrote: “It is my personal conviction that the present M4A3 tank is inferior to the German Mark V.” He told Eisenhower that the soldiers compensated for their “inferior equipment by the efficient use of artillery, air support, and maneuver.” Nevertheless, the burden was clearly on the tank crews, “the individual tanker and gunner, who maneuvers his tank and holds his fire until he is in position most favorable to him.” Rose also told Eisenhower that he had personally seen “projectiles fired by our 75 and 76mm guns bouncing off the front plate of Mark V tanks at ranges of about 600 yards.” This undesirable head-on approach was often unavoidable “due to the canalizing of the avenue of approach of both the German and our tank, which did not permit maneuver.”

Rose’s subordinates also denounced their tanks. The opinion of Staff Sergeant Robert M. Early, a tank commander with nine months’ combat experience, was clear: “I haven’t any confidence in an M4. Jerry armament will knock out an M4 as far as they can see it.” Corporal Albert E. Wilkinson, an M4 gunner, agreed: “We can’t compare with the Jerry tank. We haven’t the armor nor gun.” Finally, Lieutenant Colonel Matthew W. Kane, commander of the 1st Battalion, 32d Armored Regiment, expounded on the price his unit had paid for being equipped with the M4 tank:

This battalion has lost 84 tanks through enemy action in nine months of combat. In a tank versus tank action, our M4 tank is woefully lacking in armor and armament when pitted against the super velocity 75mm or 88mm gun of the German tank. Greater maneuverability and speed have failed to compensate for this deficiency, and our tank losses in the Belgian Bulge were relatively high, even when we were in defensive positions. Crews recognized the deficiencies in our tanks, and know that success on the battlefield is attributable to our superiority in numbers of tanks, and resolve to sustain heavy casualties in men and tanks in order to gain objectives.

Eisenhower, taken aback by White’s and Rose’s opinions, replied immediately: “I feel that your conclusions…should go at once to the War Department, and I am sending them on to General Marshall without delay.”

Unfortunately, at the end of March 1945, little could be done to redress the technological inferiority of American tanks. The Ordnance Department had already pulled out all of the stops to get the M26 to Europe. Again, its efforts would be too little and too late to have any effect. Nevertheless, that the views of General White and General Rose were apparently so unexpected by General Eisenhower is compelling evidence for why American tanks and the doctrine for their use were inadequate. General Eisenhower, the commander whose authority gave him the most power to demand corrective action, was long unaware of any serious problems.

The obvious question is why, as late as the closing weeks of the war, did Eisenhower remain ignorant of the substantial technological inferiority of American tanks? Surely part of the reason was that he was shielded from the truth. His premier tank officers, General Devers and General Patton, had praised existing American equipment. The Army’s chief of ordnance, General Campbell, had promised even more and better tanks. Poor counsel, although a contributory factor, was probably not the central reason Eisenhower was uninformed.

Perhaps a more plausible explanation for Eisenhower’s continued neglect of the tank problem is that it never became a crisis in and of itself. In the hierarchy of disasters that Eisenhower had to contend with, tank failings were simply overshadowed. In Tunisia, when the 1st Armored Division was outgunned by the new Pzkw IVs, Eisenhower’s attention was riveted on the catastrophe at Kasserine Pass. Poorly trained, disheartened troops and faulty leadership were the problems that demanded action. The introduction of the Pzkw VI Tiger I, with its 88-mm gun, was largely overlooked. Americans had not opposed any of the nineteen Tigers the Germans had in North Africa, and the British reportedly had not been overly impressed by the new tank.

After North Africa, Eisenhower focused on preparing for the invasion of France. In the breakout from the beachhead, the euphoria of the rapid advance toward Germany probably suppressed any anxiety over tanks. Under Patton’s determined direction, American armored doctrine had been immensely effective. During the Battle of the Bulge, when the qualitative disparity between American and German tank weapons became patently obvious at the level of the tanker, it remained invisible to Eisenhower. Faced with the destruction of an Army, tanks were a marginal issue. Only when the press paraded the irate comments of his soldiers before him did Eisenhower turn his attention to tanks. By then, it was too late for significant matériel correction.

In the aftermath of victory, General Marshall tried to explain the American tank failures. In his rationalizations, the heritage of two decades of Army assumptions about tank doctrine and technology became clear:

Another noteworthy example of German superiority was in the heavy tank. From the summer of 1943 to the spring of 1945 the German Tiger and Panther tanks outmatched our Sherman tanks in direct combat. This stemmed largely from different concepts of armored warfare held by us and the Germans, and the radical difference in our approach to the battlefield. Our tanks had to be shipped thousands of miles overseas and landed on hostile shores amphibiously. They had to cross innumerable rivers on temporary bridges, since when we attacked we sought to destroy the permanent bridges behind the enemy lines from the air. Those that our planes missed were destroyed by the enemy when he retreated. Therefore our tanks could not well be of the heavy type. We designed our armor as a weapon of exploitation. In other words, we desired to use our tanks in long-range thrusts deep into the enemy’s rear where they could chew up his supply installations and communications. This required great endurance—low consumption of gasoline and ability to move great distances without breakdown.

But while that was the most profitable use of the tank, it became unavoidable in stagnant prepared-line fighting to escape tank-to-tank battles. In this combat, our medium tank was at a disadvantage, when forced into a head-on engagement with the German heavies.

For want of adequate tanks, the U.S. Army had applied an overwhelming armored bludgeon of inferior machines, complemented by enormous air and artillery resources, against a qualitatively superior German panzer technology. Quite simply, the deficiencies of the tank component did not create a crisis for the whole, and the U.S. Army pushed into Germany.