The Romans’ success in conquering and maintaining their enormous empire lay partly in their military culture, their weapons and their training. Rome’s ability to provision large armies at long distances was, however, equally as, or more important to its success. The military history of Rome is not one of continuous victory: indeed the Romans often won wars because, after losing battles—and sometimes entire armies and fleets—they could keep replacing them until the enemy was defeated. Polybius, a keen observer of the Roman military at its height, remarked that “the advantages of the Romans lay in inexhaustible supplies of provisions and men.”

A sophisticated logistical system allowed the Romans to exploit their military resources effectively. The Romans recognized the importance of supply and used it both as a strategic and a tactical weapon and the necessities of military supply influenced and often determined the decisions of the Roman commanders at war. Plutarch even mentions the military slang term for such tactics: “kicking in the stomach” (eis tên gastera enallonomenos). Frontinus cites Caesar, certainly Rome’s greatest general, on the use of logistics in military strategy:

I follow the same policy toward the enemy as did many doctors when dealing with physical ailments, namely, that of conquering the foe by hunger rather than by steel. Logistics in Campaign Planning Traditionally, Roman campaigns began on March 1st: in part to ensure the availability of fodder.

The Romans paid close attention both to raising armies and to the preparations for supplying them. Their habitually careful arrangements made a strong impression, and, given the general neglect of logistics in military history, our sources mention such planning remarkably often. For example, Polybius describes the large-scale Roman preparations for a Gallic invasion as early as 225 B. C.:

[The consuls] enroll[ed] their legions and ordered those of their allies to be in readiness. . . . Of grain, missiles and other war materiel, they laid in such a supply as no one could remember had been collected on any previous occasion.

There are many other examples both in the Republican and the Imperial periods.

Commanders naturally wanted to complete their logistical preparations before operations began. When Quinctius Flamininus was preparing his campaign against Nabis, the tyrant of Sparta, in 195 B. C., the arrival of allied troops, including Macedonians, completed his authorized force. Nevertheless, he still waited until the arrival of the supplies (commeatus) requisitioned from the neighboring Greek states before beginning his offensive. At times, troops were moved first and supplies sent after them. When Sulla had obtained the command of the First Mithridatic War, he marched his army over to Greece and then summoned money, auxiliary troops and supplies from Aetolia and Thessaly.

Some wars broke out unexpectedly and preparations had to be made in haste. Sallust notes that when the consul Spurius Postumius Albinus determined to reopen hostilities with Jugurtha, he “hastened to transport to Africa provisions (commeatus), money for paying the soldiers, and other apparatus of war.” The frequency of Roman conflict, and the experience of Roman officials with warfare, made such impromptu preparations much easier. Other times, military campaigns were planned years in advance.

The Security of Supply Lines

Ensuring that the army continued to receive supplies, despite an enemy’s attempts to interrupt them, remained an important priority in Roman warfare in every period. Provisions reached the army in a variety of ways: by sea and river, overland and through foraging and requisition. In each of these circumstances, enemy action was a threat, and the Romans had to deploy military forces, as well as the application of strategy and tactics, to meet this threat. Rome often found it necessary to prevent the enemy plundering Roman or allied territory: it is noteworthy that the fleet of Gaius Duilius, which won the first major Roman victory of the First Punic War at Mylae (260 B. C.), was sent out to prevent the Carthaginians from plundering the territory of a Roman ally.

Security of Waterborne Transport

Protecting sea-borne transport was vitally important in wartime: enemy action could seriously threaten the army’s supply shipments. There are many instances of such threats. In 217 B. C., for example, the Roman grain fleet supplying the army in Spain was captured by the Punic fleet. A Roman task force was immediately mobilized to set out in pursuit, but the damage had already been done. Plutarch notes that the Macedonian king Perseus during his war against the Romans (172–167 B. C.):

. . . made an unexpected attack upon the Roman fleet which was lying at anchor near Oreus, seized twenty ships of burden with their car- goes, and sank the rest together with the grain that filled them. . . .

The navy of Antiochus III, operating from the Hellespont and Abydos during the war of 192–189 B. C., made frequent raids (excursiones) against Roman cargo ships (onerariae) supplying their army in Greece. Later, Mithridates used his naval superiority in the eastern Mediterranean to cut off supplies to Sulla’s forces in Greece in 87–85 B. C. Attacks on sea-borne supply were important elements in the Civil Wars of the Late Republic. In 42 B. C., a Republican fleet under Statius defeated Dolabella’s fleet at Laodicea, cutting him off from supplies. When Octavian sent a large force by sea to reinforce and resupply the Caesarean army at Philippi, it was attacked and destroyed by the Republican navy.

The Romans routinely used their fleet to protect supply transports in wartime. As early as the First Punic War, the Romans assigned a fleet of 120 warships to provide a convoy for merchant ships bringing supplies for the siege of Lilybaeum (249 B. C.). When the commander of the fleet in 209 B. C., Marcus Valerius Laevinus turned some ships over to the consul Quintus Fabius Maximus for use in the assault on Tarentum, they are called by Livy “the ships which Laevinius had for protecting the supply lines (tutandis commeatibus).” Such protection continued in the late Republic: Sallust, in a speech attributed to the consul Gaius Cotta, and set in 75 B. C., refers to the fleet which “guarded our supplies (commeatus tuebatur).”

Such naval escorts were not always successful. The convoy protecting supplies going to Lilybaeum in 249 B. C., mentioned above, did not prevent the Carthaginians from attacking and seizing several of the merchant vessels. The threat of attack was sometimes more destructive than the attack itself: trying to avoid attack by Carthaginian warships, a Roman supply fleet placed its ships in a dangerous anchorage where a storm destroyed the entire fleet including all the army’s supplies. Whenever possible, a fleet put supplies put ashore before a battle. To prevent them from falling into enemy hands commanders of escorts might scuttle conveyed merchant ships, as the Pompeian admirals Lucretius and Minucius did during the Dyrrachium campaign of 48 B. C. 26 Despite the dangers of attack, supplies transported by sea were generally safer from attack than those sent overland, a point made by Tacitus.

Security of Overland Supply

The army provided escorts for supply convoys bringing provisions to troops in garrison even during peacetime, albeit on a limited scale. An incident from the anti-Roman uprising of Athrongaeus in Palestine around 4 B. C. illustrates the small size of such peace- time escorts. Josephus reports that a single century (80 men at full strength) was escorting a convoy of grain and arms to a legion stationed in Jerusalem, when the rebels ambushed the column near Emmaus. The Romans lost half the century and only the intervention of King Herod’s army saved the rest.

Obviously, moving provisions from the operational base to the army over supply lines provided ample opportunities for attack. Due to the increased danger in war, convoy escorts were, of course, considerably larger than in peacetime. A tribune commanded the forces that escorted a supply convoy bringing provisions to the army of Pompeius Aulus in Spain in 141 B. C. Appian does not give the size of the escort, but a tribune would have commanded at least several centuries and possibly a cohort or more.

An escort’s size was not the only factor in successful defense of a convoy. While accompanying a supply convoy to Lucullus’s army from Cappadocia in 71 B. C., a Roman force defeated an attack by Mithridates’s cavalry: the Pontic force had attacked the convoy in a defile, a more easily defensible position, instead of waiting until it reached open country. An escort also had to maintain a disciplined defense cordon, even if the column was proceeding to pick up sup- plies. Tacitus notes the lack of security in an unloaded supply column going to Novaesium from the Roman forces at Gelduba in 69 A. D., during the revolt of Julius Civilis. The troops assigned to defend it moved as if there were no danger:

. . . the cohorts escorting [the convoy] were proceeding as if in time of peace, that there were few soldiers with the standards, that their arms were being carried in carts (vehicula) while they all strolled along at will, he drew up his forces and attacked them, sending first some troops to occupy the bridges and narrow parts of roads.

The column was unable to make it to Novaesium and had to fight its way back to Gelduba without fulfilling its mission. In order to secure its supply lines, an army had to pacify the area between the operational base and the tactical base. This is why Vespasian did not immediately attack Jerusalem when he arrived on the scene in 67 A. D.: if he left hostile forces behind him, in Galilee and Samaria, the rebels would have been in a position to cut off his supply lines. Therefore, he spent an entire campaigning season taking important fortresses in the north of Palestine.

Providing a series of depots between the operational and tactical base was not only a question of “leap-frogging” supplies forward. Depots were generally placed within fortifications, as at Rödgen and South Shields and they served to secure provisions from enemy attack. Therefore, the sources often refer to them as “forts” (castella or phrouria). Vegetius describes this practice:

Among the things particularly incumbent upon a general . . . is to see that the transportation of grain and other provisions . . . is rendered secure from hostile attack. The only way to achieve this is to plant garrisons at suitable points through which our supply-trains pass. These may be cities or walled forts. If no old fortifications are available, temporary forts (castella) are established in favorable positions [and] a number of infantry and cavalry stationed in them on outpost duty provide a safe passage for supplies.

Brutus used fortified lines to protect his supply lines at Philippi (42 B. C.).

The use of fortified depots considerably reduced the risk of attack to supply lines. Once a rear area had been pacified, though, the danger of convoyed supplies, which at first glance seem very vulnerable, was actually rather small. Lacking firearms or explosives, the ambushing party in antiquity usually had to rely on superior numbers to overwhelm a convoy. Even if the enemy knew the likely route of a convoy, the exact time of its movement would not be predictable, so a large ambushing force would have had to wait in enemy territory, itself vulnerable to surprise attack.

Naturally, armies have a tendency to use their worst troops to garrison depots and operational bases, not to mention escort duty, leaving the best soldiers for combat. Livy explicitly states that after the consuls filled their legions with the best troops, they assigned the “surplus” (ceteri ) to garrison duty. In the Republican period, the Romans sometimes used their least reliable Italian allies to defend supply lines, sometimes with unfortunate results. In 218 B. C., Dasius of Brundisium commanded the garrison of Clastidium, in which a great quantity of grain had been stored for the Roman army. He betrayed the city to Hannibal for 400 gold pieces. The city’s capture not only hurt the Romans, but relieved the Carthaginians of considerable supply difficulties. When Manlius Vulso set up an operational base on the Lake of Timavus in his Istrian campaign of 178 B. C., he garrisoned it with a single reserve cohort (repentina cohors) and a few legionary centuries. The Istrians, seeing the weakness of the Roman defense, attacked the base and captured it. Only the barbarian drunkenness that followed, and the timely arrival of Gallic auxiliaries and of part of another legion (which had been foraging nearby) restored the situation, and the base, to the Romans.

Since Roman marching camps also functioned as supply bases, camp security was especially important. The Romans were justifiably famous for their security measures while encamping. Such measures involved both fortification and maintaining the discipline necessary to proper security. This system sometimes broke down, as it did in Albinus’s army in Numidia. Sallust notes that in this case:

. . . [his] camps were not fortified, nor was watch kept in a military fashion, men absented themselves from duty whenever they pleased.

It was no doubt at least partly for logistical reasons that the consul Caecilius Metellus reestablished security in his famous reform of the army in 109 B. C.

Military Strength and Weakness of the Imperial Roman Army




The gradual changes in the nature of the Roman army between the time of Tiberius and 235 certainly affected both Roman society and the empire’s internal power-struggles. Did they also affect Rome’s strength at the periphery? The really big changes were three, though they had all started well before Tiberius’ accession. The first was the regular organization of ‘auxiliary’ troops into quasi-permanent units in which they would normally serve for twenty-five years before being made Roman citizens on discharge, a system set up by Augustus and refined by his successors. As in centuries past, such troops often outnumbered the legionaries, and their effectiveness was of profound importance.

That leads, secondly, to the matter of recruitment. In the era of the civil wars of 49 to 31 bc, and under Augustus, provincials had entered the legions in large numbers. Recruits came from Roman-colonial or Romanized communities, but also from others: thus an inscription of the early Principate (ILS 2483) shows that almost all the soldiers in the two legions stationed in Egypt had been recruited in non-citizen communities in the eastern provinces (their lingua franca was Greek). All over the empire, the more Romanized provinces provided more and more of the legionaries, while Italians – who made up the bulk of the better-paid praetorian guard – provided fewer and fewer. The authorities were now quite willing in practice to recruit non-citizens, giving them citizenship when they were sworn in. This ‘provincialization’ probably reflected some Roman/Italian reluctance to serve (Italy was too prosperous) but also some intention on the emperors’ part to bring provincials into the mainstream. From Hadrian’s reign on, the normal pattern (though not in Britain) was to recruit legionaries in the provinces where they were needed, but from relatively Romanized/Hellenized elements (and legionaries were more likely than ‘auxiliaries’ to be literate). This was by and large a well-organized and disciplined force; and fighting spirit was probably not lacking either, at least down to Trajan’s time – when battle-commanders chose to entrust the initial impact of the fighting to ‘auxiliary’ units and keep the legionaries in reserve, a procedure that is first attested in a major battle at Idastaviso in Germany in AD 16 (Tacitus, Annals 2.16.3), there could be a variety of tactical reasons.

‘Auxiliary’ recruitment was quite different: the government concentrated on fringe areas such as Iberian Galicia and Thrace, simply supplying officers from the core area of the empire; such units were commonly posted away from their home areas, Britons for example in Upper Germany, while the auxilia in Britain itself might, for example, be Batavian or Syrian. Eventually, but unfortunately we do not know when, Rome also began to employ soldiers who are unlikely to have felt themselves to be Roman subjects: Marcus sent 5,500 cavalry of the Transdanubian Iazyges, whom he had just subdued, to serve in Britain (Dio 71.16). There were Goths garrisoning Arabia in 208, and Goths later took part in Valerian’s war against the Persians. This was probably an increasing trend, but it is hard to tell how much the armies of, say, Constantine and Licinius were really dependent on Goths or Arabs, whom they are known to have made use of.

The other military change of potentially great importance in the period prior to 235 was not so much that many units in the Roman army became ‘sedentary’ from generation to generation, becoming deeply involved in essentially administrative duties, but that many Roman soldiers never experienced battle. This army had never been invincible, but its deplorable failure to protect the Danube frontier in 170–1 suggests significant changes for the worse. Enemy forces reached northern Italy for the first time in some 270 years, while others, as already mentioned, raided as far south as Attica. Our sources on all this are poor, but it may be conjectured that a shortage of officers and soldiers seasoned by warfare had a great deal to do with Rome’s failure, and this in turn was the indirect result of conscious policy. In other respects, the Romans were normally at an advantage: throughout this period they were superior to their opponents in important areas such as artillery and engineering (‘the soldiers are always practising bridge-building’, Dio 71.3).

Temporary causes admittedly contributed, and the Danube line still had a long future. Marcus Aurelius, as we have seen, had had to raise two new legions about 165 to replace the three which his co-ruler Verus had taken from the Rhine and Danube to the east in order to fight the Parthians. Shortly thereafter, the Roman military in the north suffered seriously from the Great Pestilence, as recent studies have demonstrated. Marcus himself had had no military or even provincial experience before 168 – and it showed. Imperial coin-types furthermore had often exaggerated the emperors’ military achievements, and there was a risky deception involved when coin-types absurdly declared in 172–4 ‘Germania subacta’ – ‘Germany has been vanquished’.

Few historians have really tried to evaluate the Severan army, and the evidence is slippery. Even republican armies sometimes mutinied, and there were whole rhetorical topoi about undisciplined soldiery. But an army stationed in Mesopotamia that was mutinous enough to assassinate the provincial governor (about 227, Dio 80.4.2) was a very negative symptom (and see below on the year 235).

We have quite a lot of information about how the Roman army changed between Severan times and Constantine, but assessing its ability to do its job is nonetheless difficult. On the one hand it never, unlike the republican army, won battles it might well have lost, on the other it never, unlike the late-antique Roman army, lost battles that it ought to have won. We have little option but to judge it by its results, though these may be mainly attributable not to its own qualities but to those of its generals, or its logistics, or its enemies, or to any combination of these factors. Recent accounts of Rome’s military performance in this 100-year period are unsatisfactory, but our sources are admittedly tenuous to a degree, whether it is for the defeat at Abrittus in 251 or the battle nine years later in which, or after which, the Persians captured the emperor Valerian (some Roman sources naturally preferred to claim that he was captured by trickery).

Tiberius already knew that it was worth keeping two legions in Dalmatia partly in order to back up the legions on the Danube (Tacitus, Annals 4.5). Later Roman emperors eventually concluded that the long-standing dispositions of the Roman army, with the great majority of the soldiers stationed on or near the frontiers, were ill adapted to resisting major invasions that might come from different directions. It had always been necessary to balance the needs of the Danube frontier and the Euphrates frontier, but both became more dangerous in late-Severan times. Once Rome surrendered the initiative, the distances involved presented an almost insoluble problem: it took something over two months, for example, for troops to travel from Rome to Cologne. The best that could be done was to create a reserve army that could be sent wherever it was needed without weakening some vital garrison. It appears to have been Gallienus who created a central cavalry force (cf. Zosimus, New History 1.40, Cedrenus, i, p. 454 Bekker). The development of these comitatenses, as they came to be called, is impossible to follow in any detail, but Constantine apparently expanded their role (Zosimus 2.21.1 may refer to such troops), while also centralizing the command structure of the army by means of an overall infantry commander (the magister peditum) and a parallel cavalry commander (the magister equitum). Nonetheless it remained difficult to counter any large invasion once it had passed the northern or eastern frontiers. An enterprising governor might raise a local militia (populares: AÉ 1993 no. 1231b shows us a governor of Raetia doing this in 260), but they would be largely untrained and untried.

The reliefs on the Arch of Constantine distinguish between his Roman and his ‘barbarian’ troops, which raises again the complex question of whether Rome was now relying too much on troops who were merely mercenaries. According to the emperor Julian (Caesars 329a), Constantine ‘practically paid tribute’ to the barbarians, and modern accounts suppose that he and his rival Licinius made Rome significantly more reliant on German and other non-Roman troops than any previous ruler; but the ill effects do not yet seem to be visible.

The strength of the Roman Empire’s numerous and various neighbours to the north, east, and south can only be judged, once again, by the results, their aims likewise. From Tiberius’ time to Trajan’s, those who kept their freedom from Rome and their territorial integrity were doing well; this applies mainly to the Romans’ failure to advance far beyond the Rhine and to hold on to Mesopotamia. The incursions of the 160s–70s and of the 240s–60s showed a great deal of vigour. The invaders’ goal was often plunder, including human beings, which the Roman Empire offered in abundance. Dio (71.16) asserts that the Iazyges had taken far more than ‘ten myriads’ of prisoners in Roman territory – a five- rather than a six-digit number, one might think. (Some of the third-century booty has been recovered from the bed of the Rhine, rafts having apparently sunk). Not even Sasanian Persia, the most powerful external enemy Rome faced in this period, showed any determination to hold on to any Roman province, and in fact it had no reliable means of protecting its own core area against Roman forces that were always relatively near. But northern peoples had already in the second century extracted territorial concessions of a sort, obtaining lands within the Roman frontier. This practice went back to Julio-Claudian times. Initially the advantages to Rome probably outweighed the disadvantages; whether that continued to hold true in and after Marcus Aurelius’ time we shall consider in a moment. It certainly looks like a major surrender to strong outside pres- sure. Purchasing the docility of outside enemies by means of payments, unless it was a short-lived tactical expedient, was likewise a recognition of real enemy strength: this started with Domitian, but involved Trajan, Hadrian, and many later emperors. Yet from a Roman point of view, this was by no means an irrational policy, within limits.

Fundamental changes had taken place by the time the conglomeration of Germans known as the Alamanni (‘All Men’), who are first attested in a Roman source in 213, inflicted quite serious harm in 232–3. This was nothing less perhaps than the birth of a new national formation. What made a difference here was probably in the end quite simple: such a new grouping, like the Franks from about 260, could put larger forces into the field than any single German people. But the tetrarchs and Constantine could always, it seems, defeat the northern peoples on the battlefield.

US Army Independent Tank Battalion Combat Operations I


Organizational change and doctrinal definition did not adequately prepare independent tank battalions for actual combat conditions. The first encounter with German forces occurred in December 1942 during combat in Tunisia. A company of the 70th Tank Battalion was roughly handled and suffered extensive losses. The effectiveness of independent tank battalions tended to improve over time, but they could not always secure their own materiel and personnel requirements. Replacements and parts proved difficult to obtain since the independent tank battalions belonged to no division. As attachments, their needs often received a low priority from senior commanders more concerned with permanently assigned organizations.

The independent tank battalions also gained a reputation for ineffectiveness. Consequently, infantry divisions preferred to seek armored support from armored divisions whose tank battalions they considered better led and combat worthy. In some instances, infantry commanders requested armored division support, deliberately ignoring the presence of separate tank units already assigned. Avoidance of the independent tank battalions reflected the higher profile of the armored divisions and the attention given these formations. The second-string status afforded the independent tank battalions by the Armored Force did little to ensure they received the best personnel.

In North Africa and Italy, the 1st Armored Division tried to improve the leadership and effectiveness of several independent tank battalions. It did so by replacing the battalion commanders with officers from its own ranks. Later, preparing to breakout from the Anzio beachhead, the 1st Armored Division grouped all independent tank battalions under its supervision. The formation then assumed responsibility for meeting all training, supply, and maintenance requirements.

Despite these improvements, combat operations in 1944 continued to reflect difficulties in tank-infantry coordination. Combined operations by tanks and dismounted forces received insufficient emphasis in stateside training programs. Proposed solutions included pairing a tank battalion and an infantry division for combined training and employing them in combat as a team. Field commanders recommended a more permanent alignment of tank units and infantry formations, stimulated by their own combat experience and the German Army’s embodiment of this concept in its panzer grenadier divisions.

Tank battalions were intended for temporary attachment to infantry divisions. The effectiveness of their support increased with the length of attachment. Longer assignments improved teamwork and cohesion. Hence, where possible, corps and army headquarters in the European Theater of Operations sought to keep the same tank battalions and infantry divisions together. Regular attachment to the same infantry formation helped eliminate the perception among infantry commanders that the tank battalions were not part of the division team.

Routine attachments between specific tank battalions and infantry divisions never became universal. While semipermanent attachments predominated in Third Army, some tank units experienced nearly continuous reattachment, which precluded the establishment of tactical cohesion. In Italy, for example, one tank battalion underwent eleven different reattachments in a thirty-one-day period. An additional four reassignments were planned but subsequently aborted. The same unit had already logged six hundred miles during the months of May and June 1944 alone. This mileage reflected continuous operations that generated vehicle maintenance and crew fatigue problems. Unfortunately, the actual combat status of the vehicles remained largely invisible. Designated a corps asset, the unit remained on standby status until a subordinate division requested tank support. The tank battalion was dispatched, the operation conducted, and the battalion made available for a new assignment. Each new division assumed the tank unit was fresh and employed it accordingly. Consequently, the unit drifted from one mission to the next until its combat effectiveness evaporated.

Poor planning and coordination only compounded the problem of continuous reattachment. Each support assignment necessitated shifting armored liaison teams, obtaining new information on friendly force plans, and developing a fresh situational analysis to guide the manner in which tanks would enter combat. These actions required time that often was not available, and they simply were not conducted. Tank battalion commanders in Italy often entered combat with little situational awareness other than what they could observe themselves. To overcome this problem, they created their own liaison officers to coordinate operations with infantry divisions, regwiments, and battalions. Even this solution was nullified by the all-too-often receipt of vague, last-minute orders. Liaison aircraft, when available, offered better results. They were employed to identify friendly force dispositions, targets, and potential ambush locations.

Even stabilized attachments did not ensure harmony between the tank battalion and supported infantry. Because infantry units did not routinely train with tanks, infantry officers often had little knowledge of tank capabilities or requirements. Consequently, they employed tank support without respect to their special needs and planning requirements.

Infantry officers at the battalion, regiment, and division staff levels all required better education in tank operations. Tank battalion commanders sought to improvise their own solutions. The 743d Tank Battalion, for example, divided its staff into three sections and assigned each to an infantry regiment in the division supported. These sections provided information and advice concerning armored operations. Still better results were obtained when an infantry formation undertook training with tank units. Some formations established their own training lanes and worked through tactical exercises with attached tank units. In this manner the 29th Infantry Division achieved considerable cohesion with the 747th Tank Battalion.

Similarly, tank-infantry teams in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of Operations did not always work well together, resulting in separation and combat losses. Sixth Army had several instances of tank units advancing and seizing an objective only to retreat because of the absence of supporting infantry to secure the position. Ineffective engineer support resulted in significant numbers of tanks becoming immobilized during stream crossings or destroyed by mines. Too often tanks found themselves isolated without any dismounted support. They quickly became the targets of Japanese close-assault tactics.

Although tanks and tank destroyers proved effective in reducing strong points and fortified positions, infantry commanders either distrusted the weapon, as in the case of the tank destroyer, or did not understand how best to employ it. On Okinawa, the lack of confidence expressed by infantry commanders toward supporting armor undermined effective cooperation. Efforts to micromanage tank usage without regard to the recommendations of armored personnel generated friction and reduced combat effectiveness. As the island battle continued, greater cohesion began to emerge and more latitude was granted to tank commanders in the conduct of their assigned operations. Teamwork began to characterize tank-infantry action. Tanks blasted caves and ridgelines immediately before the advance of riflemen. Flamethrower tanks then followed to eliminate all vestiges of resistance.

Regardless of the level of teamwork, tank-infantry teams suffered from poor communications on the battlefield. This problem became particularly acute during operations in the Normandy bocage in June and July 1944. For six weeks Allied forces struggled through several hundred square miles of fields bordered by thick hedges sunk into high embankments. These hedgerows impeded both infantry and vehicular movement, requiring ground forces to develop ad hoc techniques to breach them. The Germans became adept at organizing integrated defenses in these hedgerows that transformed the enclosed farmlands into killing fields for Allied forces.

The Normandy hedgerows limited tank employment to platoon and section elements. Tanks provided close fire support to advancing infantry, but the tank radios did not work on the same frequency as the handsets used by the infantry. Too often planned attacks disintegrated under enemy fire. The infantry became pinned while the tanks drove off unaware of the plight of the riflemen. The inability of the infantry to communicate with the armor via radio resulted in desperate attempts to recall the tanks. Infantry climbed on the tanks and banged on the hatches, threw rocks at the vehicles, and even fired short machine-gun bursts at the turrets. None of these measures produced the desired result, particularly in the close, complex terrain of the hedgerows, where the wary tankers were more likely to consider all such activity hostile.

Issuing infantry handsets to tank commanders proved more effective, but the riflemen possessed only limited numbers of such radios. Those ones lent to the tankers tended to suffer high loss rates. Some units therefore mounted on the back of the tanks field phones that linked into the vehicles’ intercom systems. This setup permitted the infantry company or platoon commander to talk directly to the armored leader. The simple solution worked in combat, and it became a trademark of American tanks in the postwar years. Although common in the First and Ninth Armies, this solution to battlefield communications never became universal and problems of tank-infantry coordination plagued the Army to the war’s end. Even where the field phones were available, infantry personnel were not always trained in their use. Tank crews also found that field-phone use increased the rate of radiotube burnout and drained the vehicle’s batteries. It also lowered the volume of the tank’s internal communication system-a potentially serious problem in combat. In the Pacific Theater, soldiers using the field phone became sniper targets.


US Army Independent Tank Battalion Combat Operations II


Tank battalion combat effectiveness also depended on vehicle maintenance. These units included only limited maintenance assets. Generally, maintenance suffered from deficiencies in spare parts and tank transporters and many personnel lacked training in tank maintenance skills. The transient status of the tank battalions often resulted in minimal support from the heavy ordnance companies assigned to parent corps and division formations. Continuous reattachment precluded the establishment of a steady source of parts and maintenance support. Consequently, the tank battalions faced a burgeoning maintenance problem during the course of sustained combat activity.

The 746th Tank Battalion remained in continuous operations from June through November 1944, during a period when no extensive maintenance occurred. The state of the vehicles suffered accordingly. Even when sufficient spare parts were obtained, the battalion had insufficient transport for them. In combat, its recovery vehicles proved less than useful. When advanced to extract knocked-out or disabled tanks, their unique look quickly drew enemy fire. Consequently, the battalion resorted to using tanks to tow tanks. This practice saved recovery vehicles but increased the automotive wear on the combat vehicles.

Many of these maintenance problems could and were overcome when a division or corps headquarters deliberately sought to alleviate them. In the XX Corps, an ordnance company was designated to serve all attached tank battalions. This arrangement resulted in excellent maintenance support. Indeed, the level of support was considered the best in the European Theater. In Italy, the 1st Armored Division made similar provisions to sustain separate tank battalions with equally positive results. Some commanders sought a simpler solution by trying to obtain tanks with Ford engines, which were believed to require less maintenance.

The problems associated with the separate tank battalions led to recommendations for their elimination in the postwar era. In lieu of a pool of battalions for attachment, the wartime experience encouraged a desire to make tank battalions organic to the infantry division. Infantry and armored leaders believed that such an arrangement would eliminate the cohesion, coordination, and attachment problems experienced during combat operations. Other recommendations included the removal of the light-tank and mortar companies and the addition of a properly equipped and trained ordnance company.

These proposals aimed at improving tank-infantry coordination within the infantry division rather than the elimination of the tank support. By war’s end the independent tank battalions had evolved into important assets. They had demonstrated their worth in hedgerow, wooded, and urban terrain-areas previously considered off-limits to tanks. The principal wartime difficulties included lack of combined-arms training, ineffective communications, and a doctrine that reflected prewar notions of tank massing rather than the actual needs of infantry formations. Once independent tank battalions overcame these difficulties, their effectiveness increased.

Rejection of Independent Tank Battalion Doctrine

Imbued with the doctrine of mass, the independent tank battalions deployed to theaters of operation. The notion of employing tanks in battalion or multibattalion concentrations, however, did not survive contact with infantry division commanders. Once attached to a division, the medium tanks were broken into company and platoon increments and given support missions with different infantry battalions. The most common distribution was one medium tank platoon per infantry battalion, but no universal standard applied. Within the 12th Army Group, for example, tanks were sometimes assigned to support infantry on the basis of one company per regiment. However allocated, the mission of the tanks remained the same: support the main effort as indicated by the infantry division, regiment, or battalion commander.

The de facto breakup of the tank battalions into platoon parcels nullified the rationale behind the battalion’s self-contained organization. The medium tank companies constituted the principal combat power of the battalion. Scattered among different infantry regiments and battalions, the tank battalion remnant possessed little intrinsic value as a combat unit. It too was split among different functions. The light tank company found employment conducting special operations for the supported division or providing an additional reconnaissance asset. Alternatively, some divisions used light-tank platoons to reinforce the medium-tank companies. However, the weak armor and armament of the light tanks limited their use in this capacity. The battalion’s mortar platoon was either not employed, or it reinforced the infantry division’s mortars. The reconnaissance platoon performed route and bivouac reconnaissance or liaison functions. The assault gun platoon often was organized into three sections, each assigned to a medium tank company for additional firepower.

Without a unit to command, the battalion headquarters lost much of its purpose. The battalion commander served as an armored adviser to the division commander, whereas the battalion’s staff continued to provide administrative support to the scattered tank units. Maintenance and supply functions became problematical, because no direct conduit existed between the battalion headquarters and the tanks. Arguably, the most effective use of the battalion staff lay in the role of liaison officers. In this capacity, they could at least participate-albeit indirectly-in the combat employment of the tank companies and platoons.

Assignment of the battalion’s single artillery forward observer constituted another problem. Most tank companies had no designated forward observer. Instead they relied on tank platoon leaders to call for fire missions. However, these commanders lacked training in this task, and their effectiveness varied. Recommendations to cross-train tank and field artillery officers soon resulted. In any event, the availability of artillery support could not be guaranteed, even when a trained observer was present. In the Ninth Army, for example, artillery support became a rarity after an attached observer was nearly killed on two different occasions.

The dispersal of tank assets reduced the level of armored support from an entire battalion to companies and platoons. Against fortified positions, in urban settings, and in the Normandy hedgerows, tank sections constituted the principal form of tank support. Leading assaults, providing support by fire and bunker busting, and sometimes acting as reinforcing artillery were all common missions. The tanks generally moved with the infantry and engaged targets that threatened or obstructed the latter. Against fortifications they provided suppressive fire that permitted engineers to close with and destroy the defensive works. On the defensive, tanks were often assigned a sector to support and tank platoon leaders prepared contingency plans for a counterattack. Foreshadowing the Korean War experience, tanks sometimes were used as static pillboxes.

In the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of Operations, tank battalions faced a different type of threat. The Japanese Army did not possess a strong tank force; its tanks were usually used in small numbers to support infantry actions. However, Japanese infantry employed a variety of techniques to destroy or immobilize American tanks. Mines were used extensively along trails used by tanks; infantry frequently attacked tanks, using surrounding jungle terrain to get close to the vehicles; ambushes staged near knocked-out vehicles targeted recovery teams. In defensive engagements with American forces, Japanese soldiers employed extensive fortifications and natural terrain obstacles, forcing attackers to expend time and casualties to remove them.

American tank battalions thus found themselves employed in companies and platoons against local objectives not unlike their counterparts in Europe. They spearheaded infantry attacks, provided fire support, and used their weapons to suppress or eliminate specific positions. They also served in an artillery role, providing fire support directed by a spotter. To thwart Japanese night attacks, tank spotlights were used to highlight targets for supporting infantry to engage. Tank mobility proved sufficient to keep pace with the infantry, but the rugged terrain in the jungles and on some of the Pacific islands often resulted in mired tanks.






During the Java War (1825–1830), the Dutch government was forced to create a new type of military force to deal with that rebellion. This military force consisted of a professional army of Dutch officers, coupled with native Indonesian troops. These troops made up an army that operated against native populations, and a force that was not dependent on Dutch citizens to maintain its strength.

In 1830 Governor-General Johannes van den Bosch (1780–1844) officially organized these colonial forces into the Oost-Indisch Leger (East Indies Army). This army operated as the military arm of the colonial administration, with naval assistance provided by the Royal Netherlands Navy. From 1830 to 1870, the Oost- Indisch Leger was employed to control the numerous rebellions cropping up throughout the physical territory of the colony. Many wars, such as the Padri War (1821– 1836), were ongoing conflicts that were downgraded to allow the Oost-Indisch Leger to concentrate on more pressing matters, like the Java War. In the case of Bali in 1846 and 1848, the Oost-Indisch Leger, or Leger, was employed to force the local raja to honor agreements, and to prevent other nations from influencing Indonesian trade.

In 1867 the ‘‘Accountability Law’’ separated the finances of the Netherlands and its colony in the East Indies. This ruling enabled the East Indies to create its own Department of War (Department van Oorlog), and the colony became responsible for its own financing of military operations.

Beginning in the late 1860s, the problem of Aceh, a province on the island of Sumatra, began to rise to prominence within the colony. Aceh had operated independently for several decades, but the opening of the Suez Canal renewed its importance to trade within the Dutch East Indies. The rising influence of other nations in the internal politics of Aceh compelled the Netherlands Indies to send forces to control the region and force its submission to Dutch authority.

The Aceh War lasted from 1873 to 1903, and the conflict forced the Oost-Indisch Leger to change its tactics in the field. Initially, efforts were made to control Aceh’s territory through the use of a fortified line of outposts intended to contain the guerillas and marshal the limited resources of the colony. Soon, the Geconcentreerde Linie (Concentrated Line), which was a fortified line of sixteen forts protecting the town of Kutaraja, operated more as a prison for colonial troops that were constantly being harassed by Acehnese guerillas. The Leger employed a more modern force in the field that was made up of infantry battalions supported by artillery, cavalry, and engineers who were led by more professional officers like Colonel J. B. van Heutsz (1851– 1924). These officers were also employed as civilian administrators (officier-civiel gezaghebber) as a way to control the outer reaches of the colony. These officers acted as civil administrators during times of peace, and as military officers during war.

To further control areas occupied by the government, a force known as the Korps Marechaussee (District Police) was created in 1893. This corps consisted of select native infantrymen commanded by Dutch officers. These companies were armed with carbines and klewangs (native short swords), and operated without coolie trains (supply trains consisting of forced native labor), which allowed them to rapidly move against a native threat. The operations of the Korps Marechaussee were mostly directed toward the native population in an effort to control the resistance. These light troops committed atrocities against local tribes in their attempts to control the Acehnese people and find suspected guerrillas.

By the twentieth century, the Leger began to change its focus from subjugation of rebellious island natives to the control of Indonesian society. The colony was nearly pacified, but the influence of Islamic and communist groups began to grow into a source of trouble for the colony. The Leger began to experiment with aircraft in 1914, and an airborne auxiliary was soon started for field service. To maintain force levels, laws were soon passed to make military service mandatory for Dutch citizens, and native conscription was being considered by the colony.

In the 1920s, two attempted revolts by the Indonesian Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia) signaled efforts by both the colony’s police and army to control dissent within the islands. Units were established to monitor political groups with the threat of exile or imprisonment in the Boven Digual Prison for political prisoners. In 1927 the Hague government set down the ‘‘Principles of Defense,’’ whereby the colony was to protect Dutch authority within the islands against possible rebellion first, before assisting the Netherlands in its national obligations.

In 1933 the Oost-Indisch Leger was renamed Koninklijk Nederlandsch Indsch Leger (KNIL), or the Royal Netherlands Indies Army. During that time, the KNIL numbered around 35,000 men, of which 5,000 were deployed from the Netherlands. In addition, there was a militia (landsturm) that fielded a force of 8,000 men. The KNIL operated training facilities at Meester Cornelis and Magelang on the island of Java for all branches, as well as its small armor force. The air forces of the colony operated second-rate aircraft from counties such as the United States and Great Britain. The navy remained under the control of the Royal Netherlands Navy, and consisted of three cruisers, seven destroyers, a number of smaller ships, and fifteen submarines.

With the German invasion and occupation of the Netherlands in 1940, the colony became one of the last areas of Dutch control. But the East Indies soon found itself facing an outside foe in Japan. The Netherlands declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941, but faced invasion in January 1942. The Japanese conquest of Indonesia lasted roughly three months. The KNIL found itself overwhelmed by the Japanese military forces, and the fighting renewed regional guerrilla activity in the field. The Dutch prisoners were sent to labor and prison camps, and native KNIL troops were given the opportunity to join the Japanese local forces, known as PETA (Pembela Tanah Air).

In 1945 Australian and Dutch forces landed in Tarakan to begin the liberation of the Dutch colony. The Japanese formally surrendered, and agreed to return the East Indies to the Dutch in August 1945. PETA units soon converted into an active revolutionary front against the Allied forces to win freedom for Indonesia. A month later, the government of the Netherlands East Indies was formally back in power, and KNIL prisoners were ordered back into service to regain control over the colony.

For a period of five years, the KNIL units fought to reestablish their colony against the Indonesian independence movement. Regular Royal Dutch Army units soon joined the KNIL in an attempt to win back their former colony. The KNIL units were mostly made up of troops of Dutch citizenry, and the total Dutch commitment ranged from 20,000 to 92,000 troops fighting in Indonesia. One of the worse units was the Korps Speciale Troepen, which was led by Captain Raymond Westerling (1919–1987). This force was similar to the Korps Marechaussee, and war crimes were committed to control the growth of the rebellion. In 1947 roughly 3,000 people were executed by elements of the KNIL over a period of two months. Due to pressure from the international community and a successful guerrilla movement, the Netherlands agreed to transfer control to the new Republic of Indonesia on November 2, 1949.

On July 20, 1950, the KNIL was officially disbanded by the government of the Netherlands. The effects of this force on Indonesian politics were still being felt after the collapse of the Dutch colonial administration. Much of the military training of the early leaders of the Indonesian independence movement was obtained when the men served as privates and noncommissioned officers of the KNIL. One example was Suharto (b. 1921), president of Indonesia from 1967 to 1998, who rose from private to sergeant in the KNIL before World War II.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Brown, Colin. A Short History of Indonesia: The Unlikely Nation? Crows Nest, NSW, Australia: Allen and Unwin, 2003. Gimon, Charles A. ‘‘Sejarah Indonesia: An Online Timeline of Indonesian History.’’ Available from http://www.gimonca.com. Klerck, E. S. de. History of the Netherlands East Indies, Vol. 2. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Brusse, 1938. Poeze, Harry A. ‘‘Political Intelligence in the Netherlands Indies.’’ In The Late Colonial State in Indonesia: Political and Economic Foundations of the Netherlands Indies, 1880–1942, edited by Robert Cribb, 229-243. Leiden, Netherlands: KITLV, 1994. Vandenbosch, Amry. The Dutch East Indies: Its Documents, Problems, and Politics. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1942. van den Doel, H. W. ‘‘Military Rule in the Netherlands Indies.’’ In The Late Colonial State in Indonesia: Political and Economic Foundations of the Netherlands Indies, 1880–1942, edited by Robert Cribb, 1-75. Leiden, Netherlands: KITLV, 1994. Willmott, H. P. Empires in the Balance: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies to April 1942. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1982.


German Army Reorganisation 1943 I


The invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 was planned as the last of Hitler’s Blitzkrieg campaigns. In the summer of 1943, how ever, the fighting in the East was absorbing the greater part of the German war effort. On the Eastern Front there were 168 divisions (3.1 million men), with six SS and twelve Luftwaffe field divisions, and 3000 tanks. In other theatres there were seventy-five divisions (1.4 million) men, with five SS and ten Luftwaffe field divisions, and 1300 tanks. In France, where an Allied invasion loomed, there were forty-four field divisions, mostly of poor quality, and 860 tanks, of which half were captured French vehicles. In Italy, which was now more immediately threatened, there were seven divisions and 570 tanks.

The successful conclusion of Manstein’s counter-offensive could not mask the declining strength of the Ostheer. General Thomas, head of the economics section at OKW, estimated that, while losses in the East up to Stalingrad represented the equivalent of about fifty fully equipped divisions, in the battle for Stalingrad alone the equivalent of forty-five divisions were lost. At the end of March 1943, as the front stabilized in the East, the Ostheer was 470,000 men below establishment.


Divisionsabzeichen der 18. Panzer-Division der Wehrmacht

Front-line formations had been shredded by the fighting. The 18th Panzer Division, established in the autumn of 1940, began the war against the Soviet Union as a formation of 17,174 (including 400 officers and administrative personnel) in Guderian’s Panzer Group 2. In the first three weeks of the invasion the division lost 60 per cent of its tanks, and on 11 July the divisional commander expressed fears that the loss of men and equipment would prove insupportable ‘if we do not intend to win ourselves to death’. In August 1941 18th Panzer was re-equipped, but by November it had lost all its tanks. When the Soviet counter-offensive burst upon the Ostheer on 6 December 1941, the division had only 50 per cent of its original combat strength and 25 per cent of its vehicles. The divisional chaplain wrote in his diary: ‘This is no longer the old division. All around are new faces. When one asks after somebody, the same reply is always given: dead or wounded. Most of the rifle company commanders are new, most of the old ones are gone.’ The division spent 1942 in the Zhisdra area where, in July, it sustained 1406 casualties in the first four days of the German summer offensive. The chaplain noted that the colonel of one of the worst hit regiments ‘stands silently in front of the long row of graves: “There lies my old guard. In reality we should also be there. Then it would all be over.”‘

In September 1941, 18th Panzer had a combat strength of 9616 men (293 officers and 9323 other ranks). By April 1943 this had shrunk to 3906 men (124 officers and 3782 other ranks). Attrition left the division with a high proportion of inexperienced officers and freshly promoted NCOs, while the NCOs’ positions were occupied by privates. An attempt was made to tackle the manpower shortage by the employment of armed Russian ‘volunteers’, the Hilsfreiwillige (or Hiwis), on lines-of-communications duties. By December 1942, there were nearly 400 Hiwis serving with 18th Panzer, a figure which was quickly quadrupled by a policy of forcible recruitment. By mid-summer 1943 there were 1659 Hiwis in the division’s Voluntary Russian Rear Security Companies and another 1006 workers building field works and undertaking local guard duties. Few were willing wearers of German uniform.

By the spring of 1943 the high rate of casualties and the lack of reserves made it impossible to bring depleted divisions up to full strength. Logic dictated that divisions should be merged to maintain a sustainable ratio between combat troops and those in the auxiliary tail. This would have encouraged the economic use of experienced officers, NCOs and specialists and more effective employment of motor vehicles, equipment and horses. Hitler’s obsession with numbers frustrated any such rationalization. For the Führer, what mattered was the number of divisions in the order of battle, not their quality. Thus, every one of the divisions lost at Stalingrad was reconstituted, along with four of the six lost in Tunisia. In the twelve months from July 1942 the number of field divisions in the Army, SS and Luftwaffe rose by fifty-five. The creation of twenty-two Luftwaffe divisions was particularly short-sighted, although typical of the free-for-all at the top of the Nazi hierarchy, encouraged by Hitler. The men would have been more efficiently absorbed into existing divisions in the Army, but Hitler accepted Göring’s objections to ‘good young National Socialists being dressed in the grey (i.e., reactionary ) uniform of the Army’.

The additional Luftwaffe divisions gave Hitler another stick with which to beat the generals, but they were a signal waste of man power as the divisions were never efficient fighting formations. OKW finally secured their incorporation into the Army in October 1943, but they were to remain a constant liability in battle.

In March 1943the greatest cause for alarm was the parlous state of the panzer arm. At the end of January 1943 there were only 495 battleworthy tanks on the Eastern Front, the great majority of them being PzKw IIIs and IVs which, in spite of being upgunned and more heavily armoured, were matched by the Red Army’s T-34/76. Nearly 8000 German tanks had been lost in the fighting since June 1941. In the first three months of 1943 losses totalled 2529, representing 59 per cent of the total production for 1942. The morale of the panzer troops, now contemplating their numerical and technical inferiority to the enemy, was low. Battle fatigue eroded morale. Early in 1943 the operations officer of the elite Grossdeutschland Division reported that ‘fatigue within the division has become so severe that the feeling of indifference is spreading and cannot be opposed by any means’.

The decline in the panzer arm owed much to the procurement and manufacturing muddles caused by Hitler’s persistent meddling in the technical matters which so absorbed him. The arrival in numbers on the Eastern Front of the Russian T-34 in the autumn of 1941 had given the Ostheer an unpleasant shock. Guderian later wrote: ‘Up to that time we had enjoyed tank superiority, but from now on the situation was reversed.’ In the winter of 1941 a German tank sergeant wrote of the impact made by the T-34:

‘There is nothing more frightening than a tank battle against superior force. Numbers they don’t mean much, we were used to it. But better machines, that’s terrible. You race the engine but she responds too slowly. The Russian tanks are so agile, at close range they will climb a slope or cross a piece of swamp faster than you can traverse the turret. And through the noise and the vibration you keep hearing the clang of shot against armour. When they hit one of our panzers, there is so often a deep, long explosion, a roar as the fuel burns, a roar too loud, thank God, to let us hear the cries of the crew.’

The T-34’s sloped armour, speed and manoeuvrability brought about a profound change in tank design. At first, serious consideration was given to producing a straightforward German copy of the T-34, incorporating important modifications like universal radio installation and powered turret traverse. The designers demurred, however, not solely from offended pride but also because of the technical difficulties involved in manufacturing the aluminium components in the diesel engine. Having ruled out military plagiarism, the decision was made to continue with the production of the 60-ton PzKw VI Tiger I heavy battle tank, which had started production in August 1942, and to design a lighter tank, the PzKw V Panther, weighing 45 tons, which would incorporate the outstanding features of the T-34.

The Tiger, whose origins lay in a 1937 specification for a heavy ‘breakthrough’ tank, had endured a troubled development history. In 1941, after the first encounters with the T-34, the 1937 concept was revived, resulting in a specification for a heavy tank capable of mounting the formidable 88mm high-velocity gun in a turret with a full traverse and carrying sufficient armour to defeat all present and future anti-tank weapons. Two firms, Porsche and Henschel, submitted prototypes for this second generation panzer.

Dr Ferdinand Porsche, one of Hitler’s intimates, was a brilliant designer of motor-cars, notably the Volkswagen and the brutally powerful Auto Union Grand Prix racer, but, like the Führer, he was more of a visionary than a nuts-and-bolts man. Porsche’s plans for the Tiger were unconventional, including provision for electric transmission, and were rejected by the Army Ordnance Office. Undaunted, Porsche pressed on, securing from Hitler backing for the development of a mammoth tank weighing 180 tons, the Maus (Mouse), which reflected the Führer’s growing obsession with bizarre weapons systems.

At the same time Porsche profited from the artillery arm’s urgent demands for powerful self-propelled tank destroyers (Jagdpanzer) and infantry support guns (Sturmgeschutze) to supersede the obsolescent 37mm and 50mm towed anti-tank guns which were wholly ineffective against the T-34. Improvised first-generation tank destroyers Marders had appeared in 1942, consisting of a 75mm anti-tank gun mounted on the chassis of an obsolescent German or foreign tank (PzKw IIs and Czech 38-Ts). The fighting compartment was protected by a fixed open-topped super structure of armour plate. Hitler immediately grasped that the production of Jagdpanzer was not only quicker and cheaper than that of tanks but that it also provided a fast road to boosting the strength of the panzer arm. In this he received partisan encouragement from the artillery arm which had been careful to retain the assault guns and tank destroyers within its command structure.

Dr Porsche was now able to regain some of the ground lost by the rejection of his Tiger prototype; he peddled to Hitler a Jagdpanzer variant based on the Tiger chassis and known variously as the Ferdinand and the Elefant. The Elefant heavy tank destroyer carried an 88mm gun on a fixed superstructure at the rear of the hull and was protected at the front by 200mm of belly armour. At first sight the Elefant was a formidable beast, but it was expensive to produce in comparison with the Marder; it also shared the latter’s limitations of narrow field of fire and restricted accommodation. The Elefant also lacked secondary armament, a flaw which was to prove fatal in the Kursk salient at the beginning of July 1943.

German Army Reorganisation 1943 II

Zentralbild, II. Weltkrieg 19139-45 Der von der faschistischen deutschen Wehrmacht während des Krieges entwickelte neue Panzerkampfwagen Typ "Panther". UBz: die Verladung neuer "Panther"-Panzerkampfwagen zum Transport an die Front (1943).

Panther Ausf. D tanks, 1943.

ADN-Bildarchiv, II. Weltkrieg 1939-1945 An der Front in der Sowjetunion: Mitte Juli 1943. Vorbei an brennenden Häusern einer Ortschaft setzen "Tiger"-Panzer der deutschen Wehrmacht während der schweren Kämpfe südlich Orel zu einem Gegenstoß an. Aufnahme: Henisch 3621-43


Henschel Tigers in the East.

Porsche’s political footwork had diverted resources from the development of the successful Tiger prototype submitted by Henschel which was prematurely committed to battle in August-September 1942. Like a schoolboy with a birthday train set, Hitler always wanted to use his new weapons immediately they became available, forfeiting the advantages of surprise and employment en masse in the most favourable conditions. Instead, the first batch of Tigers was thrown into action piecemeal in a secondary operation in the swampy forests near Leningrad where the terrain was quite unsuitable. Lumbering in single file along the forest tracks, the Tigers were picked off by Russian anti-tank guns.

Nevertheless, the Tiger emerged from this discouraging combat debut as the most powerful tank in the world. Its 88mm gun, which had ninety-two rounds of ammunition, packed a heavy punch and outranged the T-34. Its armour was not well sloped, as was that of the Panther, but it was 100mm thick at the front and 80mm thick around the sides. Its weight made it slow, however with a cross-country speed of only 12mph; this limited its operational range to about sixty miles and imposed a severe strain on its gear box which required frequent maintenance and repair. By November 1942, production of the Tiger had reached twenty-five a month.

As if in anticipation of the minefields they would encounter in service, the new armoured vehicles had to nose their way across a development obstacle course of Hitler’s devising. While events demanded a ruthless standardization of German armour, that great military dilettante indulged in ever wilder flights of fancy: an Elefant equipped with a 210mm mortar; the development of Ram Tigers for street fighting; the transformation of the Gustav 800mm railway gun into an anti-tank weapon; and, most extraordinary of all, a specification drawn up for a 1000-ton ‘land monitor’, final proof of the galloping gigantism which had overtaken Hitler’s military thinking. The result of this eclecticism, when applied to models already in production, was, as Guderian noted, ‘the … creation of countless variations to the original type, each of which would need innumerable spare parts. The repair of tanks in the field became impossible.’ All this occurred at a time when the Soviet Union was concentrating on the mass production of the T-34.

The crucial factor remained the number of tanks in the field. Here the picture was grim. The panzer divisions had originally been designed to contain four tank battalions with a total strength of approximately 400 tanks per division. By the beginning of 1943 there were only three battalions in a division, one of which was equipped with Jagdpanzer. Matters were complicated by the withdrawal of the obsolete PzKw II, which was little more than a death trap, and the difficulty that commanders of old formations faced when attempting to secure allocations of new tanks which were reserved for the building-up of fresh divisions. The reluctance of these commanders to send vehicles in need of major overhaul back to Germany also meant that many tanks remained stranded in divisional garages not best equipped to repair them. As a result, panzer divisions seldom mustered more than 100 tanks, and the average hovered between seventy and eighty. Firepower was further reduced by the division of authority between the panzer arm and the artillery, which enabled the latter to draw off the Jagdpanzer for the motorized infantry and the Waffen-SS.

As Hitler’s disillusion with the Army grew, his faith in the Waffen-SS increased. He saw the SS which, by 1944, numbered thirty-eight divisions (600,000 men) as the historic successor to the Order of Teutonic Knights and the true repository of National Socialist virtue. The expansion of the Waffen-SS which, in June 1941, had contained 150,000 men disposed among five divisions, had been accomplished at the expense of the Army, although the latter retained control of the Waffen-SS in the field. Nevertheless, SS armoured divisions were more lavishly equipped than their Army counterparts. The armoured units of an elite Waffen-SS panzer grenadier division, like Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, deployed the same firepower as an Army panzer division.

That even Hitler realized that some order had to imposed on the armoured forces was confirmed by his appointment in February 1943 of Colonel-General Heinz Guderian as Inspector-General of Armoured Troops. His brief was to oversee ‘the future development of armoured troops along lines that will make that arm of the service into a decisive weapon for winning the war’.

Guderian, the Army’s leading theorist and practitioner of armoured operations, had been removed from the command of Panzer Group 2 on Christmas Day 1941 after conducting a tactical withdrawal from an exposed position as the Red Army launched its counter-offensive before Moscow. Plagued by heart problems, Guderian had kicked his heels in the OKH officers’ reserve pool until summoned to Vinnitsa to assume control of the organization, training, manning and equipping of all panzer and panzer grenadier units.

Guderian met Hitler on 20 February, later recording his surprise at how ill the Führer looked and his pleasure at seeing copies of his books on armoured tactics prominently displayed in the Commander in Chief’s quarters. The Führer gave him the same emollient welcome he had accorded Manstein two weeks earlier, telling him, ‘Since 1941 our ways have parted; there were numerous misunderstandings at that time which I much regret. I need you.’

The assignment of duties which Guderian subsequently drew up with Keitel and General Friedrich Fromm, the commander of the Replacement Army, was signed by Hitler on 28 February. Guderian had made his return to active duty conditional on the granting of sweeping powers to the Inspectorate-General, which was to report directly to Hitler, bypassing OKW, the Replacement Army and the Chief of the General Staff whom Guderian was obliged only to ‘consult’. Luftwaffe and SS armoured units were to come under his control. Guderian had effectively secured independent command of panzer troops within the Reich, with complete responsibility for all panzer troops in the armed forces. OKW and OKH, already at each other’s throats, were now presented with a new rival over which only Hitler exercised control.

Guderian himself was aware of the chaos created by the clashing personalities and overlapping staffs within the high command, although his memoirs contain no hint that the manner of his own elevation to the Inspectorate-General was a symptom of the problem rather than part of its solution. On 3 March, while visiting Goebbels, Guderian raised with the Propaganda Minister the question of the ‘confusion of leadership’ and Hitler’s growing tendency to interfere in matters of subordinate importance. He suggested that the Führer would be ‘well advised to appoint some Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff as his assistant; and that the man chosen should be one who understood how to function as an operational commander and who was more qualified to fill this difficult office than was Field Marshal Keitel’.

Guderian then pointed out that, as an intimate of the Führer and a civilian, Goebbels (rather than one of the hated generals) might more readily persuade Hitler to reconsider the situation. Goebbels, doubtless wishing that Guderian had not bowled him this unwelcome ball, replied that, indeed, this was a ‘thorny problem’; he promised to do his best, when a suitable occasion arose, to lead the conversation along the lines Guderian had proposed and to urge Hitler to ‘reorganize his supreme command in a more practical form’. Not surprisingly, Goebbels never found the moment just to tackle the ‘thorny problem’.

Meanwhile, Guderian had problems of his own as the Army, which had long been hostile to an independent panzer arm, regrouped to undermine his position. In the draft of his assignment of duties Guderian had included a footnote defining the term ‘armoured troops’ and including within it assault guns. Once the draft was out of Guderian’s hands, the artillery changed the foot note, limiting his control to heavy assault guns which were only just entering production. The artillery’s continued grip on assault guns had serious consequences as they were urgently needed to arrest the wasting disease in the armoured divisions, particularly as assault guns now made up one third of the total output of all armoured fighting vehicles.

Guderian then made a second tactical error, providing Hitler’s adjutants’ office with a summary of the paper on the panzer arm that he planned to deliver at a Führer conference at Rastenburg on 9 March. When he arrived, he found a large and hostile OKW and General Staff audience waiting for him. Later he wrote:

‘All these gentlemen had some criticism to make of my plans, in particular of my expressed wish that the assault guns be placed under my General-Inspectorate and that the anti-tank battalions of the infantry divisions be re-equipped with assault guns in place of their present ineffective weapons drawn by half-tracks.’

Guderian’s arguments fell on deaf ears. Hitler’s chief adjutant observed that the assault artillery was the only weapon which enabled gunners to win the Knight’s Cross. The coup de grace was delivered by Hitler who, gazing pityingly at Guderian, told him, ‘You see, they are all against you. So I can’t approve either.’ Guderian left the conference after a four-hour battering and fell to the ground in a brief blackout which mercifully went unheeded.