July 7, 2015

German Comments on Allied Tanks


A critical study of French, British, Russian and American tanks was published on 27 June 1943 in the German weekly newspaper “Das Reich”. A translation of the “Das Reich” article follows: 

“The German High Command maintains a museum of captured tanks -- or one might say a kind of technical school where some of our most highly skilled engineers and a number of officers specially chosen for the purpose are testing those monsters of the enemy's battle cavalry, testing their adaptability to the terrain, their power of resistance to attack, and their special qualities suiting them for employment in attack. These tests are carried out in a forest region of central Germany where the terrain up-hill and down-hill is intersected by ravines and all manner of depressions of the ground. The results are embodied in long tabulations not unlike those prepared by scientific laboratories, and in recommendation to the designers of German counter-weapons, who pass them on to the tank factories and armament shops. The type of combat actually carried on at the front is reenacted here in make-believe encounters worked out to the last point of refinement.

“The officer in charge of these experiments has developed a thesis which is extremely interesting, even though higher headquarters are not, without exception, in agreement with him. He contends that the various types of tanks reflect psychological traits of the nations that produced them.

French Tanks
Char B1 bis
2. Char B1 bis.

“The French have produced a number of unmaneuverable but thickly armored "chars" embodying the French doctrine of defense. They are conceived as solid blocks of iron to assist the troops in rendering the solidified defensive front even more rigid. The Renault and Hotchkiss types of tanks have indirectly contributed toward stagnation of the military situation. It was out of the question for these French tanks to swarm forth in conquest into the plains of enemy territory, dashing madly ahead for distances of hundreds of kilometers. Their crews normally consisted of only two men each. It was impossible for these tanks to cooperate as members of a complex formation. Communication from one tank to another was limited to the primitive method of looking through peepholes in these cells of steel.

“The French still have, from the period shortly after the first World War, a 72-ton dreadnaught, the weight of which is distributed over the length of three to four railroad undertrucks; it carries a crew of thirteen; but its armor is of a type that simply falls apart like so much tin under fire from a modern cannon. As late as 1940 there were those in France who demanded increasing numbers of these rolling dry-land ships and wanted them to be of stronger construction than ever before. But German troops encountered these72-ton tanks only in the form of immobile freight shipments not yet unloaded in the combat zones.

Char 2C super-heavy tank
3. Char 2C super-heavy tank. Weight: 69 tonnesLength: 33 ft 8 in, Crew: 12.

British Tanks
British tanks in North Africa
4. British tanks in North Africa.

“In the opinion of experts, English tanks of the cruiser class come much nearer to satisfying requirements of a proper tank for practical use in the present war. The name in itself indicates that the basic idea was carried over from naval construction. These tanks are equipped with a good motor and are capable of navigating through large areas. The amount of armor was reduced for the sake of higher speed and greater cruising radius. Tactically these tanks are more or less a counterpart of torpedo destroyer formations, out on the endless spaces of ocean. They are best adapted -- and this is quite a significant factor -- to the hot and sparsely settled areas of the English colonial empire. The English tank is an Africa tank. It has a narrow tread chain. It did not come much into the foreground on the European continent. A tank for use in Europe, apparently, is something for which the English don't show so much talent. 

American Tanks
Shermans in Tunisia
5. Shermans in Tunisia.

“On Soviet territory the English tank was a failure; and it shares this fate with the North American tanks, which were not appreciated very much by the Soviet ally. These North American tanks include, for instance, the "General Stuart," a reconnaissance and rear-guard tank, bristling with machine-guns, as well as the "General Lee." Although the latter possesses commendable motor qualities, its contours are not well balanced, and its silhouette is bizarre and too tall.

“This criticism does not apply, however, to the most recent North American development, the "General Sherman." The latter represents one of the special accomplishments of the North American laboratories. With its turtle-shaped crown rising in one piece above the "tub" and turret it must be regarded as quite a praiseworthy product of the North American steel industry. The first things to attract attention are serial construction and fulfillment of the almost arrogant requirements of the North American automobile industry as regards speed, smooth riding, and streamlined contour of the ensemble. It is equipped with soft rubber boots, that is with rubber padding on the individual treads of the caterpillar mechanism. It seems largely intended for a civilized landscape or, to put the matter in terms of strategy, for thoroughly cultivated areas in Tunisian Africa and for the invasion of Europe. It represents the climax of the enemy's accomplishments in this line of production. But we cannot gain quite the proper perspective until we examine also the tank production of the Soviets. 

Soviet Tanks
6. T34.

“The T-34 used by the Russians at the opening of hostilities in 1941 was at that time the best tank produced anywhere -- with its76-mm long-barrelled gun its tightfitting tortoise-shaped cap, the slanting sides of its "tub," the broad cat's-paw tread of its forged caterpillar chains capable of carrying this 26-ton tank across swamps and morasses no less than through the grinding sands of the steppes. In this matter the Soviet Union does not appear in the role of the exploited proletarian, but rather as an exploiter of all the varied branches of capitalistic industry and invention. Some of the apparatus was so closely copied after German inventions that the German Bosch Company was able to build its own spare parts unmodified into the Soviet-constructed apparatus.

“The Soviet Union was the only nation in the world to possess, even prior to the approach of the present war, completely perfected and tried-out series of tanks. The Soviets had such tanks, for instance, in the autumn of 1932. Basing their procedure on experience gained in maneuvers, the Russians then developed independently additional new series, building to some extent on advances abroad, like those embodied in the fast Christie tank (speed 90 to 110 km.) of the North Americans.

“Like Germany and England, the Soviet Union thereupon hit upon a tank constructed for employment in separate operational units. Groups of these tanks operate in isolation in advanced zones of combat, at increasing distances from the infantry. Only a minor tank force is thrown into action for tactical cooperation with infantry forces. Such, at least, was the idea. And in fact, the T-34 was found suited for this type of action -- though in many instances only by way of covering a retreat. But even for this type of tank, positional warfare has in many instances had the result of narrowing the designer's and the strategist's operational conception to the narrower range of tactical employment.

“The Soviet Union also has constructed an imitation -- in fact two imitations -- of an amphibian tank built by Vickers-Armstrong. Another variant of Soviet thought on the subject came to the fore when the Russians constructed a 52-ton land battleship with 3 turrets, a vehicle of quite impressive appearance but provided with walls that were not stout enough to serve the purpose. The first of these monsters broke down in the mud a short distance behind Lemberg (Lviv), in 1941. After that they were found more and more rarely; and at last they dropped out altogether.

7. The multi-turreted T-28.

Final Thoughts

“In order properly to evaluate the most recent tank creations, such as the North American "General Sherman" or the German "Tiger", one must learn to view a tank as embodying a combination of firing power, speed, and resistance or, to express the same idea more concretely, as a combination of cannon, motor, and armor. In this type of construction, the paradoxes involved in the ordinary problems of automobile body building are raised to their highest potential. A mere addition to one of the above-indicated dimensions, let us say the motor by itself or the armor by itself, is not apt to be of value.
A graphic explaining the tank gyro-stabilizer
8. A graphic explaining the tank gyro-stabilizer.

“A fast-moving tank must not weigh much, and heavy armor does not ride well. The caliber of the cannon affects the size and weight of its ammunition; and a difference in the latter is usually multiplied about a hundredfold, since tanks usually carry about 100 rounds as reserve ammunition. Taking all these things into consideration, we look upon the "General Sherman" as embodying a type of strategy that is conceived in terms of movement: it is a "running" tank, all the more since the Americans most likely expected to use it on readily passable terrain, that is on European soil. The caliber of its principal weapon is slightly in excess of the maximum so far attained by the foreign countries. It is spacious inside. Its aeroplane motor is of light weight. It is a series product, the same as its cast-steel coat, the latter being modeled into an almost artistic-looking contour, in such manner as to offer invariably a curved, that is a deflecting surface to an approaching bullet.

“In Tunis, German soldiers have demonstrated their ability to deal with this tank; but they know the danger represented by these tanks when they appear in large herds. An imposing innovation is the stabilization equipment of the cannon. This equipment is connected with a system of gyros and permits even and smooth laying of the gun. This system was taken over from naval artillery and applied to the shocks incident to swaying over uneven terrain, where stabilization, of course, represents a far more difficult problem. This is the first attempt of its kind ever to be made anywhere."

Military Intelligence Division, War Department. Tactical and Technical Trends No. 35. Washington, D.C.: October 7, 1943.

Photos attribution
1. М.Свирин archive, via Wikimedia Commons
2. Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie/National Archives USA, via Wikimedia Commons
3. Denniss, CCA-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
4. Palmer F E (Lieut); No 1 Army Film & Photographic Unit, via Wikimedia Commons
5. No 2 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Wackett, Frederick (Sergeant), via Wikimedia Commons
6. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-219-0553A-36/Koch/CC BY-SA 3.0 de, via Wikimedia Commons
7. SA-kuva. (MTV3), via Wikimedia Commons
8. Popular Science, vol. 145, No. 3, September 1944

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