Sunday, 9 October 2016

Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1943-1945

Having recently read Robert Forczyk's TANK WARFARE ON THE EASTERN FRONT 1941-1942 (published in 2013 by Sword and Pen Military [ISBN 978 1 78159 008 9/EPUB ISBN 978 1 47383 443 9]) on my Kindle, I decided to read his second book on this subject, TANK WARFARE ON THE EASTERN FRONT 1943-1945 (published in 2016 by Sword and Pen Military [ISBN 978 1 78346 278 0/EPUB ISBN 978 1 47388 091 7]).


The author argues that:
  • The Russians learned more from its defeats in 1941-42 than the Germans did, and as the war went on, they put what they had learned into practice.
  • The Russians were able to produce far more tanks than the Germans because they concentrated on a few simple to build and easy to repair models (e.g. T-34, KV-1, IS-2) whilst the Germans moved to more complicated, heavier, more cumbersome, and less mechanically robust tanks (e.g. Tiger I, Panther, Tiger II).
  • Control of tank production in Russia was much better organised and directed than in Germany, and served the needs of the Red Army rather than the whims of political leaders and bureaucrats/technicians/designers.
  • The German reliance on petrol tank engines put a great strain on Germany's dwindling fuel supplies as the war progressed, whereas if time and effort had been spent developing a suitable, economic diesel engine, fewer tanks might have suffered from breakdowns and been lost when they ran out of fuel.
  • The creation of rival organisations in Germany that were vying with the German Army for the limited supply of armoured fighting vehicles (e.g. the SS Panzer Divisions) led to the experienced Army Panzer Divisions ending up being under or poorly equipped at a time when they were needed to stem the tide of advancing Russian troops.
  • Lease-Lend enabled the Russians to both produce more tanks (thanks to large quantities of imported machine tools and essential raw materials) and to keep their advancing armies supplied with ammunition and fuel (thanks to the large number of US-built trucks that were delivered).
One other thing also became very apparent to me as I read this book; the importance of recovering damaged tanks and repairing them. At various points in the book the ability of one or other side to return damaged tanks to front-line service was vital to their ability to continue fighting.

I have enjoyed reading both of these books, and I must say that I feel that I have a much better understanding of tank warfare on the Eastern Front than had beforehand.

10 comments:

  1. "the importance of recovering damaged tanks and repairing them. At various points in the book the ability of one or other side to return damaged tanks to front-line service was vital to their ability to continue fighting"

    Neat point Bob

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    1. Geordie an Exile FoG,

      I'd always thought that tank recovery and repair was important, but had not realised the scale of its importance nor that units often continued to use 'degraded' (i.e. damaged) tanks until they literally ground to a halt.

      It has certainly made me think again about equipment replacement rules for campaigns.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. Dear Bob,

    My memory is that recovery and repair was essential for Rommel's success in North Africa (where, at times, the AK would be down to
    a few dozen vehicles). Of course, these were the "simpler" tank designs.

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    1. SteveAKAMe,

      The complexity (and size) of the later designs were a contributory factor to the inability of German units to recover and repair damaged Panthers and Tigers. Whereas the earlier (and lighter) tanks could be towed by large half-tracks, the later designs needed several working in tandem to move them.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Good summary Bob, this is a subject of great interest to me. Hitler insisted upon the development of petrol guzzling monsters rather than cheaper mass produced reliable models and certainly paid the price on the Eastern Front. More breakdowns than battle damaged I believe? I'll look out for those two titles.

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    1. 'Lee,

      I think that you will enjoy these books. It is worth noting that the author is an ex-tanker, and I think that it gives him a focus that other writers might not have.

      One fact that I had not come across before was the reason why the early model Panthers had so many engine fires; it had a rubber-lined engine compartment that was intended to keep it from being flooded when a river was being forded. If the engine overheated - which was not uncommon - the rubber would catch fire!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. Bob,
    I realise this has little to do with Tanks as such - though I had read something along the lines that the Germans had sent two Million Troops to the Eastern Front - and the Russians responded with a Field Force of some Six Million Soldiers...sheer numbers of Russians and the huge size of Russia helped beat the Germans. What do you think- Bob? Regards. KEV.

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    1. Kev,

      Stalin did say that quantity had a quality all of its own ... but sheer numbers did not win the war on the Eastern Front. In my opinion, it was logistics. The Germans outstretched themselves in trying to win a quick war, but when it turned into a long one, they were unable to cope as they did not have the infrastructure in place to fight a long war a relatively long way away. Once the Russian winter stopped the initial phase of the war, the Russians were able to thrown numbers at the Germans to try to prevent a blitzkrieg in 1942. It did not work very well, and the number of Russian losses grew ... but yet again the Germans overextended themselves, and had to rely upon even less well-equipped allies (Italy, Romanian, Hungary) to protect their flanks in the south. After Stalingrad the Germans were falling back pretty consistently at the same time as the Russians were able to mobilise even more of their population and to begin to bring better weapons - and better led combined arms units - into service.

      The Russians did begin to find it difficult to fill all its front-line units with enough people towards the end of the war, and had to begin to rely on using women (often as tank drivers or commanders) and 'liberated' allies to bulk out the numbers.

      The debate as to whether to or not Russians 'won' the war in the east or the Germans 'lost' it is a complex one ... and one where people can argue for years and not get an answer.

      My opinion is that the Germans took on a war that they thought that they could win quickly ... but could not. When that became apparent they still carried on trying to win against an opponent who was going to fight to the death if necessary, and who had far more potential resources available to fight back.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Bob,
      Thankyou for your reply- well stated. It is often the fog of war that may well hide the reasons for loosing or winning a battle or a War...there are a lot of factors that come into play and to consider everything is possibly impossible- and were left with the best guess and evidence of a relevant reason. Regards. KEV.

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    3. Kev,

      I find the study of history - and especially military history - to be a fascinating subject, and it has brought me many years of enjoyment as well as introducing me to a wonderful hobby and lots of friends!

      All the best,

      Bob

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