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Rants and Death Traps


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The_Chieftain #1 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 01:23

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Two short items for today.

The first is what I guess can only be considered a rant, or at least some serious venting, in the Tank Destroyer Board documentation from January 1945, given that I think it unlikely that the note would ever had made it to the person being talked about.

It started with this press clipping in the San Antonio Light. The Tank Destroyer Board probably got wind of it simply due to the geographic proximity to Camp Hood:

It came to the attention of the President of the Board, COL Montgomery, who forwarded it to a Major Elston, also on the Board, with the simple note "Please Comment"

Comment is just what the Major did:

COL RCM:

1. The fact that German tanks are generally heavier than ours has evidently led some writers to the assumption that "heavier" means "better." But the biggest tank isn't necessarily the best. Carnera was bigger than Dempsey. The best tank is the winning tank.


[Chieftain's note: The above picture of Carnera and Dempsey, with a random passing female for scale, is provided by me as I presume most of you have no idea who they were. I certainly was in ignorance. I get the impression that 1940s servicemen were more up to speed on such matters.]

2. If size were a gage of worth, then German Ferdinand would be the best tank on earth. Actually, this sluggish monster seldom could make more than 8 miles an hour off roads and has now gone out of production.

3. The Tiger, weighing 56 tons, (62 tons in action) and the Panther, weighing 46 1/2 tons, both carry an 88mm gun and from 102mm to 120mm of hull armor. They are less maneuverable than either US medium tanks or US self propelled Tank Destroyers. To date in all theaters, encounters between German tanks and our self-propelled Tank Destroyers show a score which consistently favors our own equipment

4. As an example, XII Corps has just reported the overall score of their seven TD Battalions against German tanks of all sizes to 2 Nov 44. This score is:

No. of German tanks destroyed by TDs - 125
No. of TDs destroyed in same actions - 25
Ratio: 5 to 1 in our favor

5. Above comparison is fairly typical of other reports. This hardly represents a "disgraceful situation of armament inferiority". Recommend that Senator Johnson stop beating his breast long enough to explain why, if German equipment is so superior to ours, it has been steadily retreating ever since El Alamein? How does he explain the ability of our "shockingly inferior" equipment to chase all German armor out of Africa, Sicily, Italy and France?



[Senator Johnson. Damage to chest unfortunately obscured]

6. Actually, medium armor was a wise choice for us, instead of heavy armor, because we had to land on hostile beaches in all four countries. Sixty ton tanks weren't practical for such landings. The Germans, being at home and with no amphibious operations in sight, were able to use their giants. Being bigger than our mediums, naturally they can mount bigger guns. Their thick armor is at the expense of mobility and would have been mill stones about our necks at Omaha Beach.


[Chieftain's Note: Not taken at Omaha Beach]

7. Note that the statement which "aroused" Senator Johnson is that German tanks are "heavier, better armored, and better gunned. In this the adjective "better" is loosely used - praises all the virtues of weight and fails to damn its disadvantages.

8. Statement that American guns are too light to knock out heavy German tanks without excessive losses is not true. (See both of the TD Brigade reports by General Ernst)

9. Statement that German 88mm gun is equal or superior to any American gun is true. Firing either their 3220 f/s with 22.4 lb. projectile (now in use) or their 3775 f/s 16-lb. cored projectile (probably still in development) this gun develops a muzzle energy of 3,500,000 ft/pds. Our own 90mm guns, firing either our existing 2840 f/s with 24.1 lb projectile or our 3900 f/s cored projectile (still in development) develops only 3,050,000 ft/pds. However, a similar comparison between our 76mm gun and the German 76.2mm gun shows a distinct superiority to our weapon.


Now, one can certainly pick a few nits with the above analysis, but I think the general thrust is clear: The route that the US Army had gone, with the equipment they had, and the tactics they had, was working.

This brings me to the other minor item. Death Traps, by Belton Cooper. It keeps coming up in forum threads as people keep citing it, so I figured I may as well make my position clear in a more formal manner. The book, commonly found, is well-written, an easy read, and provides good insight as to the thinkings and workings of a junior grade Ordnance officer in a field unit. I recommend reading it.

That said...

Death Traps is not a reliable source. Don't cite it. Or the History Channel show based on it.

Here's the issue: Death Traps is a memoir, not a researched historical work. These are the recollections and perceptions as the man saw them, recited some 50 years after the fact. This leads us to two problems:

Firstly, that of perception. The premise of the book, even the title, is that M4s were rolling coffins, and got destroyed a lot. He gets this impression by looking at all the M4s which got brought back to his maintenance shop for repair after getting knocked out. He did not get to see any of the German vehicles which were knocked out, as nobody brought them to him for repair. He did not get to see the M4s which won the battle, as nobody brought them to him for repair. As someone who saw nearly nothing but destroyed Shermans coming out of battles, it is not unreasonable to come to the perception that the tank was problematic.


[Which of these two vehicles do you think Cooper might have seen after that battle?]

Secondly, the author makes no attempt to distinguish what he saw from what he surmised, from what he heard through the grapevine. He presents as fact things which simply were not true, demonstrably so in many cases. No attempt was made to provide a source or reference to some of the claims he makes. It is up to the reader to make his or her personal determination as to the accuracy of anything in the book.

It is likely that the things he personally saw are somewhat close to fact. But statements about machinations seven pay grades higher than him and several hundred miles away are a little more suspect.

Cooper's book is probably the most egregious example of citing a memoir and making more of it than one should, so I merely use it as a learning point. Less controversial memoirs, such as Carius' Tigers in the Mud or Loza's Commanding the Red Army's Sherman Tanks should be viewed just as much from the same lens, but in fairness to them, they suffer from far less overreach and can be taken far more at face value.

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HoledAgain #2 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 16:01

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Nice job as usual Chief.

Take care



MacMoradin #3 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 16:28

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View PostThe_Chieftain, on Oct 17 2014 - 19:23, said:

 

This brings me to the other minor item. Death Traps, by Belton Cooper. It keeps coming up in forum threads as people keep citing it.... (snip)

....Secondly, the author makes no attempt to distinguish what he saw from what he surmised, from what he heard through the grapevine. He presents as fact things which simply were not true, demonstrably so in many cases. No attempt was made to provide a source or reference to some of the claims he makes. It is up to the reader to make his or her personal determination as to the accuracy of anything in the book.

 

 

Very nice piece, Chieftain. 

And thank you for bringing up one of the most basic and fundamental concepts they teach us in college, particularly those of us who majored in History.

Have credible sources.

Analyze what you are reading. Pick it apart. Examine it from outside the box. Question everything.

History is not written by victors. It's discovered by the diligent.

 

Cheers.

 



Daigensui #4 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 16:29

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View PostThe_Chieftain, on Oct 17 2014 - 17:23, said:

4. As an example, XII Corps has just reported the overall score of their seven TD Battalions against German tanks of all sizes to 2 Nov 44. This score is:

No. of German tanks destroyed by TDs - 125
No. of TDs destroyed in same actions - 25
Ratio: 5 to 1 in our favor

 

So the 5:1 ratio was true..... just the other way around :teethhappy:



Outcastt #5 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 17:13

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One of the better written post I've seen on the issue of the M4s effectiveness vs German armor can found here:

 

http://ftr.wot-news....1-panther-myth/

 

The 5:1 effectiveness ratio of German armor is long dead. While the M4 had it's shortcomings so did every other tank involved in the conflict.

 

Loved the post Chieftain US armor really has an undeserved poor rep.


Edited by Outcastt, Oct 18 2014 - 17:16.


iraqiwildman #6 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 17:26

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I watched Fury last night and at the beginning it stated that American armor was inferior to German armor. I though "Oh No, another mis-statement of the facts." But the movie turned out to be very good and intense.



Blackhorse_Six_ #7 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 17:28

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As I remember it, I had read about the 5:1 ratio when I was a younger player of Panzer Leader ...

 

Perhaps, even before that, when I played Battle of the Bulge '65.

 

Long, long before I had ever heard of Belton Cooper or his book.

 

I even heard it at my Armor Officer Basic Course ...

 

I remember that when I first read about that ratio, the "quote" was attributed to an assertion made in a late-or-post-war US Army report.

 

I'm not gonna argue with anyone about it - I'm just telling you that the myth didn't start with Belton Cooper ...

 

Who is seven years Dead and Gone, so he won't be writing any more ...

 

(+1) to Dai ... Dunno why you were negged ...



LittleWhiteMouse #8 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 17:33

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I had (and still have) stars in my eyes whenever a German Panther was mentioned.  For me, the love affair with this tank started when I was little, building plastic model kits with my dad as a father-daughter bonding exercise (this bonding worked better than the suspect model glue did for some of the parts on the kit).  Being one of the few tanks I could recognize, anything that was 'not-panther' was thus crap and deficient in some regard.  So I really couldn't appreciate the merrits of some of the tanks I got to climb on when my father took me to the War Museum (which included a Ram II!).

 

But what this also meant is that I was more likely to take at face value anything that reinforced this big-cat tank love.  Oh, the Tiger was alright, but panther-panther-panther.  I wanted to believe that Shermans were wheat before the scythe if any documents of any origin would state this.  And when I learned what a T-34 was, all I wanted to know was how many 9km+ killshots the Panthers were capable of against this new dastardly foe.  And I'd gobble up any stories, conversations and fiction that led credence to this make-believe, daddy-inspired love affair going on in my head.

 

So what does this have to do with Chieftain's rant?  It's the nature of bias.  If I had read Cooper's book before I had learned better, I would have likely taken it as canon -- not because it didn't cite sources, but because it confirmed what I wanted it to confirm.  I'm wiser now, knowing to always question what people pass on as fact and realize the short comings of my own abilities to verify research.  Even conversationally, I've found that I phrase things differently.  Rather than state things as truth, I find I reference more, "I read in ..." or "I heard from ..."

 

As an asside, Chieftain, have you published anything that I can throw money at?  If you haven't, when are you going to fix this? :)  Then I can say, "I read in The Chieftain's book that .."



NutrientibusMeaGallus #9 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 17:34

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 Using a memoir (or artistic rendering) as a factual history has been done before.. It's really common. Look at Trajan's Column (and pretty much every artist or sculptors interpretation of historical Roman armor) and then look at the finds from the Corbridge Hoard (among other places). You look at the column and see an artist's rendering of what the armor looked like of the time. The images on the column were translated by H.R. Robinson (Armour of Imperial Rome) and others before him into reproductions that simply didn't function correctly, and only loosely resembled the finds at Corbridge. It was like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle and putting pieces in the wrong places and directions..

     It was years later when those finds were more closely examined, and more factual evidence found, that people realized how the armor was actually configured. That led to three new books by M.C. Bishop.. Lorica Segmentata 1 and 2, and Roman Military Equipment (basically a corrected re-write of Armour of Imperial Rome).  In one of the Lorica Segmentata books Bishop goes into how inaccurate an outsider's view can be, and the artistic license the craftsmen of the column took.. And to this day, Hollywood still interprets Roman military equipment often, as those artistic representations, instead of the actual finds and evidence.. It's kind of a direct parallel with US equipment and the Death Traps book... For a historical representation you HAVE TO look at all the evidence clinically and scientifically.


Edited by NutrientibusMeaGallus, Oct 18 2014 - 17:34.


smitptl95 #10 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 17:57

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"The Tiger, weighing 56 tons, (62 tons in action) and the Panther, weighing 46 1/2 tons, both carry an 88mm gun"

 

 

 

umm the panther never had 88mm gun so you might want to correct that chieftain, panther had the KWK L70 75mm gun which was considered far better gun than 88mm.



Meplat #11 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 17:59

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View Postsmitptl95, on Oct 18 2014 - 09:57, said:

"The Tiger, weighing 56 tons, (62 tons in action) and the Panther, weighing 46 1/2 tons, both carry an 88mm gun"

 

 

 

umm the panther never had 88mm gun so you might want to correct that chieftain, panther had the KWK L70 75mm gun which was considered far better gun than 88mm.

 

He's quoting the article, not posting his own info.. Editing a news article that's ~70 years old is not the point nor his task in this matter.

Lesser_Spotted_Panzer #12 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 18:01

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Hard to say what the 5:1 ratio means in terms of who's tanks are best.

Tactics are more important than tank stats (to a large degree).

Many other issues to consider like training and logistics.

US had overwhelming arty support too. How many German tanks were destroyed by arty as opposed to US tanks?

Basically, I don't think you can draw a conclusion either way without more detailed analysis and quoting the results of a few battles does not prove anything ... just like when XVM says you only have a 30% chance but you roflstomp the reds.


 

 


 



TigerDude33 #13 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 18:02

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Surely you aren't just taking the word of the Army, which (like the Navy) showed again & again that it was more interested in justifying its decisions than in coming to good conclusions.  The major's main point, which is "we're winning" doesn't even address the question at hand.  We weren't winning due to the Sherman's design.  Hell, his first point is awful - that's the reason there are weight classes in boxing.  There is no need to nitpick the Major's points - they are easily picked apart.

 

I also doubt you will find them saying "Russian tanks are better than ours," which they were.



Daigensui #14 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 18:22

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View Postiraqiwildman, on Oct 18 2014 - 09:26, said:

American armor was inferior to German armor. 

 

Well..... in terms of nominal armor, Shermans were weaker than German panzer. Of course, once you take into consideration mobility and all that, it's not worth much.

 

View PostTigerDude33, on Oct 18 2014 - 10:02, said:

I also doubt you will find them saying "Russian tanks are better than ours," which they were.

 

They weren't. Different designing philosophy, different tactical and strategic use, different standards of production. All in all Shermans were more of a war-winner than T-34.



Donward #15 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 18:26

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Saying "Jack Dempsey" would be like saying Derek Jeter or Michael Jordan. Furthermore it would draw a known comparison to the American GI, considering Dempsey's aggressive fighting style.

 

Dempsey is probably known more today for the tropical fish or his portrayal in Boardwalk Empire.



M4A3E8sherman #16 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 18:40

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Block Quote

Surely you aren't just taking the word of the Army, which (like the Navy) showed again & again that it was more interested in justifying its decisions than in coming to good conclusions.

Like how it developed several projects for medium tanks that were supposed to replace the Sherman.

 

Oh, and then they certainly did justify those experiments when they were canceled, eh?

 

Block Quote

The major's main point, which is "we're winning" doesn't even address the question at hand.  We weren't winning due to the Sherman's design.  Hell, his first point is awful - that's the reason there are weight classes in boxing. 

It's a stupid point and he would get laughed at for saying that crap in a proper debate, but that doesn't mean the Sherman's design hurt progress, nor does it mean the US TDs didn't obtain ratios that were incredibly skewed in their favor.

 

Block Quote

I also doubt you will find them saying "Russian tanks are better than ours," which they were.

Yup, M4A3E8s killed 49 T-34-85s in Korea for less than 20 losses, so obviously they must have been much worse.

 

The US report of the T-34 actually has high praise for certain aspects of the design, and lauds them as better than anything the US has. A newspaper right before the Korean War, while not produced from the Army, even goes so far as to claim the T-34-85 was much better than the E8, and the Pershing might even things up. When we got there, turns out it was more like the T-34-85 might even things up with the Sherman, only it didn't.



cavalry11 #17 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 18:43

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it has more to do with crew than vehicle.

Oiltank #18 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 18:43

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. As an example, XII Corps has just reported the overall score of their seven TD Battalions against German tanks of all sizes to 2 Nov 44. This score is:

No. of German tanks destroyed by TDs - 125
No. of TDs destroyed in same actions - 25
Ratio: 5 to 1 in our favor

Now the question is who actually killed those German tanks.

Allies had air and artillery superiority. Take those away and that ratio would most likely disappear.

The results would be more like the British is operation Goodwood ( I think it was called) in an attempt to flank the Germans at Caen. There they lost over 400 tanks in one day and were almost out of tanks.

They had to withdraw the amour  divisions and put infantry into the line.


 



f16falcona46 #19 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 18:46

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View PostOiltank, on Oct 18 2014 - 13:43, said:

. As an example, XII Corps has just reported the overall score of their seven TD Battalions against German tanks of all sizes to 2 Nov 44. This score is:

No. of German tanks destroyed by TDs - 125
No. of TDs destroyed in same actions - 25
Ratio: 5 to 1 in our favor

Now the question is who actually killed those German tanks.

Allies had air and artillery superiority. Take those away and that ratio would most likely disappear.

The results would be more like the British is operation Goodwood ( I think it was called) in an attempt to flank the Germans at Caen. There they lost over 400 tanks in one day and were almost out of tanks.

They had to withdraw the amour  divisions and put infantry into the line.


 

I think you found the answer.



M4A3E8sherman #20 Posted Oct 18 2014 - 18:48

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Block Quote

Now the question is who actually killed those German tanks.

 

 Allies had air and artillery superiority. Take those away and that ratio would most likely disappear.

 Uh, no.

 

Aside from the fact that artillery and aircraft were responsible for very few losses (air attack was estimated at 7%, and even this could quite possible be an inflation), the article itself specifically mentions what took those German tanks out.

Block Quote

 No. of German tanks destroyed by TDs - 125
No. of TDs destroyed in same actions - 25

 lrn2read pl0x

 






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