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Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Joker's Bicycle


By Art Villasanta


(Originally written in 2006; corrected in 2011 )

THE U.S. ARMY's "Objective Force" concept of future war remains under heavy attack from critics who continue to ridicule it as a disaster in the making that will cost the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers in battlefields yet to come. Some of the harshest critics are calling it the beginning of the end of U.S. military supremacy.

At the core of these violent criticisms is the de-emphasis of the tank, and its replacement by "armored" fighting vehicles with thin armor. The U.S. Army contends that future wars will demand extremely rapid deployment of masses of materiel in remote battlefields throughout the world.

Armored monster: the M1A2 Abrams in its latest iteration with TUSK and CROWS and armed with a 120 mm cannon.

The need for immediate action, especially against nimble “terrorists,” allegedly means it has become impractical to spend anywhere from two or more weeks awaiting the massive arrival by sea of M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley infantry fighting vehicle and other heavy assets. Air portability is key to the U.S. Army's concept of future war.

The new "tank" of the new U.S. Army will be the "XM1202 Mounted Combat System" or MCS.

The Abrams' replacement: the M1128 Mobile Gun System with a 105 mm gun mounted on a Stryker chassis.

This replacement for the M1 Abrams will carry a 120 mm gun as its main armament. A .50 caliber machine gun and a 40 mm automatic grenade launcher are its secondary weapons. It will be a fully tracked "armored" vehicle with a crew of just two men. It is air portable with two fitting inside a C-17 or one in a smaller C-130 Hercules transport.

The "armor" will protect against head-on direct hits from medium 30 mm and 45 mm cannon fire, and provide all-around protection from small arms fire and heavy machine gun fire up to a caliber of 14.5 mm. Protection from 155 mm artillery shell air-bursts is planned.

Considering the small caliber weapons it defends against, the "armor" of the MCS will be thin.

The cancelled XM1202 Mounted Combat System that was to have replaced the Abrams

Its protection against powerful armor piercing weapons such as anti-tank missiles, rocket propelled grenades and tank shells is revolutionary. These threats are to be destroyed in mid-flight by an "active protection system" called "Quick Kill."

Quick Kill is an electronic system that detects incoming anti-tank missiles and shells with an active electronically scanned array radar. Quick Kill then launches a small missile that rapidly intercepts the weapon and destroys it with a focused blast warhead. A Quick Kill launcher can carry eight to 16 vertical-launch missiles.

Were Quick Kill to malfunction for any reason (which has a good chance of occuring in a battlefield) or suffer battle damage, an MCS and its crew are as good as dead. Light cannon fire will penetrate its side armor and an RPG can destroy it from any angle. A 120 mm tank shell will immediately reduce MCS to shards of scrap metal.

Backing-up the MCS will be a new self-propelled gun with the unwieldy acronym of XM1203 Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon (NLOS-C). NLOS-C is a 155mm howitzer capable of first round hits. It comes with an automatic loading system. Its tracks will be made of rubber.

Mechanized infantry will be borne into battle in the "XM1206 Infantry Carrier Vehicle (ICV)," the replacement for the Bradley. The ICV will carry nine infantrymen and two crewmen. It will be armed with  30 mm MK44 cannon and a 7.62 mm machine gun. There will be four types of ICVs.

These armor-deprived weapons are being developed since the Objective Force concept, now called the Future War concept, assumes most of the U.S.' future foes will be its inferior in military power. While this assumption does have a tinge of credibility considering the existing military order, it is a dangerous long-term assumption as U.S. opponents will most certainly evolve tactics to deal with U.S. military power whether alone or in coalition.

Armor versus flesh and blood
Sophisticated anti-armor munitions also strike at the core of the assumption that mobility trumps armored protection. The surprising vulnerability of heavily armored Israeli tanks with added reactive armor to older Russian anti-tank missiles in Israel’s Lebanon incursion of July/August 2006 affirms that lightly armored AFVs such as the Stryker, now in widespread use by the U.S.Army, can only expect immediate destruction on the future battlefield.

Israel lost some 50 tanks in its 34-day Lebanon incursion, most apparently to Russian-made Sagger anti-tank missiles. Others were lost to the newer Russian Metis-M missile with a tandem warhead capable of defeating reactive armor. Israel, however, claims only about 15 of its tanks were destroyed; the rest being repairable. It is fair to assume that had these 50 tanks been Strykers, the backbone armored fighting vehicle of the US armed forces, most would have been obliterated.

Israeli Merkava destroyed in Lebanon.

This renunciation of the tank is but a repetition of a similar episode following World War 1 and 2. At the end of these great conflicts, it became fashionable to deride the tank as obsolete. The advent of man portable anti-tank weapons such as bazookas and anti-tank guided missiles meant the expensive tank was a huge target that could be taken out by one man.

Stryker AFV

Events have not borne out this assumption. Tanks have improved in armor, lethality and protection to combat improved anti-tank weapons. In contrast, the ordinary infantryman remains, as he has since time immemorial, a fragile creature of flesh and blood vulnerable to a single, well-placed bullet.

The epitome of tank development is to be seen in the Abrams, the German Leopard, the British Challenger, the French AMX and the Russian T-90.

All these tanks are state-of-the-art weapons systems capable of dealing with the modern battlefield's myriad and sophisticated threats through a combination of advanced composite armor and advanced targeting systems.

Only by sheer numbers
The U.S. Army learned at heavy cost the folly of fielding inferior armor in combat. Its 11-month campaign to co-liberate Western Europe in World War 2, while ultimately victorious, was only accomplished by crushing the massively outnumbered German Army underneath overwhelming numbers.

From 6 June until the end of July 1944, the Allies landed about 1.5 million fighting men in the Normandy lodgement. Facing this mass were just 380,000 German soldiers. The number of Allied troops increased to over 2,000,000 men by the end of August. The 6,000 tanks and tank destroyers supporting these men were opposed by some 1,200 German tanks, assault guns and tank destroyers.

GIs bound for Normandy.

In the air, 12,000 Allied aircraft enjoyed air supremacy against the remnants of the Luftwaffe fighter force (initially 300 strong) that lost heavily from June 6 onward.

By December 1944 (at the time of the Battle of the Bulge), there would be close to 4,000,000 Allied soldiers from 13 nations fighting the Germans in western Europe. Two-thirds of this total were Americans. Arrayed against this overwhelming force were about 500,000 Germans.

It is worthwhile remembering the Western Allies had originally expected to defeat Nazi Germany by September 1944, or only three months after the Normandy landings. The overwhelming manpower and material superiority of the Western Allies made this expectation wholly realistic--on paper.

It is incredible Nazi Germany managed to resist for eight more months in the face of such stupendous odds. This superhuman resistance would have been impossible without the panzerwaffe.



U.S. Shermans and infantry advance in France, 1944.

Omaha Beach: One German against 70 Americans
A forewarning of the terrible battles awaiting the Americans in western Europe was the murderous landing at Omaha Beach at 6:30 a.m. on 6 June 1944, D-Day. Celebrated since as a powerful example of American courage and resolve against overwhelming odds, the Battle for Omaha Beach was, in reality, a shameful fiasco for the inept Americans.

At “Bloody Omaha,” a mere 500 Germans withstood the assault of 35,000 Americans for hours before being forced to withdraw because they were almost out of ammunition. The German defenders were mainly 17 to 19 year-old teenagers and old men from 30 to 40 years old that had never seen combat.

Deprived of ammunition, the defenders were unable to parry continued thrusts by the enormous number of invading Americans. Once their thin beach defense lines fell, the paltry screen of Germans succumbed to attacks on their rear by the Americans.

Over 35,000 American infantrymen swarm Omaha Beach on D-Day, 6 June 1944. Blocking their path are a mere 500 Germans. One of these defenders mans an MG42 machine gun at his one-man "tobruk" or concrete foxhole.

These Germans manned the five understrength infantry companies spread out among the 15 "Widerstandsnestern" (or strongpoints) defending Ohama Beach, a portion of the Normandy coast that extended from Vierville-sur-Mer in the west to Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes in the east.

This indomitable band of Germans first stood firm against a tremendous naval bombardment from hundreds of Allied warships and an intense aerial bombardment from hundreds of bombers. And then, cut off from the rest of their divisions, these teenagers and old men valiantly defended their ground in the face of an enemy force that outnumbered them by over 70 to 1.

But most humiliating for the proud U.S. Army were the losses it took to seize Omaha Beach from its massively outnumbered defenders. The invading U.S. 1st Infantry Division, the U.S. 29th Infantry Division, the U.S. Army Rangers and other units suffered 4,720 killed, wounded or missing in their assault on Omaha Beach. Practically all these casualties were incurred in the first few hours of combat against only 500 German defenders!

German beach defenses in Normandy.

Recent historical studies indicate most of the American casualties were inflicted by German machine guns. German mortars are estimated to have inflicted the second highest number of American casualties.

Only 85 German machine guns, however, defended the eight kilometer long stretch of beach attacked by the Americans.

Many of these machine guns were the famous MG 42 that inflicted death at the rate of 1,200 rounds per minute. Sited mainly at the draws or re-entrants leading inland from the beach, these machine guns inflicted terrible slaughter on the Americans, who had to traverse 300 meters of fire-swept beach totally devoid of cover.

Machine guns at "Widerstandsnest 62" or WN 62 manned by only 30 Germans and covering a vital draw on Omaha Beach are said to have shot down over 2,000 Americans. Some accounts say only one machine gun inflicted this slaughter.

According to German doctrine, an entire division should have defended a front this long. Instead, only 500 Germans were placed in the path of the American juggernaut.

So badly outnumbered were the Germans that less than 100 "frontsoldaten" defended every kilometer of Omaha Beach. Their sad lack of numbers also forced the Germans to assign only one man, the machine gunner, to stand behind many of their machine guns. There were normally two Germans manning a machine gun: a gunner and his assistant gunner.

Fighting from individual concrete foxholes (called "tobruk" by the Germans); bunkers and trenches, badly outnumbered German infantry initially withstood the flood of Americans so well their commanders misleadingly reported they had stopped the invasion.

That probably would have been possible if the Germans at Omaha Beach had the two months' worth of ammunition they were promised--and more men. Instead, the Germans had enough ammunition for just four hours of fighting and received no reinforcements. This lack of ammunition eventually forced them to withdraw from Omaha.

Knowledge of the destitute state of the German defenders of Omaha Beach and their woeful lack of numbers should be borne in mind whenever one watches flawed Hollywood war pictures such as Saving Private Ryan or any other American-made World War II movie or "documentary" extolling American arms on D-Day.

Destroyers of men: the murderous German MG34 (top) and MG42 machine guns.

Assault on Pointe du Hoc: not the epic we've been led to believe
On its face, the D-Day assault by three companies of U.S. Army Rangers on "heavily defended" German positions atop the 30 meter tall Normandy cliff called Pointe du Hoc is downright heroic.

The conventional image is that of fearless Rangers clambering up the cliff using ropes and ladders borrowed from the London fire brigade in the face of withering machine gun fire from the more numerous German defenders that also hammered them with artillery fire and grenades.

Once atop the cliff, the remaining Rangers crushed the German defenders and destroyed the six 155 mm field howitzers threatening the American beachheads.

The heroic part of this tale--that the Americans scaled the cliff under fire from the Germans--is true. What is tragic is this sacrifice went for nothing.

And what happened to the six 155 mm howitzers that were supposed to have been emplaced at Pointe du Hoc?

New research confirms Pointe du Hoc was a dummy position built by the Germans to prevent the Americans from attacking the more important German artillery batteries and command headquarters at the outskirts of the village of Grandcamp-Maisy to the southwest.

The Americans fell for this ingenious ruse de guerre. They lost 80 men killed, 55 wounded and 40 missing from a force of 225 men in their attacks on Pointe du Hoc that ended on 8 June. Only 50 Rangers survived the fight to wrest the useless Pointe du Hoc dummy position from the outnumbered German defenders.

Instead of six 155 mm guns, the bewildered Rangers found five huge telegraph poles covered by camouflage netting. The guns the Rangers had been sent to destroy were never there in the first place.

A single Ranger later claimed he stumbled upon the guns by accident and singlehandedly destroyed all five of them! That this lone Sergeant confirmed these weapons were the target 155 mm guns his unit had been sent to destroy taxes credulity--even if one believes his tall tale.

Hindsight shows the Rangers should instead have been sent to attack the "Maisy Batterie" with its two Widerstandsnestern--WN 83 and WN 84--sited 2.4 kilometers to the southwest of Pointe du Hoc.

The Allies knew Maisy Batterie existed and most certainly did know how important this position was to the German defense since they had excellent intelligence information from multiple sources. These intelligence sources included the French Resistance and Ultra, the signals intelligence that obtained Nazi Germany's highest military secrets transmitted using the German "Enigma" cipher machine.

Despite these intelligence sources, attacking Maisy was only the sixth out of the six objectives given the Rangers in the Normandy landings.

As far as can be determined, Maisy Batterie was a key headquarters of the German command defending the Omaha and Utah sectors. Why Maisy wasn't the top D-Day objective of the U.S. Rangers instead of Pointe du Hoc has never been convincingly explained to this day.

(Left) One of the guns now at the ruins of Maisy Batterie is a Czech modification of the German 15 cm sFH 18 heavy howitzer. The Czech gun with a caliber of 15.2 cm and a muzzle brake was made after the war and installed at Maisy in 2008. (Right) An H622 German bunker for 20 men at Maisy.










Maisy Batterie consisted of one battery of four 105 mm howitzers; another battery of six 155 mm French howitzers from World War I (range 15 km) and two 50 mm anti-tank guns. The howitzers were capable of shelling Utah in its entirety and part of Omaha.

The six 155 mm French howitzers are the missing guns from Pointe du Hoc.

This means the Ranger Sergeant who claims to have destroyed the guns destroyed something else--if he destroyed anything at all. This also opens a nasty can of worms. Why did Allied command persist in attacking Pointe du Hoc if it knew these guns weren't there?

Current evidence suggests these six guns were never permanently emplaced at Pointe du Hoc but were shown at the site in propaganda newsreels to fool the Allies.

Maisy Batterie, which was first excavated after the war in 2006 by an amateur British historian named Gary Sterne, revealed dozens of bunkers for guns, personnel and ammunition; a two-mile long trench system; mortar pits and tobruks. It hasn't been completely uncovered.

Sterne believes the Germans built the Maisy strongpoint in total secrecy but let the Allies know all about the allegedly powerful gun battery at nearby Pointe du Hoc.

Because of this successful ruse, WN 83 and WN 84 remained in action from 6 to 9 June, bombarding both American invasion beaches. Sterne said shelling from WN 83 and WN 84 contributed greatly to the heavy American loss of life on both beaches until 9 June.

These strongpoints fell on 9 June to an assault by two U.S. Ranger battalions after an attack by American bombers.

Cover-up for incompetence
Maisy was the last German battery in Normandy to fall to the Allies. It fought to the end and 18 Rangers paid with their lives taking it. The Rangers, however, captured over 4 million French francs during the attack, an amount they divided among themselves.

After the war, the site of the entire Maisy battery was buried underneath tons of soil by U.S. Army engineers. No one yet knows why this was done and who gave the order to bury this enormous site. The fact the battery was buried has led to a renewed historical interest in Maisy and the "Missing Guns" of Pointe du Hoc.

Some historians now say Maisy was entombed to preserve the fiction it was absolutely vital to attack Pointe du Hoc. What is clear from new historical evidence is that Pointe du Hoc was not “the most important target in the whole invasion area” as claimed by Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower, but merely a position the Germans successfully used to deceive the Allies.

Apologists say the aim of the American assault was to seize Pointe du Hoc and prevent the Germans from turning it into an observation point. But nobody seems to have told the Rangers this was the main reason for their assault.

Instead, the Rangers were told they were risking their lives to knock out big German guns that would slaughter a lot of GIs on the invasion beaches.

Would the Rangers have displayed the same valor and reckless courage if they'd been told their mission was to seize empty gun emplacements? Most certainly not!

Without Maisy, the attack on Pointe du Hoc retains the heroic drama for which it is famous. With Maisy, the attack on Pointe du Hoc becomes pointless. 

Worse, the apparent plan that kept the key role of the Maisy Batterie secret for six decades suggests a hideous cover-up of Allied incompetence that sent many brave Americans to needless deaths at Pointe du Hoc.

History could one day prove the Ranger assault on Pointe du Hoc was unnecessary. 


The PzKpfw IV, backbone of the German armored defense in Normandy.

Fighting against Panzer quality
Despite their massive superiority in men and materiel, however, the Allies lost more men than the Germans from D-Day to the end of July (120,000 as against 110,000). The immense numerical inferiority of the German infantry meant German commanders relied exclusively on the superior quality of their panzers and their better-trained crews to even the odds against the Allies.

Without this superior panzer quality, the two German armies in Normandy would have been defeated far, far quicker.

The panzers lived up to expectations; allied armor losses were significantly higher than the Germans. A British source estimated the kill ratio at some 10:1 in favor of the panzers in tank versus tank combat.

Of the more than 4,000 Allied tanks reported destroyed in the Normandy Campaign, some 2,000 were American. German armor losses during the campaign are estimated by the Allies at 2,200 but no official German figures have been revealed by the Allies to confirm this.


A Sherman obliterated by German fire.

Army Group D commanding all German forces in the Normandy Campaign confirmed a loss of 225 tanks from 6 June to mid-July; 480 tanks were reported destroyed until 31 July. It reported receiving only 17 replacements for the 225 tanks it lost until mid-July.

The decisive German defeat at the Falaise Pocket (12-21 August) yielded the hulks of 500 tanks and assault guns by Allied count. Thus, counted German armor losses in the Normandy Campaign come to about 1,000 machines. Other historians say these losses range from 1,200 to 1,500.

A fair portion of these losses were inflicted by Allied tanks, anti-tank guns and artillery. Recent scholarship, however, estimates about half of the German armor loss was due to non-battle causes such as faulty transmissions, engine problems or a lack of fuel. The abandoned armor, if not destroyed by their crews, were either recovered by the Germans or destroyed by the Allies.

Losses to Allied aircraft, especially to fighter bombers, were minimal. These were placed at some 70 panzers, including a few Tigers, by the special Allied unit that counted German losses of equipment in Normandy. Allied fighter bomber pilots alone claimed to have destroyed some 500 tanks and armored vehicles.

Arming a "Tiffy" or an RAF Hawker Typhoon fighter bomber with RP-3 rockets.

That actual German armor losses from fighter bomber attacks were about a tenth less than those claimed by Allied pilots comes as no surprise, however. During tests conducted in Britain against tank hulks parked in open fields, British pilots hit only 0.2% of the tanks they attacked with unguided air-to-ground rockets.

And this under ideal conditions in which planes were not being fired at by the ubiquitous German flak that accounted for most of the 4,000 Allied aircraft shot down during the Normandy Campaign. Since one source lists 1,600 Allied fighter bombers and medium bombers as having been shot down in the campaign, one can see how effective German flak was.

The extremely low hit rate was chiefly due to the innate inaccuracy of the British-made rocket projectile, the RP-3. This inaccuracy was made patently manifest at the Falaise Pocket where British fighter-bombers claimed the destruction of hundreds of tanks and other vehicles. An examination of German hulks at Falaise by Allied operational research teams, however, concluded only 17 vehicles of all types (trucks, cars, AFVs and armor) were destroyed by rockets.

The Americans, on the other hand, eschewed rockets in favor of bombs, which were far more inaccurate than rockets as tank killers. The almost complete worthlessness of bombs as destroyers of German armor led the USAAF to fabricate the tall tale that the .50 caliber machine guns carried by its aircraft could destroy German tanks of all types, including Tigers.

How a fleeting firing pass of just a few seconds with puny machine gun bullets could penetrate the heavy armor of a speeding and maneuvering tank, however, has never been convincingly explained.

Despite these facts, the myth that fighter bombers were the leading killers of German tanks continues to persist to this day.

Most of the tank battles in the Normandy Campaign, including Operation Goodwood (the campaign's largest tank battle), occurred in the British sector of the front since the ground here was good tank country. As a result, seven panzer divisions (with 750 tanks and assault guns) of the eight in Normandy faced the British.

In British accounts of the fighting, one notes the dominant role played by both British and German tanks in determining the outcome of a relentless series of battles to capture the city of Caen and break out from Normandy. These tank battles included Operation Epsom, Operation Spring and Operation Goodwood, all of which failed in the face of tenacious German resistance and superior German armor.

"Just outside Carpiquet I saw a single shot from a Panther knock out three Shermans. It went through two of them before stopping in the third."
Maj. Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters, Canadian tank commander and top scoring Allied tank ace in World War 2

Battles in the bocage
For the Germans, the British sector was strategically the more dangerous since an attack eastwards by the British would directly threaten Germany. The American sector, on the other hand, posed no such strategic threat.

Heavily armed Fallschirmjaeger alongside a knocked-out Sherman. Note men with tank-killing Panzerschreck and Panzerfaust weapons.

It was dominated by the "bocage" or hedgerows, a mammoth network of small farm plots that hindered armored movement by both the Americans and the Germans. The bocage, however, allowed the grossly outnumbered German infantry to persevere and, for two months, defeat repeated American attempts to break through into the tank country beyond.

U.S. troops in St. Lo, the key town in bocage country.

The most blatant Allied display of sheer numerical superiority in armor occurred in Operation Cobra (25-31 July). This U.S. attack, which led to the Allied breakout from Normandy, saw the Americans hurl 2,500 tanks and tank destroyers at a thin German front line defended by only 190 panzers and assault guns.

The manpower equation was equally unfavorable for the Germans: 150,000 GIs of the U.S. 1st Army attacked a German line defended by a scant 50,000 men.

This overwhelming tide of U.S. armor and infantry was preceded by the heaviest tactical aerial bombardment in military history. Over 3,000 U.S. bombers carpet bombed a very narrow area of the German front line, obliterating the German tanks and infantry in that sector and blasting open the German defenses. U.S. armor and infantry then poured through the gap.

German Panthers in France, 1944.

Before this, battered German infantry outnumbered from 5:1 successfully fought off American attacks aimed at breaking out of the Normandy beachhead. This "Battle of the Hedgerows" constitutes a defeat for the U.S. Army:  the Americans lost some 44,000 men in vain attacks to subdue the extremely stubborn German defenders.

In the bocage, the German armor opposing the Americans belonged to only two panzer divisions: Panzer Lehr and the 2nd SS Panzer Divison "Das Reich." Both were mainly equipped with PzKpfw IV and Panthers. At full strength, these divisions could muter some 300 tanks to combat the over 2,000 American tanks arrayed against them.

Armor and infantry of Panzer Lehr in the bocage.

These panzers destroyed a good portion of the 2,000 tanks lost by the Americans in the Normandy Campaign. In the bocage, most tank encounters were head-on clashes in which thicker sloped armor and a very powerful 75 mm gun gave Panthers the victory in practically all individual, head-to-head tank fights.

The PzKpfw IV also fared well against the Sherman: the former's high velocity 75 mm gun being superior to the latter in range and armor piercing capability.

The U.S. Army did not battle either the Tiger I or the Tiger II in Normandy despite numerous claims to the contrary by its tank men and infantrymen. The similar squared silhouettes of the Tiger I and the almost equally large PzKpfw IV, especially when viewed from a distance, was probably to blame for endless American accounts of attacks by Tigers where there were none in their sector of the front.

The three German Heavy Tank Battalions or Schwere Panzer Abteilungen (s.Pz.Abt.) that fought in Normandy were all arrayed against the British. These battalions destroyed over 500 Allied tanks while losing less than 50 in combat. Each battalion mustered 45 Tigers.

Look alikes: Tiger I and the PzKpfw IV

The first encounter between the U.S. Army and a heavy tank battalion occurred in Nov. 1944 at the Battle of Puffendorf in Germany. The battle against the Tiger II or the King Tiger was a huge defeat for the Americans: some 60 Shermans and Stuarts being destroyed in exchange for the loss of only one Tiger II and a few Panthers.

Tiger terror
The fear engendered by Tigers among Americans was so intense that it gives one the impression all German tanks encountered by GIs in Normandy were Tigers.

This led to fantastic American allegations of Tigers being destroyed by unlikely weapons: the crew of an American armored car claimed to have destroyed a Tiger with a 37 mm cannon while a P-47 fighter pilot was said to have exploded a Tiger by strafing it with his six .50 caliber machine guns! Another P-47 pilot claimed to have blown up a Tiger by ricocheting rounds off the ground and into the Tiger's belly!

The Allied research units that examined German armor wrecks, however, did not find evidence to confirm the destruction of a single Tiger by machine gun bullets fired from aircraft.

"OUR COMMANDERS have decided on a new tactic. If the Germans send a Tiger tank, we will send out 8 Shermans to meet it and we expect to lose 7 of them."
British " optimism" Normandy 1944

Smoldering Sherman destroyed by the Germans.

Ineffective bazooka
Losses to the "bazooka," the portable anti-tank rocket launcher introduced into combat by the U.S. Army in 1942, were also minimal despite claims by GIs of numerous kills against Tigers and Panthers. The dismal performance of the 2.36 inch (60 mm) M9 bazooka in the Normandy Campaign led the U.S. Army in October to begin developing a replacement weapon.

This new bazooka, the 3.5 inch (88 mm) M20, did not see service until the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, however. Notable in this new weapon was its being patterned after the more effective German bazooka, the 88 mm (3.5 inch) RPzB 54 or "Panzerschreck."

Tests conducted by the Americans during the Normandy Campaign proved the overwhelming superiority of the Panzerschreck over the M9 as a tank killer. The Panzerschreck 's missile could pierce 200 mm of armor, meaning the 60 mm front hull armor and 76 mm front turret armor of the Sherman offered no protection from this weapon at all.

These tests also proved the uselessness of the M9 bazooka against the Panther and Tiger in head-on attacks. Attacking the side turret armor and the side hull armor of these panzers proved more profitable but came with an increased risk of bazooka teams being killed.

The US Army's less than effective 2.36 inch M9 bazooka.

Surprisingly, even a stationary target proved a problem for the bazooka. Out of 16 rockets that struck a derelict Panther during an American field test in France, only three penetrated the side armor and two the rear armor. Were this hulk a moving target, these penetrations would have been doubtful.

Gen. George Patton, commanding general of the U.S. 3rd Army in the Normandy Campaign, said a month before D-Day that the purpose of the bazooka was not to hunt tanks offensively, but to be used as a last resort in keeping tanks from overrunning infantry.

"To insure this, the range should be held to around 30 yards," he said.

Panzerknacker team hunts Allied armor with a Panzerschreck.

Shooting at an advancing panzer from the side from just 30 yards away was a death sentence as shown by the very high casualty rate among bazooka crews, who were priority targets for German infantry supporting the panzers.

In the case of the Panther, the chances of a catastrophic kill with a side shot were minimal. The Panther was protected by its interleaved road wheels and by "schuerzen" or skirt armor that would detonate the bazooka's HEAT (high explosive anti-tank) warhead before this impacted the lower hull.

There were bazooka kills against Panthers and Tigers.  But these were few and not as easily accomplished as claimed by GIs, whose stories give one the impression killing Tigers was as simple as shooting cows out to pasture.

These relentless exaggerations literally reached new heights with the American pilot of an L-5 reconnaissance aircraft who bragged about destroying 14 German tanks using a battery of six bazookas mounted under the wings of his light aircraft! Incredible and impossible! And another barefaced lie.

One historian estimates that just over four percent of total German tank losses in western Europe can be attributed to hollow-charge rounds, meaning those fired by bazookas and the British equivalent of the bazooka, the PIAT.

Since German armor combat losses in the Normandy Campaign are placed at 500, losses due to either the bazooka or the PIAT come to about 30 tanks.

Not a single Tiger is confirmed to have been destroyed by an American GI firing a bazooka during the Normandy Campaign.

Not an easy victory
Total Allied losses in Normandy came to some 210,000 killed, wounded and missing.

The U.S. Army lost 126,000 men. Of this number, 21,000 were dead, 95,000 wounded and 10,000 POW. British and Commonwealth casualties stood at 83,000 men: 16,000 dead, 59,000 wounded and 8,000 POW.

The American and British air forces lost 17,000 airmen and 4,000 aircraft in direct support of the campaign.

German casualty records for the entire Normandy Campaign, however, remain incomplete and tend to be on the high-end when presented by some Allied historians.

Army Group D, however, recorded German losses from 6 June to 14 Aug. at 159,000 killed, wounded and missing.

Weary German MG42 gunner, Normandy.

There was a significant rise in total losses after Falaise. Even this, however, will not increase total German casualties in the Normandy Campaign to the 400,000 claimed by some Allied writers. The Germans reported their fighting strength in Normandy at 380,000 at the end of July.

Most German casualties were in prisoners (about 110,000). An extensive study of German records by some European researchers revealed German losses in the Normandy Campaign at 25,000 dead and 60,000 wounded for a total of 85,000.


GIs from the US 3rd Armored Division lie dead in France.

Excluding prisoners, Allied losses in the Normandy Campaign reached 191,000 men: 37,000 dead and 154,000 wounded.

The Allies' loss of 191,000 men dead and wounded against a comparable German total of 85,000 graphically illustrates the superiority of German armor. It is also a stark demonstration of the superior fighting qualities of the German soldier and superior German tactical leadership.

U.S. Army casualties of 21,000 dead and 95,000 wounded against the Germans further reinforce this perception of superior German quality.

And what were German casualties against the Americans? That remains uncertain, but halving the toll of German dead and wounded and attributing these to American action will give us some 12,500 in German dead and 30,000 in wounded.

A side-by-side comparison comes to 21,000 American dead as against 12,500 Germans and 95,000 wounded Americans compared to 30,000 Germans. It is not a flattering picture for the U.S. Army.

The German panzers were the powerful shield and the deadly sword that allowed the greatly outnumbered Germans to hold out far, far longer than humanly possible.

As can be seen from this data, the Normandy Campaign was not a "turkey shoot" where masses of "Krauts" were mown down like sitting ducks by outnumbered GIs as shown in jingoistic and inaccurate American films like "Saving Private Ryan" and "Band of Brothers." The facts seem to show the reverse was true.

Luftwaffe Fallschirmjaeger acquitted themselves well against the Americans in the bocage. They inflicted casualties on the Americans far in excess of their own and in so doing burnished a reputation for martial excellence exemplified in the Battles for Crete and Monte Cassino..

A band of revisionist American writers has devoted its efforts over the past decades to explaining the failure of the U.S. Army to quickly crush a German enemy in Normandy it massively outnumbered in manpower; in all major weapons categories (tanks, artillery, aircraft, machine guns, mortars) and in logistics.

That the U.S. Army failed to do so while suffering huge casualties and a string of defeats is an embarrassment revisionist American historians have failed to adequately explain.

The unifying theme of these American revisionists has been the U.S. Army won against the German Army because man for man and unit for unit, the Americans were the better soldiers. The corollary to this claim is the Americans won because they didn't rely on massive numerical superiority--or attrition--to defeat the Germans.

Historical facts prove this assertion to be a fallacy.

With their "zeltbahn" as camouflage, "frontsoldaten" survey the battlefield.

Man for man and unit for unit, the German was the better soldier in the Normandy Campaign, acknowledged the Canadian Army official history.

Rehabilitating the image of a U.S. Army that inexplicably fought poorly against some of the worst soldiers in the German Army in the west is a hard sell considering the facts. Revisionists, therefore, resort to the old propaganda trick that repeating a claim ad infinitum gives that claim a semblance of the truth. This claim being peddled in this case is that the GI was a far, far better soldier than the "frontsoldaten."

The sad truth for these revisionists is that, like in World War I, the side with the bigger battalions won in the end. And like World War I, the victors in World War II suffered considerably more casualties than the vanquished.

The Allied strategy of attrition or brute force fared badly against the Germans, although enabling the Allies to win in the end by massive weight of numbers.

Teenagers of the 12th SS Panzerdivision Hitlerjugend awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class for bravery against the British. The 12th SS only fought the Americans once, during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, and for the rest of the war fought on the Eastern Front.

Quality, however, gave way to quantity in the end.

Today, with the age of global coalition warfare a relic of the past, there is little chance sheer mass will be able to overcome superior quality in the wars of the future. This new age of Small, Smart Armies means that superior quality in doctrine, manpower, equipment and technology is the new arbiter of battlefield victory.

Superior quality has finally become the equal of massive quantity.

The price of inferior quality
The U.S. Army lost over 8,000 tanks in combat in Western Europe from D-Day until January 1945, the vast majority of these losses being Shermans. Recent historical analysis estimate American tank losses ranging from 400 to 800 per month for this period with British losses at 200 per month.

Tommy Cooker, Ronson, Grave for Five Comrades, the Burning Coffin: the demoralizing epithets for the death trap that was the American M4 Sherman.

These American losses plus those in other European theaters (North Africa and Italy) plus losses of British and other Allied Shermans yield a total Sherman loss to the Germans of some 15,000 in two years of war.

The US produced some 50,000 Shermans, most of which served in Europe.

Then one has to add the losses of U.S. tank destroyers, British tanks such as the Cromwell and Churchill and other Allied tanks to reach a total Allied tank loss of some 20,000.

Casualties among the  lightly armored U.S. tank destroyers (TDs) were heavy throughout the war in Europe: 130 being totally destroyed from mid-December 1944 to mid-January 1945 alone (the time frame for the Battle of the Bulge).

One estimate places total tank destroyer combat losses in western Europe at 630 M10s, M18s and M36s.

This figure probably refers only to TDs completely destroyed and does not include those knocked-out but subsequently returned to combat. Assuming a 1:1 ratio, true TD losses would reach over 1,200 fully tracked vehicles.

A U.S. M10 tank destroyer knocked-out in the Ardennes is bypassed by an SdKfz 251 and men of the German 116th Panzer Division.

The TD force, including those in its towed anti-tank gun units and half-track guns, lost 5,000 dead, the vast majority in western Europe. Some 100,000 men served in The Tank Destroyer Force.

The high death rate can be attributed to the basic flaws of fully-tracked TDs: an open turret fighting compartment that made crews vulnerable to infantry attack and shelling; excessively thin armor offering no protection against German 75 mm and 88 mm guns at very long range and a manually operated turret traverse mechanism that lethally slowed crew reaction in combat.

TD units were notorious for wildly exaggerated kill claims against German tanks, especially Tigers, despite being on the attack (and therefore more  vulnerable) most of the time.

They claimed the destruction of 300 German tanks in the Battle of the Bulge, or almost all of the German armor confirmed lost in combat during that fight. In return, 130 TDs were totally destroyed by the Germans and many more knocked-out but repaired.

The immensity of the Western Allies' armored loss can only be understood by comparing it to total German production and deployment of tanks in World War 2. In six years of war, the Germans produced just 9,000 PzKpfw IVs (their main battle tank); 4,000 Panthers; 1,350 Tiger Is and 700 Tiger IIs for a total of some 15,000 tanks.

The estimated Sherman losses in Europe and Africa from 1943 to 1945, about 15,000, equal the total German production of PzKpfw IVs, Panthers and Tigers during the entire war.

Panther: the best medium tank in World War II and a source of unending terror for Allied tank crews.

About 6,000 Panthers, Tiger Is and Tiger IIs were produced beginning 1943. Of the 9,000 PzKpfw IVs, more than half were produced from 1943-1945.

None of the light German tanks such as the PzKpfw I and II, which comprised most of Germany’s armored strength in the September 1939 invasion of Poland and the invasion of France and the Low Countries in May 1940, saw combat in Normandy.

The Germans rightly withdrew these obsolete machines from the front lines by 1942. The PzKpfw III soldiered on but mostly as the StuG III assault gun and not as a tank.

Then one must recall that Russia was Germany's main theater of war and the war in the West only a secondary front defended by about 20% of the German Army.

Some 80% of Germany’s tanks saw action on the Russian front. Of the remainder, more than half fought in Western Europe. The remainder fought in Italy and Africa.

The best tank of World War II. The fearsome Tiger I had a 10:1 kill ratio in Normandy.

This means that about 3,000 German tanks, assault guns and tank destroyers fought in the West from 1944-1945. Indeed, from June to July 1944 in Normandy, less than 100 German tanks--none of them Tigers--opposed the entire invading US Army and its more than 2,000 tanks, mostly Shermans.

The newer German tanks, the PzKpfw V Panther, the PzKpfw VI E Tiger I and PzKpfw VI B Tiger II, were vastly superior in gun power, armor and, surprisingly, maneuverability to the Sherman, Cromwell and Churchill.

Even the older PzKpfw IV, which comprised most of the German tanks in the West, was still superior to these Allied tanks in gun power and armor, albeit by a slimmer margin. German assault guns such as the Jagdpanzer IV and the Jagdpanther, although available in small numbers, were also far better fighting machines than the Allied tanks.

This undeniable superiority of the panzers in gun power and armor were the basic reasons the "panzerwaffe" inflicted far, far more casualties than it sustained in the 11-month old campaign in western Europe. This superior quality, however, came at a price: pervasive mechanical unreliability, especially among Tigers.

During the western European campaign, 57% of all panzer losses were the result of enemy action. A surprising 43% were lost because crews either abandoned or destroyed their armor due to non-combat causes such as mechanical breakdowns.

Thus, when looking at losses of  German tanks, it would be wise to remember that only 6 of 10 were destroyed in combat.

Reading about the Future Force constantly brought to mind images of Panthers taking on Shermans, the Panthers in this case being enemy tanks and Shermans, the MCS.

As in Western Europe, there could only be one consistent outcome to these armored battles--the Panthers win.

"I DROVE my Sherman column directly at a hidden Tiger tank near Beauville. The Tiger tank destroyed seven of my company before it retreated. We fired constantly at the Tiger's front armour with AP and HEAT rounds at ranges as short as 100 yards. None of our rounds penetrated the thick front armour."

British crewman's report, Normandy 1944

The Stug III (above) and Stug IV assault guns were great destroyers of Shermans.

Not really a tank
The severest condemnation of the Sherman was made by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, supreme Allied military commander, who in January 1945 ordered no more Shermans mounting 75 mm guns be shipped to Europe. 

This prohibition followed heavy losses among 75 mm Shermans in the Battle of the Bulge in which the defending Americans lost far more tanks than the Germans. Only 76 mm armed Shermans were to be sent to Europe, said Eisenhower. 

Given the 76 mm gun was only marginally superior to the 75 mm gun, Eisenhower's decision exhibits a profound loss of confidence in a tank that landed in France on D-Day and had battled to the borders of Germany by January 1945. 

Eisenhower's decision also gives one the impression he wanted to replace all Shermans with the superior 90 mm M26 Pershing, but these heavy tank tanks only saw action beginning February 1945 and were available in small numbers by the end of the war in May.

Because of its ill conceived notions of tank warfare--especially a doctrine that said tanks were not supposed to fight tanks but existed to support infantry--the U.S. Army continued producing a "tank" out of touch with the deadly realities of the war in western Europe. 

The Sherman was basically a self-propelled gun masquerading as a tank.

The lack of space to maneuver in Europe mostly meant Shermans were hurled head-on at German defenses lined with powerful anti-tank weapons and hardened by Panthers, Tigers, PzKpfw IVs and assault guns.

The reasons as to why the U.S. Army persisted in producing a tank that was patently obsolete compared to the German armor it fought continues to arouse fierce debate today. This controversy, however, forcefully confirms the Sherman's inferiority as a tank in firepower and armor protection, the basic requisites of a tank. 

The Sherman's superiority in mechanical reliability is undeniable, but tanks are built to fight and not to prove they can get more miles to the gallon and suffer fewer breakdowns than opposing tanks. Tanks are neither family sedans nor long-haul trucks.

The Sherman models equipping the British and American armored divisions that landed in Europe on D-Day mostly carried the 75 mm gun M3 L/40--an artillery gun--and were protected by armor less than 80 mm at its thickest. 

Painful and costly combat experience in Normandy proved the 75 mm gun could not pierce the frontal armor of the Tiger and Panther at all ranges. A shot to the side of either German tank from about 100 meters could disable these tanks but penetrations or a catastrophic kill were rarely achieved by the 75 mm gun. 

Against the veteran PzKpfw IV, which accounted for about half of the German tanks in the Normandy Campaign, the Sherman was not quite as outmatched. The frontal armor of these opponents was roughly equal in thickness. 

The high-velocity 75 mm L/48 gun of the PzKpfw IV, however, could kill a Sherman head-on at over 1,000 meters while the Sherman's medium-velocity 75 mm gun was incapable of knocking-out the PzKpfw IV head-on at the same range. 

U.S. tankmen regularly reported Shermans being destroyed by Panthers and Tigers at ranges exceeding 3,000 yards or some two miles! At ranges of 1,000 meters or less, German 75 mm and 88 mm tank guns had a 90% hit rate. 

It generally took only one round to destroy a Sherman, whose early models were infamous for bursting into flames when hit. This penchant led to the Sherman nicknames of "Tommy Cooker" (after the British Army field stove) and "Ronson" after the efficient American lighter that ignited on the very first flick.

Thus, the Sherman was completely outgunned by all three major German tanks it fought against in western Europe.

Jagdpanther: the best assault gun of the war.

Attrition on a massive scale
It was difficult encircling German tanks since panzers normally fought in groups as part of an all arms combat team. When working alone, panzers operated in pairs as mandated by German armor doctrine. 

Without much room to maneuver, Allied tank units were mostly left with the barbaric but successful tactic of hurling themselves in frontal attacks at their badly outnumbered opponents. One study by the Allied 12th Army Group showed the Germans opposed American tank attacks with only three panzers or assault guns in two-thirds of encounters. 

As Americans were wont to attack in battalion strength (80 tanks), encounters at these odds gave Americans the victory but at exorbitant cost. It was attrition on a massive scale.

The accounts of U.S. tankmen below confirm the extensive German use of panzers fighting in pairs or in small groups. It was an effective tactic since the Germans were on the strategic defensive during the European campaign and were thus able to repeatedly ambush U.S. armor from long-range. Fighting from long-range also meant German tanks were almost immune to destructive counter fire from American tank guns.

Resorting to what basically was armored guerilla warfare was forced on the German Army in the west by the transfer in early 1945 of practically all panzer divisions to the rapidly collapsing eastern front. In the last five months of the war, about 500 panzers, assault guns and tank destroyers barred the path of the western Allies with their four million men and over 6,000 tanks.

Only superior German armor quality prevented this stupendous Allied mass from overwhelming the Germans faster than it did. 

So intense was the fear Panthers and Tigers created that some American tank units were reported to have wavered in their attacks at news these tanks were on the scene. One American writer said rumors Tigers were in the battle area were enough to stop American armored attacks delivered with a 20 to 1 superiority in numbers. 

At the Battle of the Bulge, the crews of nine Shermans deserted their tanks in panic at the rapid approach of two Panthers. While one Panther kept overwatch, the other Panther easily destroyed the nine abandoned Shermans.

Such was the effect of superior quality.

American dead in the Battle of the Bulge.

The Bulge, Huertgen Forest and Puffendorf
German qualitative superiority was a key factor in the high losses in armor suffered by the Americans during the Battle of the Bulge  or the Ardennes Offensive from Dec. 1944 to Jan. 1945. Americans placed their losses at some 800 out of the 1,300 tanks (Shermans and Stuarts) initially engaged..

It is not clear if this total loss refers only to tanks totally destroyed, or to the total of tanks totally destroyed plus those knocked-out but subsequently repaired and returned to battle.

One U.S. armored division, however, reported a 1:1 ratio between tanks destroyed and not returned to combat and those destroyed but returned to combat. One historian said the ratio was actually 1:4 for all U.S. armored divisions.

Not included in this loss are those among their tank destroyer units. It is perhaps reasonable to assume total U.S. armor losses at some 1,000 tanks (light and medium) and tank destroyers.

Broken down, U.S. armor losses (totally destroyed) from 20 Dec. 1944 to 20 Jan. 1945 were 610 Shermans; 210 Stuarts, M24 Chaffees and M3 Gen. Lees and 120 fully-tracked tank destroyers. In addition, 200 M8 Greyhound wheeled armored cars were also destroyed.

Total German armor losses were around 600 tanks, assault guns and tank destroyers, and this despite the Germans being on the attack. That the defending Americans should lose many more tanks than the attacking Germans can perhaps be explained by the qualitative superiority of German armor.

A significant portion of German armor losses, however, were due to armor being abandoned by crews either because of lack of fuel or mechanical problems.

Total American losses at the Bulge came to 108,000 men, according to the U.S. Department of the Army. The 19,000 dead suffered by the Americans remains the highest death toll in a single battle in American history.

Official German losses, according to the German High Command, stood at 85,000 men. German dead came to 16,000 men.

At the start of the Battle, 200,000 Germans--about half of Germany's total manpower on the western front--attacked a line held by 800,000 of the over two million Americans fighting in Europe.

Huertgen hellhole
It is worthwhile noting that whether in the attack or on the defense, the Americans lost more men and armor than the Germans during a number of significant battles late in the war. At the Battle of the Huertgen Forest from Sept. 1944 to Feb. 1945, the Americans lost 33,000 men (12,000 dead) despite a superiority of 5:1 over the defending Germans in manpower during the battle. American numerical superiority in tanks and artillery was more massive.

GIs advance in the hell of Huertgen where they would stay for five gruesome months.

While American writers optimistically calculate German losses as equal to theirs, this claim is a rank impossibility as the Germans were badly outnumbered throughout the battle. Most of the German manpower and armor were committed to the Battle of the Bulge.

The fight was mainly an infantry battle since it took place within a forest in an area of 50 square miles. The Germans, however, used their smaller number of tanks and assault guns to much greater effect than the Americans. The successful German counterattacks at the villages of Schmidt and Merode that destroyed the American battalions attacking both towns were spearheaded by tanks.

At the start of the battle, some 5,000 Germans opposed the attack by the U.S. 9th Infantry Division and the U.S. 3rd Armored Division, spearhead of the U.S. 1st Army that would eventually commit 10 infantry and three armored divisions to the battle. At full strength, a U.S. infantry division numbered 14,000 men while an armored division could put 11,000 men and 250 M4s and M5s into battle.

And during the critical phase of the battle in November, the German defenders amounted to less than 7,000 men. Only one weak panzer division and 150 artillery pieces supported the heavily outnumbered German defenders.

What is surprising in the battle was the American superiority in terms of soldier quality: the GIs were better trained than most of the Germans they faced and a good number had combat experience from previous U.S. campaigns in Europe and North Africa.


Shermans mass before an attack.

On the other hand, most of the under strength and badly equipped German "divisions" in the battle consisted of poorly trained teenagers, old men over 40 years old and wounded soldiers returning to battle. These "men," who would be classified as "4-F" or unfit for service were they in the U.S. Army, defeated the well-trained and well-equipped GIs of the U.S. 1st Army in an incredible display of courage and tenacity.

Some American commentators describe the Battle of the Huertgen Forest as one of the worst defeats suffered by the U.S. Army in its history.

The German victory at the Battle of the Huertgen Forest while on the defensive, and their inflicting significantly more casualties on the Americans in the Battle of the Bulge while on the attack can partly be explained by the qualitative superiority of German armor.

The Battle of Puffendorf
The American defeat at the Battle of Puffendorf on 17 Nov. 1944, however, was entirely due to the superior quality of German armor. At the town of Puffendorff in Germany, the Americans faced the fearsome Tiger II or King Tiger in battle for the first time.

The battle was a a disaster for the Americans. The U.S. 2nd Armored Division admitted losing 38 Shermans and 19 Stuarts to a German attack led by some 30 Tiger IIs and supported by Panthers. The Germans lost one Tiger II and a number of Panthers in this head-on clash over muddy ground that denied the Shermans their vaunted mobility.

It was a one-sided fight in which demoralized American tankmen again and again saw their armor piercing shells bounce off the Tiger II's thick glacis and front turret armor as if they were ping pong balls. On the other hand, it generally took only one 88 mm round to destroy a Sherman. Routed, the surviving Shermans then fled the battlefield to seek protection among the shattered houses in Puffendorf.

The 2nd Armored said its heavy losses at the Battle of Puffendorf were due to ". . . the inferiority of our tanks in guns, armor, and maneuverability." 

This inferiority, said the U.S. Army, caused the loss of some 640 Shermans from late November to late December 1944 in western Europe.

King Tigers of Schwere Panzer Abteilung 503 on parade. This unit fought in Normandy and on the Eastern Front. It achieved a kill ratio of 15:1 against Allied tanks.

Monster Tiger
The King Tiger, or the Tiger II, was the most powerful tank to see widespread combat service in Europe during the Second World War. Its upper front or glacis armor was 150 mm (5.9 inches) thick and sloped at 40 degrees from the vertical. Its front turret armor was thicker still at 180 mm (7.1 inches).

The side and rear armor of the King Tiger (80 mm or 3.1 inches) was thicker than the 76 mm (3 inches) turret front armor of the Sherman.

What made the King Tiger the most fearsome tank on the Western Front, however, was its extremely lethal 88 mm KwK 43 L/71 high velocity gun capable of destroying a Sherman or any Western Allied tank head on at over 2.5 km (1.6 miles) away. In contrast, the Sherman's medium velocity 75 mm gun was incapable of penetrating a King Tiger's glacis and front turret armor at any range, including point blank.

The American inability to inflict more casualties on the Germans in these three almost simultaneous battles despite a huge superiority in military power reflects badly on the American's choice of the Sherman as its main battle tank, and on its flawed combat doctrine that the primary role of American tanks was not to fight German tanks but to encircle the enemy.

As you will read in the testimonials below of U.S. tank men who fought against German armor, this doctrine was impossible to achieve on the small battlefields in western Europe. The tragic result of the American's bull headed espousal of this doctrine was massive losses in armor and tank crews.

"OUR COLUMN engaged three Panzer 6 tanks at a range of between 200 - 800 yards. We  stopped one of the Tigers by sustained fire on its tracks. This was after repeated shots against the upper armor, which had no effect, even at short range.

"The Tigers destroyed 8 of our M4 tanks and we were forced to retreat. Even the disabled enemy tank was still firing at us as we retreated."

American armored regiment commander's report, North Africa 1943

Weapon supreme
Despite improvements in anti-tank technology, there is nothing to replace the tank. The MCS is, arguably, not a tank but a bastard beast of a different breed. Only painful battlefield experience will tell if it deserves to be called a tank in the masculine sense of the word.

The gory fight to conquer Fallujah in November 2004 proved conclusively that the tank, in this case the M1 Abrams, remains the weapon supreme in street fighting. Without the ability of the Abrams to bring its big 120mm gun to bear on hidden insurgents, US Marine casualties would certainly have been higher.

What would Marine casualties have been had there been only MCS' at Fallujah? One shudders at the thought, but any reasonable minded individual would certainly agree that Marine casualties and MCS casualties would have been heavy.

First-hand accounts by Marines who fought at Fallujah concur that the Abrams was their ace in the hole, besides hardening the Marines' will to fight.

And the primary reason for the continuous stream of US casualties from roadside bombs is the US Army's incomprehensible insistence on using Humvees as its main combat transport when thousands of better-armored and fully tracked M113s remain mothballed. In Future War, the XM1206 ICV will become the MCS’ sidekick; a tandem that is the military equivalent of Laurel and Hardy.

Even the most heavily uparmored Humvees have been annihilated by IEDs since Humvees are small vehicles. Larger and more heavily armored M113s appear more survivable.

The Humvee vs. M113 debate continues and is, in effect, a microcosm of the armor versus portability argument dividing the US Army. Anyone who has seen the many Iraqi insurgent Internet videos of IEDs wiping out Humvees and their three-or four-man crews gets to realize that Humvees are death traps par excellance.

Complete battlefield awareness?
Alleged "Revolutions in Military Affairs (RMA)" must be intelligently thought out and in touch with battlefield realities. The terrifying lethality of today's battlefields means that light infantry are more vulnerable to destruction than ever before.

The logical answer to this vulnerability seems to be to better armor individual soldiers and improve the survivability of the armored units supporting him in battle. The US Army's answer to this problem is to provide more computer-based information in the astonishing hope of attaining a "complete battlefield awareness" that permits the precise targeting of long-range aircraft weapons such as 250 lb. Small Diameter Bombs.

In essence, information will allegedly "shield" American infantrymen from enemy weapons. Now will this be possible when the fight becomes eyeball-to-eyeball? The answer is not yet. So what happens now?

During World War 2, Gen. George Patton's decision to continue production of the grossly inferior M4 Sherman in his belief that American tanks should not fight German tanks but should avoid them and attack the Germans' rear is a horrifying example of what a profound misjudgment can achieve.

Thousands of Shermans were lost to German fire and thousands of tankmen killed because one general declared his illusory vision of warfare could override the bloody realities of the battlefield.

That bloody reality in Europe from 1944 to 1945 was that the Sherman was easy meat for all major German tanks, assault guns and anti-tank weapons, including the one-shot Panzerfaust and the Panzerschreck, the Germans’ more effective version of the bazooka. The vast numbers of Shermans only meant that there were more to destroy.

And field reports from officers commanding US armored units and tankmen manning Shermans confirm that it was almost virtually impossible to bypass German armor to strike at German communications. The constricted terrain in Western Europe prevented the sweeping tank drives common in North Africa, which is where Patton first fought the Germans.

US assaults, therefore, were mostly brutish frontal attacks against German defenses stiffened by Panthers and Tigers. The result was massive losses of Allied armor to German tank and anti-tank weapons.

In 1996, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Eric Shinseki declared that existing realities--meaning the demise of the Soviet Union--made it possible to think of putting the US Army on wheels.

That single opinion ignited the new RMA that now bedevils the US military. China, the US' leading strategic adversary, has not reached the same conclusion. Neither has Russia. Or North Korea.

The tank remains King of their Battlefield and their Ace in the hole. In contrast, the U.S. Army seems intent on reducing the tank to The Joker's Bicycle.


The fate of thousands of Shermans: death by fire.

The bloody price of folly

THE PAINFUL LESSONS OF FIGHTING with a grossly inferior weapon, as written by American and British tankmen who fought in Western Europe and North Africa, appear below. There are also other stories in the American media and reports by Germans who fought against Allied Shermans. 



". . . THE MAIN ARMAMENT of our tanks, including sights, is not comparable to that of the Germans. 

"Tank Medium: The M4A3E8 has comparable speed and maneuverability to any German tank. The 76-mm gun is reasonably satisfactory, provided sufficient HVAP ammunition were available. 

"If it were possible to redesign and substitute a long barrel piece with muzzle brake and approximately 3400 - 3500 feet per second muzzle velocity, similar to the German 75-mm HV tank gun, this tank would be equal to anything our enemies have to offer. 

"Tank Destroyer, M36: Has not lived up to expectations, but when HVAP ammunition becomes available it is hoped that it will be more effective. Fighting compartment precludes efficient service of the piece and available ammunition is not effective at required long range.

"The most important point, and upon which there is universal agreement, is our lack of a tank gun and anti-tank gun with which we can effectively engage enemy armor at the required range. 

"The correction of this deficiency has made progress, but the problem has not as yet been satisfactorily solved. I would like to express my sincere appreciation for this opportunity to write you informally on these matters which are of such immediate concern and importance." 


Brig. Gen. Isaac D. White, Commanding General, U.S. 2nd Armored Division


-O-

A Sherman burns in Germany.

"OUR TANK'S ARMOR does not withstand German direct fire weapons of 75-mm high velocity and larger with the result that in a head on one tank against one tank fight, ours always comes out as a casualty.


"In my opinion, the reason our armor has engaged the German tanks as successfully as it has is not due to by any means to a superior tank, but to our superior numbers of tanks on the battlefield and the willingness of our tankers to take their losses while maneuvering to a position from which a penetrating shot can be put through a weak spot of the enemy tank.


The few undamaged German tank sights I have seen are definitely superior to our sights in clearness and speed in laying. 

"Our tanks should: carry a gun that will penetrate any enemy tank at a minimum of 2,000 yards; carry sufficient armor to turn the German light anti-tank gun (smaller than 75-mm) at any range; sufficient mobility to outmaneuver the enemy on any terrain; have a lower silhouette than at present; have a better sight; and have an increased ammunition storage space.


The new tanks now being received are a far step in the proper direction but still do not possess the gun power necessary to penetrate the German tank for a crippling shot on the first hit. 


"In spite of the often quoted tactical rule that one should not fight a tank versus tank battle, I have found it necessary, almost invariably, in order to accomplish the mission."


Col. S. R. Hinds, Commanding Combat Command "B," U.S. 2nd Armored Division


-O-


"THE CONSENSUS OF OPINION of all personnel in the 66th Armored Regiment is that the German tank and anti-tank weapons are far superior to the American in the following categories. 

"Superior Flotation. 

"Greater mobility. This is directly contrary to the popular opinion that the heavy tank is slow and cumbersome. 

"The German guns have a much higher muzzle velocity and no telltale flash. The resulting flat trajectory gives great penetration and is very accurate. 

"The 90-mm, although an improvement, is not as good as either the 75 or 88. If HVAP ammunition becomes available, it will improve the performance of both the 76-mm and 90-mm guns. 

"German tank sights are definitely superior to American sights. These, combined with the flat trajectory of the guns, give great accuracy. 

"German tanks have better sloped armor and a better silhouette than the American tanks. The M24 tank has not been available long, but has created a very favorable impression. 

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

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


Brig. Gen. J. H. Collier, Commanding Combat Command "A" U.S. 2nd Armored Division


-O-


"ARMOR - INSUFFICIENT to prevent penetration by high velocity ammunition used by German tanks and anti-tank weapons.


"Armament- Both 75-mm and 76-mm guns with available types of ammunition are incapable of neutralizing enemy tanks at ranges at which the latter are capable of neutralizing our tanks. When engaged at closer ranges with HVAP (high velocity armor piercing), 76-mm guns have disabled German tanks but penetration seems to be rare.


"Flotation- Not sufficient on Sherman M-4.


"Maneuverability- Not known, except that statements of tank crewmen indicate that of German tanks equal if not superior to ours. This is due in part probably to better flotation of enemy tanks and consequent greater maneuverability over muddy ground.


"I believe the necessity for equipping troops with tanks capable of engaging enemy tanks on an equal basis outweighs all other considerations. Being close to the using personnel, I am acutely aware of the morale factor involved in equipping troops with present tank equipment."


Col. Paul A. Disney, Commanding 67th Armored Regiment

-O-

Holes made by an 88 mm round punching through the turret of a Sherman.

"MY PERSONAL opinion about the comparative quality of U.S. and German tanks can be stated briefly as follows: if such a choice were possible, I would prefer to fight in the present German Mark V or VI tank against the present U.S. medium tank and tank destroyer with the 90-mm gun.


"The feeling among the tank crew personnel, men who have four, five and six full campaigns to their credit, is the same. Everything has been done and every effort made to instill a feeling of confidence in their equipment in these men. No effort has been spared to train them to use it properly.


"Our M4 tank does not compare favorably with the German Mk V or VI in armor plate. Theirs is much thicker than ours and sloped so as to prevent strikes against it at angles approaching the normal.


"I know of many cases to prove the fact that the German 75-mm and 88-mm mounted on Mk IV, V, and VI tanks will penetrate our tanks, while our weapons will not penetrate theirs at the same range. Many tests have been made and the results have been published of these facts.


"It has been claimed that our tank is the more maneuverable. In recent tests we put a captured German Mk V against all models of our own. The German tank was the faster, both across country and on the highway and would make sharper turns. It was also the better hill climber.


"Tank crews in this battalion are adding sand bags to their tanks, about 170 bags for each tank, in an effort to make up for the tank's lack of armor and the penetrating ability of German guns.


"It has been stated that our tanks are supposed to attack infantry and should not be used tank versus tank. It has been my experience that we have never found this ideal situation for in all our attacks we must of necessity fight German tanks.


"Therefore, it is necessary for a tank to be designed to meet adequately this situation. Elimination of German tanks in these attacks has proven to be a time-consuming and expensive task.

"Following the Tunisian Campaign and in England and in France, I have been interviewed by War Department representatives who were gathering facts concerning our equipment. Many of the enlisted men who had considerable experience were interviewed at the same time. The same points, considered most vital to tank personnel and those needing urgent improvement at this time and which are stated above, were told to representatives of the War Department and Ordnance representatives almost two years ago."


Lt. Col. Wilson M. Hawkins, Commanding 3rd Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment



-O-


"I'VE BEEN TOLD THAT the M4A3 tank (with 76-mm gun) is the equal if not a better tank than the German Mark V "Panther." That's not so! 

"The only reason that we've gone as far as we have is summed up in 'Quantity and the Cooperation of Arms.' 

"Until such time as the Army puts out a tank gun that can knock out a "Panther" from the front at 1,500 yards, or adds enough armor to stop a shell from the same distance, we'll continue to lose a heavy toll of tanks, men and equipment." 


Nick Moceri, Sergeant


-O-


"IN COMPARING THE GERMAN TANK with our own medium tank, there is one thing that I would like to bring out; that is, the armor plate on each tank. 

"The Mark V has about four and a half inches on the front. The Mark VI has a little over six inches. 

"When placing tank against tank, you must consider the armor of each. In past engagements with the enemy, we have placed tank against tank very often. 

"In one tank battle, our M4 was hit in the front by an AP shell from a Mark VI. It went in the front and came out the rear. I have also seen our 75mm AP shells bounce off the front of the Mark V and Mark VI tanks." 


Harold S. Rathburn, Sergeant, Tank Commander


-O-


"I DROVE my Sherman column directly at a hidden Tiger tank near Beauville. The Tiger tank destroyed seven of my company before it retreated. We fired constantly at the Tiger's front armour with AP and HEAT rounds at ranges as short as 100 yards. None of our rounds penetrated the thick front armour."


British crewman's report, Normandy 1944


-O-



"WE SIGHTED two Tiger tanks of the Das Reich division at a range of 600 yards. We fired four shells which all bounced off. The Tigers subsequently turned around and headed straight for us. We pulled back after losing six Shermans.


"One of our Firefly tanks managed to score a direct hit on the left flank of one of the Tigers before it, too, was destroyed by the surviving Tiger. We saw the crew escape from the crippled Tiger and climb onto its comrade before the tank retreated. There were no survivors from our tanks, which simply burst into flames."


Canadian M4 crewman's report, Normandy 1944


-O-


Destroyed Sherman. Note penetrating hit in lower hull and damage to mantlet.


"OUR COLUMN engaged three Panzer 6 tanks at a range of between 200 - 800 yards. We stopped one of the Tigers by sustained fire on its tracks. This was after repeated shots against the upper armor, which had no effect, even at short range.


"The Tigers destroyed 8 of our M4 tanks and we were forced to retreat. Even the disabled enemy tank was still firing at us as we retreated."


American armored regiment commander's report, North Africa 1943


-O-



"IT IS MY OPINION that the Panzer 6 Tiger tank is far better than our own Sherman tanks.

"Their high velocity gun enables them to far outrange our own 76mm guns. They easily knock out our tanks at ranges over and including 1000 yards. I know of no instance where a Sherman has knocked out a Tiger or a Panther at over 300 yards.

"The vast majority of German tanks lost on the battlefield are the direct result of air attack or mechanical problems. However, 85% of our losses are attributed to German tanks and anti-tank guns. . . Seldom have I seen a shot deflect off a Sherman tank, but on all too many occasions, I have witnessed our shells bounce off the thicker front armour of Tigers and Panthers.

"Our guns don't have the penetrating power of the German high velocity guns. To prove this, I give an instance at El Beouf during August 1944 where our AP shells fired from Shermans bounced off the front of a Tiger at point blank range. The German tank was only stopped after one of our Shermans rammed the Tiger destroying its track and preventing its gun from traversing."


American Sherman crewman's report


-O-


"THE GERMAN SIGHT is far better than anything we are using today. It takes a bright light in order to see them - and we do not have that. 

"The same thing goes for our field glasses; if we could spot them, we could fire on them ourselves, or get artillery to fire on that spot. I know that we have the facilities to build better optical equipment - why don't we?" 


Donald Morgan, T/4


-O-


"I HAVE actually seen the 90-mm Armor Piercing Cap bounce off a German Mark VI at 1,400 yards. In turn I have seen a German Mark VI with an 88-mm knock out an American M4 at 3,300 yards with a ricochet hit through the side."


American Sherman crewman's report, Normandy 1944


-O-



"AT PUFFENDORF, Germany, on 17 November 1944, my platoon of five M4 tanks were in a defensive position when the Germans launched a counterattack with Mark VI tanks. My platoon was at that time composed of three 76-mm guns and two 75-mm guns. My own vehicle (75-mm gun) was the first to open fire on a Mark VI that was coming across the field towards us.


"We got a hit with the second round fired at 1,300 yards, but from the tracer we were able to tell that the round ricocheted. At this time several of the other guns opened up (one, I believe, was not in a position to fire). This concerted effort stopped the Tiger and prevented his advancing closer, but several direct hits from both types of guns obviously did not penetrate.


"This tank knocked out both my platoon sergeant's and my own vehicle, killing my driver and assistant driver and wounding me. The German tank eventually withdrew into defilade and presumably escaped across the Roer River."


Capt. John B. Roller Jr., Company "A" 66th Armored Regiment


-O-



"SINCE LANDING in France with this division (US 2nd Armored), we've seen countless numbers of American tanks knocked out and burned with a resultant loss of American lives, due, we believe, to our inferior tanks.


"Of course, we must take into consideration the fact that, due to the nature and course of the war, the German tank usually gets in the first shot. Instead of making up this disadvantage in equipping us with guns of high muzzle velocity and hitting power, in addition to more armor protection, as matters stand now we can't compete with them in either.


"To take a specific case, the German Mark V tank, mounting a 75-mm gun with a muzzle velocity of about 3,200 feet per second, able to travel on a highway at 28 miles per hour, 15 to 20 miles per hour cross country in soft going, and better as the going improves.


"It has to our mind greater maneuverability, being able to turn in the space it's sitting in, while our mediums require half a field. It also has more armor protection, with approximately four inches of armor on its front and enough rearward slope to make it the equivalent of 6 to 7 inches.


"Not so with our Shermans, whose front construction aids, rather than hinders, the penetration of an armor piercing round.


"In one recent action in which we took part, one of our medium tanks was hit and burned at a range of approximately 2,500 yards. In the same action, probably minutes later, we fired on and bounced several rounds of AP broadside off a Jerry tank at a range of 1,500 yards, and were unable to knock it out. In another case, our 76-mm gun was unable to knock out a German tank frontally at 600 yards.


"The consensus of opinion is that the German Mark V can out-speed, out-maneuver and out-gun us, in addition to their added protection of heavier armor."



Rains M. Robbins, Sergeant, Tank Commander; Walter McGrail, Corporal, Driver, Normandy 1944


-O-



"MANY TIMES I've seen our tanks engage German tanks in tank duels. Their tanks have the ups on us.


"Their guns and armor are far better than ours. On this particular occasion, just north of Wurselen, Germany, our column was advancing towards its objective when suddenly we began to draw direct fire from German tanks. At once we located two Mark V tanks at about 2,800 to 3,000 yards away.


"At once our tank destroyers and tanks opened fire on them. The gunners had the eye to hit but our guns didn't have the power to knock them out. I saw our tank destroyers and self-propelled guns get several direct hits on the Kraut tanks but the projectiles just bounced off the Jerries.


"The Jerries' guns didn't fail, they knocked out three of our tank destroyers and one Sherman tank at 2,800 to 3,000 yards. If our tanks had been as good as the German tanks they would never have scored a hit."


American Sherman crewman's report, Germany 1944


-O-

Decapitated Canadian Sherman 

"AT OBERAMOT, Germany, 27 February 1945, our second platoon on road block was engaged by two Tiger tanks, Mark VI, at 3,600 yards, and two of our Shermans were knocked out. Our 3,400 feet per second 76-mm HVAP ammunition was used and bounced off the side slopes, seven rounds. 


Definitely out-ranged due to better sights in the Mark VI and more muzzle velocity in their souped-up ammunition."


-O-



"I BELIEVE the American M4 medium tank, a basically good implement of war, is beset by overwhelming disadvantages. I personally do not mind its height, with consequent size of target! Nor do I consider too much its lack of armor (an 88 will penetrate regardless of armor).


"The greatest deficiency lies in its firepower, which is most conspicuous by its absence. Lack of a principal gun with sufficient penetrating ability to knock out the German opponent has cost us more tanks and skilled men to man more tanks than any failure of our crews, not to mention the heartbreak and sense of defeat I and other men have felt.


"To see 25 or even many more of our rounds fired and ricochet off the enemy attackers. To be finally hit, once, and we climb from and leave a burning, blackened and now a useless pile of scrap iron. It would have yet been a tank had it mounted a gun."


Sherman tank commander's report, Normandy 1944


-O-


German 88 mm anti-tank/anti-aircraft gun and its crew in France.


"THE GERMAN'S HIGH VELOCITY guns and souped-up ammunition can penetrate our thickest armor. At a range where it would be suicide for us to shoot, they shoot. What we need is more armor, higher velocity, not necessarily a bigger gun, souped-up ammunition, and a means whereby we can maneuver faster, making sharper turns. 

"I've seen many times when the Air Force was called out to wipe out scattered tanks rather than letting our tanks get slaughtered. 

"All of us know that the German tanks are far superior to anything that we have in combat. 

"They are able to maneuver on a space the length of their tank. How can we outflank them when all they have to do is pivot and keep their frontal armor toward us? Their frontal armor is practically invulnerable to our 75s, except at an exceptionally close range - and they never let us get that close. 

"We've got a good tank - for parades and training purposes - but for combat they are just potential coffins. I know! I've left them burning after the first few rounds of German shells penetrated our thickest armor."


Chester J. Marczak, Sergeant


-O-



"WHEREVER WE HAVE SEEN Tiger and Panther tanks they have not demonstrated any inferior maneuverability. 

"Near Puffendorf, Germany, several Tiger Royal tanks were encountered. These Tiger Royals were able to negotiate very soft ground and their tracks did not sink as deeply into the soft ground as did our own. Our tracks should be widened to a point where there would be no question of adequate flotation. The makeshift solution of adding paddle feet is not satisfactory. 

"The small turning radius when standing still is a desirable feature of German tanks. Would like this feature incorporated in our own tanks. 

"The Ford engine is considered very good, but with the added remark, 'If you'd add two more cylinders you'd have an engine.'

"The feeling is quite general that the great majority of our equipment is superior to German equipment. This includes clothing, food, individual equipment, and vehicles other than tanks." 


Capt Charles B. Kelley, Company "D" 66th Armored Regiment


-O-


"DURING OUR attack on Gereonsweiler, Germany, a platoon of Mark V tanks moved in on the high ground on our left flank and knocked out several of our tanks at about 3,600 yards. 


"This was out of range of the 75-mm gun on our M4 tank. In order to place fire on them, I was forced to elevate the gun so that the target appeared completely below the graduation in the sight. We succeeded in holding them off, but did no damage to their vehicles."


Sherman tank gunner, Germany


-O-



"ON 5 AUGUST 1944 in the vicinity of St. Sever Calvados, France, witnessed a German Mark V tank knock out three M4 and three M5 tanks during and after being hit by at least 15 rounds of 75-mm APC from a distance of approximately 700 yards. All of these shells had ricocheted, with the exception of a 16th round, which finally put the Mark V tank out of action.


"On 4 October 1944 in the vicinity of Ubach, Germany, tank was hit by a 75-mm shell fired at a range of approximately 600 yards, through the front slope. This shell went through the ready rack containing thirty-two rounds of 75-mm ammunition, through the engine and through the engine compartment doors.


"On 6 January 1945 in the vicinity of Samree, Belgium, fired at an enemy tank at a range of 2,500 yards. Due to poor visibility, could not sense the rounds or their effect. The enemy tank opened fire and the first round that hit the tank penetrated the front slope plate."


Sherman tank commander


-O-



"IT SEEMS that the general opinion back home in the States is that American tanks are second to none. But anyone who has had any actual experience could tell you without a doubt, that our tanks don't compare with those of the Germans in many ways.


"First, their higher velocity guns are more effective on our tanks. Same with their anti-tank guns; they're pretty accurate, effective at ranges up to 2,000 to 3,000 yards.


"We have fairly good sights, but the Germans must have it when they shoot as far and accurate as they do.


"Binoculars are very important in tank warfare, yet we have seen better, but they weren't ours.


"I have seen three American tanks knocked out by a Mark V tank at over 3,000 yards. I have also seen a 105-mm howitzer fired at 1,900 yards, which bounced off the enemy tank."


Sherman tank commander


-O-



"OUR COMMANDERS have decided on a new tactic. If the Germans send a Tiger tank, we will send out 8 Shermans to meet it and we expect to lose 7 of them."


British " optimism" Normandy 1944


-O-



"ALTHOUGH WE HAVEN'T seen the M26 in action, we have seen the tank destroyer with the 90-mm gun, and also the Tiger and Tiger Royal. We are of the opinion that the Tiger and Tiger Royal's 88-mm gun are far superior to our tank destroyer with the 90-mm gun. Our reasons for this assertion are: 

"1. Far superior sights which permits hitting a target at a great range, that is, 3,000 yards, usually without bracketing.

"2. The "souped-up" ammunition of the Tiger permits penetration of our armor at long ranges.

"3. The heavy armor plate combined with its slope and angles make them, tank for tank, harder to knock out. 

"We further believe that the 75-mm gun of the Panther (Mark V) compares favorably with our 90-mm gun. It has as large or larger powder charge and better sights. 

"The traversing mechanism of our 90-mm gun is faster (about two times as fast), is more quiet and all around seems to be much better than the German counterpart. 

"Although we cannot turn on a dime, we are satisfied with our maneuverability which is as good or slightly superior. 

"Their engine has more horsepower and has a more quiet first gear, which permits 'creeping' up on us, but it doesn't seem to last as long as ours, and undoubtedly gets hot quicker than ours."


Sgt Zins and Cpl. Parr


-O-


"IT'S IMPORTANT to note that the Allies had arrived in Normandy equipped with weapons that were distinctly inferior to those used by the enemy. Attacks on fortified villages, such as those around Caen, ought to have been carried out by battle groups built around tanks or self-propelled assault guns. 


Unfortunately, the Allies did not possess such armor and what's more the Allied battle doctrine reflected that reality.


"When an investigation of Allied and German tank casualties in Normandy was carried out it confirmed the most pessimistic views about Allied armor. The statistics showed 60 per cent of Allied tank losses were due to a single round from a 75- or 88-mm gun. The stats also showed that 2/3 of all tanks brewed up when hit.


"German armor-piercing shells almost always penetrated and disabled a tank. In fact, the armor on our tanks offered such little protection that the only way to survive was to avoid being targeted.


"The contrast with German tank casualties was especially striking. Only 38 per cent of hits from the Sherman 75-mm or six-pounder-anti-tank gun penetrated German armor. What's more, German Panther and Tiger tanks often survived one or two hits. The sloping frontal armor of the Panther and the German self-propelled guns prevented penetration of 3/4 of all direct hits."


In Italy, captured U.S. Shermans are driven away by the Germans.

"FOUR AMERICAN tank destroyers crossed the canal and bounced armour-piercing shells off the turret of a Tiger until it turned its massive gun and disintegrated them with five shells." 

Bill Mauldin, American war artist, Anzio, Italy, 1944


-O-



"WHY AT THIS LATE stage in the war are American tanks inferior to the enemy's? That they are inferior the fighting in Normandy showed, and the recent battles in the Ardennes have again emphatically demonstrated. 

"This has been denied, explained away and hushed up, but the men who are fighting our tanks against much heavier, better armored and more powerfully armed German monsters know the truth. 

"It is high time that Congress got to the bottom of a situation that does no credit to the War Department. This does not mean that our tanks are bad. 

"They are not; they are good. They are the best tanks in the world - next to the Germans." 


The New York Times, January 1945 


-O-


"HIS EYEWITNESS observations confirmed what American tank crews discovered in combat: the Sherman was badly outclassed by German medium and heavy tanks, most notably the Mark V Panther and the Mark VI Tiger. With their heavier armor, the Panther and Tiger were almost impervious to rounds fired from the Sherman's 75 or 76 mm main gun; conversely, the 88mm gun on the German tanks usually made short work of their American opponents.


"Tabulating the results of this mismatch, Cooper highlights the staggering cost of the Army's flawed choice for its main battle tank. Over the next 11 months, the Third Armored Division, which began the Normandy campaign with 232 M4 tanks, would see 648 of its Shermans destroyed in combat, with another 700 knocked out of commission before being repaired and returned to service--a cumulative loss rate of 580 percent.


"Casualties among tank crews also skyrocketed, producing an acute shortage of qualified personnel. By late 1944, Cooper recalls, the Army was sending newly arrived infantrymen into combat as replacement tank crews. Some of these recruits received only one day of armor training before being dispatched to the front in their M4s."

-O-


"LATER IN Normandy, the Allies found less risky ways of killing German tanks. The Typhoon aircraft was the answer. Its principal mission was to hunt German Panther and Tiger tanks, and kill them with rockets. This Canadian Typhoon squadron was one of several used by the Allies to counter the overwhelming superiority of the German Panzers.


"But, even with air superiority and tank killers like Walters, the German tanks were far superior to anything the Allies had, and enjoyed a kill ratio of 1:10."



-O-


"AS ONE German POW put it, Shermans were "Ronsons... . our gunners could see your tanks coming ... and they say to one another, 'Here comes another Ronson.' Why do Americans do this for us?


"Bang! And it burns like twenty hay stacks... . Those funny tanks with the little guns, and so high and straight we can see them a long way in our gunsights. Those square sides, and thin, the armor. We know if we hit one, it goes up. Why does the county of Detroit send their men out to die in these things?"


-O-


"THE CANADIAN Armoured Corps entered the Normandy Campaign with a main battle tank that was already considered obsolete by the Germans. There were serious faults with the American Sherman M4A2 and A4 (redesignated Shermans III and V by the British). Its 75mm gun could not penetrate German tanks (particularly the Tiger and Panther) except at close range.


"Conversely, the German guns were capable of destroying Canadian tanks long range - well before our tank guns became effective. The Sherman models that equipped Canadian armoured units were simply inferior to and not capable of dealing with the Panther and Tiger units at anything even approaching equal terms.


"The shock and effectiveness of German tanks is curious since Tigers and Panthers were well documented by Russian and Allied liaison officers as early as 1942. Models of the Tiger were captured and fully evaluated by Allied troops in North Africa in February 1943."


"Just outside Carpiquet I saw a single shot from a Panther knock out three Shermans. It went through two of them before stopping in the third.


"The bottom line was that despite the skill and bravery of individual crews, most Canadian tanks were brewed up (hit and set alight) directly they exposed themselves to German anti tank guns and Panzers."


Maj. Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters, Canadian tank commander and top scoring Allied tank ace in World War 2


-O-



"THE TACTICAL result is that when Canadians attacked in Normandy, armour did not lead. In the attack, Canadian Infantry was sent in alone, behind a creeping artillery barrage.


"The battles of Verrières Ridge directly reflect this situation: the North Nova Scotia Regiment attacked Tilly with no tank support. When a squadron of Shermans was finally made available, it gallantly charged forward only to be shot to pieces by German tanks.


"The Calgaries attacked May sur Orne with no armour. The Black Watch was allotted a single squadron (19 tanks from B Squadron, 1st Hussars) to support its attack against a dug in division. When the Black Watch did advance, the Hussars raced forward and reached May, only to be checked by Panthers."


The mangled remains of a Sherman obliterated by the explosion of its ammunition.

LATE ON Christmas eve, Lt. Colonel Walter Richardson was commanding a tank battalion at Manhay when the 2nd SS Panzer Division began its attack on the vital crossroads. The timing of that attack was perfect; another tank battalion from the 7th Armored Division was pulling out just as the attack began. 


In the confusion of the attack, the Germans got across the small bridge before it could be destroyed. 


Then two German tanks snuck into the retreating American armored column. A few minutes later they swung out into a field beside the road and began pouring fire into the defenseless American vehicles. 


The Americans scattered. Richardson jumped into an abandoned Sherman and took a shot at a Tiger, but the round bounced harmlessly off the huge German tank and its countershot destroyed Richardson's tank.


Richardson hopped into a jeep and bugged out, stopping a mile away in Grandmenil. There he found two American M10 tank destroyers. He positioned them to intercept any approaching German armor. 


Within a few minutes, two Panthers appeared, churning through a field in the blinding snowstorm. 


The first TD knocked one out with a shot into its side. But a third Panther blew up the American TD with a lucky hit on its ammunition rack. 


The second M10 now tried a frontal shot against a Panther. It bounced off, and the Panther returned the fire. The Panther's second shot knocked out the TD.


Realizing that he'd been beaten again, Richardson called down an artillery barrage on the little village and bugged out for the second time that night. In three days of continuous fighting his command had been reduced from 65 tanks to under a dozen.


-O-


"WE HAVE about 50m run up and use it to get to the highest speed possible to cross the road. We make it. The antitank guns don't hit us. On the other roadside there is a shelled down building.



"I order the other tank to take cover behind it. I continue another 30-40m (the "longest" ones in my whole life). I can only crawl because craters dot the ground. My gunner nearly gets crazy because I don't let him turn the turret and fire while we are approaching our final position. But that would have been idiocy. At such a cross-country drive, with the gun pointing to the side, you just can't hit anything.


"The distance to the Shermans is only 250-300m and it is unbelievable: every vehicle shot once or twice at us and we were not hit (even today I cannot understand that). When we reached the position we had aimed for we tore the Panther around at a right angle with the chain brake, got a good lay on the front Sherman, fired and it burned. Very quickly, four were destroyed.


"Sweat and the fear of death had completely drenched us at our drive; when every second we expected to be hit and die, the stomach cramps and you feel a lump coming up your throat. Now, the danger over, the relief is indescribable. Meanwhile, the second Panther had started firing too, its main battery was on the American infantry. The fifth Sherman had backed into a cluster of shrubs in the corner of that field, close to the road.


"I jumped out of my vehicle and half running, half crawling along the road ditch, I reached the point where probably the Sherman would be. Jumping up a few times to the top of the hedge, I finally spotted the tank. Rushing back to my Panther, I was lucky again not to be caught by the enemy machineguns. I climbed back into my turret and cried we got it. With some bursts of machinegun fire and some H.E. rounds we could clear the sight of our enemy.


"The Sherman tried desperately to negotiate the hedgerow behind him backwards, but each time it was at a certain angle, the motor was killed and they slumped down again. When high up once more with the rear, we hit this tank practically from above. The turret was blown off."


SS Unterscharfuehrer Fritz Langanke, Panther ace



-O-


"IN EARLY 1944, the US Army faced a critical decision regarding its armored forces: should it retain the M4 Sherman as its primary tank or accelerate production of the new M26 Pershing heavy tank?


"Although many armored commanders favored the Pershing, the tank debate continued until Lt Gen George S. Patton, the Army's leading tank "expert," entered the fray. Patton favored the smaller (and supposedly more mobile) Sherman, noting that "tanks were not supposed to fight other tanks, but bypass them if possible, and attack enemy objectives in the rear."


"Ultimately, senior Allied commanders--including Gen Dwight Eisenhower--backed Patton and decided to increase production of the Sherman. It remains one of the most disastrous choices of World War II-arguably, a decision that lengthened the war and became a literal death sentence for thousands of tank-crew members."