Was The US Army Really Stupid During WW2?

 

If you see any discussion about the US Army during WW2 you will quickly hear that the US Army couldn’t pour sand out of a boot with instructions on the heel.  The choices of just about every piece of equipment will be bitterly criticized aggressively.  You would honestly come to the conclusion that the US Army was just able to win the war because of accident or sheer overwhelming production. The Chieftan debunks much of that here.

Still, there are some issues I would like to perhaps clear up.  The funny thing is how long some of the myths about the US Army and the Sherman tank have been around.  It seems that the American tanks were being disparaged at home even before the US entered the war or the tanks even saw combat. It wasn’t just tanks either.  Just about every piece of equipment on the TO&E got hit. The Garand Rifle sucked, the bazooka sucked, the mess kit sucked, on and on. One would be led to believe that the US Army was the worst equipped army ever.  Which is about as far from the truth as it gets. This stuff has continued from the beginning of the war until today.  Frankly it’s time that these issues were seriously addressed.

I’ve been an amateur student on the subject and while there is some degree of truth to the production comment, by no means was that the entire story. The truth of the matter was that the United States did have an enormous productive capacity.  In fact the US’s Productive capacity during World War 2 was more than all the other combatants, both Axis and Allies, combined.

That being said, there is much more to the story. In many ways the US was fighting a different kind of war than the rest of the world.  While most of the world was fighting a war of strategy and tactics, the way it had always been done, the US was fighting a war of information, logistics and mobility.  In many ways this was due to where the US was and what the country needed to do to if it was going to fight a war.

http://www.history.army.mil/books/amh-v2/amh%20v2/chapter2.htm

http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/wwIItms/TME30_451_1945.pdf

The important thing to remember is that the US had the most advanced automotive technology in the world in the 1930’s.  The engineering in the individual vehicles was better.  It had to be.  Most American cars and trucks were expected, just by the size of the country, to go much further reliably than the typical European car.  And the driver was more than likely to be in the income bracket where they couldn’t afford a chauffer to pamper their cars.  Yet people relied on them.  Think about all those Okies driving their cars and small trucks fully loaded the 1000 or so miles to California and expecting to reach it.  By and large the cars got them there.  Most European cars of the time would have choked trying something like that. The fact is that the Automotive industry in Europe before WW2 simply did not have the need or the desire for the enormous production  of vehicles that the US had.

Perhaps the most telling advantage the US had was an over the road trucking industry.  This is important for two reasons.  One, the ability to produce large numbers of logistical transport ve3hicles was possible.  During the war the US produced more CCKW GMC 2 1/2 ton trucks than all the other combatants produced of truck of any kind, combined.  There were over 500,000 of them made.  That was truck from just one manufacturer.  Studebaker, for instance made enough trucks to serve the needs of the essentially entire Soviet Army, about 130,000 .

The US was using long haul 6×4 trucks to move stuff around long before the war.  This taught the Army a lot about using truck for logistics and more importantly affected the designs of things like artillery and how it was going to be moved. When you aren’t limited to real horsepower your options change dramatically.

http://www.armorama.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=SquawkBox&file=index&req=viewtopic&topic_id=214368

http://images.google.com/hosted/life/2cba175dbf0bab73.html

http://forums.aths.org/Attachment18369.aspxhttps://books.google.com/books?id=-iYDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA101&dq=popular+science+cannon&hl=en&ei=0D21TN2cFsj9nAeZwNDVDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result#v=onepage&q&f=true

By the time the late 1930’s rolled around the Army had a pretty good idea what it wanted for it’s general truck.  It would be a 2 1/2 ton capacity 6×6.  The same design that would remain essentially unchanged for the next thirty years or so and became what most people think of when you say “army truck.” What this did for logistics was immeasurable.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GMC_CCKW

http://usautoindustryworldwartwo.com/index.htm

http://tothosewhoserved.org/usa/ts/usatso02/chapter12.html

What that did for mobility of troops and equipment was even more important.  With as many vehicles available the US Army could move stuff around with great rapidity.  That had a telling effect at the Ardennes for instance where US engineering units would drive around blowing bridges and placing obstacles in front of the German advance. It also meant that artillery could moved and emplaced very quickly, especially the Heavier pieces like the 155mm gun.

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Picture of M1918 from an ordnance textbook

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/155_mm_Long_Tom

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Early M1 155mm gun pic from ordnance textbook

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The difference in how the gun was mounted on it’s carriage is evident.

https://books.google.com/books?id=-iYDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA101&dq=popular+science+cannon&hl=en&ei=0D21TN2cFsj9nAeZwNDVDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CDQQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=true

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M115_howitzer

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M101_howitzer

https://books.google.com/books?id=-iYDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA54&dq=popular+science+cannon&hl=en&ei=0D21TN2cFsj9nAeZwNDVDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CDQQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=true

https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/1q1yp6/why_wasnt_the_use_of_semiautomatic_rifles_as/

Oh boy, you open up a can of worms. This is one of my favourite subjects, so you are going to get a wall of text, because it requires a bit of explanation to be understood.

Artillery tactics towards the end of ww1

Most of the world left ww1 with the same artillery tactics. Defensive support fire, barrage fire, counter battery fire and harassing fire were the four kinds of fire artillery were supposed to deliver. And of those, defensive support fire was the hardest.

Defensive support fire

A front unit is under attack and requests support fire against the advancing enemy. This was one of the most important roles of artillery during both ww1 and ww2. Most nations had an artillery staff with an artillery commander and a number of forward observers and communication staff attached to the divisional staff or the artillery regiment of a division. When a unit occupied terrain and could expect enemy activity, the artillery staff would place a forward observer closeby and have the communication staff roll out a telegraph or phone line to the forward observer so he could communicate with the artillery batteries he would direct.

Things would happen like this.

  1. The commander of battalion Z would inform his regimental commander that his battalion is facing an enemy attack. The commander of Regiment A would request artillery support against this enemy attack either with the divisional commander or the artillery commander. They would coordinate that the enemy attack is happening at spot X on the map.
  2. The divisional commander or artillery commander would confirm that artillery resources are available and order defensive support fire to be delivered at spot X.
  3. The forward observer establishes contact with the battery that will provide support fire and confirms spot X and that the order is still relevant.
  4. The artillery battery calculates ballistic data for spot X – how much charge do they need? What elevation? These thins are affected by weather, height differences, distances between enemy and friendly troops, etc.
  5. The first gun in the battery fires. The forward observer notes where the grenade lands and reports back using distance and a clock to note how far from the target the shot landed. For example, 300 meters, 8 o’clock. This means the shot landed a little short and about 300 meters to the left of the target. The gun crew corrects and fires again. Within a few shots, they have zeroed in on the target.
  6. The process is repeated for the other guns in the battery.
  7. Once all guns are zeroed in on the enemy, they pour as many grenades as they can over the target until it has either retreated or is destroyed, as reported by the forward observer.

During ww1, balloons and airplanes were used for forward observing of targets far behind the front and destroying them (or protecting them) became a top priority for the fighters on each side.

As you can probably see, there’s a lot that can go wrong in this. If artillery command or the divisional HQ is out of contact, it gets hard to get artillery fire approved, or even to get through to the artillery. Telegraph and phone lines were often cut by enemy artillery fire and would need to be repaired.

But above all, this system took time. It could take everything between 10 minutes and 60 minutes to get fire from a single battery onto a desired spot. By that time, the enemy could have moved, their assault either having been repulsed or successful, a counter-attack might have happened and even moved into spot X, and many other things. This system worked decently well during ww1, when fronts moved slowly or not at all, but caused problems during ww2 when fronts and units could move very rapidly.

On the attack, infantry needed artillery fire to destroy MG and mortar nests, field fortifications and wooden bunkers that the enemy was using. They seldom had time to wait for artillery to zero in on these targets. Different nations took different aproaches to resolving this problem for ww2.

Most nations gave the infantry some small artillery to command and use themselves – mortars. Light and medium mortars, and in the case of the Soviets, Finns, Germans and Swedes, heavy (120mm) mortars. These weapons were fired directly in line of sight of the enemy, or with a forward observer integral to the mortar team and all under the command of the battalion or regimental commander, allowing the infantry to support themselves without having to go to divisional command or that much need to zero in (if firing within line of sight, the mortar team could correct their fire themselves).

Some nations (primarily the Germans and Soviets) gave the infantry regiment short-range infantry guns (the 7,5 leIG18 and the 76,2mm PP-27 respectively) that were meant to fire directly or at least within line of sight to support the infantry in their attack or defence.

Other nations, like France added extensive staff and long-range heavy cannons to their divisional artillery units to pre-calculate any possible scenario and have all the information needed already when the call for artillery support came. This was a superb system – if the front was stable. If there was no time to pre-calculate ballistics and do test fire, like in mobile warfare in France 1940, the system fell apart.

Yet other nations, like the British standardised their artillery to a single piece (the 25pdr) and reduced industrial tolerance to the extent that calculated data for one battery was enough for another, so that several batteries could deliver fire on one fire order with one calculation.

Some, like the British, produced enough radios so that forward observers became independent on telephone and telegraph lines and could move about (forward observers and the men putting out cablöes were a favourite target for snipers, sharpshooters and mortar crews and be less vurnurable and much more flexible.

Other nations, like the Germans and especially the Soviets, stared putting artillery on turretless tanks so that he infantry could have protected mobile guns ackompanying them – the StuG and the SU vehicles started out as such, and turned out to be excellent tank destroyers too.

Yet others, like the Finns and the British, added mechanical calculation machines to the artillery staff to enable them to calculate ballistic data much, much faster.

Yet again, others, like the British, the Finns and to some extent the Germans decentralised artillery command – forward observers were permanently attached to infantry units and given the power to call down artillery fire on their own authority, shortening the command structure.

The Soviets started grouping their artillery extremely tightly together, so that data for a single gun could be used for the entire battery.

What the Americans did was completely unique. Not only did they produce radios in such an amount that every platoon of infantry could have their own, they also made them so small that they could be carried and operated easily (the walkie-talkie) by a single man. They also decentralised artillery support commands not to only forward observers, but directly to NCOs of the infantry unit and in many cases gave them some similar training.

But the biggest thing the Americans did was to improve the French system (the Americans since ww1 built their artillery on French designs and French doctrine) to not calculate any available scenario when the unit had deployed – but to calculate any scenario for any gun, at any place!

This is completely insane – the amount of data needed was unparalleled (ballistics data is hard to calculate) and a small army of mathematicians supported by female staff and mechanical calculation machines started the work over western Europe in the 30s. The ENIAC computer was developed to help calculate this data, and the US defence department helped pay for some land surveuys in western Europe to get accurate maps down to extreme detail.

Thus, when a US artillery unit got a frantic call for support from an NCO under German fire in France autumn 1944, he would confirm the spot X on the map, pull out pre-calculated data for hus 105mm howitzers from spot Y (where they were lined up) to spot X, and start firing accurately in a matter of minutes.

The Soviets could need 30-60 minutes for accurate defensive support fire from several batteries.

The Germans could need 15-30 minutes for the same.

The British could do it in 3-10 minutes.

The Finns managed to get it to 5-12 minutes or so.

The US could, in perfect circumstances, get it down to 30 seconds, although normal was 2-5 minutes.

http://etloh.8m.com/strategy/artil.html

American Artillery Practices

Americans used the British system, but with a very significant innovation. They pre-computed the firing data for a HUGE number of variations of wind/temperature, barrel wear, elevation differentials, etc. Then for each possible variation, they created a separate calibrated tape measure. Along the tape was printed the gun laying information instead of distance marks. When a firing mission came in, the plotting officer would simply go to a filing cabinet containing the hundreds (thousands?) of these tapes and pull out the correct one for the current meteorological and situational factors. Then the tape would be laid out between the two grid points on the map (the battery’s and the target’s) and the firing data would be read from the printing on the tape. Apparently there were some other fudges that got thrown in to make the firing even more accurate.

Net result was that there were about three minutes elapsed time from the initial fire support call until shells were making the enemy duck. And the firing was almost as accurate as the spotted German fires. Ergo, very responsive explosions exactly where they are wanted.

Again, a drawback to the American system is that it requires very accurate and detailed maps (say showing individual farm buildings for instance) which must be plentifully supplied to troops at all levels. However, given the availability of such maps then American artillery could be hellacious.

I might guess that temporary lack of such maps may be a reason why certain obvious movements were tardy during the pursuit across France. How would you feel about moving into an area where your artillery could not fire (because the forward troops as well as the artillery had no maps with appropriate grid marks)?

The tape measure system was not the only innovation of the Americans, as there were several others that followed directly from the simplicity of the tape usage.

Since the grid system was so easy to use for calling in fires, it was standard doctrine to train all officers in it (and many enlisted men as well?). In fact the technique was so easy, that an otherwise ignorant enlisted man could be readily walked through the procedure over radio (and was on more than one occasion) when all his officers had fallen.

Another trick of the Americans, as Jim O’Neil has recently posted in detail, was the Time on Target mission (TOT). With this one, every battery in range was told the grid coordinates of the target and time when all shells were to initially land at the target. Each battery did its normal firing computation and then calculated the time to “pull the lanyards” by backing off the time-of-flight from the target time. TOT was particularly nasty because the initial shell from every gun landed virtually simultaneously before any defender could take cover. It took too much effort for the Germans to care much for such a technique, and the British were not accurate enough to make the technique particularly useful. Very nasty and only Americans could pull it off (Jim claiming it required as little as 10 or 20 minutes preparation).

Another innovation of the Americans was their ability to obtain accurate fires extremely quickly from a LARGE number of firing batteries. Because of the simplicity and elegance of the tape system, almost any battery in range could fire on any target in any direction. All they had to do was get a request from another firing HQ or even just listen in on other battalion radio nets (“Hey, Red Bravo Two, we have a situation at grid coordinates such and so”).

This system was formalized by having a fire mission request being kicked “upstairs” if warranted for a suitably attractive target. The firing artillery battalion might contact the division which then might also request support from corps. Ostensibly, the inclusion of the division support added an additional three minutes to the fire mission, and including corps assets added three minutes yet again. There apparently was one case in Italy of a piper cub pilot (an artillery spotter) calling in no less than five corps level missions in one hour (this extremity of fire concentration was of course EXTREMELY uncommon, but certainly not unheard of).

Such relatively spontaneous massing of fires was absolutely not true of the German system which required a careful pre-plotting by surveyors to figure out where things really were on the map. In some sense, all American batteries wind up in general support (can fire for anybody). Consequently a given fire request may pick up extra “idle” batteries to thicken the fires. And during emergencies, any battery in range could leap into the fray to save a Yank ground pounder’s tail.

Beyoond the above “standard” organizational doctrine, apparently Americans were quite capable of concentrating fire support on as large a scale as needed. I’ll offer an example from the German counter-attack at Mortain in August of 1944 (from Saving the Breakout, Alwyn Fetherstone, 1993). Three American infantry companies were trapped by the Germans on top of a hill overlooking the valley that Mortain lies within (this was a bottle neck that a major part of the German attack had to pass through, if it was going to cut off Patton’s breakout). The American infantry held out for something like two days against the better part of a panzer/panzer grenadier division that desperately wanted the lousy Yanks off of the hill. The only problem seems to have been that some twelve and a half battalions of Uncle Sam’s artillery could be called on in the instant by the infantry, anywhere on the highly visible countryside for miles around. This not only prevented all daylight movement by the German attack, but completely thwarted any attack on the infantry itself, even at night. To imagine the effect of being a German attacking up that hill, think of being on a football field with some fifty to one hundred 20-odd pound TNT explosions going off around you EVERY second (some two hundred guns each firing every 3 to say 8 seconds). Another way to think of it is to say that, in some sense, you might expect to have a shell land within touching distance of you every 15 seconds or so. Yep, I don’t think the US needs to bow to anybody when it comes to an ability to deliver impromptu concentrated fires. :-< :-< [dead Jerry’s]

BTW as a side note, no artillery gun anywhere (in the US Army at any rate) ever fired more than about 800 rounds in any day (Trevor Dupuy, Search for Historical Records of High Rate Artillery Fire in Combat Situations, 1978). This was the extreme high, and a more typical high for any given battery is likely to be on the order of several rounds per gun per day. Apparently logistical limits more than anything tended to prevent firing a larger number of missions.

No doubt more than one German officer assumed he’d have at least the first 15 or 20 minutes of his surprise attack free of defensive artillery fire. And when the artillery did start to come in, he’d expect to be warned by the initial spotting rounds. Instead he found he was under immediate fire placed directly on his men while many were still crossing the start line. I’m sure it appeared to more than one German that the Americans must have known when and where such attacks were coming. No wonder some Germans were impressed with American artillery.

http://ftp.arl.army.mil/~mike/comphist/61ordnance/chap1.html

In order to achieve this feat the US Army pursued two programs in the 1930’s.  One, they did accurate surveys and created topographical maps of the expected areas of combat operations. This gave the US Army an especially accurate picture of Europe during WW2.  This allowed the Army to grid just about any field of action before the battle even started.  The other half of the equation was calculating range tables for just about every condition a gun may be required to fire in.  This was an enormous effort involving hundreds of human computers and the best calculating machines available.  It was so calculation intensive that the effort led to the first electronic computer.

Use of the grid system meant that it was very easy to train forward observers to position fire.  The observer could just look at his map, line up the grid and call the numbers in.  The range tables told the artillery officer all the information he needed to lay his guns and deliver to the target.  The real genius was keeping the whole thing down as far in the line of command as possible.  This kept the decision loops incredibly tight and time on targets short.

Now what does any of this have to do with tanks.  Quite a bit actually.  As was pointed out in the video, a tank is part of the entire combined arms package.  An army chooses how it wants it’s tanks fabricated based on it’s expected place in that picture.  This was especially true between the wars when the tank was new.

One large issue was who had the claim to tanks(and the money that went with them). Was it the infantry branch or the cavalry branch?  There was a lot of infighting between the wars over this.  In the US, the infantry would have control of the tanks, but the cavalry could have “combat cars” which strangely enough had tracks and armor.  The US infantry envisioned tanks in a support role as rapidly moving reconnaissance and fire support as well as defeating enemy attacking tanks.  This is what led to the US light tanks such as the M3 and tank destroyers.  I suspect that the US infantry expected the heavy fire support role to be handled by the artillery.  The thinking seemed to be that masses of attacking enemy tanks could be handled by the artillery wit indirect fire.  By and large that was correct, but it relied on forward observers which worked at Montain a nd not so much in the Ardennes where the observers were busy bugging out along with everybody else.  In any case the US infantry did not consider the tank as their primary offensive tool.

The US cavalry took a different stance.  One reason is that the cavalry branch had most of the officers that had actually used tanks in WW1.  Two they saw the potentials for a radical change in how warfare would be done. Three, cavalry officers are more offensively minded anyway.  They was the tank not as a mobile pill box to fight the enemy’s fortifications, an armored truck, or an armored scout car running around gaining reconnaissance on enemy positions.  They saw the  tank as a disruption agent.  Instead of banging  the tanks against the enemies mass tanks would use their mobility to make that mass irrelevant by interdicting lines of  communications and logistics, forcing either a hasty confused retreat or a capitulation.

This was the thinking behind the “combat car” and the evolution of the medium tank that led to the Sherman.   The Generals that would be the leaders during the war had a basement meeting to create a proposal to the general staff to set up a permanent armored force based more or less on the tactics and strategies proposed by J. F. C. Fuller, a British staff officer who was responsible for planning the first use of tanks in combat.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._F._C._Fuller

Fuller’s ideas were radical and not fully appreciated by many military establishments, not least of which was Fuller’s own military, Great Britain. It would take somebody putting those ideas into practice to demonstrate just how devastating maneuver warfare could be.  Unfortunately for Poland, Britain and France, the army that did was the German army in 1940.  The Germans had been paying far more attention to how the internal combustion engine coupled with tracks could be used to outfight the enemy than the general staffs of Britain and France seemed to. Which is probably not a surprise as the Germans had been on the receiving end of the tank during WW1 and the point was made even clearer by the terms of the Versailles treaty which theoretically denied the Wehrmacht  any armored combat vehicles.  I don’t anything makes something a gotta have more than telling somebody they could not have it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infantry_tank

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cruiser_tank

Having invented the tank in WW1 the British didn’t seem have a clear idea of what the tank was supposed to do.  Aside from silliness like the Bren Gun Carriers, the British went along the seemingly expensive path of having two parallel paths of tank development.  They had the infantry tank for the infantry and the cruiser tanks for the armored forces.  But somehow, not until deep in the war did the British actually develop a tank that was in any way reliable.  Sort of like their cars in a way.  Even then the tank had severe deficiencies for the job it was supposed to do.

In general British tanks designs were hurried, and poorly thought out.  The infantry tanks were undergunned and could barely get out of their own way.  The thick armor caused the overloaded engines to be overworked and the weight of the armor allowed little room for internal stowage or a gun that had a high explosive round. Which meant the on things the infantry tank could engage in support of the infantry were other, more lightly armored tanks that could drive rings around the Matildas.

The cruiser tanks unreliable engines, transmissions and tracks defeated the purpose of the cruiser tanks, which was mobility. On paper the cruiser tanks looked good, but in practice they came up short in combat.  There’s also the fact the cruisers also started the war undergunned and attempting to rectify that only added to their internal space requirements.  Which were already critically cramped. It took the British until nearly the end of the war to overcome the problems.

Now it’s commonly asked when discussing American tank design why they did not go with the Christie suspension like just about everybody else did.  The more I’ve learned about the Christie suspension, the more I’m convinced it was for better reasons than the US Army did not like J Walter Christie.  One reason I had to come to that conclusion is that between the wars the US Army probably had more Christi suspensioned designs than anybody else.  In fact they had four or five of them.  So it’s not as if they were unfamiliar with the advantages.  That also means that they were aware of the disadvantages as well. Some of which are mentioned in the video above.

This inside the tank video sort of shows the typical Christie. While this is a soviet tank the others had more or less the same issues.  While the Christie suspension looked good on the outside placing the springs inside the hull cost precious interior space and created some hug reliability issues that all the Christie designs had.

The thing is that springs break.  With a Christie tank that means that you have  to open up the entire tank to replace them. Which involves cranes, heavy tools and probably cutting and welding to take the tank apart and stich it back together.  This is why all suspension repairs have to be done at a depot.

http://afvdb.50megs.com/usa/pics/convertiblem1.html

In the late 1930’s, when the time came that the US take tanks seriously the ordnance department had to make some critical design decisions based on limited information. Some of those decisions may seem strange, for instance the use radial air cooled engines in tanks, but there may have been good reasons for them in 1935 or 1936 when the decision was made.  In the beginning I suspect it was simply to bootstrap on the high performance research that the army aircorps and NACA were doing. From what I’ve seen from the various engine designs in 1935 the aircraft engines may have actually been the best choice of the options available and the Cavalry at the time simply didn’t have the resources for designing their own engines. Or buying engines just for tanks.  The Air boys had those resources and it was probably easy enough to grab a few engines for tank testing right out of AAF stocks. It helped that aircraft engines did have the highest power to weight ratios anyway.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wright_R-975

http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/US/M1_Combat_Car.php

When the time came to develop bigger tanks the new armored forces and the Ordnance people built on what they knew worked. They also had severe budget restraints in a time when the air force and artillery got most of the development money that was available. This forced an evolutionary development path rather than being able to start from clean sheet of paper.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M2_Medium_Tank

http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/US/m2_medium_tank.php

The evolution of the American medium tank from M2 to M4.

http://the.shadock.free.fr/sherman_minutia/manufacturer/t6/T6.html

https://books.google.com/books?id=IwyYBAAAQBAJ&pg=PR7&lpg=PR7&dq=Joe+Demarco+sherman+tank&source=bl&ots=Pw9844RLso&sig=VCmb4lrVEiU-Ih5SOxiueNnosLE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CDYQ6AEwBGoVChMIib72yOTyxgIVzFY-Ch2nrANZ#v=onepage&q=Joe%20Demarco%20sherman%20tank&f=false

Two videos on the Detroit Arsenal.

Here’s some pictures from a book I picked up about the Detroit Arsenal and what it did during the war.

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What it’s like in a Sherman tank.

Sherman minutia.

http://the.shadock.free.fr/sherman_minutia/

For all the talk about “Ronsons” and such the Wermacht didn’t seem to hesitate to use every Sherman they could get their hands on.

https://www.warhistoryonline.com/war-articles/27-images-captured-sherman-tanks-german-hands.html

It’s very easy to second guess people long after the fact. The fact is that the ordnance people in the US had to labor under constraints that armies in Europe did not have.  For instance no tank in the ETO in any of the European armies was likely to see combat more than 1500 kilometers from the plant that fabricated it.  No American tank would see combat at distance less than 6000 kilometers from the factory, across an ocean infested with hostile submarines.

The fact is that by sticking to a chassis that had proven itself to be very reliable the ordnance people saved themselves boatloads of headaches.  Remember that every spare part or special tool was competing for shipping space with food and supply to Britain and the Soviet Union. Carry this huge logistic burden made a large impact on how the Ordnance bureau made it’s decisions.

Considering the obstacles that had to be overcome, what the Ordnance bureau accomplished has to rate as the greatest unsung achievement ever.  They literally had to create an army out of next to nothing, send it halfway around the world in the teeth of the enemy’s great effort to interdict the effort and make sure that that army had the tools that it needed to win.  The fact that they were able to do that and win is testament to how good they were at their jobs.  The fact that even here in the US we take for granted that the people who pulled that effort off were a bunch of fools based on hearsay and the statements of the people who managed to lose the war for THEIR country.  The same people who manage to deny their army the tools it so desperately needed to win in favor of a series of expensive unwieldy unreliable AFVs that frittered away logistical resources and due to unreliability were not there when they were needed.

When talking about the Sherman and any of cats remember that the most common photo of a Panther or Tiger is a picture of the tank sitting on the side of the road somewhere broken down.  At the beginning of the Ardennes Offensive, supposedly Hitler’s last best hope in the West, some 25% of the brand new Panthers were technical casualties before they even got to the front.  That’s after being hauled to the front from Germany on trains, not driven.  On the other hand the Third Army was able to pull two armored divisions from combat, turn them 90 degrees and drive the divisions’ Shermans to the Ardennes with about 90% getting there.  That’s how the battle to retake Antwerp and split the Allies became the Battle of The Bulge. The cats may have looked sexy, but when the time came to win they came up a distant and poor second.

In researching for this post I came upon some stuff where Patton apparently ordered Third Army depots to Weld additional armor to Shermans to create Jumbo Shermans.  I have to think that if the commanders of the armored forces wanted 76mm guns, wanted 90mm guns they would have had them. Look at the pictures above, the turrets were available. After all the were available and the turret change is a drop in of the E6 turret.  Apparently they were not so afraid of the cats as we are led to believe long after the was over.

The US Army simply could not afford to work under the failings of most of the armies in Europe.  The 100 hour life of a T34 just wouldn’t cut it when every tank has to compete with British children’s dinners.  That extra ton of spares is another machine tool in the East Urals for the Soviets or a set of engines for a bomber striking at the heart of Germany.  A bigger tank means that instead of two tanks you can only ship one.  A tank that weighs more than 40 tons makes shipping them on standard flat cars impossible.  Wide treads and the tank won’t fit inside the “plate C” clearance diagram and is a nightmare to ship.  A taller boxier tank fits better in ship’s hold.  If you actually read the real documents you can see that it wasn’t the threat of maybe 200 Tigers on the entire Western ETO that was driving the decisions, it was doing the things that got tanks on the field where they were needed.  That’s how you win.  One thing you learn if you read enough original documents from the senior US Army people is that they never were arrogant to think that winning was inevitable.

I don’t know how the Sherman is terrible tank got started.  The funny thing is that it seems to have started even before the Sherman existed.  Yes the M2 was sort of a joke.  Yes the M3 was obviously poorly thought out.  Everybody knew even then that the M2 was just a development effort and the M3 was a stopgap when any tank was better than no tank at all.  The fact is that the M4 won the war and then went on to serve in other armies long after the war was over.  Which is a testament to the people who created and the people making the decisions.  In the end the M4 gets the only prize any piece of military equipment gets, it did it’s job and won.

As for the cover picture, well it’s sort of a lie.  As far as I have been able to find out, no T23 ever saw combat, least of all in the jungle.  But it’s a cool picture and I like it, so there it is.

Update:

A video about the t26(M26)

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12 comments

  1. dougirvin · July 24, 2015

    I found out a few years ago that the US produced more war material PER DAY at the end of the war than even existed at the beginning. We are talking massive production capabilities.

    Also, as far as those detractors who say the Allies attacked on the wrong from on D-Day – the fact is every where else along the coast was even more built up. Due to intensive counter intelligence operations, Germany was lead to believe the attack would be held at Calais – far to the north. Normandy was the best choice without sacrificing most of the Allied armies.

    Like

  2. Buford Gray · July 24, 2015

    Thanks for a great read. I loved:

    “Think about all those Okies driving their cars and small trucks fully loaded the 1000 or so miles to California and expecting to reach it. By and large the cars got them there.”

    And I am living proof that they made it!

    Like

  3. John Van Stry · July 24, 2015

    That is a great post. Thanks

    Like

    • jccarlton · July 24, 2015

      Your Welcome. I saw that video, pulled the tank book from my deep storage and then just started to find stuff on the internet.

      Like

  4. tariencole · July 24, 2015

    Reblogged this on The Worlds of Tarien Cole and commented:
    A solid counter to the typical EuroSnob Academias ‘analysis’ of the World War II American Army. The one thing I would add is that the US always considered 1 other element of the combined arms attack integral to anti-tank operations: The air strike. Ground Support attacks were perfected by the USAAF. The Sherman was never meant for toe-to-toe slugfests with their counterparts. It was meant for exactly the kind of tactics the former cavalry officer Gen. George S. Patton employed them during his race across France and against at the Ardennes.

    Laugh at the equipment all you want. It won. And no, it didn’t win by sheer weight of metal. It won by superior logistics, superior reliability, and superior use of combined arms tactics. The only thing a weapon of war needs to do is kill enemies. Try to find a more efficient machine at it than the US Army in 1944.

    I’d honestly suggest you might have to go back to the Grand Armee at its height.

    Like

  5. DonM · July 25, 2015

    The other key thing about the Sherman was its stabilized gun. Yes, stabilized imperfectly, and only in the vertical plane, but every US tank from the M-2 on had a stabilized gun. On the M-3, it was the 37mm cannon up high, but that was at least a match for the 37mm cannon on the Pz-III, and the US was stabilized, so it would fire on the move and hit a German antitank gun from 500 meters with the first round. By contrast, German tanks had to stop (after taking fire that exposed their opponent’s gun position) and try to fire before the exposed enemy could fire again. That took about 5 seconds, much longer than the 2 to 3 seconds for the Sherman.

    Now think about the traverse. The Tiger/Panther had hydraulic traverse, and it took about 60 seconds to turn 360 degrees. That means that the driver had to stop, shift into neutral, then race the engine to build up pressure. The gunner would hit the traverse lever, and try to drop off close enough to the target that he could do fine corrections with a hand wheel. Later versions were better, but none were as good as the US electric traverse, with could turn 360 degrees in 15 seconds, and the turn rate could be slowed as the target lined up, so the motion was one smooth adjustment. By contrast the T-34/76 could traverse its turrent 360 degrees in 13 seconds, but it used a bang-bang controller, so it took several attempts to line up on a target, or again, one kept the traverse mechanism off line and did final adjustments with a hand wheel.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Monty Goolsby · July 25, 2015

    The picture at the top appears to be Marines. We wear camouflage on our helmets. In WWII the army wore netting.

    Like

  7. claytonhadams · December 15, 2015

    Very nice article. I especially liked the discussion of field artillery practice by the various nations.

    Like

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