Monday, September 14, 2009

A fascinating interview...

An interesting interview with a WWII Russian tanker who served in the 6th Guards Tank Army, equipped with 76mm M4 Shermans.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow. Interesting indeed, especially in the comparisons Dmitriy Fedorovich made between the Sherman and the T-34. The Sherman was supposed to be the "inferior" tank due in part to its more flammable gasoline engine, but Fedorovich seems to suggest that the T-34 was more likely to "brew up" due to its ammo load. He also notes that the T-34 had more of a problem with spalling than the Sherman.

And I can't wait to toss this passage from Dmitriy Fedorovich's account into the next "9mm vs. .45" thread on the gun boards:

"... Each Sherman came with two Thompson submachine guns, in caliber 11.43mm (.45 cal), a healthy cartridge indeed! But the submachine gun was worthless. We had several bad experiences with it. A few of our men who got into an argument were wearing padded jackets. It turned out that they fired at each other and the bullet buried itself in the padded jacket. So much for the worthless submachine gun. Take a German submachine gun with folding stock (MP-40 SMG by Erma -Valeri). We loved it for its compactness. The Thompson was big. You couldn't turn around in the tank holding it."

Awesome link. Loved it.

--Wes S.

knirirr said...

Very interesting, thanks.
It's quite embarrassing that we made such a mess of tank design during WWII, having done very well during the previous war. There's a good overview of the problems in this book.

Turk Turon said...

Fascinating! My favorite anecdote:

"The Sherman could never defeat a Tiger with a frontal shot. We had to force the Tiger to expose its flank. If we were defending and the Germans were attacking, we had a special tactic. Two Shermans were designated for each Tiger. The first Sherman fired at the track and broke it. For a brief space of time the heavy vehicle still moved forward on one track, which caused it to turn. At this moment the second Sherman shot it in the side, trying to hit the fuel cell. This is how we did it. One German tank was defeated by two of ours, therefore the victory was credited to both crews."

And the fake leather upholstery was so luxurious that the tankers had to guard their Shermans against the infantry, who would steal the material to make boots!

The Russians also seemed to have liked the Browning 50.

Another good book on the Nazi-Soviet front is "Armageddon" by Max Hastings.

Dave said...

The Sherman was a perfectly servicable medium tank until '44. When they found out that it was relegated to second class status by the newer German tanks, logistical considerations kept it in front line service.
Cold comfort to the crews that ended up on the business end of a Tiger, but the Germans could not produce anywhere near the numbers we could. It is a foreign philosophy to our way of military thinking today, but having 50-60 thousand pretty good tanks right now instead of a much smaller number of better tanks seemed like a good idea at the time.

Tam said...

"It is a foreign philosophy to our way of military thinking today, but having 50-60 thousand pretty good tanks right now instead of a much smaller number of better tanks seemed like a good idea at the time."

1) It's a perfectly sound philosophy when you're at the threshold of victory and operating at the far end of a 3,000-mile long supply chain.

2) Kids who get all wrapped up about Panthers and Tigers ignore the fact that they were a small fraction of the Wehrmacht's armor strength (such as it was.) The Pzkw.IVH was meat for the long-barreled Sherman.

3) Point to Ponder: If the T-34/85 was so much better than the M4 "Easy 8", how come it got totally pwnt by the Sherman in Korea and the Middle East?

Ed Foster said...

I was never a tanker, and the thought of being inside one of those things in a close quarters environment filled with shaped charges is not a happy one.

I saw an ONTOS that took a hit in the back doors from an RPG, and there was nothing left but the belly pan and tracks. The only reason the blast didn't take out half a company of legs was it was way out on the flank.

Still, as an engineer I am interested in the things, and I smell a certain B.S. factor in the stuff I see on the History Channel. You know, needing 4 Shermans to take out one Tiger, while losing three of them, etc.

Tam, a superb interview of someone who obviously was a real professional, and he didn't seem to find open tank battles with German armor all that scary. Though, admittedly, that was in comparison to strolling across minefields under fire in a penal battalion.

Bottom line, by '44, guns were better than armour, and 4 or 5 inches wasn't much better than the 2 inches found on a Sherman.

And the Sherman's much lighter weight, better power to weight ratio, and utter reliability compared to any other tracked vehicle made it dramatically more manuverable and cross country capable. Sherman units could often bypass or outmanuver Tiger and Panther opponents.

It bears reminding that the Sherman was designed as an infantry support tank, with high manuverability and a high turret to fire over obstacles as it's first priorities. The tank on tank combat was supposed to be between Kraut armor and our tank destroyers.

I know a crusty old retired army Tank Destroyer NCO who served with the 4th Armoured in Buick Wildcats. I've seen the wall of decorations and on the spot photos, and he seems to think that Tigers in rolling country were so much easy meat, and Panthers were only dangerous in a close range slugfest, when any sensible man would whistle up bazookas, air, or a fire mission from 155mm's. I kinda get the idea the 4th was a really well coordinated combined arms unit.

I suspect a lot of the stories we see about the hapless, helpless Sherman drivers going fatalistically to their end is because so much of the military stuff we see on T.V. is rehashed British stuff packaged for U.S. viewing, and really, the Brits weren't very good by the end of the war.

Their commando and airborn units were still excellent, but they were volunteer units filled with the exceptional, rather then the docile "nation of shopkeepers" types who predominated.

I can see the average collection of Brits going obediently but timorously to their ends, and using their light, fast, dependable Shermans like plodding Matildas, much to their detriment.

But used as they were meant to be used, supporting infantry against pillboxes, machinegun nests, and snipers while the TD's and P-47's killed the German armor, I suspect the Shermans were a hell of a lot more effective than they were given credit for.

Yes, the M-26 Pershing was the best tank of the war, if 3 or 4 months in combat counts as a war. And yes, it combined the best of the the Sherman, the Wildcat, and the Panther in one superb package that was a generation ahead of anything used in WWII.

It was the first truely modern tank, and with upgrades (as the M-48 Patton and M-60) it is still a major player today.

But the Sherman, as a contemporary of the PzKW and T-34, was arguably better than either as an all-around tank, rather than solely a tank on tank killer, due to far superior speed, cross country capability, ability to stay hull down in broken country, and reliability.

Note: Word Verification is pednest. I ain't even going there.

alath said...

A big problem comparing T-34s to any other country's tanks is that Soviet production quality was so variable. A T-34 produced under direct enemy fire at one end of a factory in Stalingrad, then driven to the battlefield at the other end of the factory, was one thing. A T-34 produced in 1944 in a factory in Tankograd in the Urals could be another thing entirely.

That's why you will read one account that says "we loved the T-34's sloping armor because the German 5cm AP shells would bounce right off," and another Soviet tanker complaining about how the same German shell went through his T-34 like butter. Sometimes Soviet production was so disrupted that the armor plate was improperly heat treated so that they were essentially making tanks of ordinary mild steel.

The reference to the 6th Guards Tank Army reminded me of a bit of Yeremenko humor. At the time he was in command of the 4th Tank Army, and they kept getting thrown in to battle in a depleted condition without any chance for refitting or reinforcement. Yeremenko started inserting a grammatical error into his communiques so that his sign-off read "Yeremenko, Commander, Four-Tank Army."

FatWhiteMan said...

Fascinating is the right word. I may order that book.

Kristopher said...

I talked about the T-34 with an inlaw who's grandfather served in the Russian Army as an American Communist volunteer ... he hated the T-34.

He was a gunner, and lost his teeth to the shell ejector. It has a steel bar sticking up that was supposed to deflect the spent shell downwards ... once in long while, the shell missed that bar ...

Firehand said...

I'm wondering if the powder in the .45 ammo was burning slow because of the cold? That'd definitely reduce the power.

Kristopher said...

Incredible read. Thanks Tam.

John A said...

Good find, thank you.

- - -
Snark by me -

Anyway, this British representative constantly interfered with our efforts to repair separate components of the tank. He said, "This has a factory seal. You should not tinker with it!" We were supposed to take out a component and install a new one. Nesterov made a simple repair to all these transmissions.
. . .
In general the American representative worked efficiently. Any deficiency that he observed and reported was quickly and effectively corrected.


Sort of goes along with something else I have read, that the lend-lease warships we sent to England were quickly modified to reduce crew quarters lest the men in British warships mutiny to get such "lavish" quarters. Different attitudes toward the average citizen?

Billy Beck said...

"It is a foreign philosophy to our way of military thinking today, but having 50-60 thousand pretty good tanks right now instead of a much smaller number of better tanks seemed like a good idea at the time."

"Quantity has a quality all its own."

Attributed to Stalin, there is a lot of sense in it, as the 2-1 tactic can illustrate.

DirtCrashr said...

I wonder of British Shermans were required to reduce speed and maintain the same pace as the Matildas?
Thank-you for that link.

word vf: gratini -- Bueno Gratini!

Dave said...

Tam

1. No argument from me. Goes along with what I said about the logistics involved.

2. Yes indeed. They had some really good tanks, but they could not build them in any great quantity. Nothing approaching the tens of thousands of Shermans, not to mention all the other stuff we were making.

3. I don't think the T-34 was that much better. The sloped armor and lower profile was a plus, and I think their gun was better than the original Sherman gun. I leave that discussion to better armor historians than myself though.

As for the reason for the relative effectivesness of the Sherman in Korea and the middle east, America and Israeli tank crews. Pardon my jingoism on behalf of both my brother American soldiers and the slim thread of Jewish blood in my family, but enough said. :)

Kristopher said...

The T-34 was unbeatable when it was first introduced ... the Panther was a reaction to it.

The Germans had nothing that could deal with a JS and KV series until they introduced the Tiger-II. They had to tread them, and then sneak an artillery piece in to batter the crew to death.

Anonymous said...

One of the reasons the Germans could not build more tanks is that they built them TOO WELL. In a program on one of the Hitler channels, the narrator showed an engine main bearing by Maybach for the Panther tank engine. The bearing was beautifully machined, and probably would have lasted for 10-20 years in truck service--this for a tank that had a service life of six months!!

Old Squid

Ed Foster said...

Dave, another thing the Shermans had going for them, in Korea at least, was the 76mm (AKA Navy 3 inch AA gun) which replaced the 75mm, basically WWI gun of the early Shermans.

In keeping with the idea of the Sherman as an infantry support tank, the early Shermans had an essentially unchanged copy of the French 75mm field howitzer as a main gun.

More room inside the turret, lots more ammunition storage, it made sense. Unless you got caught by some Panthers with no tank destroyers around, in which case you used your greater speed and cross country ability to run like hell, leaving your infantry to die in your place, or you died while they bugged out.

So, the powers that be put a MBT gun in it, with a marginally bigger case operating at much higher pressures in a longer barrel.

Nowhere near as handy in confined spaces, and fewer rounds carried, but at least you had a chance if you were better trained than the German at the other end. Which was usually the case by '44.

I suspect nobody in the world produced tankers as good as those of the American army at the end of the war.

The Germans put all their experienced people (including their instructors from the tank schools)in the Panzer Lehr division, which was eaten up by U.S. P-47's and British Typhoons.

The Russians put their most experienced people in an overwatch position at 1,000 meters, let them sharpshoot, took everyone else, and ran them en masse over anything in the way.

The Brits had long since forgotten the idea of armor as cavalry, and plodded along as armored artillery support.

In contrast, the Americans had far more hours of training before being commited to combat, constant feedback from the front, had as much as four times the supply vehicles per unit to maintain supply during advances, and were aggressive almost to the point of madness.

Sometimes beyond the point of madness, as when a heavy company of Stuart light tanks found themselve up against more than their number of Panthers. Rather than bugging out, they opened out into an extended formation, took some brutal losses roaring down the hill, and closed to the only range where their 37mm popguns could reliably penetrate the Panthers.

50 yards. Many of the Panthers were put out of action by Stuarts so close the Germans couldn't depress their guns enough to fire at them, and their manually traversed turrets were hopelessly slow at knife fight distances.

Dismounted tankers from wrecked vehicles continued the attack on foot, with small arms and grenades. The German tankers had outdistanced most of their infantry support, and paid the price for it.

And yes, the American commander was an old cavalryman. He spent the engagement with his head outside the hatch, his campaign hat quite noticable to all, and was seen firing his .45 at enemy tank commanders.

Yee Haaaa.

T.Stahl said...

Fuel was a bigger problem for the Germans than not being able to produce the required numbers.

My grandpa told me he saw brand-new Tigers arriving in Russia by rail transport. There just was no fuel to operate them.

Tam said...

The KV-1 and KV-85 could be defeated over the front arc (although not reliably) by the KwK 40 mounted on later F-series Mk.IVs. The 70-caliber piece on the Panther would shoot almost cleanly through one from stem to stern at city ranges.

The early Iosef Stalins were much tougher opponents, but the JS-I was roughly equivalent to the Tiger I; slightly better protection and more muzzle energy being more than offset by the Jerry's superior fire control and generally better crews.

Although, as I'm trying to point out in this comment thread, any attempt to reduce armored warfare to "Armor + Main Gun Caliber = Cool Tank" betrays a very simplistic view of things.

Gas mileage? Ease of repair? Ground pressure? Ability to use bridges and rail transport? Ease of crew escape? Crew comfort? Ease of construction? These are the unsexy things that don't show up in a game of Advanced Squad Leader or Steel Panthers, but they're what win wars.

DirtCrashr said...

Seeing the Panther V under reconstruction at the MVTF and observing its carriage and construction I have to agree with Old Squid's observation of building too well.
The minimal clearance of the engine in its protected hull-enclosure (like less than an inch on both sides for the engine mounting bolts) and the eight different swing-arms with a total of 32-different non-interchangeable (I believe) left-side/right-side torsion bars for suspension was like a work of vehicle art by the BMW factory - but not meant (or even possible) to be repaired in-field.
Repairs were supposed to be made at the authorized Tank Dealership when it was returned for warranty-work by the transporting Tank Train... Better get an extra quart or two of that special hydraulic fluid too because you might need to lube yourself down, since there was no escape-hatch going through those 32-bars of torsion that covered the floor, escape was only possible through the rear or top, or a hole big enough if the spalling didn't get you.
The gun seems like an afterthought.
Here's the mostly restored Panther taking a drive around the block, sorta.

Ken said...

3) Point to Ponder: If the T-34/85 was so much better than the M4 "Easy 8", how come it got totally pwnt by the Sherman in Korea and the Middle East?

At a guess, crew quality and doctrine, plus the (previously noted) 76.2mm.

Gonna have to read that story in a day or so, after I get this dissertation proposal shipped off.

PS--Mentioning ASL and Steel Panthers: most impressive, even if I did like classic Squad Leader better. (And ask me about the time I played PanzerBlitz/Panzer Leader using a modifed Squad Leader turn sequence.)

Tam said...

I think I still have Steel Panthers: World At War loaded on this machine... :)

Ken said...

Small world -- same here. :-)

Tam said...

How about Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord and Ditto: Beyond Barbarossa?

Are those not just awesome?

reflectoscope said...

Which leads up to the assertion that amateurs discuss tactics, pros discuss logistics.

Jim

fast richard said...

That is a very interesting interview. It's nice to get the opinions and experiences of someone who was actually there. It gives a good reality check to compare with more analytical and theoretical writings on the subject.

Noah D said...

had as much as four times the supply vehicles per unit to maintain supply during advances

From The History[sic] Channel - during something about the Italian Campaign.

Out on the sharp end, a couple of Germans get picked up as POWs. They're quite cocky (Italy was...well, anything but 'the soft underbelly of Europe'), and are rather sure that the Amis and Tommies will be pushed back into the sea soon enough. As they keep moving to the Allied rear, they pass supply truck after supply truck, after truck, after truck...

By the time they get to POW processing, they're nearly in tears. When asked as to why the change in attitude, they simply point out the long columns of trucks and say, 'There's no way we can win.'

A succinct comment from an 88 gunner in Italy: "You guys had a more Shermans than I had rounds."

Also: Ah, ASL. I remember days delightfully lost to that game.

While Steel Panthers: WaW (and the modern variant, MBT) are still on my machine, the Close Combat series was one of my favorites. Too bad I can't get 3 (Eastern Front) to work under XP. :( Best Real-Time games ever. Haven't tried the Combat Mission ones, though.

Steve Skubinna said...

Old Squid's comment on the Germans "building too well" applied in other areas, too. Their motor torpedo boats were, individually much superior to USN and RN MTBs. So much so that they built relatively few of them, and got overwhelmed by numbers.

Likewise, compare the quality of their excellent fighter aircraft with the Allied total air superiority at D-Day. Having better equipment doesn't do you any good if it isn't where you need it to be.

Of course the Germans were not alone in this regard. The Japanese kept building the Zero long after it had been matched and then outclassed by USN fighters, and after they ran out of pilots because they wouldn't redesign their training syllabus to produce more. They began the war with superiority in equipment and personnel they thought they could never lose.

Cossack in a Kilt said...

My memory's a little fuzzy on not enough coffee yet this morning, but didn't the German general staff order up an analysis of the US following the War That Didn't Quite End All War?

As I recollect, the staff analysis was that while the Americans might not have the finest fighting units, the Americans understood logistics right down pat.

Fascinating thread, Tam, and many good comments.

Ken said...

Alas, I ain't got either o'those. Got a pile of miniatures that would sink a small pram, though....

Jeff the Baptist said...

"Still, as an engineer I am interested in the things, and I smell a certain B.S. factor in the stuff I see on the History Channel. You know, needing 4 Shermans to take out one Tiger, while losing three of them, etc."

Most of this comes from Belton Cooper and you'll see him appear in History Channel interviews on the Sherman. Cooper ran 3rd Armor's repair and recovery group. He saw the Sherman's go out and then come back in knocked out. Sometimes on the same day.

One of the big problems was that the initial conditions in Normandy were not the Sherman's fight and losses were immense. The Sherman had to advance down the hedgerow lanes into the teeth of the superior German armor and anti-tank weaponry. This didn't work at all. The hedgechoppers helped some, but the Sherman didn't really get going until the allies broke out of the hedgerows into more open country.

The usuage problem was only exacerbated by training. Cooper also indicated that while the US was often able to repair and put Shermans back into service, they often couldn't find trained replacement crews so easily. Which meant you had green crews with little tank training in a machine that relied on speed and mobility. So they often were employed poorly and had associated high loss rates. I think Cooper mentioned that the loss rate for his Shermans in the 10 months after Normandy was something like 580%.

Kristopher said...

Tam: The KV-1 could be defeated by an upgraded PZKFW-IV ... but they were about as rare as hen's teeth when the KV-1 was first used on German armor.

The JS-1 was a bit better than a Tiger-I ... but there weren't any around in any numbers to oppose them effectively at introduction.

Similarly, the Grant and original Sherman tanks were difficult for the majority of German tanks in Africa to deal with. Rare III-j specials and AA mounted 88s had to do most of the work.

They spent a lot of time reacting to American and Soviet advances ... and in many cases, over-reacting.