German Tank Development.

Discussion in 'Weapons, Technology & Equipment' started by von Poop, Jul 31, 2022.

  1. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    With the British Tank Development thread rumbling along, I just thought I might start one for the Germans.
    I know much has been done to death & we like to look at the more neglected allied side, but there must be space for similar comparative examination of how design, production and deployment evolved, along with who was who in their cohort of engineers.

    Who knows... We could even have one for Italy, Bulgaria, maybe even America. :unsure:.

    I mean, the A7V was, TBH, an HG Wells-ish landship disaster. They used captured British Rhomboids and produced almost nothing else tankish in WW1, were comprehensively disarmed for a decade or so, but via assorted means produced substantial machines 20 years later.
    Imported Vickers under 'agricultural tractors', cooperation with the Russians at Kazan, their own interwar genetic sports (Grosstraktor/s, Neubaufahrzeug), the different adoption of half-tracks and armoured cars, the effect of dictatorial regimes on financing research and production (along with whether they properly financed/understood production until too late) etc. etc.

    Don't know. There may not be the will for it in the same way the British discussion is 'fresh', but it might be interesting to take another look. Views have shifted. New information is more widely circulated.



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  2. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    I actually don't think the most important aspect of WW2 German tank development has ever been properly addressed by the specialist German tank historians, which is:

    Why did the Maybach engines have such a short life?

    At best they only had a 1200 to 1500 mile life on the comparatively light Panzer III and early Panzer IV, and this despite the fact that they had proper air cleaners positioned in exactly the right place (i.e. the fighting compartment). On the Panther the life seems to have been ~700 miles (1000 km) at best, which compares with the 3000+ miles of the Meteor or Ford GAY.

    Was the reason because the cylinder linings were too thin? Or because the engines were inadequately cooled or lubricated? Was the gasket material inadequate? Did they not have the right alloying material for the pistons and valves?

    I've seen quite ludicrous levels of detail being given on fairly minor components, but I've yet to see this vital issue be properly addressed.
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  3. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Envelope-pushing usually my feeling.
    Sophisticated, decent power, etc. etc., but maybe 5-10 years before metallurgy/technology would have allowed the designs to work 'properly'?
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  4. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    That might be true, but I'd still like to know the actual cause of the accelerated wear. I'm also intrigued as to whether the Germans even saw this as a problem, or did they think 1200 miles was basically OK, and just what was to be expected? Seeing as tank engine wear was basically what brought Operation Barbarossa to a halt*, you would think that they would have been a bit keener on producing more durable engines.

    *note that no GPW historian has figured this out, yet.
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  5. ltdan

    ltdan Nietenzähler

    Over the years I have had access to hundreds of pages of documents from the "Inspekteur der Panzertruppen".
    Until mid '44, I read nothing about any significant problems with engine life:
    Final drives, suspension, gears; rollers yes, the first one in particular was an unresolved problem from the beginning (probably as many Panthers were lost as a result of it as from direct enemy action).

    From the middle of '44, a shortage of alloying metals, the mass use of forced laborers in the assembly plants and the inadequately trained replacement personnel were added as very important factors.

    Probably we have here a classic example of different design philosophies:
    At least with the German tanks, a lot of emphasis was placed on quick removal/replacement of the engines.
    The engines were basically regarded as replacement parts.
    Until Anno '41, this worked quite well. But when the inadequate supply lines in the east were completely overstretched, the system quickly reached its limits.
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  6. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

    Last edited: Aug 1, 2022
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  7. Domobran7

    Domobran7 Member

    Was Panther really unreliable, or only gained reputation for unreliability because it was rushed into service on Hitler's orders?

    Also, do you think that Guderian's idea of producing more long-barrel Panzer IVs instead of early batch of Panthers would have helped?
  8. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    This is kind of what I expected - if you set your durability/reliability objectives low enough, you will always have adequate reliability!

    In David Stahel's book on Operation Barbarossa, he alleges that the replacement engines weren't being made, because the priority (just like in Britain at the time) was for new tanks rather than spare parts.

    Unless I see any evidence to the contrary, I am going to assume that this was an enormous blind spot that the historiography hasn't picked up on - that it simply didn't occur to the Germans to make their engines more durable and thereby increase the serviceability of their tank fleet.
  9. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    As with my answer above, it all depends on what you mean by "reliable". By Allied standards it was always unreliable as far as I can tell, but by German standards it started off being unreliable and later became acceptably reliable. I am very doubtful about some of the more severe allegations made against it, e.g. the famous French report that stated that the final drives had to be changed every 200 km. I would be very surprised if the final drives were really that bad.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2022
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  10. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    German armour (and others) are not my focus, so from an apprentice two comments / questions:

    1) I recall reading about the Czech-made Type 38, better known as the Panzer 38(T), which was much admired by its crews until it met the T34 and survived as an assault gun till the end. Memory refreshed by reading: Panzer 38(t) - Wikipedia

    2) Given that the Wehrmacht captured a lot of Anglo-French armour in 1940, did they actually inspect their haul properly and learn any lessons? I know from some reading, including one thread here, that they used for example (Bren Gun) Carriers as far afield as Sevastapol.
  11. ltdan

    ltdan Nietenzähler

    Two essential criteria can be named as the lowest common denominator:

    First, there is the unbreakable belief of German engineers that the most sophisticated and elaborate solution is the only one imaginable.
    This leads to Formula 1 vehicles even where a tractor would have been more suitable.

    On the other hand, the almost religious tendency to hyper-administration down to the smallest details.
    To illustrate, the infamous "Hoof nail decree" from 1925:

    "The course of business at the Army Headquarters is beginning to seem too sluggish and time-consuming to me. I certainly do not blame this delay on a lack of diligence, but on the contrary on an excess of bureaucratic mores. Above all, I am afraid of a departmentalism which will not permit the new form of a hoof nail to be proposed to me until T1, 2, 3, 4, V.A., J.W.G., In 1 - 7, Legal Department and Peace Commission have given their written vote and differences of opinion have been reconciled by a meeting of the referees. But I fear even more that about this hoof nail both on the part of the departments as well as the inspections individually all troop units have been questioned. If the hoof nail is then presented to me for a decision with all-round approval by the sole authoritative veterinary inspection, then either 100 horses have become unnecessarily lame in the meantime, or it will remain with the old tried and tested hoof nail and the Ministry and troops will have worked in vain."

    Original text:

    Knowing this, some peculiarities of German tank development (and not only there) may seem more understandable
  12. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    I spent years citing that '47 503 report in certain types of argument, partly because it seemed useful, partly because it really wound up some devotees.
    Only recently though, I feel I should recant my enthusiasm for it as a piece of evidence as it properly dawned on my plodding brain the significance of its source.

    What postwar French armour officer or engineer (or politician) wanted this Boche stuff knocking around a second more than was necessary. As if a nation that was a substantial builder of indigenous machines wasn't aching to get going again.
    Were I a Frenchman (!) 2 years postwar, I too would not be kind or even reasonable about a rather embarrassing vehicle's presence.
    I've also never seen much on specifics of the French machines' origins. Who knows how knackered they were, or if lashed up from parts.

    Bits from the report.
    Think I got on another forum years ago, but cannot recall. Maybe Military Photos.
    It certainly reads like 'get us something, anything, other than... This'.
    I used to have the actual report. Will dig.
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  13. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    C'mon, Dave. Be reasonable.
    There's only maybe 7 people in the world that truly grasp Japanese tank development, and they're apparently only just starting to gain traction in English. :unsure:
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  14. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    In fairness, the Panther performed wretchedly in FVPE trials as well, even brand new ones, although these latter had been built under REME supervision, so perhaps the German assembly personnel were not being overly diligent.

    I'm sure the final drives were terrible, but 200 km for every drive on every tank is overdoing it I think. That kind of replacement rate just isn't viable.

    I'm also a bit suspicious about the gunner needing 20 to 30 seconds to acquire a target due to not having a periscope. As far as I'm aware the commander in the Panther had his own traverse handwheel, a cupola and a sighting vane, so he should have been capable of putting the gunner absolutely cock on the target without the gunner having to do much searching.
  15. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Well... A few observations.

    1) If you plan around it, and in fact design your kit around it (e.g. by designing to enable rapid engine replacements in the field), this shouldn't be an issue. I'm also pretty certain you could find some interesting trade-offs between engine longevity and shorter life/rapid rebuilding in the 1930s context? Also needs to be considered that the German Panzerregiment was far better supplied with organic fitters/workshops and recovery vehicles than the British Armoured Brigade. So lots of things to think about.

    2) Possible, but citation required. Did they actually run out of engines because they couldn't make them, or did they run out because the logistics were fcuked up?

    3) See 1) above. Also see the experience in North Africa, where the tanks acquired substantial mileage, but seem to have kept going. There is a lot of pictorial evidence of tanks arriving in March 1941 and only being taken off the roster by combat action in November and December. This will no doubt have been a combo of long intervals without combat that allowed regimental workshops to go to town on maintenance, new engines being supplied, and possibly cannibilisation of wrecks that could no longer be rebuilt. What didn't happen was that, despite stretched logistics, the German tank force depreciated by meaningful numbers for non-combat reasons, although there is evidence that when fighting started in November 1941, the tank force of Panzerregiment 5 was knackered. Technical vs. battle losses during the first days of CRUSADER – PR5

    All the best

  16. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    You could also argue that more fitters/workshops/recovery vehicles is an overhead that ideally should be made as small as possible. This is another advantage of highly durable components.

    I'll go and mine some quotes from the book. But IIRC it was neither - the production of spare engines just wasn't prioritised

    1600 miles on the clock is the highest mileage I've seen on any captured Panzer III, this particular tank being clapped out. Rommel's first offensive resulted in a slew of non-combat casualties, which can be seen in the famous Panzerregiment 5 workshop report of May 1941. This could have resulted in a catastrophe had the British not obligingly worn out their own tank force first.
  17. ltdan

    ltdan Nietenzähler

    The German tanks were as good as they could be with the existing means and under the existing circumstances.

    The Panther was virtually tailor-made for the Eastern Front with its tank pulks:
    With its precise cannon and excellent optics, it was supposed to be able to take out the enemy tanks at long range.
    The rule of thumb among the commanders was that a reasonably capable Panther could easily deal with 6 to 7 T-34s from a defensive position at 900m.
    However, when deployed in the bocages, this resulted in considerable disadvantages in tactical manoeuvrability when firing.
    This can practically be transferred 1:1 to the Tiger.

    From the suspension point of view, the Panther was designed as a sprinter. In this role it proved its worth, the enthusiastic feedback from the front speaks volumes.
    Again in Normandy, where road marches of up to 150km and more into the area of operations were necessary due to the extensively destroyed railway network, there were quite considerable problems with the drive and chassis.

    The final drive was the real Achilles' heel of the design: In the unbelievable haste during development, it was designed too weak and could not be replaced by a better solution afterwards because there was no space for it.

    Ultimately, there was a very pronounced ambivalence, especially in the Third Reich:
    The designers were certainly capable of fulfilling the demands made of them - but only on condition that appropriate maintenance and servicing measures were carried out.
    However, it was up to the army to ensure compliance, which often simply could not do so.
    And as we are currently experiencing: The best technology becomes ineffective when the associated logistics collapse.

    Under these circumstances, even a Leopard I would not have made any difference.
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  18. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    I think that's the universal truth for almost every nation.
    "If not this, then what?" the key question in so many areas.
    That 'what' is rarely, if ever, straightforward.
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  19. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Fair point, but is that realistic given that we are talking 1930s tech? The Germans locally regenerated their tank force, and the British had to send everything back to the Delta, which imposes its own trade-offs.

    Thanks, that's what I meant by 'couldn't make them'.

    I would expect that to be the normal driving distance that the majority German tanks that made it to a major battlefield in the desert managed. Tripoli to Tobruk via the desert route is 1,300km, or 813 miles. So they got half of the 1,600 miles just getting to a fight.

    Yes, the report makes for interesting reading. It did result in a catastrophe, as the remaining number of tanks was simply insufficient to take Tobruk, and this set the chessboard for the future war in North Africa completely against the Axis.

    But it is worth noting that the engine replacements here were for the most part sand filter failure, and this was quickly rectified.

    All the best

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  20. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    That comment reminds me of the portion of the video below that describes the RASC's vain attempts to persuade their drivers to look after their trucks and drive them properly:

    Ultimately this is a "crooked timber of humanity" issue. The more you are reliant on the end users to behave how you would like them, the more you are subject to the vagaries of individual or collective behaviour.

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