The untitled Memorial Day Article

 

Ahh memorial day. When we remember the members of our armed forces that gave their life to defend their country. That’s it, no need to be controversial today and as a vet myself I know what it feels like to lose someone close to you in battle ,but I don’t like to talk about that so we’re not going to, instead we’re going to talk about another thing close to my heart, my lungs, full of hot air and constantly inflating, deflating, actually no, one of the things I care most about is Historical Accuracy for if we are going to remember those who gave their lives I feel it’s best to remember them correctly.

So without further ado here is some more WWII Facts that are Bullshit.

 

  1. The Sherman Tank was the worst tank ever made, it had paper thin armour, caught fire every-time it was hit and was known as a Ronson Tank because it “Lights first time”.

Firstly the worst tank of the Second World War was debatably the British Valiant tank, which could not be operated without the driver injuring themselves and was pulled from trails before production could even begin, or perhaps the Churchill Ardeer Aggie ,an attempt to attach a 300mm recoilless cannon to a British Churchill tank, which could only fire once and concussed most of it’s crew in the process. Or perhaps the Ferdinand a German Tank destroyer which had a tendency to catch fire for no reason and explode when moving up inclines.

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The much criticized American Sherman Tank was actually a very good tank for the age, highly versatile, mobile and cheap both to build and repair.

It also had a secret. While other tanks made use of levers and bars to control motion and took an average of six months to train a man to drive the Sherman had a steering wheel, a pedal for breaking,a pedal for accelerating, a clutch and one simple gear level, arranged as you might find on a car. Basically if you could drive a car you could drive a Sherman.

As for mobility, the Sherman could go between mud, ground, tarmac, sand and snow without any extensive modification. It could cover terrain most other tanks could not, cross old bridges and ford streams. In comparison the German PnzIV needed extensive modification to handle the rough terrain it encountered in both Russia and in Africa. Mobility was never an issue for a Sherman tanker and while his counterpart in a Panther could boost better armour protection and a bigger gun but the Panther could only be deployed in certain area’s where they could handle the terrain, a Sherman could be deployed anywhere.

Thirdly, that gun the Sherman has gets a lot of stick. Adapted from the French 75mm ‘Canon de 75 MLE’ the Shermans main gun is often unfairly criticized for it’s lack of stopping power and it’s suitability for Infantry support, not anti-tank support. This is often blamed on people like McNair who, we are told, believed that a Tanks job was to support infantry and the job of taking out tanks should be left to the Tank Destroyers who were better equipped.

This is a quote from the American Tanker field manual “Tank vs Tank Action (cfm 1710) Attacking Tank units frequently encounter hostile tank units unexpectedly and other times may be required to attack hostile tanks deliberately“. The Americans were not so stupid as to think that just because they didn’t want to fight hostile Tanks the enemy wouldn’t bring any. While it is true that the role of the Sherman tank was envisioned as being an infantry support weapon, part of the infantry support role was taking down enemy tanks that might be supporting enemy infantry.

The 75mm gun the Sherman employed was not useless against all German tanks. Most ‘documentaries’ regarding the Sherman take their statics by firing a replica Sherman gun loaded with solid shot ammunition over a range at a solid steel plate roughly the thickness of a Tiger’s frontal armour and wet their pants with excitement when it creates nothing but a lovely dent. Solid Shot ammunition was only used very early on in the war and was almost completely phased out by the time the Sherman was being fielded.

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By 1943 the Americans had developed a very sophisticated AP round called M61 APCBC which could penetrate the frontal armour of a Tiger at about 500 meters. To put that in perspective that is a distance of two sims, or five football fields. The Tigers side armour could be penetrated from nearly twice that distance.

Fourthly let’s discuss that ‘paper thin’ armour. The Sherman is often highly criticized for having very little Armour protection while the Russian tank the T-34 is praised for having an incredible amount of protection thanks to it’s slopping armour. To people who say stuff like this I always ask “have you ever actually seen a Sherman tank?”.

The Sherman offered around 50mm (60mm for a late war M4) of frontal armour at a 45 degree angle, offering 70mm (or 80mm) of armour in relative thickness. The T34 offered about 40mm of armour at a 45 degree angle, or 65mm of relative thickness. This meant that ,though it was still nothing compared to the 100mm offered by the Tiger, the Sherman was still better protected than the T-34. In comparison the PnzIV Ausf G had 50mm (later 80mm but at the loss of it’s side armour) on a 90 degree angle giving it a relative thickness of only 55mm (or 87mm for later models of the G), the Panther supported 80mm at a 55 degree angle giving a relative thickness of 97mm. Still well within the Shermans capabilities to destroy.

This would also mean a Pnz IV Ausf G equipped with it’s 75mm KwK 40 could destroy a Sherman at 1,500m, the same distance a Sherman could destroy a PnzIV. It is a complete Myth to believe the Average German tanker enjoyed any level of superiority in equipment in compared to his American rival.

Lastly that slogan “lights first every time” Ronsan didn’t use that slogan till the 1950’s. The Shermans caught fire just as much as every other WWII Tank, not because it was magically more able to do so but because if you shoot at anything enough times it will catch fire. This was a common tactic in WWII to prevent the Tank from being recovered, repaired and used again. About 50-80% of Shermans caught fire, and the Myth was largely generated because of inexperienced American tankers leaving dirty oil rags around the interior, not because the Sherman used a petrol engine.

After the US introduced Wet Stowage boxes for their ammunition, cases of fire dropped to around 15%, for the PnzIV it remained around 80-95% for the entire war.

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2. The French were idiots in thinking the Ardennes was tank proof because of ‘Trees’ lol

Ah yes the silly Cheesy Eating surrender monkies quite literally gave up the entire war by thinking that Trees could stop a Tank and during any WWII Documentry the footage often enjoys cutting to German propaganda reels of German tanks pushing tree’s over. ha! Silly French.

What most people don’t realize is that, they were right. Firstly have you ever been to the Adrennes? Let me throw you some pictures.

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It’s miles and miles and miles of impassible rivers, jagged hills and endless forests, the tree’s themselves are packed pretty dense and some of them with trunks larger than that of the typical German tank at the time which was the Chez built Pnz 38(t). When Germany launched it’s attack on France it’s initial “flank through the Ardennes” plan, known as the Manstein Plan, 41,000 vehicles attempted to squeeze through the Ardennes region. They were given four separate routes and expected to take no less than two days. In actuality they took two weeks.

The massive traffic jam of men and equipment almost led to Hitler calling off the entire attack. The Germans consistently found themselves struggling through difficult, muddy terrain, up the side of hills, along narrow cliff edges and through centuries old overgrown forests. Their position led them to be increasingly vulnerable to French bomber attacks, which never came.

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The German Traffic Jam was spotted, first by Belgium who had correctly anticipated when and where the Germans would attack from, then by the Swiss and finally by the French, who’s spotter planes picked them up on the 11th of May. At this point a squadron of French bombers could have ended WWII right there and then, the problem was that the French Air Force was not doing so well against the Luftwaffe, it’s Bomber force had been reduced from 135 to 72 in little under a few weeks and it’s fighters in their MS.406’s found themselves outmatched by Germany’s 109’s. The French did have a fighter superior, the D.520 but these were available in too small a number.e3739d8b0fc3c7952d22a6a711d74e16

The British were more concerned about keeping the coast in Allied hands, fearing any threat to their Naval Supremacy. The Belgians didn’t have to equipment nor men to take the Germans head on, they had spent the past year carefully turning their country into a formidable fortress and had hoped to last it out. The French were preparing to fight a second First World War, it’s static army was trained to dig trenches and build defences and were unprepared for the fluid rapid attack the Germans would unleash, which combined Tank, Aircraft, Artillery and infantry moving and attacking as one.

The Germans didn’t even need to fight the French. The French army still communicated through messenger, the French commander in chief, Gen. Gamelin, did not even have a telephone in his HQ outside Paris. So the Germans outflanked the immobile French, cut off their communication and supply lines which left two massive armies unable to feed themselves, unable to communicate and under attack from every direction. Panic set in and retreat became the only option.

When the Germans finally escaped the Ardennes forests they came face to face with six platoons of the 55th Infantry Division, mostly combat engineers which had been sent to construct Pillboxes in anticipation of the German advance. These units were already heavily de-moralized and weakened after an eight hour non-stop bombardment from heavy elements of the Luftwaffe, lacking AA support in response. In Spite of this for three days the French held, fighting off three German Panzer Divisions including the elite Großdeutschland infantry regiment.

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Eventually crippling moral, a break down of communications and a false rumour that German tanks had already flanked their position and were attacking Artillery units behind them finally caused the French to break down and retreat. Fearing the worst General Gaston-Henri Billotte, commander of the 1st Army Group demanded every remaining Allied bomber attack the bridges on the Sedan river in an attempt to delay the Germans long enough to organise a counter-attack. This plan failed and the French lost a further half of it’s remaining bombers.

In conclusion of this it would be unfair to claim the French immediately surrendered. The French lost 217,000 men with a further 400,000 wounded in combat. Compare that to America’s loss of 416,000 dead during four years of war in the Pacific and Europe. Germany lost 46,000 men with a further 121,000 wounded. The Luftwaffe had lost over 1,000 of it’s planes and it’s Panzer divisions were now short of 800 tanks. The losses in irreplaceable men and equipment had been staggering, 36% of Germany’s fighting force had been lost and while Hitler applauded the “acceptable” loss of men ,having expected to lose almost a Million men, it was the loss of equipment that had dealt the killing blow.

With such a high loss of equipment operation Sea-lion, the invasion of Britain, could never truly take place. It’s armies attacked Russia vastly under strength and it’s policing force had been severely depleted, leading to numerous resistance forces none of which would ever be fully supressed.

German Economy, which had been preparing for a war of attrition, could not replace it’s loses fast enough and would eventually collapse under the strain. While the French leaders ultimately were to blame for the loss of the Battle of France, becoming struck down with a case of hopelessness and forcing France to Surrender rather than fight on. What France achieved was the beginning of the end for Germany.

The French continued to Fight on, giving way to the single greatest gorilla resistance movement even seen without which the D-day landings could not have been possible, or certainly not as successful.

 

3. Germany Was Superior, specially in 1940

Sticking with the battle of France let us examine the state of the German army of 1940. If you went back in time you would supposedly be looking at one of the most modern armies of the age. Fully Mechanised in preparation for Blitzkreig, with superior weapons, equipment, tanks and Aircraft.

Or was it?

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Sub – German troops marching through occupied Warsaw during World War Two, Poland, circa 1939. 

One of the most persistent Myths regarding WWII has always been the superiority in both numbers and quality of German equipment, mostly Tanks.

The sheer of the complexity of the Second World War and the impressive scale of Germany’s victories requires, in the average mind, a simplistic answer. Superior numbers, training and technology undoubtedly satisfies that requirement and while public opinion regularly views the German Army of WWII as a High-Tech modern army using advanced new technologies invented in Germany this is nothing but a testament to the continuing effectiveness of Nazi propaganda, captured by German Film makers over 70 years ago.

Surprising as this may sound at the start of the war the most modern Army was France and the most mechanised was the British. 50% of the French army equipment was under 30 years old while 25% of the British army was Mechanised. This may not seem much but in comparison only 10% of the Germany army ,at the time, was mechanised. Around about 45% of it’s forces were using equipment over 40 years old and half it’s infantry had only two weeks training.

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Hitler’s Elites the SS and the German Paratroop Fallschirmjäger divisions were the only division to be fully supplied with new equipment but even they were supplemented by second rate divisions and horse drawn Artillery. This would never changed and General Rommel’s Afrika Korp would be the only German Army to become completely mechanised, without use of horse drawn carts or bicycles and this was entirely through necessity.

Granted as the war progressed the German Army became increasingly more Mechanised yet at the height of it’s power, 1942, the German army only really ever achieved roughly 26% Mechanisation. It’s economy, still recovering from France, simply couldn’t cope with the production of new and replacement vehicles at the ever increasing rate which Hitler demanded.

Not even German Tanks, famous for being superior to their allied counterparts, were actually superior in anyway. Firstly it is wrong to assume that Allied tanks were inferior to Germany’s because they had been designed with the idea of Infantry support and not to take on other tanks whereas all German tanks were designed to fill Anti-Tank roles. As I stated earlier in the discussion regarding the Sherman the role of Infantry Support includes dealing with other tanks, otherwise all allied Tanks would have been fitted with Howitzers as opposed to AT guns.

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While early war Nations, most notably the British, commonly accepted this required two types of Tanks, a small fast moving Tank to exploit breakthroughs and a large, heavily armoured tank to support and move with infantry. The German’s believed in exactly the same. Out of all 2,500 German tanks to enter France only 348 were the Panzer III, the only tank Germany had constructed to purposefully deal with other tanks, the StuG was a dedicated Infantry support filling a Mobile Artillery role and the Panzer IV was multi-rolled. Even then the Panzer III had only been equipped with the 37mm Pak 36. A gun outdated and outclassed by almost every other Tank gun on the Allied side and already christened as the “Armies Door Knocker” by German troops as it couldn’t penetrate the armour of the heavier French tanks being encountered all along the Western front.

Eventually these tanks would be up-gunned and upgraded but, in contradiction to popular opinion, would never match the level of technical superiority posed by the allied ‘inferior’ tanks. As the understanding of a Tanks role on the battlefield began to shift, both the British, the Americans ,and to a lesser extent the Russians, placed heavily emphasis on the development of a Multi-rolled Medium Tank that could support infantry, carry out breakthrough attacks as well as engage armour.

Post-war trails done by the Americans and the Russians found that German Tanks had only been superficially Superior, while having bigger guns and thicker armour than most Allied vehicles all ,save for the Panther, were still based on their original late 1930’s concepts with additional upgrades hastily bolted on. Lack of refinement had left most German tanks, most notably the Panzer IV a Frankenstein’s monster which limited their effectiveness as opposed to the Sherman which went through several major re-designs in it’s lifetime.

 

4. The Amusing tail of the Breda Ba.88 “Lynx” the most beautiful and useless plane of the war.

While not exactly a Myth I am always surprised at just how few people know about this Aircraft.

Mussolini hailed the Lynx as a triumph of Italian air design, the sleek black all metal shoulder-wing twin engined monoplane was a heavy advancement in aero-technology compared to what else had been achieved in the 1930’s. It was beautiful, stunning almost and when it took off on it’s maiden flight in October 1936  it proved itself a lot more than just a pretty face.

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By the following year it has smashed two world Speed-over-distance records, averaging 321.25 mph over a 62 mile distance and by December of the same year it has raised these speeds to 350 mph.

However, when military equipment began to be placed on the aircraft numerous problems began to raise.

In 1940 during Italy’s raids on southern France two groups with 12 BA.88’s began strafing runs on the French Airfield of Corsica. They found the aircraft lacked power and the addition of the bombs and machine guns slowed the aircraft down and caused it to steer like a brick.

However with no real air resistance the raids took no losses and the Ba.88 was pushed into service in Africa. During the initial stages of the assaults on British positions two of the three aircraft couldn’t take-off, the third couldn’t turn and had to move in a straight line until it found another airfield to land at. When these issues were fixed it was found the sand filters fitted to the engines caused them to overheat, slowing the craft down to nearly half it’s top speed and forcing it to remain low some only achieving a pathetic flying height of 150m while others couldn’t take-off even with half the weapons, all the bombs and most of the fuel stripped out.

After this the Aircraft were stripped of all useful components and left scattered around Airfields as Decoy aircraft.

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A sad, sad end to one of the war’s most powerful and beautiful aircraft.

In late 1942 the Agusta plant identified it’s main issues. The Frame was too heavy and the engines were underpowered and unreliable. Extensive modification on three aircraft was undertaken with new engines being fitted, the wingspan increased by a further two meters and the addition of Dive brakes. These aircraft never saw service, being ready only after the Italian armistice in 1943. They were handed over to the Luftwaffe for evaluation and promptly disappeared.

 

So that’s all I have right now. I’d say have a happy Memorial day but that always seems a little distasteful to me. So have a good day, enjoy spending time with those you love, don’t light any fireworks, if you know someone who is alone go check on them, invite them to the BBQ, there might be a reason they are so isolated and bitter. Always remember to wash your butt and try to remember that war is a vast and complicated thing, just because someone claims all war is pointless doesn’t mean those who died sacrificed their lives for nothing, but that is an argument for a different day.

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8 thoughts on “The untitled Memorial Day Article

  1. To go along with that final image of the poppy field, I’ll add this.

    During the early days of the Second Battle of Ypres a young Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed on 2nd May, 1915 in the gun positions near Ypres. An exploding German artillery shell landed near him. He was serving in the same Canadian artillery unit as a friend of his, the Canadian military doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae.

    As the brigade doctor, John McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service for Alexis because the chaplain had been called away somewhere else on duty that evening. It is believed that later that evening, after the burial, John began the draft for one of the most well known poems about war.

    ‘In Flanders Fields’
    by John McCrae, May 1915

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Velen.Forager says:

    Interesting read, thank you very much Mal.

    Like

  3. mcgregortamm says:

    (It also had a secret. While other tanks made use of levers and bars to control motion and took an average of six months to train a man to drive the Sherman had a steering wheel,)
    sherman`s always had steering levers not a wheel,i`ve restored and driven enough of them so i know a bit about them

    Like

    • malcious says:

      You’re right that is a Tiger 1 I’m sorry. On closer research it seems to steering wheel was a training attachment fitted to earlier versions of the Sherman such as the M4A1. These were not given to the British on Land Lease and ,aside from the diaries of their drivers, there seems to be very little evidence of them being deployed with the attachments. It may be they were only ever used for training purposes. Supposedly there are working examples of them at Bovington, AAF and Duxford but I’ve yet to get a reply from anyone about them.

      Like

  4. This is how you resolve a dispute in an incredibly classy manner. It’s also on theme for this article.

    Like

  5. Thanks Mal for another fascinating post!

    Like

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