In the summer of ’42 the German forces in the East managed to surprise the Soviet High Command by attacking in the area of Army Group South. The Germans together with their Rumanian, Hungarian and Italian Allies overwhelmed the Soviet troops and advanced far in the Soviet South towards the oil producing areas of Baku.
However their efforts to clear the western part of the Volga were checked by the Soviet forces defending Stalingrad.
In November ’42 the Soviets, after secretly massing their forces, counterattacked and used their mobile forces against the flanks of the German front that were defended by the German Allied nations. The result was the collapse of the front and the encirclement of the Stalingrad troops.
The siege of Stalingrad started again but this time it was the Germans that were defending. Outmaneuvered and outnumbered they did however manage to hold on and occupy significant Soviet forces till early ’43. This allowed the rest of Army Group South to extract its units and avoid an even worse disaster.
Were the Germans able to prolong the Stalingrad battle through superior intelligence? It seems so according to Foreign Military studies D-271‘The Battle of Stalingrad. Signal Communications in the Pocket of Stalingrad and Communications with the Outside’ by Generalmajor Wilhelm Arnold-1947.
By reading Soviet encoded messages their plans could be ascertained and the limited units available were moved to the threatened sectors in advance.
The report says:
‘III. Radio Intercept
The intercept companies, consisting of an evaluation section and three platoons, were at the disposal of Sixth Army in the pocket of STALINGRAD. In addition to these units we had two intercept platoons of Fourth Panzer Army, thus a total of five intercept platoons. During the entire period of the encirclement the work of this reinforced intercept company was of the utmost importance to Sixth Army. The surrounded Army had no other means of collecting information about the enemy. A desperate attempt to send the three fighters in the pocket on a reconnaissance mission had failed. As a result, Army G-2 moved his entire section into the bunker of the intercept company's evaluation detachment. Fortunately, a large group of Russian interpreters had been assigned to the intercept company for some time. After the intercept stations had been installed, and the company had acquainted itself with the new assignment, we were able to determine the organization and approximate strength of the opposing Russian forces within a relatively short time. At first, Russian radio discipline was poor which enabled us to intercept and evaluate a series of clear radio messages. In the north-east sector, at least, this condition changed only when a new, apparently strict Russian signal officer was assigned there. He repeatedly prohibited all transmission of uncoded messages under threat of immediate execution of violators. However, even most of the coded Russian radio messages were deciphered by the intercept company quickly enough to be fully exploited. During the preceding year we had sent many specialists of the intercept company to Army Group or to the ZY for thorough training in deciphering the Russian three-, four-, and five-figure codes. That measure now yielded good results.
The well-coordinated employment of the five intercept platoons enabled us to present Field Marshal Paulus almost nightly with a complete picture of the changes that had occurred in the Russian lines during the day. In most instances we were able to determine the Russians’ intentions for the following day. We could then rush the few tanks that were still maneuverable to the threatened points in time. In the south and west it was even possible to intercept regularly the exact Russian tank status reports.
On 12 December 1942, when General Raus began his relief thrust from the south through the Kirgize Steppe on STALINGRAD, with his very strong 6th Panzer Division (200 tanks and assault guns) and the very weak 17th and 23d Panzer Divisions (with only few tanks), several radio sets of the signal company, and a few sets of the intercept company were tuned in on the frequency channels of this relief force. General Raus' command channel, the channels of the forward divisions and the regiment in the main effort were monitored, and as the relief force continued its advance the voice communications of the armored spearheads also became audible. Simultaneously, the intercept companies monitored the command channels of the Russian forces (primarily that of General Popov) which faced the forces of General Raus. This method of intercepting messages from both friendly and hostile forces provided us continuously with a fairly clear picture of the situation. Intercepted reports of particular importance were passed on to General Raus by radio. Thus, the German signal units performed their duty at STALINGRAD even under the most trying conditions. Field Marshal Paulus told me several times that their achievements helped us materially to endure in the long and bitter struggle.’
Note: Gerlach could be Wilhelm Gerlich, a member of NAAS 1 (Nachrichten Aufklärung Auswertestelle - Signal Intelligence Evaluation Center), the cryptanalytic centre of KONA 1 (Kommandeur der Nachrichtenaufklärung - Signals Intelligence Regiment) covering Army Group South.
Here is a link to the ‘History of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security of the United States Department of State’. This book covers the history of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and its predecessors – the Office of Security and the Office of the Chief Special Agent of the U.S. Department of State – from the inception in 1916 up to the present.
Chapter 2 deals with developments during WWII and the major effort to upgrade security in foreign missions. Security in most embassies was lamentable, especially in Moscow.
Unfortunately there is only passing mention of the State Department codes Gray, Brown and M-138 strip as the book mainly deals with general security measures.
By 1944 the Germans were retreating on all fronts. They were pushed back by the Allies not only on the battlefields but also in the field of cryptology.
The introduction of new secure procedures and cipher machines by US and British forces hindered their efforts in the West and in the East the use of one time pad for enciphering important messages forced them to concentrate on lower level traffic.
Still even this late in the war they could exploit some high level enemy systems.
Against the Anglo-Americans their high level success was the exploitation of the State Departments strip cipher. An OKW/Chi activity report for the first half of ’44 says:
‘Government codes and ciphers of 33 European and extra-European States and agents lines were worked on and deciphered. 17.792 VN were produced including 6.000 agents messages. From point of view of numbers the list was headed by Government reports of the USA, Poland and Turkey.’
‘A number of complicated recipherings, principally American (USA) and Polish, have been broken.’
This is a clear reference to the M-138-A strip cipher. The Polish system was the codebook enciphered with a stencil.
Source: TICOM DF-9‘Activity report of OKW/Chi. 1/1/44-25/6/44.’
After examining the manpowerand aircraftstrength and loss statistics in the Eastern front it’s time to take a look at the tank situation.
Both sides built large numbers of tracked armored vehicles and their armored divisions spearheaded major operations. All history books mention the hordes of T-34 tanks attacking German positions and the Tiger and Panther tanks fighting against superior forces. However the truth is that the war in the East was an infantry war. Armored units were always a minority. Even so it is important to have accurate numbers about both sides.
Production statistics are available from Wikipedia(note that ‘Accounting for War: Soviet Production, Employment, and the Defence Burden, 1940-1945’ has slightly higher numbers for the SU- 1941/6.590, 1942/24.719, 1943/24.006, 1944/28.983).
German AFV production
In addition to these numbers the Germans built more than 20.000 APC’s (armored personnel carriers) of the Sdfkz 250-251 types. The Soviet Union did not produce a similar vehicle but received through Lend Lease over 3.000 US halftracks and British Bren Carriers.
Soviet AFV production
Soviet production numbers are impressive but they are focused on only a handful of types (T-60/70, T-34, KV/IS). As the war went on the light tanks proved to be poorly suited for frontline duties and even the T-34 lost its theoretical superiority over the German tanks. In addition to these numbers the SU received roughly 11.000 AFV’s through Lend Lease.
In the East the Germans manage to keep their AFV strength constant at roughly 4.000 with the exception of summer ’42. However the numbers show an emphasis on SPG’s in the period 1943-44.
Data for the Soviets comes from this AHF thread [Source given is ‘Velikaya Otechestvennaya Voina 1941-45. Dejstvuyushchaya Armiya’]. These numbers do not include the STAVKA reserve. In the summer of 1941 there were about 12.000 tanks in the Western military districts. For the rest of the war:
Soviet AFV strength at the front
There is no doubt that the Soviet forces had a significant numerical advantage over the Germans. This is natural since the Germans had to also fight against the Anglo-Americans while the SU could concentrate all of its resources against Germany.
Regarding AFV types it is interesting to note the role played by the light tanks T-60/70 and SU-76 SPG throughout the war. Most authors do not mention them at all.
Data for the Soviet side comes from Krivosheev’s ‘Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century’.
Soviet AFV Losses
The Soviets build lots of tanks but they also lose staggering numbers.
For the German side I have several reports that give total losses (hereand here) but only one report from AHF that states losses in the East.
German AFV losses Eastern Front
SP A/T guns
A direct comparison between the two sides shows the Soviet Union losing 3.5 vehicles, in the period 1941-44, for every German AFV. This analysis however is flawed since AFV’s were also destroyed by towed A/T guns, hand held weapons, artillery, mines and airpower.
Another way to look at losses is to calculate what percentage of production they represent.
Losses as % of AFV production
I think the numbers speak for themselves. Without Anglo-American interference the Soviet losses in 1943-44 are unsustainable.
1). The production difference in AFV’s for 1941-44 is 2-1 in favor of the Soviets (slightly higher if we add Lend Lease) but the exchange ratio is 3.5-1 in favor of the Germans. This means that if the Germans could concentrate all their production in the East the Soviets would run out of tanks.
2). Soviet forces benefit from Lend Lease supplies of tanks and other vehicles while the Germans had no such source of free vehicles but instead had to supply tanks and SPG’s to their allies and trade partners. Also in 1943-44 German production is affected by the Combined Bomber offensive, while the SU can utilize Lend Lease supplies of machinery and raw materials.
3). I often see the argument that the Soviet war economy out produced the German one. This is ‘proven’ by comparing either tank production between the two countries or total tank and SPG production. Things change if we have a look at each category separately. In the period 1941-44 we have:
Tanks: 3-1 advantage for the SU,
SPG’s and SP artillery: 1.2-1 advantage for the Germans,
Infantry vehicles (halftracks): …. SU produced zero while Germany built tens of thousands of Sdkfz 250/251. So who out produced whom?
4). Looking at tank types we see that the Germans constantly upgraded their fleet:
In 1941 they invaded with roughly 3.600 tanks of which only ~40% belong to the modern Pz III and PZ IV types. From these the Pz III had only 30mm frontal armor (some had extra 30mm bolted on) and roughly 28% had the outdated 37mm gun, the rest the 50mm L42. The Pz IV was armed with a low velocity 75mm gun ineffective against tanks and its armor was only 30mm (a small number had 50mm)
The new versions introduced in 1942 had updated guns and armor. The Pz III received the long 50mm L/60 and additional armor (50mm basic and 20mm bolted on). The Pz IV got the long 75mm KwK40 L/43 that had excellent antitank performance and its armor was increased to 50mm basic plus 30mm bolted on. In the summer of ’42 the Pz III and Pz IV comprise ~67% of German tank strength and out of these 45% have the new tank guns. The new guns meant that the German tanks could destroy the T-34 frontally (the L/60 at less than 500m the L/43 from over 1km) and the extra armor (assuming they had the bolted on part) protected them from the 76mm F-34 (using the standard A/T round) at ranges over 500m (for the Pz III hull and turret front) or point blank range (for the Pz IV front hull).
In the summer of 1943 the improved PzIV (KwK40 L/48 and 80mm standard armor plus sideskirts) together with the new Tiger and Panther tanks make up 49% of German tank strength. With these vehicles the Germans pulled ahead in tank warfare. This was acknowledged by a Soviet study conducted after the battle of Kursk. This showed that German and Soviet vehicles had the following combat values compared to the PzIII: Pz III -1.0, T-34- 1.16, Pz IV-1.27, PzV- 2.27 .
In 1944 the Germans rely exclusively on the PzIV, Tiger and Panther tanks. They had a rough 1-1 ratio between Pz IV and Panther in their tank units but this was not felt in the East during the summer battles as the best mobile divisions were in France.
Meanwhile the SU uses the same tank throughout the war, with the only important difference being a new turret and gun in 1944 (T34/85). The superiority of the upgunned German tanks and the new Panther and Tiger forced the Soviets to finally upgrade the T-34. However the T34-85 continued to have the same hull armor and its gun, although of a large caliber, had the same A/T performance as the Pz IV’s KwK40. The new 85mm ammo was heavier and only 56 rounds were carried (compared to 77 for the 76mm version). The T-34 was also the last main tank to get a 3-man turret.
The T-34 was one of the legendary tanks of WWII. When it appeared in 1941 its combination of firepower, armor and mobility shocked the Germans. However the real performance of the tank was different from the myth that was created for it by Soviet propaganda and German exaggerations.
The T-34 had wide tracks which gave it a ground pressure (kg/cm2) of 0.64 for the T-34/76 (assuming 26 tons) and 0.87 for the T-34/85 (at 32 tons). Low ground pressure meant good maneuverability on soft ground (at low speeds) but for many authors it meant that the T-34 could never become stuck in mud. The truth is that the T-34 had the same problems with mud as all other vehicles in the Eastern front.
‘The Das Reich SS Panzer-grenadier Division turned north, advanced on Belgorod, captured the city, and linked up with Grossdeutschland, which had now thrust beyond Tomarovka. Between these two points two German infantry divisions slowly struggled through the mud in their effort to reach the western bank of river. When our counteroffensive had begun there was still some snow on ground, but just before the Armeeabteilung reached the upper course of Donets a sudden rise in temperature created a severe muddy condition. All vehicles except those on the only hard-surfaced road in the area, leading Kharkov to Kursk, became helpless. Our infantry could still slog forty but heavy weapons and artillery were delayed and finally moved up only great effort. Even the T-34s of the Russian rear guards had become embedded to such an extent that we could not retrieve them until warm weather.’
‘We were happy when tanks from our Brigade's tank regiment caught up with our battalion and we moved on as tank riders. We had just one objective — to capture Kamenets-Podolsk. Running a bit ahead, I would say that it took the Brigade two or three days to arrive at the town. Both people and tanks were tired; the vehicles couldn't take such stress either. Tanks stopped more and more often because of small technical breakdowns, especially broken tracks. Of course we tank riders assisted in tank repairs, so as not to fall behind the battalion.’
From page 77
‘We did not have many tanks left, and even those that remained had already used up their engine lifetime and were constantly breaking down. The tank that I was on with my soldiers also broke down. After a day-long stop in a village (we were already in the Western Ukraine), our tank stopped and would not move on. The battalion commander ordered us to stay with the tank and wait for it to be repaired. A day passed by and in the morning the tank crew told us that the breakdown was serious and we were stuck for a long time. I decided not to wait for the completion of the repairs, but to catch up with the battalion on foot.’
From page 79
‘After a brief rest the battalion received an order to advance and set up defences on the bank of Strypa river in the village of Dobropolie. Further to the west was the town of Bulach, where German reinforcements were starting to arrive. The Brigade was not capable of executing offensive operations. Its personnel was almost gone, almost all equipment was out of action. Out of 450 to 500 tanks of the 4th Tank Army at the beginning of the operation, the entire army only had around 60 vehicles, all with some kind of breakdown.’
The 5-speed gearbox controversy
Initially the T-34 had a 4-speed gearbox. The 4th gear could be used only on a paved road, thus the max cross-country speed was theoretically 25 km/h but in practice it was only 15km/h because changing from 2nd gear to 3rd required superhuman strength.
On later modifications there was a 5-speed gearbox which allowed for a cross country speed of 30 km/h. This equipment supposedly became standard from 1943 onwards.
However it seems that the T-34/85 tanks that were given to the Polish forces in late 1944/early 1945 still had the 4-speed gearbox. ‘T-34: Mythical Weapon’ byMichulec and Zientarzewski says in page 349:
‘It was accepted, due to the available information in the subject literature, that the switch to the 5-speed transmission took place in 1943. However, the documents regarding the T- 34-85s delivered during the period end 1944/beginning 1945 (a month after their production) to the Polish forces prove that practically all vehicles had the 4-speed transmission. This applied to tanks produced by the No.183 Factory as much as to the ones produced by the No.112 Factory. The works on the new 5-speed gearbox along with the new main clutch design started in July - August of 1942 and paralleled the development of the T-34S.’
The battle of Kursk in 1943 has always fascinated historians. It has been called the greatest tank battle of WWII, the deathride of the Panzers, the battle that sealed the Soviet victory etc etc. After the summer victories of 1942 the Germans had suffered a great defeat in Stalingrad and they were barely able to extract their units from the Caucasus back to the Ukraine in early 1943. In the summer of 1943 the whole world watched as the new German offensive aimed to destroy the Soviet forces in the Kursk salient and cripple the Red army.
Both Germany and the Soviet Union had concentrated huge forces for this battle, including their most advanced tanks and armored vehicles. Initially the Germans made a breakthrough but they did not achieve their goals and when the Soviets counterattacked, in the north and south of Kursk with fresh forces, the offensive was cancelled.
The outcome of the battle was presented by Soviet historians as a great victory with crushing losses for the German side. According to the popular version the fast T-34 tank was able to defeat the heavy Tigers by ramming them or maneuvering to their flanks. Prokhorovka was supposed to be the grave of German armor.
How realistic are these statements? Unfortunately both German and Russian sources agree that the popular version was completely made up.
Several bookshave appeared that completely destroy the Kursk myth but the first one to exhaustively debunk the myth was ‘Kursk 1943: A Statistical analysis’ by Niklas Zetterling and Anders Frankson.
This book looks at all the important aspects of the battle such as the assembly of forces, strength and loss statistics, performance of tanks, operational plans, what if scenarios. The greatest strength of the book lies in the use of official German records for all the statistics concerning the German forces.
German sources are used for German strength and loss statistics and Soviet sources for the Soviet numbers. This is the only way to ensure reliability since using Soviet numbers for German losses (and vice versa) leads to exaggerations.
The authors first explain the strategic situation in the East and then devote chapters for the forces that took part, their structure and strength, the performance of tanks, the airwar over Kursk, the outcome of the battle and possible alternatives for Germany.
Although Kursk was not a German victory losses between German and Soviet units were roughly 3-1 in favor of the Germans. German tank losses were not heavy nor was Prokhorovka a Soviet victory.
Some important aspects of the battle are dealt with in detail since they have been misrepresented in postwar accounts:
1). German strength: Soviet sources, repeated by Western authors, gave inflated accounts of the German strength at about 900.000 men, 2.700-3.200 tanks and assault guns and 2.800 planes.
The real numbers were roughly 780.000 men, 2.500 tanks/SPG’s and 1.800 planes. The manpower statistic refers to iststarke (actual strength) which includes all men that are part of the unit's composition. Men on leave or temporarily detached to other units are included. Also men sick or wounded are included if they are assumed to return to service within eight weeks. Thus, despite its name, this strength category does not give the actual number of men available for service with the unit at the given time.
So obviously the true strength at the front was less than that. In comparison the Soviets had in the Central, Voronezh and Steppe fronts 1.900.000 men , 5.128 tanks/SPG’s and 3,549 planes (17th Air Army and Long Range Bomber Command included).
2). Overall losses: A Soviet General Staff study of the Kursk operation says that ‘in the defensive battles of Kursk from 5 through 15 July 1943 enormous losses in personnel and equipment were inflicted upon the Germans. During the period of their offensive, the German Kursk-Orel and Belgorod-Kharkov groupings lost a total of 70.000 men killed and wounded, and 2.952 tanks, 195 self-propelled guns, 844 field guns, 1,392 aircraft, with more than 5.000 motor vehicles damaged or destroyed’. Similar figures have been given in various books published postwar.
The correct figures were 55.000 men (killed, missing, wounded) and 300 tanks/SPG’s which can be compared with 177.000 men and 1.600 tanks/SPG’s for the Soviet side.
3). Prokhorovka:According to the ‘official version’ the forces that clashed in Prokhorovka on 12 July 1943 had about 1.200-1.500 tanks (most accounts give 800 Soviet vs 400 German or 800 Soviet vs 700 German). This supposedly was the ‘largest tank battle of the war’ and resulted in heavy losses for the Soviet side but also the crippling of the German tank units (400 Soviet vs 320 German).
The reality was very different. Depending on how one defines the battle of Prokhorovka there were about 294 German and 616 Soviet vehicles or a maximum of 429 German and 870 Soviet vehicles. Losses were overwhelmingly in favor of the Germans with 334 Soviet vehicles destroyed versus at most 54 German tanks and assault guns. In fact the ratio should be higher since the authors state that ‘more German units are included in this calculation than actually took part in the Prokhorovka battle, while not all Soviet units are included’. [A recent article by Zamulin inthe Journal of Slavic Military Studies:’Prokhorovka: The Origins and Evolution of a Myth’ gives the following numbers: in the Prokhorovka area 516 Soviet vs 206 vehicles of II SS Panzer Corps plus in the South 150 Soviet vs 100 German of III Panzer Corps].
Prokhorovka was not the deathride of the Panzers but rather the deathride of the 5thGuards Tank Army!
4) The Panther tank at Kursk: The Panther tank was introduced in the Battle of Kursk and suffered from mechanical breakdowns (mainly faulty fuel pumps) due to having been rushed into service (however according to a German report 60% of the mechanical problems could be fixed easily). These problems were fixed in later versions.
However the battle of Kursk was not a complete failure for the Panther since it proved its worth as a tank killer. Up to 15 July the XLVIII Panzer Corps claimed 559 enemy tanks with 269 claimed by Panther units. Although these are German claims and not verified kills what matters is the ratio between Panther units and other vehicles. The range that these kills were achieved was also impressive since on average the distance was 1.500-2.000 meters.
5). Possible alternatives: Instead of attacking at Kursk in July there were two possible alternatives
a). an attack before the Soviets had a chance to consolidate
b). a mobile defense in the Ukraine.
The authors explore both possibilities. In the first case it is true that the postponement of the operation till July gave the Soviets the opportunity to fortify the area and move new units there. However the Germans also built up their strength and most importantly introduced weapon systems that were superior to the Soviet equivalents (Pz IV and Stug III with the 75mm KwK 40 gun plus Panther and Tiger tanks). For example on 10 April ’43 they had 982 of these vehicles but on 30 June that number had gone up to 2.095.
The second choice is more complicated. On the one hand Army Group South was the only Group in the East that had a large number of mobile units and thus could, in theory, engage in a mobile defense. On the other hand this would involve surrendering ground to the Soviets. German generals might not be alarmed by such a decision but Hitler did not want to give up ground and he had good reasons to support his position. The Ukraine had areas with vast coal and steel deposits (Donets Basin) and losing them would not only hurt the German war effort but also greatly improve the output of Soviet armaments. Moreover a successful offensive operation was needed for political reasons as the German Allies were beginning to look for ways to exit the war.
6). Importance of the battle: The battle of Kursk has been presented as the second most important victory after Stalingrad. In reality for both Germans and Soviets it did not have long lasting effects.
German manpower losses suffered during operation Citadel were only 3% of the total for 1943 while the similar percentage for the Soviets was 2.3%. Both sides were able to replace these losses.
German tank losses have been called excessive and General Guderian says in his memoirs: ‘By the failure of Citadel we had suffered a decisive defeat. The armored formations, reformed and re-equipped with so much effort, had lost heavily both in men and in equipment and would now be unemployable for a long time to come.’ This is obviously wrong since the Panzer units did not suffer heavy casualties. Total losses were roughly 300 tanks and SPG’s and they were not hard to replace since in July 1943 511 tanks and 306 SPG’s left German factories. The German mobile formations were not ‘unemployable for a long time to come’ on the contrary they were used against the Soviet counterattacks in the Ukraine.
This book not only debunks one of the enduring myths of WWII but is filled with interesting statistics and has an outstanding analysis of the long term factors affecting the German and Soviet forces.
At the same time it is an indictment of the poor state of WWII historical research. The only thing needed to debunk the Kursk myth was to go through the original German reports and unfortunately the vast majority of ‘professional’ historians were unwilling (or unable) to do so...
[Note that there are the following ‘issues’ with the German report:
1).The losses for 1942 include December 1941. According to Foreign Military Studies P-059‘Tank Losses’ by Generalmajor Burkhart Mueiler-Hillebrand total losses on all fronts for December 1941 comes to 525 Tanks and SPG’s but not all were lost in the East since at the same time there was heavy fighting in N.Africa during the British operation ’Crusader’. This could increase the 1941 percentage significantly.
2). February 1943 total losses show a huge spike at 2.069 vehicles. It seems reasonable to assume that these are vehicles heavily damaged/destroyed in late 1942 but officially written off in 1943. This would take the 1943 percentage down by a few points while raising the 1942 percentage.
3). For 1944 it says ‘December incomplete’. According to FMS P-059 total losses during the month were 677 Tanks, SPG’s and self-propelled artillery. A lot would be against the Western Allies during the Battle of the Bulge. In any case the number is so small that it can only raise the percentage by a few points.]
During WWII the German armed forces were always short of equipment, especially trucks and combat vehicles. In order to deal with this problem they made extensive use of captured French, Italian, Soviet and British vehicles.
Foreign tracked vehicles and tanks were refurbished, brought up to German standards when possible (for example by installing a commander’s cupola in tanks) and used mainly in auxiliary roles by security divisions or as tank tractors by combat units.
The success of operation Barbarossa led to the encirclement of many Soviet formations and huge numbers of Soviet tanks were left abandoned in the fields. The Germans made a serious effort to collect some of them and put them to use.
Just after the start of ‘Barbarossa’ the Army High Command – OKH ordered that the supply staffs (Feld-zeugstaebe) were to be reinforced for the purpose of seizing enemy tanks. The following Kommandos were created: Ob.Pz.Stab Nord in Insterburg, Ob.Pz.Stab Mitte in Warsaw, Ob.Pz.Stab Sud in Cracow and Ob.Pz.Stab Rumanien in Bucharest. At the same time the Sicherungs-Divisionen (rear area security divisions) were ordered to organize captured tank platoons.
By September 1941 some vehicles were sent to security divisions, including 10-12t ‘Christie’ and amphibious ‘schwimmpanzer’.
The reliability of the T-26 tanks was not satisfactory. Security Division 221 reported in October ’41: ‘The Pz.Kpfw.Zug created by the division is no longer operational. One Panzer is completely burnt out due to an engine fire. Both of the other Panzers have engine and transmission problems. Repetitive repairs were unsuccessful. The Panzers always broke down after being driven several hundred meters on good roads. As reported by technical personnel, both of the engines in the Panzers are unusable because they were incorrectly run in.’
The commander of the Panzersug.Sich Regt 3 in Army Group North noted: ‘The Russ.kampfwagen completed at the Waffenwerkstatt (Arsenal) Riga all broke down due to mechanical failures.’
The BT tank also came under criticism: ‘B. T. (Christi): The main cause of failure is a transmission that is too weak in combination with a strong engine that should provide the tank with high speed, but is over-stressed when driven off road where the lower gears must be used for longer periods. In addition, as in the T 26, problems continuously arise that are due to entire design and poor materials, such as failure of the electrical system, stoppages in fuel delivery, breaks in the oil circulation lines, etc.’
One T-34 worth 40 bottles of alcohol
On 30 July 1943 the OKH/GenStdh/GenQu/Abt.III/Gr.V communicated a program for the retrieval of enemy vehicles.
Units that retrieved a fully operational T-34 would get as reward two self propelled A/T guns or if the units was up to strength three ‘maultier’ trucks. Infantry and assault units would receive two 75mm Pak 40 guns with towing vehicles.
The simple infantryman had other reasons to risk his life for a T-34. As the report said: ‘OKH also has established special distribution of market wares as a premium for recovering a non-operational Pz.Kpfw. T-34 (40 bottles of alcohol), for a complete engine, transmission, gun sight, or radio set (6 bottles), and for a complete gun, radiator, starter etc. (1 to 3 bottles).’
KV tanks in Tiger units
The Kliment Voroshilov (KV) tank was used by the Soviets in limited numbers but its heavy armor and 76mm gun commanded respect in the battlefield.
Its German equivalent was the famous Tigertank. These two enemies actually joined forces. The Germans used captured KV tanks for towing their Tigers since the KV was one of the few vehicles that could tow the heavy Tigers.
A German report of September 1943 says: ‘Based on previous experience in recovering Panzers, OKH has decided that Beute-Pz.Kpfw. KW I are to be used as Bergepanzer. When still present the weapons, the turret, and the gun are to be left on to increase the traction weight and also to be used in defense of the Berge/commando. Use of these KW I as Bergepanzer is decisive because of the shortage of equally heavy and suitable German towing vehicles for recovering heavy Panzers. Also, it is forbidden to divert armed KW I issued as Bergepanzer to combat tasks.’
T-34 and SU-85 in German service
Small numbers of T-34 tanks were used by several security and field units. These were used for anti-partisan operations or as tank destroyers.
The SS Panzer-grenadier Division ‘Das Reich’ used the T-34 in combat in 1943. This unit received in May 1943 25 T-34’s in need of repairs. These were overhauled at the ‘SS T-34 Instandsetzungsbetrieb Tuebke’ locomotive plant.
The strength reports show that in 11th Maythere was only 1 T-34 operational but in July 1st 16 out of 25 were operational.
Another unit that used the T-34 model 1943 (hexagonal turret and commander’s cupola) and Su-85 was the 2 Kompanie/Panzerjaeger-Abteilung-128. Their report of June ’44 has interesting information on the strengths and weaknesses of these vehicles.
Apparently automotive performance was poor:
‘Regardless of our limited experience, it can be stated that the Russian tanks are not suitable for long road marches and high speeds. It has turned out that the highest speed that can be achieved is 10 to 12 km/hr. It is also necessary on marches to halt every half hour for at least 15 to 20 minutes to let the machine cool down. Difficulties and breakdowns of the steering clutches have occurred with all the new Beute-Panzer. In difficult terrain, on the march, and during the attack, in which the Panzer must be frequently steered and turned, within a short time the steering clutches overheat and are coated with oil. The result is that the clutches don't grip and the Panzer is no longer manoeuvrable. After they have cooled, the clutches must be rinsed with a lot of fuel.’
And as in all T-34’s visibility was a problem:
‘The gun sights in Russian tanks are far behind the German designs. The German gunners need to be thoroughly accustomed to the Russian telescopic gunsights. The ability to spot a hit through the gunsight is very limited.’
‘In a Russian tank it is difficult to command a Panzer or a unit and at the same time serve as the gunner Therefore fire direction for the entire Kompanie is hardly possible, and the concentrated effect of the unit’s firepower is lost. The commander's cupola on the T 43 makes it easier to command and fire at the same time; however; vision is very limited to five very small and narrow slits.’
‘Safe driving and sure command of both the T 43 and SU 85 can't be achieved with the hatches closed. We base this statement on our experience that on the first day in combat in the Jassy bridgehead, four Beute-Panzer got stuck in the trench system and couldn't get free with their own power, resulting in the destruction of German defensive weapons during the attempt to retrieve them. The same thing happened on the second day.’
However the gun was considered good and the unit could operate well in a tank destroyer role:
‘Our experience is that the capabilities of the 7.62 cm Kw.K. are good. Thorough adjustment of the weapons and careful aiming ensure high accuracy even at long ranges. With their low rate of fire, the weapons are accurate and have few stoppages.’
‘Based on all these facts, the Kompanie concludes that the success of using captured tanks as a Panzer is questionable. The results of the last days in combat in the Jassy bridgehead have shown that their employment as a Panzerjaeger appears suitable.’
Soviet lack of reliability or German bias?
The German reports presented so far point to significant reliability problems for the Soviet vehicles. The comments on the T-26 and BT are overwhelmingly negative. Even the mythic T-34 comes under criticism. Are these statements credible or are they a result of German bias?
First of all we need to remember that the vehicles used by the Germans were retrieved from the battlefield so they would not be in pristine condition. Moreover the Germans were not trained in servicing them nor did they have a source for spare parts.
The units that operated these vehicles were also not first rate and inexperienced drivers could damage the vehicles.
Still the problems mentioned in German reports match those described in American evaluations of the T-34 (problems with transmission, electrical system, engine etc).
If these problems affected the majority of Soviet vehicles then the German victories in the East are easier to explain…
In the 1930’s the British SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) collected information from European targets through two parallel systems. On the one hand regular SIS officers operated as passport control officers in the British consulates. This system gave them diplomatic protection but on the other hand foreign governments could easily identify them and keep them under observation.
As the diplomatic situation deteriorated a parallel system was created that would afford better security. This was the Z organization, created in 1936 and headed by Claude Dansey. The Z organization was supposed to operate independently of British embassies and thus avoid the attention of foreign internal security agencies.
At the start of WWII both networks were unable to perform as intended. As British embassies closed down, the PCO’s lost their networks. The undercover Z organization on the other hand had been compromised from double agents and British intelligence suffered a grievous defeat in the Venlo incident.
Since both groups had neglected to build up ‘stay behind’ networks and supply them with the necessary radio equipment this meant that Britain had practically no reliable intelligence networks available after the fall of France. In this void the need for extreme measures led to the creation of the SOE (Special Operations Executive) organization in 1940. SOE was responsible for intelligence and sabotage operations against the Axis powers but since it had the same mission as SIS countless power struggles ensued between these two agencies.
The wartime performance of SOE was mixed at best. Although they certainly had their successes, countless SOE networks were compromised and their members arrested and executed. In Holland their entire network fell under German control in the famous Englandspiel operation. In France they lost countless agents and networks. Just the fall of their Prosper network in 1943 led to the arrest of hundreds of resistance members.
SOE was disbanded in 1946 and most of its archives were destroyed postwar with some lost in a fire. Unfortunately the loss of the archives means that many questions about SOE wartime operations can never be answered.
Were some of the failures of SOE in Western Europe connected with their insecure cryptosystems? Leo Marks, head of the SOE cipher section, was constantly worried about the insecurity of their poem code but it took him till late 1943 to introduce the unbreakable letter one time pad. The change was gradual and even in 1944 many insecure systems continued to be used.
Let’s have a look at this whole affair.
WWII intelligence services had two conflicting requirements when it came to cryptologic systems for their agents.
On the one hand they needed systems that would be easy to use in the field (so that ruled out like complicated/bulky systems like cipher machines).
On the other hand these messages had to be kept secure from enemy codebreakers, since each one contained information that could compromise their entire networks.
Unlike military messages that are usually unimportant on their own the traffic of a spy group contains names, addresses and other sensitive information that can be used by the enemy to untangle the entire group.
The only system that satisfied both requirements was the one time pad system and it was introduced gradually in late 1943. However for most of the war SOE used systems that were both insecure and prone to errors by the user.
The same procedure is then repeated one more time but with a different key of a different length. For example let’s assume the second ‘key’ is ‘elephant’:
The scrambled text becomes
muladiegooocortrademtopmshdeirapherpaaoresriraspctoteraiesr. Then the text is broken up in 5-letter groups and null letters are inserted to make the total divisible by 5.
Each message had to contain at least 100 letters and no more than 400-500.
The security of the transposition system depended on the use of different keys for each message. How were these keys selected?
Key taken from a book
In the early years the transposition keys were taken from a book. Both the agent and the receiving station had the same edition of a specific book and the indicator at the start of the message specified the page number, the line and the number of letters to be used for the two tables. Since the indicator had to be sent in letter groups a number to letter conversion table was used to turn the page numbers etc into letters. Before converting the numbers however the agent had to encipher this group by adding (without carrying) his own secret identification number.
This whole operation was time consuming and prone to errors. Moreover the use of a book as a key generator was found to be impractical in the field. Instead a poem or verse was used to create transposition keys.
Key taken from a poem
Each agent had to memorize a specific poem and could then use it to create different transposition keys for each message. After writing down the poem each word was assigned a letter of the alphabet. Then the user had to choose at random 6 consecutive letters.
Let’s assume that the letters chosen are PQRSTU, the odd letters furnish the first ‘key’ and the even letters the second. In our example PRT points to ‘WENT LAMB SURE’ as the first ‘key’. For the second we use QSU so it’s ‘THE WAS TO’. The indicator showing which words were used as ‘keys’ will be PRT filled with two nulls so as to form a 5-letter group (all messages were sent in 5-letter groups), so let’s say PARNT and the final step is to move all the letters forward by using the agents’ secret number. For instance if the number was 45711 then in our example PARNT will change into TFYOU, as each letter moves forward as many positions as indicated by the secret number P+4=T, A+5=F, R+7=Y, N+1=O, T+1=U.
This system was preferred by agents because they did not have to carry a book around. However if the agent was captured and tortured he might reveal his poem to the Germans with the result that they would be able to decode all his messages.
The problem of indecipherables
As can be seen in the aforementioned examples the slightest mistake in numbering the key or enciphering the plaintext will result in an indecipherable message. This was the biggest problem with the double transposition system and as a result a large percentage of the messages received at SOE HQ were unreadable. This forced HQ to request another transmission of the same message, with the following problems for the agents:
1). Forcing an agent to resend the message led to loss of time. If the information was time sensitive then obviously there was danger of it becoming useless.
2). The Germans monitored radio traffic in the occupied areasand used direction finding equipment in order to locate the sites of illegal transmissions. The longer an agent stayed ‘on the air’ the easier it was for the Germans to triangulate his position.
3). Sending the same message enciphered with different keys was dangerous from a security point because it could provide enemy cryptanalysts with a way to solve it.
4). SOE agents were taught a series of secret signs that could be inserted in their messages in order to warn HQ that they had been captured and were under German control. Usually these were spelling mistakes at a prearranged point. However the huge number of indecipherables completely negated the value of this security system since messages had so many mistakes that it was not possible to know If they were a result of operator error or a deliberate attempt to warn HQ!
In order to deal with indecipherables a codebreaking department was created in the SOE cipher section and was tasked with solving the incoming messages.
WOK’s (Worked-Out Keys)
The use of a poem as a source of keys was found to be cumbersome and prone to errors and was replaced with a new system called the ‘A-Z system’ by Lorainand ‘WOK’ by Leo Marks.
Instead of choosing the transposition keys from a poem the agent was given a silk handkerchief with prepared keys. Each key had its own discriminant. Once the key was used then it was cut off and destroyed.
This system guaranteed that even if the agent was captured he would not be able to reveal the key to his captors since he did not have to memorize it. It also minimized operator errors.
3). Delastelle system
The cipher of Felix Marie Delastelle(1840–1902) is mentioned by Pierre Lorain but not by Leo Marks. According to Lorain it was a transitional system used in 1942-43.
4). LOP’s - (Letter One time Pads)
The epitome of the spy field cipher was the letter one time pad. This was adopted thanks to the efforts of Leo Marks and was gradually introduced in late 1943. The system used a substitution table together with a set of prepared ‘keys’. Each letter of the ‘key’ was ‘coupled’ with the opposite letter of the plaintext and they were substituted using the conversion table.
‘Between Silk and Cyanide: The Story of SOE's Code War’, p248 has an example of a conversion table:
For example if we want to encode the message ‘Jacques has arrived safely’ using the ‘key’ aqgtfdpxwmvxtdndixvhydk then the cipher text will be ooleifdvmqwckwxfuewygtb as aj=o, qa=o, gc=l etc
The OTP system is mathematically unbreakable provided the key is as long as the message and each key is only used once. The security of the system was such that messages could be as small as 10 letters.
However the OTP has the problem of distribution of keys, as both the sending and the receiving party need to have the same keys.
German exploitation of SOE codes
The German agencies responsible for monitoring illicit radio transmissions were the Radio Defence Corps of the Armed Forces High Command – OKW Funkabwehr and the similar department of the regular police – Ordnungspolizei. Both agencies operated in Western Europe but they were assigned different areas.
These agencies not only monitored the agents’ traffic but in many cases they were able to locate the site of transmissions through D/F (direction finding). In such cases the radio center was raided and often the operator and his cipher material were captured.
This cipher material was then used by Dr Vaucks agents section to identify the crypto-systems, solve them and decode the traffic. This section, headed by Dr Wilhelm Vauck, was originally part of the Army’s signal intelligence agency OKH/In 7/VI but worked closely with the Radio Defense Corps. It was established in 1942 and by the end of the year two-man teams were detached to regional Aussenstellen in Paris, Marseilles, Lyons, Prague, Oslo, Vienna, Brussels. In late 1943 the entire department was moved to the OKW Funkabwehr.
According to postwar reports they usually had success with a system if it had been physically compromised. However in some cases it was possible to solve enemy systems cryptanalytically. Mettig, head of the Army’s signal intelligence agency in 1941-43 says in TICOM I-115 that
‘a special weakness of Allied agents’ ciphers was the use of books for enciphering. Usually only a minor inroad or other clue was required to reproduce a piece of the cipher text and conclusions could thence be drawn as to which book was used. In the case of one Allied transmission in the summer of ’42, five or six French words of a text were ascertained, leading to the conclusion that the cipher book dealt with the Spanish civil war. In view of this assumption, all French books about the Spanish civil war in the State libraries of Paris, Madrid and Lisbon were read with the object of trying in these 5-6 words. The book was found. PW always looked on a great research effort as worthwhile. The greatest weakness in using books for enciphering lay in the fact that, once a book had been compromised, an entire transmission could be broken automatically. The weakness existed even if the book in question could not be secured in the same edition or impression. It was still possible for Referat Vauck (though again only after considerable research) to find the right place in the book and to secure a fluent deciphering system by means of conversion tables.
Another weakness of Allied agent ciphers was the use of poetry. Here the verse metre was an additional help in solving the cipher text, as was done in the case of a Czech transmission in the autumn of 42/43.’
Notice that Mettig mentions in his report the use of poemsand books as key generators. As we have seen these were indeed the main SOE systems (and probably SIS too).
How successful was the German effort vs SOE codes?
Unfortunately it is impossible to answer this question conclusively since I have not seen any TICOM reports giving details on the work of the Vauck section. Nor does it seem that Dr Vauck was interrogated by TICOM authorities after the war.
The Germans certainly decoded some messages as can be seen in file HW 40/76 ‘Enemy exploitation of SIS and SOE codes and cyphers: miscellaneous reports and correspondence’:
Fenner, head of the cryptanalysis department of OKW/Chi, said in DF-187F, p20 about the Vauck section that ‘there may have been some 50 messages decrypted weekly, among them some to be sure which were almost a year old and hence had only historical significance’. Fenner however was not the best source since he makes many ‘mistakes’ in his reports. TICOM report DF-9‘Captured Wehrmacht Sigint Document: Translation of Activity Report of OKW/Chi for the Period 1st January, 1944 to 25th June, 1944’, p4 gives the messages decoded by month and says in the end ‘The 6.000 agents messages handed to Fu III are not included in these figures.’
Hans Kurfess, a member of the Agents section detailed to the Paris Aussenstelle says in report CSDIC/CMF/SD 80, p24 ‘KURFESS, whose attachment was more "normal" than that of LENTZ and who consequently has a clearer idea of the sort of traffic that came through the Aussenstelle, states that most of the deciphered messages were short (40-50 groups) and used a double transposition cipher with a key phrase consisting of a line of poetry. They nearly all concerned the resistance movement in FRANCE, giving times of rendezvous, parachute dropping of supplies and WT sets. He remembers the code names "LYSANDER" and "EIFFEL" but cannot state in exactly what connection, and also one message of about 250 groups giving military information. He has forgotten for whom it was intended.’
There is also this information from ‘The German Penetration of SOE: France, 1941-44’ by Jean Overton Fuller:
One day `Archambaud' was all on edge, and to my question, 'What is the matter?' he replied. "Mr Goetz has given me, in clear, the text of a radiophonic message I received from London several weeks before my arrest. He had received the deciphered text of the message from Berlin. Now that was a message I had never been able to decipher myself, as London had committed a fault in the ciphering. Well, in Berlin they had deciphered it, and so it is from the Germans that I learn what it contained."I know that the central department in Berlin recorded almost all the enemy radiophonic messages from France and elsewhere, and that every time we arrested a radio operator Kieffer immediately asked Berlin to send, still ciphered or deciphered, the texts of the messages which he had sent to and received from London. For a long time after that `Archambaud' racked his brains as to how Berlin had been able to decipher his messages.
This passage seems to support the Abbe Guillaume's belief that the arrival of the two Canadians by parachute in the Sologne was known to the Germans through their having broken Archambaud's code, while he was still at liberty. Germaine Tambour, two days before her arrest, had told Laure Lebras the Germans seemed to know of parachutings at the same time as the Resistance and she believed they had the code. Professor Foot wrote that he had seen no evidence causing him to believe the Germans ever broke the code of an operator still at liberty, but Professor Foot had not the benefit of having seen Vogt's letter to me about this. That they asked the agents to give their codes may seem evidence against their ability to break them, but I suspect it may have been a question of time. From Vogt's letter, it appears to me that sometimes they could and sometimes they could not break the code.
Perhaps the British know more about what really happened since the first page in HW 40/76 says:
So I guess we’ll have to wait…
Sources: ‘Secret Warfare: The Arms and Techniques of the Resistance’ by Pierre Lorain, ‘Between Silk and Cyanide: The Story of SOE's Code War’ by Leo Marks, ‘Secret War:The Story of SOE, Britain's Wartime Sabotage Organization’, ‘MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949’, ‘European Axis Signals Intelligence’ vol3 and 4, TICOM reports I-115, I-200, DF-187B, DF-187F, DF-9 , HW 40/76 ‘Enemy exploitation of SIS and SOE codes and cyphers’, ‘The German Penetration of SOE: France, 1941-44’, CSDIC/CMF/SD 80 - 'First Detailed Interrogation Report on LENTZ, Waldemar, and KURFESS, Hans', CSDIC (UK) SIR 1106 ‘Report on information obtained from PW CS/495 Uffz MIERSEMANN’
Acknowledgements: Once again I have to thank Ralph Erskine for helping me identify the SOE cryptosystems.
Note that Marks doesn’t say anything about six consecutive letters. On the contrary in his book page 324 he says ‘every poem code message began with a five letter indicator group to show which five words of the poem had been used’.
When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 they were surprised to come across tanks that were superior to their own in armor and firepower. The T-34 and KV tanks had 76mm guns that could penetrate the armor of the Panzers even at long ranges while their sloped armor protected them from the German A/T and tank guns.
The appearance of these vehicles forced the Germans to take emergency measures. The immediate effort was concentrated in:
1). Introducing a new A/T gun
2). Up gunning and up armoring their Pz III, Pz IV and Stug vehicles
3). Using the chassis of old vehicles (like the Pz II and Pz 38) coupled with captured Soviet 76mm A/T guns or the new Pak 40 as mobile tank destroyers.
The long term solution was of course to design new tanks that could deal with the T-34 and KV. These were the Tiger and Panther vehicles.
Let’s take a look at the German effort:
1). The Pak 97/38 A/T gun
The Germans had captured a large number of French 75 mm ‘Model 1897’ guns and these were used together with the carriage of the 50mm Pak 38. This was an interim solution till the Pak 40 went into mass production. In 1942 2.854 Pak 97’s were built and in 1943 858.
The Pak 40 – KwK 40 gun
The new gun that could deal with the Soviet tanks was the 75mm Pak 40 L/46 and its tank version KwK 40 in the L/43 and L/48 models. The Pak 40/ KwK 40 had great penetration statistics (armor penetrated at 30 degrees from vertical):
Pak 40 L/46
The Pak 40 was built in large numbers in the period 1942-45 and the KwK version was installed in the Pz IV and Stug III:
7.5cm Pak 40
2). Upgrading the tank fleet
The main German tank in the period 1941-43 was the PzIII. It weighed roughly 22 tons and was armed with a 50mm gun. Initially it had 30mm of frontal hull and turret armor and its gun was the 50mm L/42. In 1942 it received the more powerful 50mm L/60 gun and armor was upgraded to 50mm (plus 20mm plates bolted on in some vehicles). The last version built (Ausf N) had the 75mm L/24 gun. Roughly half of the Pz III’s in the East in the summer of 1942 had the long 50mm L/60 gun.
The PzIV was the main German tank in the period 1943-45. It weighed 25 tons and was equipped with a 75m caliber gun. In 1941 it had a low velocity 75mm gun effective against infantry but not armored targets and its armor was 30mm for front hull and turret. In 1942 it received the KwK 40 L/43 and armor was upgraded to 50mm for hull and turret (plus 30mm bolted on for the hull in some vehicles). In 1943 the hull armor was raised to 80mm and the Kwk 40 L/48 was installed. More than a third of the Pz IV’s in the East in the summer of 1942 had the Kwk 40 gun. However in the area of AGS the ratio was significantly higher as almost half had the new gun.
The Stug III was used by infantry and tank destroyer units. In 1941 it had a low velocity 75mm gun and frontal armor was 50mm. In 1942 it received the KwK40 and armor was upgraded to 50mm plus 30mm bolted on plates. From 1943 the G version had 80mm standard armor and all Stug’s had the kwk 40 L/48. Units in the East started receiving Stug III’s with the KwK 40 gun in the first half of 1942.
Production in 1941-43 for these vehicles was the following:
Pz III 50mm L/42
Pz III 50mm L/60
Pz III 75mm L/24
Pz IV 75mm L/24
Pz IV 75mm L/43
Pz IV 75mm L/48
Stug III 75mm L/24
Stug III 75mm L/43
Stug III 75mm L/48
3). Marder series tank destroyers
The chassis of the obsolete tanks Pz II and Pz 38 was used to mount captured Soviet 76mm A/T guns and once it went into mass production the Pak 40:
Pz 38 76.2mm Pak
Pz 38Pak 40 Marder III
Pz II Pak 40 Marder II
Pz II 76.2mm Pak
Superiority of the Pak40/Kwk40 gun
As we can see the main German response was the introduction of the Pak 40/Kwk 40 and its installation in the Pz IV, Stug and Marder vehicles. This gun gave the Germans a big advantage in armored warfare as it could reliably penetrate the Soviet vehicles at long ranges.
The Kwk 40 was as powerful as the US 76mm M1 tankgun (used on the improved M4 Sherman) and the Soviet 85mm ZiS-S-53 (used on the T-34/85) but it was introduced 2 years earlier!
The superior performance of the German gun is confirmed by a Yugoslav test which showed that the Pak 40 could penetrate the T-34/85 at the following distances:
75mm Pak 40
The following are excerpts from German combat reports found in ‘Panzertruppen’ volumes 1 and 2:
Report of Panzer Regiment 33, dated 31 July 1942:
‘Penetration ability of the long 75mm gun KWK 40 /L43 panzergranate 39 against the T-34: The T-34 is cleanly penetrated at every angle that it is hit at ranges up to 1.200 meters’
‘T34: The T34 that was far superior to the German Panzers up to the beginning of the Spring of 1942 is now inferior to the German long 5 cm Kw.K. L/60 and 7.5 cm Kw.K.40 L/43 tank guns. After the Russians attacked the German Panzer forces in several battles with the T34 and received heavy losses, they didn't send the T34 tank against the German Panzers so long as they had a chance to with-draw’
Report of 5thPanzer Division for period 22 February to 20 March 1943:
‘7.5cm KwK 40 L/43 in 4 Pz IV: 17 KW-1, 26 T-34, 1 T-26, 1 Mark II, 3 Mark III, 1 General Lee. Pzgr.39 was fired at ranges from 1.200 to 1.600 meters. Every hit caused a destructive effect with the tank going up in flames. Two to three Pzgr.39 rounds were expended per tank killed. Gr.38 HL/E1 ammunition was seldom used. One to five rounds were required to set an enemy tank on fire.’
April 1943 report by Grossdeutschland division:
‘1. In the period from 7 March to 20 March 1943, 250 T34, 16 T60 or T70 and 3 KW-1 tanks were knocked out.
2. The number of kills scored by each type of weapon were:
188 by Pz.Kpfw.IV 7.5 cm lang,
41 by Sturmgeschuetz 7.5 cm lang,
30 by Pz.Kpfw.VI (Tiger),
4 by 7.5 cm Pak (mot Zug),
4 by 7.5 cm Pak (Sfl),
1 by a direct hit from a s.I.G.
1 using a Hafthohlladung (hand-held shaped charge)’
Sources: ‘Panzertruppen’, ‘Waffen und Geheimwaffen des deutschen Heeres 1933 – 1945’, ‘Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf.G, H and J 1942-45’, ‘Encyclopedia Of German Tanks Of World War Two’, ‘Kursk 1943: a statistical analysis’, tanknet forum
The military conflicts between Saddam’s Iraq and the US coalition in Gulf war I and in 2003 are usually assumed to have been completely one sided, with Iraqi forces abandoning their weapons and surrendering en mass.
The superior performance of Western weapons vs their Soviet equivalents is also easily countered by pointing out that Iraq had outdated versions of Soviet tanks and planes.
The reality was not as simple as people think. Even though Iraq had no chance against the forces of the West there are still reasons to study these conflicts in more detail.
In 1944 the German High Command knew that the Anglo-Americans would stage a cross channel landing into France. If they succeeded it would be the end of the German Reich. The area they considered to be most endangered was initially Pas de Calais.
However by April/May 1944 they started to move new units into Normandy and they positioned powerful armored divisions close by (21st Panzer, 12 SS Hitlerjugend, Panzer Lehr).
Why did the Germans place new units in Normandy? Were they expecting the Normandy landings?
According to report FMS B-675‘Army Group B-Intelligence Estimate (1 Jun 1944)’ By Oberst i. G. Anton Staubwasser (head of intelligence for Army Group B in 1944-45) the German High Command became convinced that Normandy would be the site of Allied landings in April/May ’44:
It is important that - for the first time in April/May - Hitler informed OB West, through General O. JODEL, as follows: "The Fuehrer has definite information that Normandy is endangered." It has not become known from, what source this news originated. This message was immediately and also later repeatedly passed on to A Gp B and all armies of the west, that is, approximately 4 weeks before the beginning of the invasion. This is also the reason for the transfer of the 91 Luftwaffe Division, several armoredbattalions and antitank battalions to the COTENTIN peninsula and for the assembly by OKW of the Pz Lehr Division.
Here is another piece of the puzzle. The following episode is described by Albert Speer in his memoirs ‘Inside the Third Reich’, p479
On June 1, I was at the Berghof about ten o'clock in the morning when one of Hitler's military adjutants told me that the invasion had begun early that morning. "Has the Fuehrer been awakened?" I asked. He shook his head. "No, he receives the news after he has eaten breakfast."
In recent days Hitler had kept on saying that the enemy would probably begin with a feigned attack in order to draw our troops away from the ultimate invasion site. So no one wanted to awaken Hitler and be ranted at for having judged the situation wrongly.
At the situation conference in the Berghof salon a few hours later Hitler seemed more set than ever on his preconceived idea that the enemy was only trying to mislead him. "Do you recall? Among the many reports we've received there was one that exactly predicted the landing site and the day and hour. That only confirms my opinion that this is not the real invasion yet."