Robert Forczyk's Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1941-1942: Schwerpunkt

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Robert Forczyk's Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1941-1942: Schwerpunkt

Unread postby Ritalingamer » Thu Sep 17, 2015 2:46 pm

I recently finished this book and, though it wasn't great (very dense, not exceptionally well written) it had some really interesting insights I think would be of interest to fans of Unity of Command. This isn't a full review, but instead just a few selections and interesting anecdotes:

On doctrine and leadership:
"The man standing in the cupola of the tank turret is usually divided into one of two types: a tank commander or a tank rider." Panzertruppen NCO's and officers were trained to be commanders, aware of the situation and prepared to step up and take initiative; the Soviets were 'tank riders.' Forczyk also diagnoses a lot of Soviet underperformance in 1941-42 by noting how Germans were trained to fight unbuttoned, with superior visibility, while Soviets were instructed to fight buttoned up and rely on their vision blocks. A tank commander who can't see can't command or respond to orders or a changing situation, especially when most of their tanks had no radios and were reliant on signal flags.

Soviet "tank platoons and companies were primarily taught to attack on line to simplify command and control, although wedge formations were also possible. Soviet tank platoons attacked in very dense formations, often with only five meters between vehicles. Soviet tank commanders usually lacked binoculars and were taught to operate ‘buttoned-up’ in combat – which drastically reduced their situational awareness versus German tankers."

"The real strength of the German Heer (Army) lay in its carefully groomed NCO corps, consisting of men who could easily assume higher positions when necessary to fill gaps created by combat losses. German training also put great stress on individual initiative and [problem solving], which produced a very aggressive and dynamic quality in combat; soldiers were encouraged to act quickly and not wait to be told."

"The main reason for the dominance of German panzer divisions throughout the armoured battles of 1941 was not due to superior doctrine, equipment or even leadership, but rather the ability of its Panzertruppen to properly employ combined arms methods at the tactical level of combat and coordinate with other friendly panzer units by radio."

On early war German doctrine and why it wasn't entirely successful in Russia:
"the doctrine employed by the German Panzerwaffe had two primary flaws, which had not appeared in previous campaigns. First, the Germans could not logistically sustain a series of panzer encirclements indefinitely; eventually fuel shortages and mechanical defects would bring the advance to a halt and that might give the enemy a chance to recover. Second, the doctrine was developed at a time when anti-tank defenses were relatively weak, which enabled panzer divisions to run roughshod over most infantry divisions caught in open terrain."

On German logistical difficulties:
"the Panzergruppen lacked the organic transportation resources to efficiently move fuel more than 50km beyond a railhead." That's, what, 1 or 2 hexes in UoC?

"The first week in Russia revealed that German operational-level efficiency was far more at risk from logistical inadequacies than combat losses. German units quickly discovered that the poor condition of Russian roads greatly increased fuel consumption; one V.S. of fuel would suffice for only 70km of movement instead of 100km." A "V.S." was a standardized unit equal to the amount required to move a tank or tank unit 100km on roads.
"Although Guderian did not know of it, he would have been shocked to learn that Katukov’s tanks moved north on a 360km-long road march – during a period of mud that immobilized many German vehicles – without losing a single tank to mechanical breakdown."

On Lend Lease:
"the rapid expansion of Soviet tank production would have been handicapped without the delivery of Lend-Lease raw materials and machine tools to replace equipment lost in the hasty evacuations. After the loss of aluminum sources in the Ukraine, 80 per cent of the aluminum used in the T-34’s diesel tank engine came from Lend-Lease deliveries; without Lend-Lease, there would have been significantly fewer T-34s."

"Red Army tank officers were not impressed with the 2-pounder (40mm) gun on the Matilda and Valentines, nor their poor cross-country mobility, but their 60–75mm-thick armour was impervious to German 3.7cm and 5cm anti-tank weapons. British-built armour plate also had a much higher nickel content – 3 per cent versus 1 per cent for Russian-made steel – which reduced the risk of armour spalling (i.e. metal splinters inside the tank) when the tank was hit by non-penetrating rounds.137 Although designed as infantry support tanks and employed in that role by the Red Army, the 2-pounder gun did not have an HE round, which reduced the value of the tanks" for infantry support.

"At these loss rates, the Red Army was still far more dependent upon Lend-Lease armour than it was willing to admit, and it did not have enough excess production to fully outfit its best units with T-34s until mid-1943."

One of Hitler and Stalin's many boneheaded decisions:
"Hitler was so confident of a Russian collapse that only three weeks after Barbarossa began he ordered German industry to curtail ammunition production for the army by autumn 1941."

"Interestingly, both Stalin and Hitler at various times during the war tried to maintain personal tank reserves – which they alone could release – and in every case this micromanagement proved harmful."

"It is interesting how both dictators deluded themselves about the apparent weakness of their opponent, with their general staffs obsequiously feeding this delusion, and which in both cases led to catastrophic over-extension and defeat."

"At the heart of the Red Army’s lop-sided tank losses was an amateurish and selfdestructive style of decision imposed by Stalin from the top down. Generals such as Timoshenko, Budyonny, Konev and even Zhukov often abandoned military common sense in order to appease Stalin’s incessant demands to attack in impulsive half-baked offensives."

And one of the few times Hitler was correct: "Hitler, who had already displayed sounder judgment than some of his engineers in pressing for a long-barreled gun on the Pz.III prior to the discovery of the T-34, regarded development of a diesel tank engine as a critical requirement for the Panzerwaffe, but the Heereswaffenamt and German industry managed to ignore his priorities. While Hitler’s decisions that led to German defeats are often highlighted, those where his judgement proved correct are often overlooked. After Germany’s defeat, it was convenient for German military and industrial leaders to dump all blame on Hitler’s head, which helped to conceal their own egregious errors of judgment."

On the Russian winter:
"the Soviet T-34 had internal compressed air bottles for cold weather starting and the T-34 had been extensively tested in winter conditions. As a result, German panzer units became very vulnerable if attacked by Soviet armour early in the day, when many panzers could not start; if the German unit was forced to withdraw, non-starting tanks were abandoned."
"the Russian winter reduced much of Hitler’s panzer armies to frozen scrap metal in a matter of a few weeks – proving to be the most effective Soviet anti-tank weapon of 1941. This is not to say that the Russian winter defeated Hitler’s panzer armies, but that it neutralized an already spent and defeated force."

Forczyk is not a fan of Zhukov:
"Another reason that Operation Uranus succeeded was that Zhukov – who was preoccupied with his own Operation Mars against the Rzhev salient – had little or nothing to do with it. His command style of ruthless bullying of subordinates, reckless disregard of casualties and utter subservience to Stalin’s incessant demand for immediate results could have greatly undermined the Red Army’s performance at Stalingrad."

On post-war myths and mythologizing:
"Fascist attitudes toward war were evident in the lionizing of Ritterkreuz war heroes and embellishing tanks with names such as the Tiger and the Panther – which has helped to perpetuate Nazi mythology to this day. . . . In contrast, the Red Army’s inherent Marxist–Leninist attitude to war was evident in the total mobilization philosophy of all state resources, and the recognition that the production/labor front was just as important as the war front. Soviet tanks had no fancy names, just numbers."

Forczyk's writing style is very workmanlike, but he has a lot of neat insights and is willing to buck conventional wisdom. What do you guys think? Do you agree with his conclusions?

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Re: Robert Forczyk's Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1941-1942: Schwerpunkt

Unread postby ironbmike » Wed Oct 14, 2015 6:32 pm

Thanks, interesting stuff. I'd have to say that I agree, especially regarding the Pz.III armament.

I'll have to check out this book, sounds good.

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Re: Robert Forczyk's Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1941-1942: Schwerpunkt

Unread postby Stiltzkin » Thu Oct 29, 2015 9:23 am

I guess i can agree on most of the points but they represent an oversimplification (youre giving us just a quick summary here anyway, an indepth analysis would take up too much time :D ). However keep in mind that Forczyk also made some mistakes (especially in his Osprey publications) and that he is not an expert on Axis armor and mechanized corps (Spielberger and Jentz are).