British and American WW2 tanks were inferior to German ones

Moving to another thread to avoid hijacking this one the comment was made in regards to the film Fury that one of the issues with the movie was it was based on the false premise that “American tanks are inferior to the German tanks!”. This seems completely false to me, you can argue as to whether the Allied strategy (of having more inferior tanks) was the right one, but the individual Sherman tank was absolutely inferior to the individual Panther or Tiger.

In all the ways that mattered, as in: made it more likely for its crew to survive a run in with an opposing tank or anti-tank gun the Panther was superior. It had thicker armor and a better gun (even if you compare against the later “Firefly” model with the 17 pounder, though that is closer, and developed much later so should really be compared against the Tiger *). The advantages the Sherman had such as reliability and rate of fire don’t change that basic fact, it was an inferior tank.

I realize the hypothetical “top trumps” 1:1 scenario is not the be all and end all, and there are plenty of arguably more important factors (most obviously it was a farcically bad decision for Germany expend its limit industrial output manufacturing “artisanal” tanks that were incredibly complex to manufacture and maintain). But its also true it was not at all hypothetical for the crews involved, and there were plenty of examples of local tactical superiority resulting in Germans fielding better tanks (and anti-tank guns) than the allies. Sure ultimately the allies had the replacement tanks to ensure that superiority was short lived, but thats not of much comfort to the men involved stuck in burning Shermans (and their next of kin),

Its also while its true Germany’s decision to field tanks like the Tiger and Panther actually hastened their ultimate defeat, its not clear the US’s decision not to field tanks like that hastened their victory. The US had a lot of spare industrial capacity, hell there were probably more Shermans sitting around in lots hundreds of miles from the front line than there were Tigers in existence. So would it have been a terrible idea to invest some of that capacity in keeping their experienced front line tank crews alive a bit longer?

    • I do agree that the scene in Fury of the titular tank (which is a firefly or the US equivalent) blasting away at a Panther at short range with no effect is pretty inaccurate.

A lot of the blame there goes to a couple of generals, well-insinuated into the General Staff, who hated evolving doctrine. That’s why you got all the crucial improvements too late to matter. By the time the boffins redesign whatever and the old farts procrastinate, you are on another continent and facing a different enemy.

This is the wrong comparison to be looking at if you are addressing the actual question of whether British and American tanks were inferior to German ones. Panthers and Tigers never made up more than a small minority of German AFV. A Sherman was by far more likely to run into a StuG-III, Pz-IV or a Hetzer in that order than it was to ever see either a Panther or Tiger.

I mean not really, the Panthers and Tigers made up a significant minority of the tanks encountered and the raw percentages don’t take into account the likelihood of encounter. They were concentrated in heavy panzer battalions which meant the frontline units were more likely to encounter them relative to their absolute numbers. There were numerous examples of those better German tanks making a difference and tipping the local tactical situation in the German’s favor (albeit temporarily), during the Normandy breakout, the battle of the bulge, etc. And regardless of that saying “oh they were as good as stuff the Germans put into service three years early” isn’t challenging the fact they were inferior.

And they’d come off worse in an encounter with a Stug self propelled anti-tank gun. The low profile and high velocity 75mm gun would make short work Sherman’s armor long before the Sherman could do anything about it. Obviously comparing an anti-tank gun to a tank is apples to oranges, but bringing that up isn’t saying anything about the superiority of American tanks (given this was all old technology known for years by the allied planners).

Another issue (at least on the British side, I don’t know if the US had similar insistence) was an insistence that the tanks had to be transportable on a regular railway carriage. How much advantage this was during the build up to major battles I don’t know but I can’t imagine it made for how crippling this was on the design process of the tanks.

Is there even a debate, here?
Of course they were.
So what?

It was Air-power that decided World War Two.

There seems to be no debate.
Allied tanks were inferior to German ones, but for different factors:

  • Sherman were produced to be an exploitation tank: after artillery, infantry and air power broke the line, Shermans will pour in the break and ravage the countryside. They were not designed to fight others tanks, but to be fast, reliable and shoot HE to enemy infantry. The actual anti-tank warfare would have been in the hands of M-10 and like, countering German PAnzer counterattacks.

  • British tanks were Cavalry (fast but light armored) or Infantry ( slow, good armor, HE gun only). Neither of them was able to confront the Panzers.

  • Russian T-34 were a nasty surprise for the Germans in 41’, but Pz IV, StuG and PzJ soon rebalanced the scales: the T-34 lacked radio, training and optical sights precise enough.

But the Panzer had their flaws: too long to produce (4 to 5 times more!) too complex to use, too difficult to repair. They were superior in a tactical sense, but inferior in operational or strategic sense.

It is true tho that key factions within the US Army were wedded to said doctrine. The Americans had a tank just as good as the German’s in the Pershing, but few made it to the front lines before the armstice.

Yeah I don’t see anything in OP that would qualify as a controversy, it is almost universally accepted the Panther and Tiger tanks were far superior at battling other tanks than were the majority of the allied tanks. The only real caveats that usually need to be mentioned is that the Allies did have a few tanks that didn’t make up a very big percentage of their deployed forces during the War that did match these tanks, particularly tanks like the Pershing and the Soviet IS-2. The Soviet T-34, their most famous but not actually their best tank in the war (which had a number of variants, let’s talk the T-34-85) vs the best German tanks is often the stuff of internet grognard argument lore, there is an argument frequently made that on spec sheet the best German tanks are better than the top variant T-34s because of having better armor, better gun, better range. The counterpoint to those arguments is that in measured conditions on the battlefield virtually none of those “spec sheet” advantages had any relevance to performance (the German 88mm gun for example performs slightly better than the T-34 85mm gun, but to such a small degree it has no real meaning on the battlefield.) Like everything on the German side with tanks though quantity / logistical support was the biggest difference maker as the war ground on. Whatever side you come down on in the T-34-85 vs the top end Tiger debate, there were 20 times as many T-34s on the battlefield than Tigers.

Well, according to the Bible that is “Kelly’s Heroes” … :smiley:

I don’t know of an explicit US requirement for transportability, but all M4 Shermans were built with four lifting rings as part of the hull, which could be used to attach the tank to a shipboard crane and lift it out of the hold onto a dock or beach.

Certainly the need to transport any tank produced by the US thousands of miles across an ocean factored into US specifications for those tanks. If, for example, Shermans pack into a Liberty ship hold more efficiently than Pershings, that might militate against shipping the better tank, as long as there were trained tankers without any kind of tank to use.

A key WWII lesson was that having markedly superior industrial capacity and not being crippled by a suicidally stupid and vicious ideology, was way more important than designing a better tank or plane.

Germany had better tanks, a world-beating fighter plane (the ME-262) and the V-2 rocket. And yet they lost the war.

Go figure.

Another issue (at least on the British side, I don’t know if the US had similar insistence) was an insistence that the tanks had to be transportable on a regular railway carriage. How much advantage this was during the build up to major battles I don’t know but I can’t imagine it made for how crippling this was on the design process of the tanks.

British industry had very little experience of building heavy commercial vehicles, (tank transporters) partly due to the well-developed railway network that made them unnecessary, partly due to the heavy taxation said vehicles attracted, again at the behest of the railway company lobby.
The loading gauge of the railways remains a limit on their capacity, it would require huge amounts of infrastructure (some of it listed) to be rebuilt to change it.

Tigers were concentrated in heavy tank battalions. In theory Panthers were supposed to make up 50% of a panzer division’s tanks; they were supposed to replace the Pz-III battalion’s vehicles. Production was never anywhere near enough to make this actually possible. The largest number of Panthers to ever face the Western Allies was 336 runners out of 471 total, a 71% operational rate just prior to the Ardennes Offensive. By 15 January 1945 this had been reduced to 97 runners out of 282 total, a 34% operational rate. This remarkably low ready rate doesn’t speak well for it being a ‘superior’ tank, it was mechanically unreliable throughout its life.

That would be neat if the Germans put any of these tanks into service three years before the M4. They didn’t. When it first saw service in North Africa in 1942, it was considerably superior to most German tanks it encountered, only the very small number of Pz-IVF2’s available to the Afrika Korps at the time were approximately its equal. It was superior to earlier makes of the Pz-IV with a short barreled 75mm and superior to any make of the Pz-III in firepower and protection.

The StuG-III was an assault gun ( Sturmgeschütz), not a self-propelled anti-tank gun. The 75mm/L48 on later model StuGs wasn’t any higher velocity than the 75mm used by Shermans. Arbitrability declaring that a StuG-III would make short work of a Sherman doesn’t make it so, and isn’t borne out by historical fact. Comparing anti-tank guns to tanks isn’t apples and oranges for two important reasons. One is that the entire point of anti-tank guns, towed or self propelled, is to defeat tanks. Comparing solo tank vs. tank duels is only useful for video game analysis, not actual battles. The other is that the StuG was the most common AFV the Germans used as it 1) was easier to produce and 2) made use of existing production lines for the Pz-III chassis. Similarly the Hetzer made use of existing Pz-38(t) chassis production lines. It wasn’t uncommon for StuGs and panzerjagers to outnumber ‘proper’ tanks in operational numbers in panzer divisions late in the war, and they were the only AFVs assigned to panzer grenadier divisions.

If the point is that one for one the Panther and Tiger were better tanks than the Sherman when they were running - a serious caveat, particularly in the case of the Panther - then yes, that’s pretty obvious. Jumping from that to a blanket “German tanks were superior to British and American tanks” ignores what a small number of vehicles Panthers and Tigers represented in the totality of German tanks and other AFVs, and compresses the entire history of British, American and German tanks throughout all of WWII down to Shermans against running Panthers or Tiger in Northwest Europe in 1944/45.

Very interesting! Thank you as always!

I know much less about the ETO than the Pacific, but reading the linked article was interesting.

I don’t have the background to vet this information, but it seems reasonable. Certainly, the Germans and Japanese pilots and aircrews were getting sent to the front lines with very minimal training.

The book used in the cite above, Panther vs Sherman: Battle of the Bulge 1944 by Steven J. Zaloga looks interesting but I haven’t read it.

Some quotes from a google search of the book:

It looks like the same author is quoted in the wiki article on the Battle of Arracourt

And beside that, you generally compare late-war models (42+). In the earlier years, German had light tanks with 2 MG (Pz I), 20 mm (Pz II) or 37 mm (Pz III). Two divisions were equipped with Czech tanks (Pz 35 or 38) that were heavier.
The Allies had 40 mm (Brits) or 47 mm (French) guns, better armor and in greater numbers…
The real breakthrough was that German Panzers were integrated in a division, with AT guns, artillery and motorized infantry, with air support dedicated and commanded by younger generals. And radio too.

Lack of proper training certainly didn’t help the situation late in the war. Nor did Hitler’s tendency to reserve new production to raise new formations while existing ones were desperately understrength; the 100-series panzer brigades like the 111th and 113th that fought at Arracourt are an example of this. Half of the production of Panthers in August 1944 was reserved for these brigades which were quickly formed to throw together fire brigades to deal with Allied advances while the existing and mauled panzer divisions (like the 11th at Arracourt) had to cope with only field repairs and a trickle of new vehicles. The 100-series brigades were eventually dissolved and absorbed into existing depleted panzer divisions. This wasn’t just an occurrence at the desperate closing year of the fighting though; even in 1941 when Barbarossa was in full swing and panzer divisions were growing desperately short of running tanks, it was pulling teeth to get Hitler to release both new production tanks being saved for new formations and panzer divisions being held in reserve for use on the Eastern Front.

In the case of the Panther it was much more than lack of crew training that was the problem, as Zaloga notes it was rife with technical weaknesses. The Panther had notoriously severe teething problems when first introduced at Kursk in 1943, and the most egregious of these problems were fixed in later production models. This has sometimes led to the mistaken belief that it was fixed and no longer a maintenance nightmare. It was still a maintenance nightmare and remained so throughout the war, it just didn’t do the truly egregious things like set itself on fire while the engine was idling anymore.

Indeed, the British Matilda, both the machine gun armed I and the 40mm armed II was the Tiger of its day in France and North Africa in 1940. It was all but entirely impervious to German tank and anti-tank guns, and could only reliably be stopped by either field artillery being used in the direct fire role or the 88mm AA gun, and though the OP only compares British and American tanks, the French Somua S35 and Char1b.

And this isn’t even mentioning the M3 Grant/Lee which with all its shortcomings was better than any German tanks it ran across in North Africa, or Shermans that don’t fit the narrative of inferiority like the M4A3E2 Jumbo which had superior frontal armor protection than the Tiger, enough to survive things such as bouncing 88mm rounds off of it until a lucky hit went through the gunners telescope.

This Jumbo of 743rd Tank Battalion was knocked out on 22nd November 1944 near Lohn, Germany. It was hit by four 88 mm rounds from an anti-tank gun 800 yds (730 m) away. One bounced off the glacis plate and two off the manlet before the fourth actually penetrated through the gunners telescope opening (chalked ‘9’ by Divisional Intelligence staff).

It’s interesting starting to learn more about this.

I’ve read before about the problems with German tanks in WWII, and a couple of things stuck out. One was the large number of revisions to models, which exacerbated their already poor situation of insufficient spare parts, as well as their tendency to rush tanks into production before all the kinks were worked out.

From a postwar US Army report

Going along with what you said:

Does anyone watch the Chieftain on YouTube?
He discusses all sorts of issues with tanks, including such items as ergonomics, doctrine, development, and quality.

He also did videos for World of Tanks, like Five Things About the Panther

and Five Things About the M4 Sherman

I thought some hard numbers would be useful in illustrating just how heavily German armored formations leaned on tank destroyers and assault guns, so I dug this up from Trevor Dupuy’s Hitler’s Last Gamble: The Battle of the Bulge, December 1944-January 1945. The appendixes include material strength of all formations on both sides on four dates, I’ve only included the tank and tank destroyer/assault gun figures of German mobile formations - panzer divisions (PzD), panzergrenadier divisions (PGD), the Fuehrer Begleit Brigade (FB Bde), and the Fuehrer Grenadier Brigade (FG Bde). These figures include units attached to said formations, so for example the figures for the 1st SS Panzer Division include the Tigers of the 501st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion which was attached to the 1st SS Panzer throughout the campaign. Something else to note is that mobile formations made up only ~15% of the German Army’s formations, and that

[T]he wealth of US industry allowed each infantry division to have a tank battalion and (generally) an SP tank destroyer battalion attached, though these were not always at full strength; typically US infantry divisions have eighty or so AFVs (armored fighting vehicles), versus six to fourteen for most volksgrenadier divisions.

Apologies in advance for my inability to figure out how to get the numbers aligned in a more presentable format.

16 Dec 1944

Unit Tanks TDs/AGs
2nd SS PzD 76 68
9th SS PzD 66 53
1st SS PzD 97 55
12th SS PzD 70 57
FB Bde 28 67
116th PzD 49 25
2nd PzD 72 49
Pz Lehr D 54 68

24 Dec
3rd PGD 0 39
1st SS PzD 65 13
12th SS PzD 29 64
9th SS PzD 56 54
FB Bde 26 69
9th PzD 38 22
15th PGD 11 24
2nd SS PzD 59 60
116th PzD 17 23
2nd PzD 29 11
Pz Lehr D 20 54
FG Bde 39 36

2 Jan 1945
2nd SS PzD 28 25
FG Bde 14 16
116th PzD 12 17
9th PzD 66 20
2nd PzD 24 17
Pz LehrD 28 47
FB Bde 6 37
3rd PGD 0 29
15th PGD 0 28
9th SS PzD 44 43
12th SS PzD 21 68
1st SS PzD 24 10

16 Jan
12th SS PzD 23 60
FG Bde 4 5
9th SS PzD 39 33
3rd PGD 0 18
15th PGD 0 22
116th PzD 9 16
2nd SS PzD 17 12
2nd PzD 17 12
1st SS PzD 45 13
9th PzD 33 32
Pz Lehr D 21 44
FB Bde 8 39