German army before WWII

Would it be too much to say that right before and in the early phases of WWII, the German army was the most powerful army that had ever existed till then?

It seems the Germans were almost 30 years ahead of everyone else in science and warfare. They had thousands of panzers while the US and Britian had silly little tanks and horses for cavalry. They had the best submarines, they had rocketry, they had the Messerschmidts, Junkers and Henkels. They had a five million man army. They were working with new synthetics and chemicals.

I am curious as to how much truth there is to this assertion. I mean, didn’t the US basically take all of that technology? We took their scientists. We also stole the idea of the autobahn for our highways. What do u guys think? I am asking because it seems a part of recent US history that is obscured.

Obscured how? It’s common knowledge that Eisenhower was impressed with the autobahn and used it as a model for the US interstate system. It’s also well known that we used German scientists in our own rocket programs.

Uh, no. What you’re saying is total myth.

Germany’s army was mostly horse-drawn. Yes, really; that is literally true. Throughout the ENTIRE WAR, the German army used horses to pull most of its supplies and artillery around. The vast, vast majority of the German army relied on horses; the Germans went through millions and millions of horses in WWII. The force than invaded Russia in 1941 had 650,000 horses alone. Fully motorized divisionswere only a small part of the Wehrmacht.

Germany also had a number of cavalry divisions. German tanks in 1939 were inferior to French and British tanks. German planes were certainly quite good, but the Allies were producing planes of equal quality. There wasn’t anything technically remarkable about the German army at all.

What gave Germany its initial victories was the manner in which it USED its army, not the modernity of its weapons. Allied weapons were just as good; what the Germans did to win all the early battles lies in their USE of tanks and planes. Their tanks and planes weren’t better, they were used better. The Germans understood and applied modern concepts of maneuvre warfare; the Allies, initially, did not, and made several appallingly stupid strategic movies.

German advances in rocketry weren’t even in use in 1939 and had basically no impact on the war’s outcome. Germany was substantially INFERIOR in many aspects of military technology, including - critically, as it turns out - electronic warfare, and wasn’t any more advanced in any important aspect of weapons or platform design.

First a general point, then some specifics:
The Wehrmacht’s 1939 advantage cannot be accurately appreciated solely in material terms. The advantage was more in the tactical doctrine (Blitzkrieg was the first demonstration of what is now know as combined-arms tactics) and in professional leadership, both in the officer corps and in small-unit leaders (Sergents, etc.)

To address some of the misconceptions:
The French army in 1940 (on the eve of the Battle of France) had more tanks than the Wehrmacht, and they were more heavily-armed. The French Army had 3,254 tanks in the theater, and the German had 2,493. Furthermore, the only German tank that was superior was the Panzer IV, and only 178 were available [ibid]. The French Char Bhad a 47mm AT gun in the turret and a 75mm gun with HE and AT rounds in the hull. Its armor was 60mm and it moved at 28kph. The German Panzer III had a smaller 37mm gun, half the armor at 30mm on the hull front, but was faster at 40kph.

In terms of submarines, the prewar U-boat classes were fine boats, but most of them were coastal subs with restricted ranges. The American and Japanese subs were generally superior. (no url to cite, and my reference books aren’t here, sorry).

There are lots of other small things, but the basic point remains: Although the 1939 Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe were well-supplied and well-equipped, they were not “30 years ahead”. It was how they used what they had that created the stunning vistories of 1939-1940.

On preview, I see RickJay makes similar points. Still, I’m posting because there’s enough difference that the posts are not complete overlaps.

I would imagine that in many situations, using horses would have advantages over mechanization. Using a horse to pull artillery throught the snow in winter for example. A horse basically just needs food and a place where it won’t freeze, jeeps require fuel,maintenence, parts.

They had nothing like that sort of a lead. Indeed, German planners were of the opinion that they had to start the war by 1941 at the latest, because by 1945, peacetime France and England would have caught up with them. (Cited in William Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.) Thus, even the German General Staff only put their advantage at about five years.

Germany probably used more horses than Britain and the US combined. Indeed, the USA did not have horse cavalry in any part of the European theater. We didn’t even have any significant amount of horse transport. Instead, we took the grand innovation of purely mechanized transport. The Germans had the Panzergruppe, but their supply and transport was still essentially First World War vintage–railroads and horse.

The Autobahn was a military failure for the Germans. This wasn’t because it was a bad design–it was an excellent design. It was because the German General Staff had all their plans centered on railroad transport.

The former rendered strategically impotent by intelligence, the latter never being anything more than a terrorist tactic.

Stukas were a joke over Britain. They were considered a form of target practice for British flak crews. As for the others, ever hear of the Spitfire and the Hurricane, which trashed the Jerries’ crates well and good?

And then the Thunderbolts and the Mustangs got into the act, and only the ME262 was greatly superior. But even then, Britain had put the Gloster Metor and the USA had the P-59A Airacomet in flight, if not in combat. British aircraft manufacturers had actually been flying jets since 1941 but they wanted to be sure that their frame was strong enough for combat under such stress.

As was everybody else. The big difference was that the Allies didn’t need to do that, since they had access to South American rubber North American petroleum. Why waste resources during wartime for a substitute that you don’t need?

Nazi scientists were divided up among the European theater allies as a spoil of war. But never forget that it was the Allies who got atomic weaponry, not the Germans. In part, it was due to sabotage by German scientists. In part, it was because Einsteinian physics was initially rejected as being “Semitic”. This set German efforts back in much the same way that Lysenkoism devastated Soviet agricultural and biological research for decades.

As for the Autobahn, the last TV show I saw on US cable regarding the American interstate system made it very plain that the German system was the inspiration.

I find it very interesting that you say the USA “stole their idea of the autobahn”. Why do you have so much hatred for the USA that you consider a legitimate copying of a good idea to be “theft”? After all, the Germans never claimed intellectual ownership of the concept of broad, straight highways.

There were several “autobahn” type highways (limited access multilane divided roads with overpasses) in the United States before World War II, mostly in the Northeastern United States.
It was the German autobahn that helped inspire a national system of such highways. Then again, Germany (even at its peak size) was smaller than Texas. Building a national expressway network in Germany is not the feat it is in the United States.