Why didn't the allies reverse engineer more German equipment during WW2 ?

Another pointerless WW2 Q… This one could be a GD post, I guess…

But anyways I got to thinking while watching some WW2 films… The Germans continued to produce equipment superior to the allies’ right up to the end of the war. In particular I’m thinking about tanks (Panther and Tiger) and a guns (the “88” anti-tank/flak gun). Why did the allies never reverse engineer these based on captured models ? As far as I’m aware neither of the allies fielded tanks or guns that comparable to these, and in many cases continued to use far inferior types (did any of the allies even get close to feilding a gun as effective as the 88 ? Let alone a tank to carry it).

I realize some people think the development of these advanced tanks actually contributed to the German defeat (as the could not be readily mass produced, so there were never made in sufficent numbers to make a difference). But surely that would not have applied to the allies. Later in the war the US or Soviets could have allocated a tiny fraction of the their manfucturing base to reverse engineered Panthers or 88s produced enough to make a difference at the front, without effecting their production of more easily produced weapons (after all the germans only ever fielded tiny numbers of Tiger tanks but there were enough to make a serious impact on western and eastern fronts).

I understand the Germans were not above reverse engineering in some cases (the Bazooka was reverse engineered into the Panzerschreck).

So was the allied reluctance to do so purely political or was there some other reason.

I don’t know why. However, all of the factory processes, drawings, tools etc. were already in place to build what we were building and redoing all of that for a marginal gain, in most cases, would have been an unwise use of resources. When we first started building up to be the “arsenal of democracy” we didn’t have access to all that German gear and by the time we did have it, we were already comitted.

The only really great superiority was in the tanks and we solved that in the west by merely overwhelming the Germans with numbers. The German 88 was an excellent and versatile gun but our guns were plenty good enough for our purposes. As to airplanes, ours were as good as theirs. The thing we didn’t have was a long range fighter for daylight bomber protection. However, the German fighters were no better than ours in that respect and worse when we developed the P-51 with more fuel and droppable auxiliary tanks. By the end of the war in Europe, all of our fighters there were long range.

In addition to David Simmons’ comments, you also have to consider that while many of the advanced systems the Germans developed and fielded (Tiger tank, ME-262 jet fighter, V-2 rocket) were superior on the glossy pamplet, their actual performance on the battlefield was less than remarkable. The Tiger was known for difficult maintanence and logistical problems, the Messerschmidt had low endurance and mediocre handling characteristics, and the V-2, while terrifying to the civilian population in and around London, was a strategic waste of material. (I recall a British scientist who later went on to work on the Manhattan Project professed some amount of relief that the Germans were spending as much on a single V-2–likely to kill only a handful of people, if any at all–than on a wing of strategic bombers that could kill hundreds.) Techniques were developed that allowed the less advanced Allied equipment to defend effectively against these weapons.

Reverse engineering a weapon system also includes more than just taking a captured weapon apart and seeing how it goes. It means reproducing the materials and manufacturing processes, the tooling, the quality control parameters, et cetera. While we certainly got a lot out of reverse engineering the German work on jet aircraft and rocketry in the post-WWII environment (much of it with the assistance of captured/surrendered German scientists and engineers) it’s doubtful that we would have gotten far enough in the middle of the war effort to field more effective weapons than we had available.

Our greatest asset against the Axis powers was, of course, our logistical supply; if Germany had been somewhat more advanced with jet technology and night interception of strategic bombing the European war might have stretched much longer, but lacking the resources to supply the Luftwaffe indefinitely the result would have been the same…just more costly for the Allies. We could isolate both Germany and Japan and starve them of the resources that would allow them to continue to persecute the war, which of course, is the way wars are typically won, superior weapon technology or no.


As for German aircraft, while a lot of the technology being developed - the ME262, for instance - was more technically advanced, by the stage of the war they appeared, they were too few in number and lacked enough trained pilots to make any substantial difference.

Contrary to the myth of grim Nazi efficiency, a lot of their development was a shambles - too many resources wasted on flashy and expensive but tactically and strategically ineffective projects like the ME 163 or even the V2: it seemed like every damn aircraft manufacturer had their pet jet or rocket project, with little overall coordination. Nice technology, but never what was needed.

For instance, while the V2 was groundbreaking technology, it used a huge amount of resources and had little strategic value apart from killing civilians: meanwhile, the Germans never developed an effective long-range strategic bomber, but instead had a 14 year old’s fascination with fighters, overlooking the fact that these were defensive aircraft. No decent tactical fighter-bombers were developed.

In contrast, the Allies were less flashy but more centered: the British had Lord Beaverbrook’s Ministry Of Aircraft production, which oversaw projects to ensure that actual needs were met. For instance, a long-range heavy bomber was needed to replace the aging and troubled Whitley: a couple more engines were stuck on the troubled Manchester, and the Lancaster was born - one perfectly good strategic bomber.

The Allies had the good sense to stick to their knitting: while there were failed or unsuccessful projects - the Whirlwind and the Tempest spring to mind - for the most part they stuck to tried and true tech which could be modernised, upgraded or reconfigured: while the Tempest was a failure as a fighter, it made a hell of a tactical ground-attack aircraft, something the Germans lacked.

Put simply, the Allies didn’t need to rip off German tech.

I suspect the many, many tankers killed by Ju88 Stukas would disagree. Yeah, as the war wore on, the Il-2 Sturmovik thoroughly outclassed it in the east, and P-47s and Tempests and the like retrofit with bombs and rockets were superior in some ways in the west, but saying that the Nazis had no decent tactical fighter-bombers is just false.

It’s also just not true that the Germans were all that far ahead with jets. The Gloster Meteor came into service at roughly the same time as the 262, and while it had inferior performance, the P-80 with superior performance wasn’t far behind. And of course, as you note, the logistical and manpower problems Germany was facing made the technology moot anyways.

Hmmm… all valid points but I’m not sure I agree.

In particular I was talking about armoured vehicles and heavy weapons. On the whole the allies caught up with, or surpassed, the germans in air and naval technology by the end of the war, but our amoured vehicles and heavy weapons were significantly inferior, the war would have been over quicker with less allied casualties if the allies had a a few panther or 88 rip-offs at the front.

I read a very interesting article several years ago about a lowly bit of German engineering – the Jerrycan.

The original “Jerrycan” was a big rectangular container made to carry fuel in harsh terrain, especially deserts. But they ended up being used for water and other things as well. The original cans were German (hence the nickname), and they were beautifully manufactured – welded together, triple handle, interior completely lined with plastic coating to prevent leaks. The British fighting the Germans in North Africa found out about the cans from captured German units and fell in love with them – they were perfect for the purposes. They asked the Quartermasters back in Britain to provide more of them, because they weren’t getting enough from defeated Germans to meet the demand.

The British Headquarters cut corners, producing an inferior can with rolled joints, cheaply attached handles, and incomplete or absent interior coating. The British models were despised by the troops in the fiel, who preferred the German originals, and hoarded them.
So why didn’t they reverse-engineer and duplicate the German original in this case? Money. A feeling that “it’s good enough”.

Here’s an article that states the Soviet Union got hold of some B-29 bombers in August 1944, and despite their best efforts, couldn’t get a B-29 clone in the air until May 1947 – and didn’t get the bugs worked out until 1949.

It’s entirely possible that there just wasn’t enough time to examine and duplicate the most highly sophisticated equipment.

Josef Stalin adressed this very question in regards to Soviet tank production during the war: “quantity has a quality all its own”. Having the most weapons is usually better than having the best weapons. Trying to produce the best possible individual weapons would have significantly reduced the total amount of weapons the Allies had (as it actually did for Germany).

[nitpick] JU-87 [/nitpick]

Or Ju-87.

There was some reverse engineering going on - the Germans and Russians studied each others tanks and kept trying to surpass the other. Some people feel that the Germans were actually trying to keep up with the Russians. For example, the T-34 had slanted armor, the Tiger did not. The Germans saw how effective sloped armor was and added it to the King Tiger. The western allies were stuck too much on theories that were outdated. The Sherman tank was meant to fight infantry and raid artillery, not battle other tanks. It took quite some time and far too many lives before the higher ups realized things weren’t going to work that way. Besides, the time from D-Day to the collapse of the Nazi’s was only about 10 months - not enough time to capture, transport, analyze, design, put into production and deliver an American equivalent of the Tiger or King Tiger tanks. Instead we delivered more Shermans, some with upgraded guns (like the 90 MM firefly), and some tanks simply had extra armor welded on in the field.

Yes, but the Ju-87 was a 1930’s design which first saw service in the Spanish Civil War, and was thoroughly outclassed by 1941: it never carried much of a payload to start with, was slow and unwieldy, had virtually no defensive armaments, and only worked with total air superiority and fighter cover. Allied designs like the Tempest/Typhoon and the P-47 weren’t just superior “in some ways”; they were a whole new generation of aircraft.

A decent ground attack aircraft mightn’t have swung the odds in Germany’s favour over Normandy given their lack of fighter support, but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt things, and would have killed a lot more T-34’s in the East. A fast, relatively light and manoeuverable fighter-bomber akin to the Typhoon - able to carry bombs, rockets and cannons - would have been a real tactical asset, and a far better investment in resources than a liability like the Komet, which was only good for killing its own pilots.

Did the Shooting Star ever see combat?

See, here is where this argument falls apart. A “few” anything wouldn’t have made a lick of difference. Given the choice between 10 Shermans, which could be serviced by auto mechanics and produced by the thousands and 1 Tiger, which leaked like a sieve and had bogeys that fell off if you looked at them cross-eyed, the Allies made the right choice and went with the Sherman. Logistically, we had the Germans beat, and no amount of “quality” weaponry on their part was going to change that.

No. Four made it to Europe in early 1945, but did not see combat while in Britain and Italy.

As far as the tank question: The M26 Pershing went into combat in February of 1945 and was generally considered to be equivalent to the Panther.

A lot of good points have been made already but I think a few more could be made;

  1. The Tiger was a peice of crap, probably the most overrated weapons system in the history of warfare. It was big and scary; it also didn’t work right. The engines blew out like water balloons and had a nasty habit of catching fire if pressed too hard, as a result of which at any given time more than half of the fleet of Tigers was broken down. When it did work, which wasn’t very often, the engine was underpowered; it had to run at full power just to get the damned thing going and the motor that ran the turret was absurdly slow even when the engine wasn’t moving the tracks. It was effective in defensive operations where from a hull-down position it could command a huge field of fire, but in offensive operations it was terribly unreliable, slow, and vulnerable to aerial attack. Bigger does not always mean better.

The Panther was equally unreliable - often 2/3rds of more of the force was broken - but at least it worked really well when the engines weren’t blown out.

  1. Allied needs in terms of tanks were different from German needs. A weapons system is not, or at least should not, be designed to go up against the enemy equivalent in a fantasy battle; it’s supposed to fit into your overall combined arms scheme of operations.

In that sense tanks like the Sherman were precisely what the Allies required; versatile, fast tanks that were primarily used for fire support against German infantry and lighter vehicles, not just against Panthers. The idea was to avoid one-on-one battles against Panthers and fight battles on ALLIED terms - by isolating German tank units with numbers and hitting them hard with artillery and air power.

  1. By and large, Allied technology was pretty far ahead of German in any practical sense. Tigers and Me 262s were sexy. The Allies had huge, huge advantages in boring but critically important areas of warefare such as artillery fire control, most classes of aircraft, electronic warfare, mechanization of the army, etc.

Another important point; the Allies (particularly the United States) were perfecting the art of the combined arms assault, i.e. coordinating preemptive air strikes, mobile armor, light infantry, artillery, rear infantry, and air cover. This is something the Germans never really got good at; they tended to rely on large infantry groups, tank companies, heavy stationary artillery, and technological air superiority individually. Even with nominally superior numbers they had difficulty coping with the layered assaults on the Western Front, and lacked the logistical capability to defend effectively against overwhelming (if underarmed) Russian advances from the East.

The fact still remains, though (if only in retrospect) that once the Allies established beachheads at Anzio and Normandy, the tide of the war was turned and the fate of the Axis powers was sealed. Without seaports and resources, particularly petroleum, the Allies merely had to outlast Germany. Opening up the Eastern Front sealed the deal, but even if the uneasy alliance between Germany and the Soviet Union had remained, Germany lacked the resources and wherewithal to last for the long haul, whereas the combined British and U.S. global resources kept the Allies in the game indefinitely. Like most wars, WWII was started as a stupid, poorly thought out action by national leaders who were overimpressed with their own prowess. In the end, more than anything else, Germany starved itself to death, regardless of its (often dubious) technological superiority.


Some of them were used early in theKorean War.. From the cited Wiki article:

There wasn’t any secret technology in the Panther/Tiger that prevented us from producing them, we chose not to, and that’s(partly) why we won.

The Germans never had any useful technological advantage over the allies and the USSR in any field, during any part of the war. The FRENCH had better tanks than the Wermarcht did in 1941. The Luftwaffe never at any point in the war fielded any aircraft that were significantly better/more advanced than their opponents, except perhaps at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, but the Soviets regained air superiority in a very short time by producing more and better aircraft. The two fields where the Germans were ahead of the allies, ballistic missiles and jet engines, did not produce a single useful or relevent weapon for the Germans. In the fields that did matter, long range radar, code breaking, atomic physics, the Germans were far behind.