** war and social upheaval: World War II The Battle of the Bulge -- Armor








World War II: The Bulge--Armor


Figure 1.--This is a rear view of the new M-36 Tank Destroyer with its long barrel 90mm (3.5 inch gun). The army more desciptively called in a Gun Motor Carriage. The M-36 began to reach American forces in Europe (September 1944). You can see the gun barrel pointed across the road. Not much doubt where they though the Germans were. Less obvious is that they are protecting a gas pump. The M-36 replaced the M-10 tank destroyer that only had a short barrel 76mm (3 inch) gun. Both were built on the Sherman chassis. The TD was basically an open turret tank that was a bit faster than the Sherman but very vulnerable to any air burst artillery shells or even a tossed grenade. There is no caption available for the photogrph here, but it looks to us like a French or Belgian village in or near the Ardennes. It would have been taken about December 1944-January 1945. Notice how non-chalant the boy and old man are.

While the Allies had air superority, the Germans fielded tanks that were far superior to the Shermans that were the basic tank available to the Americans. The Sherman was an effective tank when first deployed (1942), but bt the Winter of 1941-45 had been far eclipsed by German armor. German Panther and Tiger tanks in many ways were superior to the American, especilally in tank to tank engagements. Hitler believed that by waiting for bad weather, grounding American aircraft, that the battle could be won by suprise and German armor. His generals advised against the plan, but Hitler had long cesed to listen to his generals. His fevered, drug-fueld mind harkened back to the glory days and his greatest Blitzkrieg victory, achieved by armor smashing through the Ardennes and crossing the Meuse. And this was done with tanks that in many cases inferior to the Allied tanks. Now with his superior tanks he reasoned that another great victory was possible. The third-ranking German tank (the Mark IV) was at least the equal of the American and British best tanks. The formidable, hevily armored Tiger was equipped with a high-velocity 88mm cannon, superior to all armor in the War, in armor and firepower. Rounds from the U.S. Army's 57mm anti-tank gun or Shermans had almost no effect on the frontal armor of the Panther or Tiger. What Hitler missed was that it was the inferiority of the German tanks in 1940 meaning that they were light and maneurable that allowed them to rapidly get through the Ardennes and across the Meuse. The situation in 1944 was very different. The massive German tanks were ponderous, poorly maneuravle, slow, heavy, and gass guzzlers. This meant they could not rapidly breakthrough as thy had done in 1940. The thickly forested, ravine-laced region with few main roads and narrow bridges proved a more formidable barrier to massive German tanks. Not only could the Panthers and Tigers to wide for the narow bridges, but their weight could collapse mony of the bridges. And a breakdown of a Panther or Tiger could block a narrow road for hours. And if that was not enough, the German behemoths were monumental gas guzzlers. That would not have been a problem for the Americans, but it was for the Germans who were suffering a fuel shortge. The Ardenns offensive demanded fuel the Germand did not have. Thus the Germans Ardennes campaign was premised on seizung American fuel dumps in tact on the first days of offensive. Even a tank as formidable as the Tiger had no bite once it ran out of fuel. The Amricam Shermans could not slug it out individually with the German Panthers, let alone the Tigers. But there were a lot more Shermans and unlike the Panzers could cross most Belgium bridges. They also were supported by tank destroyers which could taken on the Panthers. And unlike the Germans, fuel was not a problem for Ameriacn armor. Some of the new M36 Tank Destroyers (90mm Gun Motor Carriage) had begun to reach Americn units (September 1944). And the M-36 could even take on the Pathers and Tigers, at least with side shots.

German Panzers

While the Allies had air superority, the Germans fielded tanks that were far superior to the Shermans that were the basic tank available to the Americans. The Sherman was an effective tank when first deployed (1942), but bt the Winter of 1941-45 had been far eclipsed by German armor. German Panther and Tiger tanks in many ways were superior to the American, especilally in tank to tank engagements. Hitler believed that by waiting for bad weather, grounding American aircraft, that the battle could be won by suprise and German armored superiority. His generals advised against the plan, but Hitler had long cesed to listen to his generals. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, thought Hitler's was too ambitious. Other Wehrmacht commanders objected to taking resources away from the cruubling Eastern Front. As a result Berlin would be defended with virtually no armored support. The third-ranking German tank (the Mark IV) was at least the equal of the American and British best tanks. The formidable, hevily armored Tiger was equipped with a high-velocity 88mm cannon, superior to all armor in the War, in armor and firepower. Rounds from the U.S. Army�s 57mm anti-tank gun or Shermans had almost no effect on the frontal armor of the Panther or Tiger. Interestingly the Germans would lose some 700 tanks in the battle, more than twice the number of American tanks lost. Many were not destroyed, but abandoned because of light damage or running out of fuel.

The Ardennes

His fevered, drug-fueld mind harkened back to the glory days and his greatest Blitzkrieg victory, achieved by armor smashing through the Ardennes and crossing the Neuse. And this was done with tanks that in many cases were inferior to the Allied tanks. Now with his superior tanks he reasoned that another great victory was possible. What Hitler missed was that it was the inferiority of the German tanks in 1940 meaning that they were light and maneurable that allowed them to rapidly get through the Ardennes and across the Meuse. The Ardennes was the best place to deploy the light and medium Panzers available in 1940. It was, however, the worse place to deploy the heavy Panzers available in 1944. The situation in 1944 was very different. The effective, but massive German tanks were ponderous, poorly maneuravle, slow, heavy, and gas guzzlers. This meant they could not rapidly breakthrough as thy had done in 1940. The thickly forested, ravine-laced region with few main roads and narrow bridges proved a more formidable barrier to massive German tanks. Not only could the Panthers abd Tigers to wide for the narow bridges, but their weight could collapse many of the bridges. And a breakdown of a Panther or Tiger could block an entire collum on a narrow road for hours.

Fuel

And if that was not enough, the German armored behemoths were monumental gas guzzlers. That would not have been a problem for the Americans, but it was for the Germans who were suffering a fuel shortge. Interestingly, despite the fuel situation, the Germans made no attempt to build tanks with fuel effucent engines. In fact the Germans constantly built tanks which were hreater fuel guzzlers than the earlier versions. This all czme to fruition in the Ardennes. The Ardenns offensive demanded fuel the Germans simply did not have. Ploesti, the Romnian oil fiekds which had been their most importnt source, had been destroyed by American air attacks and finally occupied by the Red Army. German synfuel plants were inadequate and the Allied bombers had begun to find and hit them. In addition the bombers and P-51 escorts were hammering the German transport system. So it was becoming increasingly difficult for the Germans to get what was produced to the fughting forces. Thus the Germans had to premise the Ardennes campaign on seizung American fuel dumps in tact on the first days of the offensive. Campaigns like that are not likely to go well. The Japanese pulled in off in Malaya and Burma (1942) but when faced with a well prepared enemy the result was disaster. Even a tank as formidable as the Tiger had no bite once it ran out of fuel.

American Armor

A single Amricam Sherman could not slug it out with the German Panthers, let alone the Tigers. But there were a lot more Shermans and they were fast and highly manunerveranle. And unlike the Germans, fuel was not a problem for American armor. The Shermans could cross most Belgium bridges. They also were supported by tank destroyers which could taken on the Panthers or even the Tigers from the side or rear. The tank destroyer was a mistaken concept, but the U.S. Army was still stuck with it during the Bulge. One reason that the Sherman was not replaced with a more roubust tank earlier was the Army concluded that the Sherman could be used for most tank functions. Shifting to a new design would have limited the number which could be built. A new heavier tank was on the way, the M-26 Pershing, but it did not play a role in the Bulge. The Army in the Bulge had to fight it out with the Shermans and the tank destroyers. There were various tank destroyers. The major version was the M-10 tank destroyer which had a 76mm (3 inch) gun. It was built on the Sherman chassis. The tank destroyer was basically an open turret tank that was a bit faster than the Sherman but very vulnerable to any air burst artillery shells or even a tossed grenade. Fortunately, some of the new M-36 Tank Destroyer (90mm Gun Motor Carriage) had began to reach American units (September 1944). And while Sherman shells bounced off the Tigers and the Pabther fronatl armor, the M-36 could even take on the Pathers and even Tigers, at least with side shots. And they could engage at distance. Close range the M-36 could penetrate the front armor of the Panther but since most engagements were at a distance then the flanks or rears were of course the prime targets. The TD-36s got in the longest known tank kills by American forces. The ranges were 4,200 and 4,600 yards. The 4,600 yards was the maximum range of that 90-mm gun. About Mk VI and Mk VII Tiger and King Tiger probably more were abandoned after being damaged or running out of fuel then actually destroyed. In combat, knocking the tracks out was baically the same as destroying the tank. But the only way to almost guarantee a kill shot on those two tanks was from the sides or rears even for the 90-mm again unless at close range. At least they could get that kill on those tanks from the front as opposed to the 75/76mm guns and even the British 17 pound gun -3 inch used on most of their tanks after 1942. Close range for this gun would be less than 250 yards. [Silverman]

Sources

Silverman, Irving. E-mail message (August 10, 2017). Irv is a expert on World War II weaponry. He is the webmaster of Military History of the 20th Century. He also maintains a Blog.







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Created: 6:41 PM 8/10/2017
Last updated: 6:41 PM 8/10/2017