Why the Luftwaffe Failed in World War 2 – Failures, Shortcomings and Blunders

Video

Note the following is the script for the video NOT an article, furthermore it might be a bit different to due last minute changes. There is usually also a bit more detail in the script. Continue reading “Why the Luftwaffe Failed in World War 2 – Failures, Shortcomings and Blunders” »

Falklands War – Argentine Perspective – An Inevitable Defeat?

Note the following text is the script, not an article.

Intro

In the Falklands War in 1982 Argentina suffered a disastrous defeat, thus many believe that Argentina never stood a chance. Yet, taking a closer look at the Argentine side reveals that the conflict wasn’t a forgone conclusion at all.
During and prior to the conflict the Argentine leadership committed many blunders. Note that at that time the Argentina was led by a military junta consisting of the commanders in chief of the army, navy and air force.So let’s take a look at the various factors that were crucial for the outcome of the war.

Timing

The first major problem was the timing. The original Argentine invasion of the Falkland Island or Islas Malvinas as they are called Argentina was scheduled for the 15th of May or later, which would have made British operations more difficult due to the changing weather. After all the Falkland Islands are located in a rather cold area of the Atlantic.

Yet, the occupation began on the 2nd of April, basically the Argentine Navy and Army performed the “landing at a time that now looks almost if it had been picked by Britain” Robert L. Scheina (Naval Historian; quoted after Pedraja, p. 239). It should also be noted that the Argentine Forces were due to receive new equipment, whereas the British Forces were experiencing major cutbacks.
Furthermore, the invasion itself was performed with an unnecessary show of force. The Islands were defended by a British garrison of around 100 men, yet the Argentine Navy showed up with almost all of its warships including it’s aircraft carrier. Due to this major mobilization the British were notified a week prior to the actual occupation of the islands.This commitment to use the whole Argentine navy was a clear contrast the following lack of commitment that happened after the occupation.

Rivalry

The next major problem was the rivalry within the Argentine Armed Forces. The whole invasion was planned by the Army and Navy alone, only in January 1982 they informed the Air Force, but since the Air Force wasn’t part of the operation, it couldn’t oppose the operation. Since there was no certain date and the Air Force wasn’t allowed to perform maritime operations anyway, it didn’t prepare until late March 1982.

Also the rivalry didn’t change significantly even after the bullets started flying. The conflicted was started by the Navy and Army, yet both largely dropped out of the war rather soon leaving the heavy lifting to the Air Force, which was basically dragged into the conflict shortly after the occupation of the islands. Nevertheless, the commander of the Air Force and his men were eager to show of what they were capable off. So let’s take a look at the air force.

The Ugly Duckling – State of the Air Forces

The Argentine Air Force was the ugly duckling of the Armed Forces, although it was military the best trained, it was politically the weakest, especially in the junta during the Falkland War. Army bases were located near air force bases officially for protection, yet this was mostly to keep pressure on the air force.
One aspect that severely inhibited the air force in the Falkland War was the fact that the in 1969 the Navy received the exclusive jurisdiction to defend Argentina from a sea attack, thus equipment, training and doctrine was completely oriented towards ground attack.

Nevertheless the Air Force could field an impressive number of around 200 combat planes. Yet, most of these couldn’t be used to their full performance above the Falklands, due to their limits in range. They main land air bases were located at ranges from 750 km to 690 km away from the Falkland Islands. “Partly for reasons of dispersal, and partly because of the inability to handle more flights, the air force scattered its planes among the three air strips rather than concentrating them at Río Grande, the base nearest to the combat theater.” (p. 242)
Another major problem was the lack of navigation equipment, especially for maritime operations, but some planes lacked even a simple navigational radar. To deal with this situation better equipped planes were used as guide and also civilian Learjets.

Lack of Equipment – Radar at Port Stanley

Furthermore, due to the navigational deficiencies” the radar on the Falkland Islands assumed an importance out of proportion of tis traditional role” (p. 247). It became probably the single most important equipment for the entire Argentine war effort. It provided navigational coordinates for the planes, warned them of nearby harriers and also detected many ships. A second radar would have been crucial as a backup and also due the “radar shadow” that was created by the mountains on the island, but none was deployed. This radar shadow allowed the British to remain undetected when they moved in for their landing troops.

The State of the Navy & Army

Although the overall state of the Argentine Navy and Army was probably not the best, their performance was definitely abysmal or even counter-productive. The main contributions of the the Navy came from one battalion of marines on the Falklands and their fleet air arm that operated from land bases, because after the loss of the cruiser Belgrano the commander-in-chief recalled all ships into the ports, thus the troops on the Falklands could only be supplied by the Air Force.

The Army should have defended the Falkland Islands against a British invasion, but it mostly sent conscripts that were ill-equipped. Also the leadership of the garrison openly told them that the whole occupation was just a mock theater to reach a peaceful solution, thus while air force troops prepared air raid shelters they army didn’t fortify their positions properly. Nor did the army ship heavy artillery to the island.

Probably one of the dumbest decisions was to reinforce the garrison on the freezing island with a brigade of conscripts from a subtropical region, while the best troops were kept in Argentina in case Chile would declare war. The fear of an attack from Chile and the fear of British submarines was constant, yet no action was taken to prepare the defense of the island in case of a British naval blockade. As mentioned before the Argentine Navy showed up with nearly all warships during the initial occupation. But these ships didn’t bring along heavy equipment to dig in nor a vast amount of supplies. This is probably one of the few examples in Naval History, when a cargo ship full of supplies would have better suited than an aircraft carrier. This lack of proper preparations was also – yet to a smaller degree – a problem with the air force.

Lack of improving the air fields

The general lack of the Army and Air Force to build fortifications and improve existing facilities was striking. On the mainland most of the improvement of existing air fields was done by local citizens, without them not much happened. Also the air force didn’t try to create new air strips closer to the islands. But most notable was the failure to improve the existing runway on the Falkland Island. Just adding access lanes or parking spaces could have improved the capacity of the air strip for cargo planes. (Limited to 6 planes simultaneously.) A certain amount of these shortcomings can of course be tracked back directly to the Argentine leadership.

Misjudgement of British Willigness to fight and International Support

It completely misjudged the international relations. First they assumed that the United States would prevent a war between Argentina and the United Kingdom, after all both were Allies of the States. Furthermore, they assumed that they accumulated enough favors, yet this completely wrong assumption should have been abandoned when the United States tried to convince Argentina to accept the British demands.

Another major misconception was the underestimation of the British to fight instead of seeking a diplomatic solution. This view was even prevalent at the lower ranks in the armies. The strong British determination was in complete contrast the Argentine unwillingness to commit after their initial steps. Basically, Argentine leadership kicked a British bulldog then turned around and thought everything would work out fine.

The Three Fatal Flaws of the Air Force

Basically the only service that prepared itself at least properly was the air force and it also did very well. Yet, there were three major flaws that significantly lowered its overall effectiveness.

  1. The pilots focused their attacks mainly on warships, although the initial plan considered landing craft and troop ships as high priority targets. Although those ships were also attacked. Generally, air force pilots preferred war ships, but sinking those ships wouldn’t prevent the British troops from landing. These made the British merchant ships the weakest link in their plan. Something the air force failed to exploit.
  2. The air force used mainly small formations to attack British warships although evidence suggest that larger formations had a higher success rate.
  3. Probably the biggest problem was that a 60 % of all bombs dropped on ships failed to detonate. This was of course the result due to the focused on ground support, but the Naval Air Arm didn’t face this problem. Yet, due to the rivalry between the air force and navy, the navy didn’t provided any support on this matter nor did air force ask for assistance.

Conclusion

Despite all of these shortcomings and the almost complete absence of the army and navy, the Argentine Air Forces still achieved several successes. Together the planes of the air force and navy destroyed 2 destroyers, 2 frigates and 3 support ships.
The Falkland War could have a very different outcome if the Argentine forces would have fortified their positions properly and used their best troops instead of conscripts to defend the island. Furthermore, the construction and improvement of air fields on the island and on the mainland would have increased the air forces capabilities. The Navy originally planned an sortie after the British landing began, combined with an attack from the army against the invasion force this could have been enough pressure to defeat or at least stall the British invasion considerably. Only one of these aspects would have prolonged the conflict and due to the overstretched British supply lines, the changing weather and new aircrafts for the Argentine Air Force time wasn’t favoring the Royal Navy.

Bonus – Argentine Air Force Numbers

The Argentine Air Force had around 200 combat planes:

Bonus – Ranges

Rio Gallegos 750 km ( 496 miles)
San Julián: 700 (438 miles)
Río Grande at Tierra del Fuego 690 (431 miles).

René De La Pedraja: The Argentine Air Force versus Britain in the Falkland Islands, In: Higham & Harris: Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat

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German Tank Division (1939) – Organization and Structure – Visualization

Video

Below is the Script to video, note that this is not an article and is probably not really meaningful without the video.

Intro – Distribution of Men

A German Tank division in 1939 consisted of about 12000 men. 3000 of them were assigned to the Tank Brigade, 3200 to the motorized infantry brigade and 1200 to the artillery regiment.
The remaining 5600 were assigned to supply, recon, engineering, anti-tank, signaling and staff units.

Tank Brigade – Intended Composition

Now let’s take a look at the composition of the tank brigade. It consisted of 90 Panzer II, 162 Panzer III, 60 Panzer IV and 12 Panzerbefehlswagen – a command tank. Hence, a total number of 324 tanks. But this was the intended composition. So let’s take a look at actual composition.

Tank Brigade – Historical Composition for the 1st Tank Division – “1. Panzer Division”

These are the numbers for the “Erste Panzer Division” the First tank division. It had 93 Panzer I, a tank never intended for combat and only armed with machine guns. 122 Panzer II, a mere 26 Panzer III, 56 Panzer IV and 12 Panzerbefehlswagen. Thus, giving a total of 309 tanks, slightly below the intended size, but numbers without context are like most politicians, quite useless and untrustworthy.

Comparison Intended vs. Historical Setup

On the left side the intended setup, with a lot of Panzer III, which was back in 1939 the main battle tank of the German Army. Yet on the others side we have a lot of Panzer I, a tank never intended to see combat. But the Panzer I needed to fill most the ranks of the missing Panzer III. Also the Panzer II was no proper substitute for the Panzer III or Panzer IV in terms of combat performance.

Now, a closer look on the planned organization and structure of the Panzer formations.

Structure of the Tank Brigade – Panzer Brigade

The Tank brigade consisted of 2 regiments with 2 battalions each and each of these battalions consisted of a staff company, two light companies and a medium company.
The “Stabskompanie” or Staff Company, consisted of a Signaling Platoon with two Panzerbefehlswagen and a Panzer III. Note that the Panzerbefehlswagen looks like a Panzer III, but it only had a fake gun and turret was welded to the hull. Yet, it was crucial to the performance of the German Panzer units, because it provided important command & control facilities.
Furthermore, the company had one platoon of light tanks consisting of 5 Panzer II.

Light Tank Company – “Leichte Panzerkompanie”

So let’s take a look at the two light tank Companies or “Leichte Panzerkompanie”.
They consisted of a Company Section with two Panzer III. A Light platoon with 5 Panzer II and three platoons of 5 Panzer III each.

Medium Tank Company – “Mittlere Panzerkompanie”

Finally, the Medium Tank Company or “Mittlere Panzerkompanie”.
The Company section with two Panzer IV and the light platoon with Panzer IIs are almost identical to the light companies. But the three platoons all consist of 4 tanks each instead of 5 tanks.
Time to take a look at the big picture again.

Brigade and Battalion View

These companies made up one battalion with 71 tanks. Thus with 4 battalions for the Brigade there is a total of 284 tanks for frontline duty, since some tanks were kept for reserve and command duties.
Now, again this was the intended setup, the number of available Panzer III was very low, thus their roles needed to be filled by other tanks like the Panzer I and Panzer II.

Complete View

So far for the tank brigade, time to take a look at the division as a whole again. Since the tank brigade was supported by an infantry brigade,
90 armored cars, 48 anti-tank guns, 12 anti-air guns and 24 pieces of artillery. Which was a quite considerable amount of equipment

Notes & References

References:
(1) The number of tanks for 1939 in the 1. Panzer Division is from Jentz p. 90 (see sources).
(2) The Numbers of men is according to Müller-Hillebrand S. 163 (see sources) and Niehorster (see sources).

Notes on accuracies:
(1) This is the „ideal/planned“ layout of German Panzer Division in World War 2 as orderd for the 1. Panzer Division. With the Kriegsstärkenachweisungen (K. St. N.) 1103 (Sd), 1194 (Sd), 1168 (Sd), 1107 (Sd), 1171 (Sd), 1175 (Sd), 1178 (Sd) from the 1st September 1939, due to the war and a general lack of tanks on the German side the division probably never reached this setup, especially since the Panzer Division got restructured again and again. From 1939 to 1941 the number of tanks in a Panzer Division decreased by almost 50 %.
(2) Furthermore, the types of armored cars represented in the video is simplified. I know there were around 90 armored cars (Niehorster link) in the division, but I could only determine the exact types and numbers for 56 of those 90. They were Sdkfz 221, Sdkfz 222, Sdkfz 223, Sdkfz 231, Sdkfz 232, Sdkfz 274, Sdkfz 260, Sdkfz 261, Sdkfz 263.

Sources

Books

Müller-Hillebrand, Burkhart: Das Heer – Band 1 – 1933-1939 (S. 163: IV. Panzerdivision)

Jentz, Thomas: Panzertruppen – The Complete Guide to the Creation & Combat Employment of Germanys Tank Force 1933-1942
Jentz, Thomas: Die deutsche Panzertruppe, Bd.1, 1933-1942

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-Disclaimer-
Amazon Associates Program: “Bernhard Kast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.”

Amazon Partner (amazon.de): “Bernhard Kast ist Teilnehmer des Partnerprogramms von Amazon Europe S.à r.l. und Partner des Werbeprogramms, das zur Bereitstellung eines Mediums für Websites konzipiert wurde, mittels dessen durch die Platzierung von Werbeanzeigen und Links zu Amazon.de Werbekostenerstattung verdient werden kann.”

Websites

1st Panzer Division In accordance with the 1939/40 Mobilization Plan

This homepage is from the author of this book (series):
Mechanized Army Division and Waffen SS Units – 1st September 1939 (German World War II Organizational Series)

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The First German Tank – The A7V Sturmpanzerwagen

Crew Layout of the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V the first German Tank
Crew Layout of the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V the first German Tank – 1,920px × 1,176px

Introduction

The A7V or “Sturmpanzerwagen A7V” was the first German Tank and saw action in the later stages of the First World War. The rather unusual name of the tank was directly derived from a transport department in the war ministry, notably the department 7. (Abteilung 7 Verkehrswesen) (S. 54/2). The A7V was not only the first German tank, it was also the first fully-tracked built vehicle in Germany itself.

In total only 23 were built, 2 of them prototypes, one with a wooden superstructure and one with armor plates. 1 radio variant (S. 76) and 2 production runs with 10 tanks each. Now these low numbers are important to consider if someone makes any assessment about it, because the tank gained a very bad reputation that doesn’t seem to be justified, but more on that later.

Tanks in World War I

Tanks in World War I were quite primitive and a completely new technology. A tank was basically a slowly moving pillbox with guns due to the limits in mobility, reliability, range, doctrine and command capabilities. Tanks were first and foremost an infantry support weapon and even after various technological improvements and years later this was still a common view until the successes of German Panzer Forces in early stages of World War II.

Development

The development of the A7V involved 13 companies and the production 20 due to the complexity of a tank compared to other weapon systems.(S. 14 / 2) The rather fast development of 11 months could only be achieved due to the fact that a large amount of components were already available in the various industries.(S. 15 / 1) The weapons were standard equipment, the armor plates were similar to those used on warships. Yet, the available engines weren’t sufficient in terms of horse power, thus a twin engine plant of production-ready engines was used.

Production

Although the tank was developed quite fast, the overall process of development and production was not straightforward at all. After the initial appearance of Allied tanks on the Battlefield in 1916 the German High Command was convinced of the tank as an important weapon. Yet, this view changed, after the following limited success of the Allied tanks. This restricted the development and production of German tanks and the allocation of resources. Especially since the highest priority was given to submarine warfare. Yet, after the success of British tanks at the Battle of Cambrai in 1917, the German High Command (in end of 1917 (November)) pushed again for the introduction of German tanks. Yet, instead of pouring all resources in the A7V project, many new projects were started that didn’t reach a sufficient production readiness before the end of the war. The change in requirements, resource shortages, changing priorities, shifting interests and the usual bureaucracy delayed ultimately the production of the A7V in significant numbers. (S. 60 & 61) Although it should be noted that even a larger number of these wouldn’t made a difference in the outcome of the war due to the lack of fuel and other crucial resources.

Technical Specifications

Now let’s take a look at some technical specifications:
In this case, I had a great and detailed source co-written by German historians and engineers, which you can clearly see, because the provided the values in millimeters, because everyone knows centimeters or even meters aren’t precise enough when you are German and dealing with the measurements of a 30 ton tank.
The length was 7.35 m (7350 mm) with a width of 3.06 m (3060mm) and height of3.35m (3350 mm). The ground clearance was 0.2 m (200 mm) and a track width of 2.115 m (2115mm). This is especially interesting or crazy, because the tanks were not of identical construction.
It could traverse trenches up to 2 m in width, cross water at a depth of 0.8 m. Climb a vertical obstacle of up to 0.4 m and a climb a slope at 25 degree.
The maximum achieved speed was 16 km / h.
With two fuel tanks each with 250 liters, it had a range of about 30 to 35 km cross country and 60 to 70 km on roads.

Weight of the vehicle with fuel was 16 tons
The weight of the armor was 8.5 tons.
The weapons with ammo made up 3.5 tons.
And the crew with equipment another 2 tons, thus a total weight of 30 tons.
You probably gonna wonder, why you need about 2 tons for the crew and their equipment. Well, that is because the A7V had a crew of just about 16 to 26 men. In comparison a British Mark V tank had about 8 men.

Weapons & Armor

In terms of protection it had a frontal armor of 30 mm, at the side and rear the armor plates had a thickness of 15mm. The top plates were 6mm thick. In comparison the British Mark V had a maximum frontal armor of 16 mm.
The armament consisted of a 57mm Maxim-Nordenfelt gun which was mounted in the front and two 08/15 machine guns for each side and the rear. A large amount of amount of ammo was carried, initially 180 rounds for the 57mm gun, this value was later increased to around 300. The number of MG rounds was about 18 000. Take these values as broad guide lines, because there was a certain lack of standardization, which will be even more apparent when looking at the crew layout. Also note, that the seats are marked read here, because the ammo was stored in those seats.

Crew Layout

According to Uwe Böhm the primary sources provide different values for the total number of crew members ranging from 16 to 26 men. He provides the following base layout:

  • 1 Commander
  • 1 Assistant (Gefechtsordonnanz)
  • 1 Driver
  • 1 Mechanic/technician – trained as a driver (reserve)
  • 1 Mechanic
  • 1 Gun Commander (Geschützführer)
  • 1 Gunner
  • 1 Loader
  • 12 MG Gunners
  • 1-2 Runners
  • 1 Blinker / Signaler
  • 1 Homing Pigeon Handler

Imagine that beast in War Thunder with the Last Man Standing option, it would be almost unkillable if you don’t load any ammo.

Success or Failure – Bad Reputation

The A7V has a very bad reputation, the question is if this reputation is justified at all. Now, it had many problems and was quite unreliable, but to make a reasonable evaluation of it’s quality we need to take into account several factors.

1) The A7V was the first tank and also the first fully-tracked vehicle that Germany ever produced.
2) The development process was performed in 11 months. (S. 144)
3) At the start of the development there were no captured enemy tanks available.
4) The production environment in Germany at the end of the war was everything but suitable to manufacture a complex and new design, due to a lack of qualified labor and resource shortages.
5) There was a total of 23 A7Vs including prototypes, in comparison both the French and British built more than 1000 tanks each.

Calling the A7V a failure is as justified as calling the Tiger I a great tank in both instances only a few factors are considered. When it comes to the Tiger a lot of people completely ignore the reliability issues, yet it was designed and produced under better circumstances and far greater numbers than the A7V. The design flaws of the Tiger are hard to justify, because it was far from being the first German tank and many of the flaws weren’t addressed successfully in its considerable longer operational history than that of the A7V.
Thus, my conclusion is that the A7V wasn’t a bad tank design as many people claim.

Yet, it’s suitability for the realities of the Western Front and how it performed on the battlefield will be part of a future video, which will allow a more holistic assessment of its overall effectiveness as a military vehicle.

Sources

Books

Sturmpanzerwagen A7V – Vom Urpanzer zum Kampfpanzer Leopard 2 – Ein Beitrag zur Militär- und Technikgeschichte

amazon.de (affiliate link)

amazon.com (affiliate link)

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-Disclaimer-
Amazon Associates Program: “Bernhard Kast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.”

Amazon Partner (amazon.de): “Bernhard Kast ist Teilnehmer des Partnerprogramms von Amazon Europe S.à r.l. und Partner des Werbeprogramms, das zur Bereitstellung eines Mediums für Websites konzipiert wurde, mittels dessen durch die Platzierung von Werbeanzeigen und Links zu Amazon.de Werbekostenerstattung verdient werden kann.”

Websites

Tank Museum Video on the A7V

Beware of Wikipedia articles, I corrected some values already, but I guess there may still some errors left:
Wikipedia article on the A7V (beware of errors)

Tanks Encyclopedia – Mark V

Notes on Accuracy & “Methodology”

I used the tank encylclopdia articles for references values on the Mark V tanks armour. Due to several errors in the Wikipedia articles of the A7V, encountered and corrected several errors on the A7V values.