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Collimatrix

What the Hell is Wrong with German Tanks?

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Two things immediately leap to mind as strong possibilities: One, their metallurgy was crap. Two, the Germans lacked any sort of analytical approach to both requirements creation and product design.

The Germans routinely introduce materiel that is neither appropriately capable nor reflective of a deep understanding of the problems facing them. Their tank designs are excellent examples if this, especially the Panther. Do either the Panther or the Tiger II play to German manufacturing strengths, for example? We can only conclude that they do not, and I would especially highlight the armor plates used that were substantially thicker than their industry could successfully heat treat and mass produce. Simply, their requirements exist in some extra dimension, totally removed from the reality facing them.

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I was on my phone before, and I would like to elaborate on what I mean and some specific examples. I will be mostly talking about tanks designed after Barbarossa, i.e. the Panther and Tiger II.

I am not a tank expert, but I do think I can make a few inferences on German tank design based on what I do know. These inferences highlight discrepancies in the tanks' designs that could be indicative of special circumstances, but most likely are just yet another tally mark on the long sheet of Nazi industrial incompetencies.

 

The first thing I feel is worth addressing is the armor layout of both tanks. I'll address the armor plates themselves later; right now I want to tackle the basic armor framework, the shape and form of the tank's hull and turret themselves.

Before we begin, I want to make the distinction between what I'll call "Western tank design" and "Eastern tank design". The Eastern tank, exemplified by Soviet, and later Chinese design practices, emphasizes low resource use, low silhouette, inexpense, simplicity, and a high firepower-to-weight ratio. The Western tank, exemplified by American, German and British designs, in contrast emphasizes crew comfort and reduced crew fatigue, ease of daily maintenance tasks, good gun handling and sights, good mobility, and crew safety. This is not to say that Eastern or Western tank designs totally ignore everything that isn't on their respective list, nor that there aren't Eastern or Western tanks that each achieved exceptional characteristics in some area that is on the other's list, but in general these are the trends both types follow.

I have set this up, because the Panther and Tiger II are both Western tank designs, and I don't think they can by adequately evaluated by only comparing them to Soviet designs. The Panther and Tiger II follow different design ethe than Soviet tanks, and so for the purposes of this post, I am not further comparing them to Soviet designs except to make very specific points.

Whew, OK. So what does the combat experience of World War II say about the needs of the tank's layout, for the Western school? This can be answered with one example, the M48 Patton:

m48a1-historical-armor-scheme.jpg

 

The M48 is the ultimate immediate post-war Western tank design. It incorporates every lesson learned about armored warfare during that conflict, and its elliptical hull design (illustrated below via an M103 hull casting - this is very similar to an M48's hull, except it is longer) closely approaches the theoretical ideal hull shape for maximum protection from common threats with minimum weight.

 

JhMDdIk.png

It is unfair to compare the Panther against the M48 in a practical sense; after all, the M48 was designed seven years after the Panther, with a whole body of analysis and material behind it that the Panther's designers were not afforded. It is useful, however, to compare the Panther to the M48 using the M48 as a theoretical ideal. In other words, the closer the a World War II design comes to the M48's hull and turret shape, the better it is.

How does the Panther compare here? It's not terrible, but there are some curiosities. First, the sponsons. This feature is not unusual for tank designs of the period, but the Panther's are particularly large, with each sponson being about 22% the width of the tank, a figure greater even than the very wide-turreted Sherman tank. These add a considerable amount of mass to the tank, and Nazi-era German designers should have been able to determine that such large sponsons were unnecessarily increasing the weight of the tank. Granted, these sponsons support sides that are inwardly sloped at a generous 30 degrees, but what weapons does this additional slope help deter, that a somewhat thicker flat side could not also protect from? The only thing that comes to mind is Soviet anti-tank rifles, but even those would be thwarted by a 50mm plate at normal distances. 

Gun - neither 75 L/70 nor 88 L/71 were appropriate guns for the fighting in WWII

 

Armor - the armor of neither tank played to their industrial strengths

 

Armor layout - the armor layout of both tanks reflects only a crude understanding of both common threats and efficient design

 

size and weight - both tanks did not accommodate German industrial requirements, i.e., they used shitloads of resources

 

complexity - both tanks feature bizarre design practices that run counter to efficient mass production

 

batch production - the germans never mastered the production line for AFV production, much to their detriment

 

BORED NOW, TO BE CONTINUED

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I think the metallurgy being shit might also have been due to a lack of certain rare alloy metals. For example, in Sweden it took a long time for the steelworks to figure out a nickel-free steel armor that was as good as the usual alloy. Not up to speed on exactly what went on in Germany in this regard but I'm pretty sure they were short of nickel at least.

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I think the metallurgy being shit might also have been due to a lack of certain rare alloy metals. For example, in Sweden it took a long time for the steelworks to figure out a nickel-free steel armor that was as good as the usual alloy. Not up to speed on exactly what went on in Germany in this regard but I'm pretty sure they were short of nickel at least.

Molybdenum, manganese, chromium, tungsten, copper, and tin(just metals here, they lacked other stuff too) were also something that Germany lacked due to embargoes, disruption of mining, and lack of resources in the first place. Germany probably would have liked to have themselves some of that. 

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I think the metallurgy being shit might also have been due to a lack of certain rare alloy metals. For example, in Sweden it took a long time for the steelworks to figure out a nickel-free steel armor that was as good as the usual alloy. Not up to speed on exactly what went on in Germany in this regard but I'm pretty sure they were short of nickel at least.

 

They stopped using nickel in armour in 1941 IIRC. In helmets, in 1940.

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I'm personally interested in why German turrets were chronically underarmored from the front for no discernable reason. Even basic testing would have shown the glacis to be an order more resistent to incoming projectiles, yet this design flaw persisted from the Panzer IV up to the Tiger Ausf B. Surely they should have realized it, just as the American did when gunners were instructed to primarily aim for the Panther and King Tiger turrets as the best way to disable the cats, right?

 

I know that the M26 and M46 theoretically falls into this same issue, and to appearances so does the M48, but a quick look in the turret reveals the T99 gun mount to support a 38mm thick internal shield, but even beyond that communications recovered by the Chief (? I believe, I a may be sourcing this wrong) indicate that the Army specifically requested and wanted the M26 M46 tanks to have a turret comparable to the then in limited production M4A3E2 in protection, wherein Barnes lies to them; whether because he thought the truth would slow down deployment, or because he honestly did not know, is not my place to make a call. In any case it seems that the Army did as practice prefer stronger turrets and for good reason as post war studies and standard tank tactics showed.

 

I don't think the M48 falls into the trap since it's using the same post war hit study to maximize armor protection, and cross sections do not tell the whole story on something as complicated on the cast bodies of the M48/M103/M60 tanks.

 

Further, as far as I am aware, all other nations were on the same page as the US - Russia continiously updated the T-34 and KV/IS designs with imrpoved turret armor being a priority, and both France and UK made efforts to at least keep front hull and front turret protection the same.

 

Is this a fascist disease? "I demand a tank reflective of the national peoples ideals!" *builds a tank weak in the head*.

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When you take into account how then-ubiquitous AP/APDS projectiles behave when hitting a slope, most early Cold War tanks were better armored in the glacis than in the turret, including the T-55.

 

We had known for a while that German tanks suffered inconsistent armor quality.  There are some US tests where a panther's glacis resolutely withstands a dozen hits from 76mm fire, and others where it crumbles like a cracker when anyone so much as looks at it funny.  I don't know the details, but I had read that the Germans had developed special heat treatment processes to mitigate their lack of alloy metals.  Clearly, these only worked some of the time.

 

No, what baffles me are the results with the IS-3 hull side.  What the hell was wrong with their guns?

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When you take into account how then-ubiquitous AP/APDS projectiles behave when hitting a slope, most early Cold War tanks were better armored in the glacis than in the turret, including the T-55.

 

We had known for a while that German tanks suffered inconsistent armor quality.  There are some US tests where a panther's glacis resolutely withstands a dozen hits from 76mm fire, and others where it crumbles like a cracker when anyone so much as looks at it funny.  I don't know the details, but I had read that the Germans had developed special heat treatment processes to mitigate their lack of alloy metals.  Clearly, these only worked some of the time.

 

No, what baffles me are the results with the IS-3 hull side.  What the hell was wrong with their guns?

 

Explains the US obsession with needle nose turrets, as the effect of sloping would help keep the turret better protected compared to the front hull.

 

Well, you see shell shatter only effected the allies, ahnenerbe gnomes have a racial bonus to metalworking.

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I admit to having a soft-spot for the L/70-something high velocity cannons. They exist in this uncomfortable region before the proliferation of HEAT rounds and sabots, and that creates some hilariously specialized guns. But still, I like them.

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