Sunday, 5 March 2017

Symmetry on the western front in WWII

The bazooka vs panzer book whetted my appetite for some more WWII western front stuff (I still have that 20mm US army miniatures hanging around), so I picked up this new Osprey pitting German and US armoured infantry against each other.

There didn’t seem to be much difference between the Panzergrenadier and armoured infantryman when it comes to equipment and armoured fighting vehicle. There were some differences in replacement policy but those went for the armies as a whole and didn’t affect tactical and operational employment. Zaloga refers to a German preference for attacking mounted in their AFVs, but that is not what happens in the examples, so we don’t have any idea how that plays out.

Armoured divisions on both sides suffered when defending because they had a smaller infantry complement than an infantry division. And while the Americans had the luxury of being on the strategic offensive and thus only having to defend occasionally, the German army by the end of the war had to plug gaps with whatever came to hand, thus putting the armoured divisions at a disadvantage.

Apart from an offensive or defensive stance the determining factor in the outcome of this match up was that the Americans had much more stuff and were better at coordinating them. So while the Germans even struggled to get artillery support for their attacks, the Americans could pour artillery on enemy attacks, supplemented with air attacks when the weather was good.

My main problem with the book is that the combat narratives, and especially the last one, are not that clear and are badly supported by the maps. Especially in the last case it is hard to figure where the combat is taking place to St Vith and other places which are constantly referred to in the text. To sum up: I lost interest at some point.

Looking back it wasn’t written in the stars that the last four books I read would all be from the Combat and similar Duel series, but that’s how it played out. I’ve warmed to these series but my impression has been confirmed that the best of these are the ones that pit different styles of warfare against each other. With the armoured infantrymen and the World War I askaris, there is a less interesting dynamic than between Apache vs US cavalry and bazooka vs tank.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Asymmetry on the western front in WWII

After a couple of colonial contests, I was happy to shift to World War Two. I had been intreagued by the match up between the bazooka and German close defense systems for tanks.

Steven Zaloga is an authority on tank warfare, and his knowledge on this subject does not disappoint. The dynamic interaction between antitank tactics and close defense is explained well, debunking some myths on German mesh side armour. And there were some weirdly interesting solutions suggested, like the Vorsatz P.

It was all rather marginal though, as infantry weapons were responsible for only a small amount of tank losses, with tanks, aircraft and artillery doing the most damage. The main impact may have rather been to give infantry the idea that they wouldn’t have to face tanks empty handed. Also the bazooka was used far more often to take out enemy strong points than to fight tanks.

Zaloga then delves into one example where tanks and infantry were pretty evenly matched, during the Ardennes offensive in December 1944. As this fight took place in favourable circumstances for the infantry, with limited vision due to fog and houses, the infantry was able to get close to the tanks and on their weak side and rear armour.

Sadly, lacking in the account is the perspective of the German tankers and their attempts at close defense here. All in all the technical/tactical account of the start didn’t mesh too well with the combat narrative.