Saturday, December 16, 2017

Panzer 413 - The Onslaught

(Source)
To recap* -

"Scheisse! Dismount, get that spare section of track off the turret, grab the tools, lets fix that track or no one is going to be advancing!"

As Willi's crew began to fix the busted track, Major Lange came up.

"What's the holdup Hoffmeister?"

"Mines Herr Major. We hit one, Leutnant Eberhardt stepped on another. We should have this track patched up in 30 minutes."

"Shit. I'm sending some engineers up to check for more mines. Watch your step!"

"Jawohl Herr Major."


As the crew mounted up, Willi saw Major Lange coming back down the road. Seeing that 413's track was repaired the Major grinned at Willi and pointed to the west.

"Greife meine Kinder an! Go get 'em boys!"

Issuing a gout of smoke from the exhaust, Tiger number 413 lurched forward. Willi Hoffmeister hunkered down in his commander's cupola. He didn't want to stand fully upright, he knew the Amis** could still be around, the little outpost they'd overrun certainly couldn't be all of them. Could it?


"Shit, shit, shit, shit." Sergeant Billy Jenkins muttered as he lowered his field glasses, he'd just seen a freaking Tiger tank on the road leading to his position. Dropping down into the turret he ordered his crew to load up an armor piercing round. They'd had high explosive loaded because they figured there was nothing but Kraut infantry out here. Nobody said anything about freaking Tigers.

But they were in a good position, just the turret was above the terrain and their cannon covered the road down to the treeline, about 500 yards away. The Tiger he'd seen was coming down a ridge on the other side of the small woodlot. No way he would try a shot at that range. He had buddies who'd gone up against Tigers in Normandy. You got up close and personal with those bad boys. Preferably behind them.

Language alert...



"Fritz, American tank at 2 o'clock!"

Feldwebel Fritz Weber traversed his sight to that position, there, just above the trees in the woodlot ahead was an American Sherman tank. As he cranked the turret to line up the shot, he heard his loader shout out...

"Panzergranate loaded!" Gefreiter Georg Hansel, the tank's loader reached back into the shot locker for another anti-tank round in case Georg missed or if another tank showed itself.

"Horst, stop here."

Willi was watching the American, he was confident that the American saw him, his turret though wasn't pointing at them, it was pointed down the road. Probably the Yank meant to pot them when they rolled out of the other side of the woodlot.

"Fritz?" While he knew his gunner was ready, he wanted to make sure that he'd acquired the Ami tank.

"Ready Willi..."

"Dammit! Johnnie boy back it up, move! That Tiger has spotted us!"
The Sherman, built in Detroit six months ago, began to move quickly in reverse. All they had to do was move about ten ...

"Feuer!"

"Auf dem Weg!" Fritz barked as the big 88mm gun belched and sent the big anti-tank round down range. As the gun recoiled back and spit the shell casing out, Georg kicked the spent brass out of the way and loaded another round.

"Panzergranate loaded!"

The 88mm round slammed into the mantlet of the Sherman, disabling the cannon and killing Teddy Wexford, the tank's loader. While the Tiger round didn't penetrate, it sent spalls off the tank's interior into the crew compartment, which is what killed Teddy and blinded Steve Baxter, the gunner.

John Reese, the driver, was screaming, "Billy, what the hell, what the hell..." over and over again. He kept the tank backing up though, as commanded. He didn't notice that his buddy Bob, the bow gunner, wasn't saying anything, he was slumped over his gun, unconscious from the concussion of the 88 slamming into them.


Willi blinked, the Sherman was still moving. He'd seen the sparks thrown off the enemy tank's turret when his shot had hit it. Yet it still moved.

Bringing his binoculars up, he could now see that the Ami tank's gun was cocked at an odd angle.

"Verdammt! Fritz you must have hit the mantlet! Scheisse!"

Dropping into his seat, Willi took command of the gun. Looking through his sight he saw that the Sherman was backing up, rapidly. As he laid the gun on the target, he saw the Sherman rear up, as if the back end had dropped into a depression behind it. For a moment the lower front of the enemy tank was exposed.

Willi almost felt guilty as he squeezed the trigger, this was too easy.


"What the..." Sergeant Jenkins never had time to finish that thought as the next shot from the Tiger sliced through the front of his tank, hit the transmission, and then ricocheted up through the Sherman's ammunition storage. The shock and the heat detonated a smoke round, then a high explosive round. Jenkins was thrown out of his seat and back over the rear deck of the tank.

As the remainder of the ammunition cooked off, the surviving members of Billy Jenkins crew died instantly. Jenkins braced himself as he expected to be run over by his own tank, he lay there helplessly as "Maggie" lurched to a halt just inches away.

He rolled away as fast as he could, "Maggie" was starting to burn now, Shermans loved to burn. Panting he lay momentarily in the mud, staring at the wreck of his tank. He could feel bitter tears streaking his face, his men were dead, his tank was gone, and the freaking "defeated" Germans were coming out of the woods in force.

"Jesus..." Jenkins prayed as he shuffled away from "Maggie." Off to who knows where...


Willi ordered 413 forward. He could see the Sherman atop the next rise, burning vigorously. He thought he saw someone scramble away into the brush, probably one of her crew. Poor bastard.


Seventy-three years ago today, three German armies slammed into the American lines running along the Belgian-German border and the Luxembourg-German border. One infantry army, the 7th under Erich Brandenberger, in the south. One Panzerarmee, the 5th under Hasso von Manteuffel, in the center, driving towards Bastogne, another Panzerarmee, the 6th under an SS general, Josef "Sepp" Dietrich, was in the north, driving for the Meuse River. The 6th was composed mostly of elite Waffen-SS troops, hard bitten Nazis nearly every man jack of 'em.

One unit attached directly to the 6th Panzerarmee was an Army heavy tank battalion, schwere Panzer Abteilung 506, composed of primarily King Tiger tanks, a 70 ton behemoth with a much feared 88mm cannon. But slow and a fuel guzzler extraordinaire.

But with Heavy Tank Battalion 506 was a single company of Tiger I tanks, schwere Panzer Kompanie Hummel, Heavy Tank Company "Bumblebee," a late addition to the 506th and incorporated as the 506th's 4th company. (Tank 413, belongs to the 4th company, 3rd platoon, 3rd tank in the platoon.)

While researching an earlier post (linked above) I came across the photo which led that post -

(Source)
Which surprised me, for the tank is a Tiger I, more formally a Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Ausführung E, a very rare sight in the Battle of the Bulge, so rare that I had thought that none of those participated in the battle. From my research, they were rare, a single company attached to a battalion of the much larger King Tiger, or Tiger II, more formally the Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausführung B. (One oddity worthy of note before I continue, "Ausführung" is a German word which can be interpreted as "model" or "implementation." The Tiger I, the earliest Tiger designed and fielded is the "Model E," the more powerful and later model King Tiger is the "Model A." Odd that.)

I had no idea that any early Tigers had been in the Ardennes. Plenty of Panthers and King Tigers (and the more common Panzerkampfwagen IV) yes, but the Tiger which first saw action in North Africa, the Tiger which I built a 1/25th model of when I was a kid?

Yup, they were there and I had no ideer.***

King Tigers of schwere Panzer Abteilung 503
(Source)
I found the rarity of the Tiger I in the Ardennes to be novel enough that I decided to use that in my story of the Battle of the Bulge, which will, someday, become a full-length novel. You, Gentle Readers, get a sneak preview here at The Chant. Yes, feedback is welcome.


The story of Panzer 413 and it's crew...
  • Tank commander, Oberfeldwebel Willi Hoffmeister,
  • Driver, Feldwebel Horst Krebs,
  • Radioman/Bow gunner, Panzerschütze Peter Schmidt,
  • Loader, Gefreiter Georg Hansel, and
  • Gunner, Feldwebel Fritz Weber
...will continue for the next month or so, perhaps all the way until May, the 73rd anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. If they live that long. Many did not.


This post, is dedicated to the memory of -

The Americans:
  • 19,000 killed,
  • 47,500 wounded,
  • 23,000 captured or missing
The British:
  • 200 killed
  • 969 wounded
  • 239 missing
The Germans:
  • 67,459 – 125,000 casualties (including killed, wounded, missing, captured)
And last, and certainly not least, to the memory of the 3,000 plus Belgian men, women, and children who lost their lives in the maelstrom of battle in December and January of 1945. I have seen the monuments in many Belgian villages in my trips to the area -


Fusillé par les Allemands

(Shot by the Germans)

Often there are two monuments, one to the murdered innocents of 1914 to 1918, the second to those killed from 1940 to 1945. Seeing these gives one pause.

God spare us from future wars...




* The beginning of this tale is at the link.
** Ami - German slang for an American.
*** As always, whenever I use that phrase, a tip of the hat to my much missed, and beloved, Buck Pennington.

66 comments:

  1. Really happy my Father was not among those figures. He was a Combat medic in the 30th Infantry (Old Hickory) Division, 120th Regiment. "After Aachen, the 30th Division came off the line and moved back to Holland for a much-needed rest. Then the Germans attacked on December 16th. When the Allied command realized that they were facing a major offensive, the 30th was called back into action. Loaded on trucks the 30th’s three combat regiments reached the front in Belgium on December 18th. The 117th Regiment encountered the enemy first near Stoumont in route to their assignment of Stavelot. The 120th proceeded to Malmedy while the 119th took up positions near Spa, where First Army Headquarters was being hastily dismantled and moved to the rear.

    Spa, Malmedy and Stavelot form a rough triangle of roads suitable for an armored force to use in a winter offensive. Stoumont lies further west along the road running through Malmedy and Stavelot. Von Rundstedt planned to use these roads for the main German thrust to Liege where the Allies had huge stores of fuel, ammo and essential supplies. Thus the Germans would split the Allied forces and push on to recapture the port of Antwerp.

    During their drive to the front lines, the men of Old Hickory first heard Axis Sally call them the “fanatical 30th Division, Roosevelt’s SS troops.” She also told them they would once again face the 1st SS Panzer Division spearheaded by Lt. Colonel Joachim Peiper. This was the same division they had stopped at Mortain months before.

    Knowing roads were essential to the German tanks and trucks in the hilly, forested area, the 30th focused on blocking roads and destroying bridges across the many streams. The 291st Engineers blew up several key bridges early in the offensive essentially stopping Peiper’s advance. Two huge fuel dumps, one close to Stavelot and the other between Stoumont and Spa, could have provided the Germans with much-needed gasoline if captured. While the 30th fought to halt the German advance, supply units began moving the gasoline back out of danger. When elements of Peiper’s force neared the fuel dump near Stavelot, portions of the fuel were set ablaze to prevent their capture.

    From December 18th through Christmas eve intense fighting ensued throughout the area assigned to the 30th. They fought bravely with Congressional Medals of Honor earned by Sgt. Frances S. Currey and Staff Sgt. Paul L. Bolden, both of the 120th Regiment. A Presidential Citation was awarded to the 119th Regiment and the attached Company C 740th Tank Battalion and 2nd Platoon Company A 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion for their battle with the 1st SS at Lorce-Chevron and Stoumont, Belgium.

    Despite heavy losses on both sides, the Americans stopped the German advance. The strong resistance along the German’s preferred route to Liege and its supply depots forces Von Rundstedt to shift his focus further south toward the area around Bastogne where resistance was less – except for the stubborn 101st. The unmovable “Old Hickory” Division had blocked their path once again.

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    1. Schwere Panzer Abteilung 506 fought in that very area, if my research is correct, attached to 6th Panzerarmee of which the 1st SS was a part. It's quite possible that Panzer 413 may collide with elements of "Old Hickory." The 30th was a fine division.

      I have been in that very area, a lot. There is still a King Tiger in the village of La Gleize (part of Stoumont), which I have seen. Too many people around to climb on it though, more's the pity.

      Your Dad and his fellow soldiers fought the good fight.

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    2. Damn, I love history. Don't stop your writings. Love them, especially History Friday.

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  2. My fifth grade teacher told us about her brother that lost some toes to frostbite in Bastogne. She was one of my favorite teachers.

    I knew about Gen. McAuliffe's famous "Nuts". It was really neat to hear her story, kind of fleshed out the books I'd read.

    Thanks for the reminder today.

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    1. She sounds like an excellent teacher.

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    2. Sounds better than my Dad's 9th grade history teacher who had been a Marine on Guadalcanal. When pressed too closely about his experiences by a couple of students who heard something from family members (small, small town) who probably should've known better, he told about a night infiltration attack by the the Japanese during which his best friend (a member of the same machine gun crew) had his helmet blown off during the fight by a grenade or small mortar bomb. It came to hand-to-hand combat right after that (graphically described), and when he retrieved his friends helmet for him, it still had his head strapped inside. Several students turned green, one girl threw up her lunch, and ran out. The teacher was strongly encouraged to simply leave and call in the principal if he had to instead of answering questions about his war experiences. A bit too graphic for the audience, but he didn't shade the truth. War is hell, and only those who haven't seen it call for it as the best answer, to summarize Sherman. Who was far more perceptive (and humane) than the South gives him credit for.

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    3. Umm, USUALLY gives him credit for.

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    4. Larry - sounds like that Marine teacher got his point across, in spades. While it's brutal, we need to learn the reality of this stuff as soon as we're old enough to handle it. Of course, some can never handle it.

      Sherman, though hated by many in the South, knew his business. My take has always been, you want a war? Here ya go. He especially wanted to make South Carolina learn that lesson.

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    5. Yeah, there are some in the South who will grudgingly give Sherman credit, though rare in my experience.

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  3. Thanks for the post. I eagerly await more of this story. You do a fine job of work.

    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. Tanks Paul.

      (Yeah, "Freudian" slip. 😁)

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    2. Freudian slip? Is that what a German has on when he gets kilt?

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    3. Andrew:

      According to wikipedia, Freud was Austrian ( just as was that other famous German ).

      Paul

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    4. "Those Austrians!"

      Yes, yes they are. It appears that they have convinced much of the world that they have been innocent bystanders since the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And, OH NO, WWI was not our fault, it was those crazy Surbs.

      PLQ

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    5. I think I really meant ' Serbs '. ( Yes, that looks much better. )

      Paul

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    6. As to Surbs, I didn't even notice that until you mentioned it.

      Perhaps they were Serbs from the suburbs, hhmm, no, that would be "burbs."

      Heh, close enough for government work.

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  4. Looks like I missed the 1.5M hit marker. Sorry about that.

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    1. Wow, so did I. Quite a milestone.

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    2. "...1.5M hit..."

      Y'all must be terribly bruised after such a beating.

      Paul

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    3. Ah, we'll rub some dirt on it, walk it off, the swelling should go down in a couple of days.

      😉

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  5. From all I've read, the Bulge was some of the nastiest fighting seen in the western front, coming close or even exceeding the horror of the eastern front.

    I remember reading about a regimental band that was issued weapons and tossed into the fray. A valiant forlorn hope. Seem to recall that none of them survived.

    Horrible. Just horrible. Seems that fighting around Christmas always takes a further step into Hell itself. So cold, huddled into a hole you barely managed to scrape into the frozen ground, German shells exploding the very trees around you, up against a mythical monster straight out of Wagner coming through the mist and snow.

    It is a wonder that our side resisted as fiercely as it did, that they held the Germans as long as they did, slowing the enemy just enough, with their very bodies, their souls, slowing just enough to give us the possibility of victory.

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    1. I don't know. Ever read anything about the Rzhev Salient, Stalingrad, or 3rd Kharkov? Parts of the Bulge were desperate fighting, but never did you see either side resorting to decimation of units who failed, or truly MASS atrocities (Malmedy was a pinprick compared to what Waffen SS units did on the Eastern Front). Compared to the Eastern Front, the Western Front was a mostly a gentlemen's war, which is not to minimize the hardship and brutality of the war our guys faced, but the Soviets lost several millions of POWs murdered (not counting those who were killed trying to surrender). Of course, the Soviets murdered many of their POWs who'd survived German captivity and the rest disappeared into the Gulags. Both sides were terribly wicked on the Eastern Front, but there was SOME humanity on the Western Front. Though with the Waffen SS, "No quarter," was often applied by both sides...

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    2. A co-worker of my father had been on the USS Pueblo. We were warned very explicitly NOT to ask him anything about it on pain of severe punishment. He could get "strange" if asked about it. He'd been one of those who'd gotten it exceptionally bad. That particular community was small: I also met a chief who had been one of the few unwounded on the USS Liberty. He was not particularly shy about talking about some parts of it. He had no doubt it was deliberate. He also could see where Israel might think we might decide to let the Arabs know from our signals intelligence that the Israelis were redeploying everything northward after defeating the Egyptians (giving the Egyptians a second shot). Whether we favor Israel or the Arabs does seem to matter on the phase of the moon, and only idiots thinks nations have friends rather than interests. He also thought we should "accidently" sink Israeli ships and shoot down some Israeli aircraft as a lesson. I agree. "Whoops, sorry about that bit of mis-identification! We promise it won't happen again if it doesn't happen to us again ."

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    3. Larry - I've read extensively on the Eastern Front, a dirty, filthy, brutal theater. Not just a battle between nations but between ideologies as well. Much worse than what we saw in the West. Though the SS were murdering prisoners in the West as early as the French Campaign in 1940. A particular incident I recall involved British POWs being butchered by the SS.

      Just one more reason why the SS, as a whole, was labeled a criminal organization at Nuremberg. The bastards earned that label.

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    4. Larry - As to USS Pueblo and USS Liberty, the guys on Pueblo were screwed from the moment the NORKS boarded them. The NORKs have no honor, no decency. The U.S. let those sailors down badly. The NORKs still have the ship on display. Bastards.

      I wholeheartedly agree that the Israelis should have been made to pay some price for the attack on USS Liberty. On the other hand, the people who sent her in without a clear signal to Israel of our intent should also hang. Why we ever support anyone other than Israel in the Middle East baffles me. One thing we often forget, they're fighting for survival, their neighbors make no bones about their intent to drive the Jews into the sea.

      So they felt threatened and sent us a message. The crew of the USS Liberty paid for the stupid mistakes made in DC, especially in the thrice-damned State Department.

      Great comments Larry, thanks for chiming in, you've made a valuable addition to the post.

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    5. Thanks, OldAFSarge. That means a lot for an old one-term enlisted USAF vet. While I had my doubts about a military career, had I met my wife before I left, I would've stayed in. Though I fear I'd have ended up grinding my teeth like my Navy father did by year 12 or 14 of his career. At this point, the pension sure would've been nice...

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    6. That 12 or 14 year point is tough. My son-in-law is experiencing that right now. I told him, patience, this too shall pass.

      And thanks for your service. One term, five terms, doesn't matter, it's more than some will ever do.

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  6. Loads of info on the guts of Tigers at this site detailing the restoration of Tiger 131 at the Bovington Tank Museum, the only operational Tiger left.
    http://blog.tiger-tank.com/category/tiger-131/

    As I recall, Aberdeen had a Tiger with the hull cut away to see the insides, but that it probably in storage somewhere now since the Ordannce Museum shut down. (It may have been a Panther- it was a LONG time ago that I saw it.)

    John

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    1. I have a dim memory of that Tiger hull (or was it the turret?) as well from 1974. IIRC, it was a King Tiger.

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    2. John, Tiger 131 was the Tiger used in Fury.

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    3. RHT447, too bad they closed down the Ordnance Museum.

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    4. IMHO, it was a travesty. (I know you share that sentiment.) Just another way for the Progs to isolate us from our history. Perhaps someone has suggested to President Trump just what a feather in his cap it would be to bring it back.

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    5. Destroy the history of a civilization, you destroy the civilization.

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  7. Peiper was actually the commander of a Kampfgruppe, an ad hoc formation, composed of units from the 1st SS Panzer Division intended to function as a light spearhead/recon unit. It was his men who were responsible for the massacre at the Baugnez Crossroads, better known as the Malmedy Massacre; there appears to be evidence that Peiper was not personally responsible for that but later bore it as the unit commander. There is a rather good book on the subject titled Massacre at Malmedy, which tracks Kampfgruppe Peiper throughout the battle. Peiper later survived the war and served a prison sentence for war crimes and was rather mysteriously murdered in his home sometime in the 1970s. I can probably find more details on this; right now this is just off the top of my head....

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    1. You're anticipating tomorrow's post, Jenk. I like the way you think.

      I remember reading of Peiper's fate when it happened. He was killed in France, seems some of his neighbors didn't much care for Nazis.

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    2. An SS man living in France after the war -- not too bright, really. I can see how he would enjoy it, but he shouldn't have used his real name. Or else moved to Argentina as some did. He might not have been directly responsible for Malmedy, but he was responsible for enough other war crimes he should've been hanged. No tears shed from me, but he was the sort of hard-charging commander that allowed the Germans to punch well above their weight class and hold out for so long.

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    3. But the atrocities were evil and counterproductive. Hmm, evil and counterproductive often go hand-in-hand. Unless you're so evil, like the Mongols under Genghis Khan, that there's no one left that dares raise so much as a glance, let alone a weapon.

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    4. As to the counterproductive atrocities, when the Germans entered Ukraine they were welcomed by many as liberators from Stalin and the Russians.

      No, that didn't last.

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  8. The Ausf. E was not the only new piece of German hardware encountered by the Americans in North Africa; at least one 88mm PAK 43 was captured there. I saw it in 1980 on display at the Carlisle War College. The tour guide said this was the 88 Rommel made famous, but his gun was really the Flak 88. The PAK 43 was clearly an antitank design and rather closely resembled the PAK 40....

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    1. Yup, the PAK 43 was a different beast altogether. It's fun reading about some historians hyperventilating about the 88 (FLAK version) as if Rommel just thought it up on the spot. Well, the guns had anti-tank ammunition as part of their issue. So the FLAK 16/36/37 was really a very useful dual purpose gun. It also saw action in France in 1940 against tanks.

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    2. I've also read that there were some FLAK 18 88s used as multirole guns (including in the anti-tank capacity) by the Condor Legion in the Spanish Civil War.

      Given that most of the Popular Front tanks were things like the Renault FT or T-26s, it seems logical the Germans would come to the conclusion that "yes, yes the 88 is quite effective on tanks."

      In the same way a blacksmith's triphammer would work on beer cans, one presumes.

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    3. Indeed, the Germans did use them in the Spanish Civil War.

      When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Or something to that effect.

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    4. It's the lost opportunities that always drive me to distraction. We had more than enough evidence of how good German tank cannons were from North Africa and Italy, as well as how damnably tough Tiger Is were from the front. We also had lots of evidence from what we were allowed to see of the Eastern Front. And yet our doctrine didn't change -- tanks weren't for fighting other tanks. Lightly armored but fast tank destroyers were to take on enemy armor from concealment at relatively long range, while tanks were to be used for exploitation and infantry support. It seems we not only had a phobia of learning from Allied experiences (between the anglophobes and the anti-communists, plus the "Americans can always do it better attitude", that was inevitable, I guess), the highest levels of command weren't much receptive to our own front-line troops experiences. The Sherman was relatively great from a mechanical reliability view, but was woefully inadequate. What saved it were much greater numbers (replacement crews were in much shorter supply than new or repaired tanks), and over-complicated German designs that broke down to frequently and couldn't be repaired quickly (Panther and Tiger). They were in an endless quest for the perfect instead of the good enough. And so in important ways, they didn't even achieve good enough. Though guns and armor were so good, it put the fear of God into Allied tankers. Even nominally atheistic Soviet tankers.

      I fear the US is in the same trap as the Germans. Too few F-22s and F-35s (if the latter even work as well as they're claimed to be once they enter actual combat), and those are too unreliable, as are Ospreys. Then we've got almost unusable LCS (except against drug smugglers and pirates). A Ford-class carrier that can't reliably launch aircraft, and if one EMALS catapult needs repair -- they must all be taken out of service. Whoever signed off on that piece of sh** needs to be stood up against whatever the most symbolically appropriate wall in D.C. would be, and shot as soon as American sailors die because of that BS. Well, no, that sounds too Soviet. But maybe a nice cell in Huntsville, TX, with Bubba or Daquarius or Jesus the bodybuilders. The corruption seems to run quite high and it needs to be cut out. I'd be happy with firings from the service (if they're still in) and yanking of clearances and pensions, making sure they never worked again in the field. That's probably too generous, but I'm old school where shame ought to be enough. If that doesn't work, then long prison terms in PMITA facilities. Procurement is broken once again and Americans are going to die because of it. This time it's not due to simply not spending enough (as an uncle at Pusan experienced in 1950), but spending far too much in the wrong places.

      Want to save money? First off, retire half the flag officers of every service, and eliminate their staffs and commands. Consolidate, then cut O-6s at a lower rate, O-5s at even lower rates, etc. Paperwork reduction directives have abso-f***ing-lutely no effect on paperwork/busywork. The only way those "requirements" will be reduced is by reducing the number of people whose only justification for existence in the organization is to push those papers (and require more papers, to justify more underlings). I fear our highest command levels have now sunk once again to the level the US military has often sunk before -- we must get our teeth kicked in and many people killed before we realize it's even real. Our only hope is that our potential enemies are even more corrupt than we are. And yet, I fear our position will be that of Britain in WWI, whose future was mortgaged in the extremely costly "victory", and could not be paid in the the post-WWII future. I'm gloomy tonight, can you tell?

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    5. Gloomy but realistic.

      I've seen the stupidity and bad decisions from both sides of the equation.

      Too many politicians in the flag ranks. My idea? No significant combat experience? No star, ever. No ticket punching either to get the "experience."

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  9. An excellent post indeed. I can tell because it has be rattling around in my head most of the day. A couple of thoughts have distilled out.

    I have seen the movie 'Fury'. The kid who survives would be one of those guys whose kids would later say that their dad never talked about his time in combat. Someone thanking him for his service would grate like sandpaper against his survivor's guilt.

    In the middle of all the horror of that Christmas, what it must have been like on Christmas Eve to hear strains of voices singing 'Silent Night' drifting out of the forest and across no-man's land, and to hear voices from the other side join in.

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    1. I think you have the surviving tanker well characterized. New to the game, he eventually accepts that to survive he needs to kill. No combat veteran will talk much about what he (and now she) saw. Those that do, probably weren't there.

      Yeah, "Silent Night" on one side, "Stille Nacht" on the other, young men far from home in a desperate struggle.

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    2. No sane person who returns to the sanity of peace will talk about it, except maybe with people who were there (and alcohol is involved). Some who don't quite return to sanity can lash out in different ways in some situations (a few to rub the noses of ignorant puppies in the facts). A few go genuinely bugfuck, but only a relative few. Most do pretty good as far as the outside world can see. My father-in-law used to scoff at PTSD. It wasn't until the mid-90s, 30 years after his experiences that he began to have nightmares reliving some of them and gave his wife a couple of solid hits as she was trying to wake him up from one of them (and she learned to get out of bed and shake his foot from the end of the bed). He will answer SOME questions now, 50 years later, but my wife never knew 95% of it except where he was and when he was there. By far, most who volunteer info about intense combat weren't there, or their experiences were minimal and likely at some distance. And I loathe them almost as much as I loathe those who weren't even in the military and claim to have experienced the horrors of combat.

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    3. Well put Larry. My Uncle Charlie was an infantryman, in the 63rd ID. All his stories were about the humorous aspects of Army life. He only mentioned his combat experience once, when I pestered him about his Bronze Star, for which I had just read the citation. Apparently he'd "covered the withdrawal of his platoon," engaging a large number of Germans. As he put it, "If I'd have known those sonsofbitches had run off, I'd have been leading the pack!"

      Again, he tried to make it humorous, the citation indicated that he had been personally responsible for killing or wounding 20 of the enemy, towards the end of the firefight he was using a German weapon he'd taken from a casualty as he was out of ammo for his M-1.

      My Great Uncle John was also an infantryman, in the 4th ID. Went ashore on D+something, fought all the way to the Huertgen Forest, where he was wounded. My great uncle was in his mid-30s at the time, we were running out of younger guys!.

      I still have his helmet, bullet hole through the top which creased the liner but didn't penetrate, much. That would got him sent home. He NEVER talked about it other than to say "I should have kept my head lower." Again, humor, no blood and gore.

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  10. My Uncle Dan survived the Bulge, and he would not speak of it. He was part of a Sherman crew, and one morning, they had a flat tire, the hard rubber tire on the road wheel having come off. They got out of the tank, padlocked the hatches, as there are things in a tank you don't want stolen. In combat, you drive on the flat, but otherwide you don't as it is hard on the track. They could not call on the radio for help, ad Jerry is always listening.

    So, off they trotted, to a nearby village, to find a field telephone, and have someone come and bring them a road wheel. They entered the village, as the Battle of the Bulge began. He spent most of the next month hiding in Belgian cellars. He got trench foot so bad, he could not let his feet get soaked afterwards, which is difficult, when your civilain job is Large Animal Vet. RIP Uncle Dan.

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    1. Dang! Sounds like a harrowing experience for your Uncle, may he rest in peace.

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  11. Have you read Armored Thunderbolt, by Steve Zaloga? It's a history of the Sherman in WWII.

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    1. No, I have not. Guess I need to add another book to the list. It looks really good from the online descriptions.

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  12. I was surprised to learn that the Tiger had a range of only 60 miles. That battle was brought home to me when I visited the American cemetery in Luxembourg City - virtually all of the dead there are from the Ardennes Offensive.

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  13. reagrding rarity of Tiger I in Ardennes - Germans managed to make only 1300-odd of them 1942 to mid -1944, then switched to Tiger 2 aka King Tiger
    unsurprisingly by the time of battle of Ardennes most of those were destroyed in incessant attrition of battles, retreats and abandoned due to malfunction or alck or fuel
    Tiger 2 weremore numerous simply because they were just entering service - and of those less than 500 were ever made!

    makes you think twice about US adventures with F-22 and B-2

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    1. All the Tigers were rare, but to Allied tankers every German panzer was a Tiger, all anti-tank guns were 88s.

      Your point on some of our more modern weapons is well-taken. Sometimes we forget that quantity has a quality all its own.

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    2. Pz.Kpfw. IV Ausf. H & J were commonly misidentified as Tigers since they had Schürzen fitted (mild steel plate that was fitted as a kind of spaced armor to help defeat AT rifles (still in common use by the Soviets) and HEAT rounds. It gave them the same sort of squared-off silhouette as a Tiger, though it's obviously smaller when parked side-by-side). And I can't blame Allied tankers for not taking their time and accurately judging scale in the heat of combat. Fear and adrenaline are powerful modifiers of perception. I don't doubt they truly saw Tigers, though the Panzer IVs were no slouches in their own right.

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    3. The IVs had a very effective gun in 1944, the 7.5 cm KwK 40 L/48, very similar to the Panther's 7.5 cm KwK 42 L/70. In the hands of an experienced crew, it was a very effective weapon system.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)