A Lot of What We Think We Know About World War II Is Wrong




 
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January 9th, 2017  
MontyB
 
 

Topic: A Lot of What We Think We Know About World War II Is Wrong


A Lot of What We Think We Know About World War II Is Wrong

by JAMES HOLLAND
The Second World War remains an enduringly fascinating subject, but despite the large number of films, documentaries, books and even comics on the subject, our understanding of this catastrophic conflict, even seven decades on, remains heavily dependent on conventional wisdom, propaganda and an interpretation skewed by the information available. In my new book The War in the West: Germany Ascendant 1939–1941, first in a three-volume history, I am challenging a number of long-held assumptions about the war, many of which are based on truth by common knowledge, rather than through detailed and painstaking research.


My Damascene moment came some years ago when I was being given a tour of the Small Arms Unit at the British Staff College at Shrivenham. I was glancing at a German MG42, known as a “Spandau” by the Allies. “Of course, that was the best machine gun of the war,’ I commented, relaying what I’d read in many books.
“Says who? Says who?” retorted my guide and head of the unit, John Starling. In the next few minutes, he proceeded to deconstruct everything I thought I knew about this infamous weapon: that its phenomenal rate of fire caused massive problems of over-heating, that it was widely inaccurate (for which having since fired one, I can now vouch), that is was incredibly expensive to manufacture, massively over-engineered and lacked certain simple additions that would have made its handling so much easier. The men supporting this weapon not only had to carry vast amounts of ammunition to feed this thirsty beast, they also had to lumber around six spare barrels because of its readiness to over-heat. And each barrel bore multiple inspection stamps. “Which were,” John told me, “an utter waste of time in the middle of total war.”
I was gobsmacked, but this visit led me down an entirely new line of research, and one that was equally revelatory. I began to realize that almost everything the Germans made was over-engineered, from the tanks to gas-mask cases to the field jacket of the lowly landser. Eventually, in the German military archives in Freiburg in the Black Forest, I found a memo from early December 1941, signed by Hitler, in which was the line, “From now on, we have to stop making such complete and aesthetic weapons.” In other words, up to that point, they had been consciously doing so. Needless to say, his instruction was not followed; those all-metal, finely-designed-yet-cumbersome and utterly pointless cylindrical gas-mask cases were made right up to the end of the war, while still to come was the Panther tank, not to mention the Tiger, with its Porsche-designed six-speed hydraulically controlled semi-automatic pre-selector gear-box, as complicated and sophisticated as it sounds and entirely unsuitable for front-line combat or use by poorly-trained young drivers. The transmission on a U.S.-built Sherman tank was a robust four-speed manual, simply made in vast numbers. America built 74,000 Sherman hulls and engines; Germany built just 1,347 Tigers.

Above — Sherman tank production. Photo via Detroit Public Library. At top — German soldier with MG42. Photo via WikipediaStudying such things in detail meant I was now looking at the operational level of war. Any conflict — or business for that matter — is understood to be conducted on three levels. The first is the strategic — that is, the overall aims and ambitions. The second is the tactical: the coal face, the actual fighting, the pilot in his Spitfire or man in his tank. And the third is the operational — the nuts and bolts, the logistics, economics and the supply of war.


Almost every narrative history of the war ever published almost entirely concentrates on the strategic and tactical levels, but gives scant regard to the operational, and the result is a skewed version of events, in which German machine guns reign supreme and Tiger tanks always come out on top.


Studying the operational level as well, however, provides a revelatory perspective. Suddenly it’s not just about tactical flair, but about so much more. Britain, for example, decided to fight a highly mechanical and technological war. “Steel not flesh” was the mantra and that’s why the British had a small army, yet still ensured it was 100-percent mechanized. They also developed a vast air force and built a staggering 132,500 aircraft during the war — and that’s 50,000 more than the Germans. Until the start of 1944, the priority for manpower in Britain was not the army or navy or even air force, but the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Well-fed men and women were kept in the factories.


Germany, on the other hand, was very under-mechanized but had a vast army, which meant it was dependent on horse-power and foot-slogging infantrymen. As a result of so many German men at the front, their factories were manned by slaves and POWs, who were underfed and treated abominably, and whose production capacity was affected as a result.
And if the ability to supply war was key, then in the war in the West, it was the Battle of the Atlantic that was the decisive theater. Yet Germany built a surface fleet before the war, which could never hope to rival Britain or France and in doing so neglected the U-boat arm. Despite sinking substantial amounts of British supplies in 1940, it was still nothing like enough to even remotely force Britain to her knees. In truth, there were never enough U-boats to more than dent the flow of shipping to Britain. In fact, out of 18,772 sailings in 1940, they sank just 127 ships, that is, 0.7 percent, and 1.4 percent in the entire war.


Suddenly, rather than appearing like David against Goliath and backs-to-the-walls amateurs as is so often depicted, Britain emerges once again as a global super-power in command of the largest trading empire the world has ever seen, while Germany, despite impressive victories on land early in the war appears to be woefully under-resourced and flagrantly squandering what supplies it could call upon. What’s more, after the initial glut of conquest booty, the occupied territories swiftly became a drain and burden that had to be manned and which proved a further drain on precious resources. The words “Teutonic” and “efficiency” usually go together; in the Second World War, nothing could have been farther from the truth.


https://warisboring.com/a-lot-of-wha...b3c#.qqhtky3iu
January 9th, 2017  
BritinAfrica
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MontyB
A Lot of What We Think We Know About World War II Is Wrong

by JAMES HOLLAND
The Second World War remains an enduringly fascinating subject, but despite the large number of films, documentaries, books and even comics on the subject, our understanding of this catastrophic conflict, even seven decades on, remains heavily dependent on conventional wisdom, propaganda and an interpretation skewed by the information available. In my new book The War in the West: Germany Ascendant 1939–1941, first in a three-volume history, I am challenging a number of long-held assumptions about the war, many of which are based on truth by common knowledge, rather than through detailed and painstaking research.


My Damascene moment came some years ago when I was being given a tour of the Small Arms Unit at the British Staff College at Shrivenham. I was glancing at a German MG42, known as a “Spandau” by the Allies. “Of course, that was the best machine gun of the war,’ I commented, relaying what I’d read in many books.
“Says who? Says who?” retorted my guide and head of the unit, John Starling. In the next few minutes, he proceeded to deconstruct everything I thought I knew about this infamous weapon: that its phenomenal rate of fire caused massive problems of over-heating, that it was widely inaccurate (for which having since fired one, I can now vouch), that is was incredibly expensive to manufacture, massively over-engineered and lacked certain simple additions that would have made its handling so much easier. The men supporting this weapon not only had to carry vast amounts of ammunition to feed this thirsty beast, they also had to lumber around six spare barrels because of its readiness to over-heat. And each barrel bore multiple inspection stamps. “Which were,” John told me, “an utter waste of time in the middle of total war.”
I was gobsmacked, but this visit led me down an entirely new line of research, and one that was equally revelatory. I began to realize that almost everything the Germans made was over-engineered, from the tanks to gas-mask cases to the field jacket of the lowly landser. Eventually, in the German military archives in Freiburg in the Black Forest, I found a memo from early December 1941, signed by Hitler, in which was the line, “From now on, we have to stop making such complete and aesthetic weapons.” In other words, up to that point, they had been consciously doing so. Needless to say, his instruction was not followed; those all-metal, finely-designed-yet-cumbersome and utterly pointless cylindrical gas-mask cases were made right up to the end of the war, while still to come was the Panther tank, not to mention the Tiger, with its Porsche-designed six-speed hydraulically controlled semi-automatic pre-selector gear-box, as complicated and sophisticated as it sounds and entirely unsuitable for front-line combat or use by poorly-trained young drivers. The transmission on a U.S.-built Sherman tank was a robust four-speed manual, simply made in vast numbers. America built 74,000 Sherman hulls and engines; Germany built just 1,347 Tigers.

Above — Sherman tank production. Photo via Detroit Public Library. At top — German soldier with MG42. Photo via WikipediaStudying such things in detail meant I was now looking at the operational level of war. Any conflict — or business for that matter — is understood to be conducted on three levels. The first is the strategic — that is, the overall aims and ambitions. The second is the tactical: the coal face, the actual fighting, the pilot in his Spitfire or man in his tank. And the third is the operational — the nuts and bolts, the logistics, economics and the supply of war.


Almost every narrative history of the war ever published almost entirely concentrates on the strategic and tactical levels, but gives scant regard to the operational, and the result is a skewed version of events, in which German machine guns reign supreme and Tiger tanks always come out on top.


Studying the operational level as well, however, provides a revelatory perspective. Suddenly it’s not just about tactical flair, but about so much more. Britain, for example, decided to fight a highly mechanical and technological war. “Steel not flesh” was the mantra and that’s why the British had a small army, yet still ensured it was 100-percent mechanized. They also developed a vast air force and built a staggering 132,500 aircraft during the war — and that’s 50,000 more than the Germans. Until the start of 1944, the priority for manpower in Britain was not the army or navy or even air force, but the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Well-fed men and women were kept in the factories.


Germany, on the other hand, was very under-mechanized but had a vast army, which meant it was dependent on horse-power and foot-slogging infantrymen. As a result of so many German men at the front, their factories were manned by slaves and POWs, who were underfed and treated abominably, and whose production capacity was affected as a result.
And if the ability to supply war was key, then in the war in the West, it was the Battle of the Atlantic that was the decisive theater. Yet Germany built a surface fleet before the war, which could never hope to rival Britain or France and in doing so neglected the U-boat arm. Despite sinking substantial amounts of British supplies in 1940, it was still nothing like enough to even remotely force Britain to her knees. In truth, there were never enough U-boats to more than dent the flow of shipping to Britain. In fact, out of 18,772 sailings in 1940, they sank just 127 ships, that is, 0.7 percent, and 1.4 percent in the entire war.


Suddenly, rather than appearing like David against Goliath and backs-to-the-walls amateurs as is so often depicted, Britain emerges once again as a global super-power in command of the largest trading empire the world has ever seen, while Germany, despite impressive victories on land early in the war appears to be woefully under-resourced and flagrantly squandering what supplies it could call upon. What’s more, after the initial glut of conquest booty, the occupied territories swiftly became a drain and burden that had to be manned and which proved a further drain on precious resources. The words “Teutonic” and “efficiency” usually go together; in the Second World War, nothing could have been farther from the truth.


https://warisboring.com/a-lot-of-wha...b3c#.qqhtky3iu
In my opinion the best LMG of WW2 was the Czech designed BREN Gun, the Vickers/Maxim MMG was also a brilliant design, both very robust and reliable.
January 10th, 2017  
MontyB
 
 
I am not quite as dismissive of the MG-42, it certainly had its share of problems but I suspect his initial comments applied more to the MG-34 which was over-engineered, heavy and a hog on ammunition, the MG-42 was an attempt to get around many of those issues.

I would also venture to say that the MG-34/42 were designed to suit German infantry tactics.

Personally, if I had to pick a GPMG of WW2 it would possibly be the M1919 30 cal.

I have a fond spot for the Panther, again it was over-engineered and prone to breakdowns but it was also a tank that went from design to combat deployment in in less than a year, yet the Panther G variant is considered one of the best medium tanks of WW2.

Guderian wanted to mass produce the Panzer IV yet, in my opinion, it was by 1943 horribly average and mostly outdated, had they focused instead on the Panther in lesser numbers and used Tank Destroyers for the bulk of the work as they were much cheaper and quicker to produce while offering as much crew protection as a regular tank they would have been much better off.
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January 11th, 2017  
BritinAfrica
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MontyB
I am not quite as dismissive of the MG-42, it certainly had its share of problems but I suspect his initial comments applied more to the MG-34 which was over-engineered, heavy and a hog on ammunition, the MG-42 was an attempt to get around many of those issues.

I would also venture to say that the MG-34/42 were designed to suit German infantry tactics.

Personally, if I had to pick a GPMG of WW2 it would possibly be the M1919 30 cal.

I have a fond spot for the Panther, again it was over-engineered and prone to breakdowns but it was also a tank that went from design to combat deployment in in less than a year, yet the Panther G variant is considered one of the best medium tanks of WW2.

Guderian wanted to mass produce the Panzer IV yet, in my opinion, it was by 1943 horribly average and mostly outdated, had they focused instead on the Panther in lesser numbers and used Tank Destroyers for the bulk of the work as they were much cheaper and quicker to produce while offering as much crew protection as a regular tank they would have been much better off.
The only problem with the MG 34/42 was keeping the damn thing fed.

One problem with the Browning 1919 is that it needs a two man crew, one to carry the gun, the second to carry the tripod, the Bren could be manned by one man. I have fired the Bren, both in 303 and 7.62, I loved it. The British GPMG/FN MAG58 was based on the German MG42 if I remember correctly. A very good gun, the number of stoppages I had on mine could be counted on one hand, usually faulty ammunition/belt
January 12th, 2017  
MontyB
 
 
The only one I have spent any time using was an M2 50 cal. and they were phenomenally accurate but damned expensive, two years ago I picked up an MG-42 which has been sitting in storage while I await the paperwork to activate it.

I hope to see how that runs before the end of the year assuming the country has enough ammunition in store.

Although strangely enough, I am starting to get into black powder shooting mainly because there are few restrictions on what you can shoot here as such we have people building cannons and mortars that fire sand filled baked bean tins, it is a lot of fun playing around in accuracy competitions with a 100mm black powder mortar.
 


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