Assessments go up in peacetime and down in combat

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

Anthony Williams notes that there appears to be a strong reliance on 5.56 mm weapons among modern militaries choosing their next-generation small arms:

I understand that these decisions have been based on assessments of the effective range of the 5.56 weapons. I have to say that I am wary of such analyses because I have observed a repeating pattern over the years: assessments of the effective range of 5.56 weapons go up in peacetime and down in combat.

Why is this? I suspect that it is because what is mainly studied in peacetime is the probability of incapacitation, which is (loosely) a combination of the hit probability and the wounding capability, compared with the weight of ammunition. As with the related concept of “stowed kills”, the outcomes tend to favour lighter ammunition. The problem is that this takes no account of other aspects of performance, especially barrier destruction and suppression — in both of which the 7.62 greatly outperforms the 5.56. Emeric Daniau of the DGA has been researching suppression by small arms fire, analysing published studies to devise a formula which fits with the reported results. One conclusion from this is that the suppressive effect of any given weight of 7.62 ammunition is substantially higher than that of the same weight of 5.56 ammunition at any range, despite the 7.62 weighing twice as much per round.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    On the other hand, it is impossible to control and aim the 7.62 NATO in any shoulder weapon in automatic. The 7.62 NATO is a semiauto only cartridge. It is effective out to 800 m (if anyone can hit a person that far out, unlikely).

    Close quarter assault requires automatic weapons. Guderian knew that, and so did the Soviets. The US Army has never understood that, and it is still in the Napoleonic mode.

  2. Kirk says:

    This piece by Williams illustrates the fundamental problem with all this mindless bullshit the system is throwing up like so much vomit. This line summarizes it all: “Emeric Daniau of the DGA has been researching suppression by small arms fire, analysing published studies to devise a formula which fits with the reported results.”

    Note that well, friends: Emeric Daniau is researching suppression through the analysis of published studies, not original scientific study. This isn’t research; this is scholarship, and piss-poor scholarship at that. Even with the best will in the world, he’s still going to be regurgitating the same-old same-old derivative crap whose foundations lay in sheer speculation and specious reasoning.

    You want to know why they keep f**king this up by the numbers? That’s why, right there: They keep returning to the old data, which may or may not have been gathered properly, and following the same reasoning laid out before. And, it’s all done by men with no more understanding of what goes on in combat than the average five-year old playing video games.

    Suppression? What is this “suppression”? How is it defined? Who are we engaging? What is the motivation level of the men we’re supposedly “suppressing”?

    These questions are ones that need answering, if any of this “research” is going to be of value; what may suppress a mob of unruly semi-civilian bandits ain’t going to “suppress” the same number of well-trained and conditioned soldiers in the same setting. Any attempt to codify this crap the way these guys have been doing it is going to fall down on the same points of failure it always has–The extremely poor understanding of what actually makes things happen in combat.

    It’s a lot more complex than the fatuously complex equations and “norms” that the Soviets used to try to apply–”If we drop X number of Y caliber artillery shells on Z area, then any troops in the area will be suppressed…”. Yeah. No. That’s what you hope will happen, but the reality is that some of those soldiers will break earlier and run, some won’t, and there may or may not be a bunch of bitter-enders waiting for you in deep shelter with malice in their hearts and a decent set of defensive weapons to put to use when you try to roll over them.

    I don’t think we know enough about the actual events that take place in a combat action to really definitively say “this works, every time…”. There are enough variables in all of it to make the whole thing more of an art form than a science, and since most of those variables are based purely on the human heart, well… Y’all may begin to see why I object to this stuff.

    The basics are not even well-understood; you would think we’d know down to joule how much energy over how much time we need to deliver to a human body in order to render it hors de combat, but we don’t. It’s another thing that’s incredibly variable–There are defensive engagements that I’m aware of from police work where some guy got shot in the forearm with a .22 Long Rifle, and died from the shock of it all. There are other cases where men have literally been shot to pieces, and they were still dealing death to their opponents. In between the two extremes may lie a “reliable median” of how much damage you need to effect a reliable stop, but the issue is that we’re not really doing the research to determine what does what on the modern battlefield.

    Seriously–Go out looking for numbers, and then look at where they came from. The amount of wishful thinking that goes into a lot of this stuff is truly something to behold–”We got X number of enemy wounded that we recovered from the battlefield and treated while processing them as prisoners…”, followed by much analysis of their wounds. Then, extrapolation from that data to determine weapons effectiveness, and on and on and on…

    But, do you see the problems with that train of evidence and reasoning…? There’s no inclusion of “Enemy left dead on battlefield, and from what…” in any of that crap. You don’t know what’s actually killing the enemy–You really only know what’s wounding the enemy to the point where he’s unable to avoid capture by your forces. The dead are left out, as well as anyone able to get themselves off the battlefield. This creates a huge void in the data, and it’s the one we really need to fill in order to answer these questions of “Is the 5.56mm NATO adequate or inadequate…?”.

    I’m not a very smart man, but I’ve been looking at this stuff now for decades, and I keep seeing the same holes and the same lack of recognition for those holes. It’s like the age-old question: “Is the bayonet an effective weapon…?”.

    Well, if you go by the paucity of actual bayonet wounds that get back into the casualty system for treatment, you’d have to say “No. Emphatically not…”.

    But, the problem is, you are only seeing a piece of the picture, there: The number of men with bayonet wounds who make it back into the casualty system. What about the number of men who don’t get wounded, but who die on the spot? A bayonet, after all, is a weapon that’s pretty emphatic about “Is he dead…?” for the wielder. You poke someone a few times with one, and it’s pretty unlikely that they’re going to survive, or that you’re going to let them survive, being that up close and personal with them. It’s not like you’re shooting that bayonet at them from a few hundred meters–You know if you need to stick it in a few more times, and given the amount of sheer rage that has to be present to even use one, well… It’s damned unlikely that there are going to be that many wounded survivors of a bayoneting. You don’t inflict a near-miss with a bayonet.

    The other thing that screws up the numbers is this: You conduct a bayonet charge, which is mostly a morale attack. The enemy sees your ass coming, with all the flashy-flashy bayonets in the early morning dawnlight, and instead of sticking around, they do a runner out of the trenches and right out into the area your artillerymen have happily pre-registered for just such an eventuality. In the trenches, those enemy troops would have been fairly safe from the artillery; in the open, they’re dead meat. Which weapon gets the credit for the kills…? The artillery, or the bayonet-wielding infantry that drove the enemy out into the open where the artillery could get at them…?

  3. Paul from Canada says:

    I am reminded of a post by our host about ops research. Two anecdotes:

    1. In WWI, after the initial issue of steel helmets, the number of head-wounds presenting at field hospitals increased, causing staff officers to doubt the effectiveness of helmets, and that possibly helmets were possibly counter-productive, until it was explained that likely men were surviving injury because of the helmets who would otherwise not have made it back to the field hospital at all.

    2. Similarly, a study of damage to bombers in WWII that returned to base all shot up. The initial intent was to up-armour the parts most shot up on the returning aircraft, until a boffin pointed out that the planes had in fact returned with damage to those parts, so those parts were obviously not vital.

    On the subject of so called “suppression”, I am reminded of one of Canadian author Farley Mowat’s books where he speaks of his first experiences of combat in WWII. In it he mentions that initially, the sound of rifle and machine gun bullets passing overhead had no particular effect, since everyone had been in the butts at the rifle range, and had been subjected to live machine gun fire passing overhead in training. It wasn’t until rounds started impacting the ground where they could be seen, or men started getting hit, that anyone reacted.

    In Commonwealth armies, the drill for the section (squad for Americans),in the “advance to contact” is to keep advancing until you come under “Effective Fire” which is defined as fire from the enemy that a) produces casualties, or b) strikes close enough that it will very soon do so. If rounds are just cracking by overhead, of churning up ground well behind, ahead or off to one side of you, you are NOT under effective fire. Once you come under “effective fire” you take cover and start the fire and movement/flanking maneuvers etc.

    The British have recently decided to take the SAW (FN-MINIMI/M249) out of service, because allegedly, it does not “suppress”. I have read papers on this (including by Anthony Willaims), and although I have not read the book or article reference by this post, I suspect that this is what it is about.

    The theory is that at anything past close range, the sound of rounds not striking immediately in the vicinity of the target, but merely passing over or near, is not intimidating enough to cause the enemy to cease moving, seek cover or cease producing effective fire of their own. The effect of your SAW gunner letting rip with most of a belt, didn’t actually accomplish much, but made you,(and him) FEEL much better and more confident.

    Now, how do you quantify this. Is it useful to make you feel better and more confident under fire to have the SAW gunner fire, even if it is not actually effective? If you subscribe to Napoleon and his “moral to the physical” ratio, then obviously “yes”.

    This brings us back to the realm of the combat anecdote. There were all kinds of stories and eyewitness accounts of the “failure” of the M2 Carbine in Korea. Enemy soldiers would take a whole magazine at close range and would not be stopped. Allegedly, their winter clothing was reported to stop the rounds.

    In fact, the penetration of the .30 carbine cartridge was perfectly fine against winter clothing, even at range. What likely happened is that coming face to face with an unexpected enemy at close range, the witness understandably suffered a highly stressful “fight of flight” reaction, and emptied the whole magazine in the general direction of the enemy, and didn’t actually hit him. The man in question is sincere in his belief that he “put the whole mag into him”, but likely he did not.

    Similarly with after-action ops research. Comparing combat diaries of actions, and then actually examining, for example, knocked out tanks, often shows that reality is very different from what the unit’s official war diary says. There is a lot of controversial info regarding kills in the Battle of Britain for example.

    Several pilots claiming to have shot down an aircraft, all shooting at the same one, being unaware of each other at the time, and the enemy aircraft in fact not actually crashing, but making it back to base damaged. Claimed kills, several, and all perfectly sincerely claimed, actual kills, none.

    The problem as Kirk alludes to, is that it is almost impossible to do real science when studying this kind of thing. You can’t deploy a unit, fire live artillery at them and then count the killed versus wounded. You are left with academic meta-analysis of old data, often unreliable and unscientific (see Marshall).

    I have done several courses in the psychology of
    survival as it relates to plane and ship disasters etc. Some of the data on reactions to disaster were done in the ’50′s.

    Passengers on a military flight were told they were about to crash/ditch, and the crew simulated starting to do so. Scientist seeded among the passengers observed reactions, and afterwards handed out questionnaires, and conducted interviews immediately afterwards. This data was used to come up with ratios of likely reactions from people experiencing the stress of this sort of incident.

    Basically, the reactions follow a normal distribution. Most people are capable of functioning and assisting in their own survival if trained, or instructed, which is why the military puts such emphasis on training and drills. The left tail of the graph panics and/or becomes catatonic regardless, and the right tail of the graph is capable of staying calm, thinking and acting rationally, and likely survives even without specific training.

    Now this is useful stuff, and forms the basis of a lot of the current training and doctrine. The safety brief given to plane passengers, is based on this research. The problem is that it is old. Also, it was done in very ethically dubious circumstances. There was no “informed consent” on the part of the subjects, (since getting it would spoil the “surprise” and ruin the data). We can’t replicate these studies today, it would not be allowed.

    Recently, Stanley Milgram’s famous work had come under scrutiny and criticism. The problem is, we can’t really critique it properly because the ethics of actually replicating his study today would not be approved. No replication, no real science.

    What the solution is, I have no idea.

  4. Kirk says:

    Paul, one of the data points we can look at is at the various training centers like the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, CA. The one thing I took away from my tour there was that the subjective idea that people took away from what they observed in training was very often diametrically opposed to reality as known to the outside observer of the instrumented data coming from the player unit and the OPFOR (OPposing FORces).

    I don’t know how many times you’d see situations where you and your players thought one thing was happening, only to discover upon examining the instrument record, that something else was actually going on. Misattribution of weapons effects on the enemy is a major problem–You think “Ah, I have fired upon the enemy, and his “lunch lights” (the indicators that they took a hit, part of the training gear called MILES) have come on… I am a certified badass dude, king of battle, lord of the M1 tank…”.

    Reality? That enemy tank got taken down by a random artillery strike, and you hit precisely jack and s**t. But, because that “hit” occurred when you fired, you (and, likely, your accompanying Observer/Controller…) thought you’d “…done the deed…”.

    This also happens in real combat, as I observed more than once in Iraq.

    We don’t even know what we don’t know, in this regard. The whole thing is a shoddy house of cards, built upon outright sophistry, imprecision, and subjective observations garnered under extremely difficult circumstances.

    Fixing it? Well, here’s the thing–As you allude to, getting the data would be extraordinarily hard. You’d have to essentially wire a unit for sound, send it to combat, observe what they did there without creating very much of an “observer effect”, and then you’d have to do full-scale forensics after most if not all engagements. Which would not be at all popular with the locals…

    The problem is, we’re not even bothering to take the steps we’d need to, in order to find out even the basics of what is “really going on”. There’s stuff I think we ought to be doing as a matter of policy, like baselining all the weapons in a unit, deploying them, then tracking what actually happens with them in terms of how they are fired and used, then taking them up again upon return for a full forensic work-up examining what parts wore, and how they performed. This is something so basic that I’m actually in awe at the fact it isn’t going on–Instead, we’re treating this stuff like we’re back in the 18th Century, and not even bothering to gather the data beyond “Yeah, hey… We seem to be replacing a bunch of Part #XYZ in theater, and having to buy quite a few new Part #QRW when we refurb the guns at depot… Anybody got any idea why…?”.

    By this point, we ought to know down to the micrometer what service in Afghanistan is likely to do to a standard infantry company’s M240 MGs, and how much wear the average M4 carbine is going to endure when assigned to a soldier in a particular mission position. But, we don’t. Because we don’t bother to gather the flippin’ data…

    And, all that crap ought to be flowing into the design and development process: “Oh, yeah… The M4 fleet is showing a lot of barrel wear… Maybe we ought to look at going to a Cold Hammer Forged barrel, like SOCOM and the Canadians did…”. Again, we’re not doing even the rudiments of this data gathering and analysis, which I think is criminal from oh-so-very-many standpoints.

  5. McChuck says:

    In 2005, Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) issued a “lessons learned” about combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The part that stuck most with me was that the average opponent at ranges under 100 meters required 5-7 rounds to the chest of 5.56 to stop. Not kill, stop. Nobody really cares if a Hajji is going to bleed out sometime tomorrow. We just want them to stop bothering us right now. Please also notice that the energy delivered by the 5.56 round decreases rapidly with distance.

    Experience also taught us that the first few 5.56 rounds tend to bounce off of windshields, and were almost completely ineffective at breaking engine blocks. They did a number on radiators, but again, we don’t really care much if the car will stop running 20 minutes from now.

  6. Adar says:

    With the 5.56 round you can carry twice the amount of ammo for the same rate. Get off more shots faster and more accurately with the 5.56 and reload faster. Rifle in the modern military used for support the squad level automatic weapon.

  7. Kirk says:

    I remember reading that TRADOC report, and then immediately dismissing it as so much bumf. The problem with it, as I remember, was twofold–The way they went about gathering the information itself was flawed, and then the other was that they failed to differentiate between the M16 and the M4, which then had entirely different ballistic profiles when using the then-extent standard M855 that was optimized for the M16, and less than adequate out of the M4.

    The problem of the vehicle stop is one that still mystifies me: WTF do these idiots think, that the M16 is a magical death ray that can stop anything short of a tank…? For the love of God, even back in the dark ages of yore, when I was a private soldier during the 1980s, we had the great good sense to listen to our elders who were Vietnam veterans, and put friggin’ recoilless rifles at the traffic control points… Something the Marines in Beirut seemed to have rather forgotten the point of. Frankly, if you’re not backing up a TCP with something at least in the class of an M67 90mm, you’re smoking crack. Minimum? You should have a ready-to-fire AT-4 at those points, and be ready to use it. Also, a straight TCP with no chicane built into it is not a smart TTP.

    Some of the crap I watched otherwise seemingly intelligent people do with regards to these things just left me shaking my head in bafflement. The gate guard at Beirut? No ammo in his rifle, and only an M16 to use in stopping a truck bomb, a weapon that had been utilized rather extensively in Beirut before that point. As well, the gate leading to that building targeted by the bomb pretty much gave the attacker a straight shot at the lobby. WTF? We did better planning and prep on training exercises in the middle of Oklahoma around that time frame, and my friggin’ unit could have won the Olympics if general incompetence were an event…

    I still haven’t figured that one out. I remember reading the report on that incident as a junior NCO, and going “Jeezus… This is an elite unit of an elite branch…? Not so much, by performance…”.

  8. Kirk says:


    That’s the theory, all right. The question is, is it a valid one?

    I think that it can be, but that it only works if that’s how you’re using the guns and ammo tactically and operationally. Which I would submit, we are not.

    If you’re going to build a professional army, and then train it to deliver single shot deliberate aimed fire, and you chose to equip it with a weapon that was designed as a mass-fire bullet hose predicated upon putting a large volume of somewhat aimed fire downrange…? I think you might just be suffering from a cognitive disorder. You are giving your exquisitely trained troops a weapon which is geared towards a totally different paradigm than the one you’re actually using to plan, train, and conduct combat.

    I would submit that in today’s environment, that it’s not at all conducive to the mass-fire weapons-free mentality embodied in the M16/M4/M249 weapons suite, particularly with regards to the ROE that restrict fires to that which can be identified as enemy vs. “let’s spray bullets all over the surrounding terrain and let God know his own…”. As such, perhaps we ought to be issuing a weapon that is a bit more in alignment with how we’re planning, training, and conducting warfare at the squad level…?

    I’ve been saying this for years: Tell me how you mean to fight, and I’ll tell you what your weapons ought to look like. How you make war needs to be reflected back at you in your weapons procurement choices, or you’re going to be in a world of hurt when it comes to the actual reality of it all.

    And, while good professional soldiers can get you results with about anything, if you’re going to spend the money to recruit, train, and equip them… Why the hell not give them optimal weapons for what you’re asking them to do?

  9. Paul from Canada says:


    Aaaah yes! MILES Gear! It didn’t tell you everything, but it could tell you a lot! When the Company OC launched what he thought was a “good plan”, and everyone got slaughtered! Never mind what the umpires thought, the beeping of the MILES gear told the real story!

    I’m curious about HOW the statistic McChuck quoted form TRADOC was derived. Did they actually autopsy dead hadjis, or derived it form “reports”? (See my comments re: Korea and the M2).

    One of the things we have been doing in Canada, is that EVERY casualty gets repatriated and autopsied, to see what we can learn about weapons, effects, and kit. Is there something we can improve, like vulnerabilities in our body armour etc.

    I have recently spent a bunch of time watching the Youtube channel (Inside the Chieftain’s hatch)of Major (now LtCol.?) Nick Moran, the World of Tanks video game in house historian.

    He has some fascinating stuff about the actual statistics related to tank combat in WWII, filtered through his experience as a tanker in Iraq and a Bradley boss in Afghanistan. The real world experience makes the academic work much better.

    The so called “death trap” Sherman tank was nothing of the kind. The total loss of tankers in all theaters was less than 2,000, and the total tank losses were several times higher. The so called “Ronson, lights first time everytime” quote didn’t appear in their marketing until AFTER the war, and a bunch of other things. Everyone except the Russians used Petrol/Gasoline in their tanks, and it was cooking ammo that caused the fires, and it was much easier to escape a knocked out Sherman than any other type.

    One of the regular features of his videos is a visit to a museum with tanks, and a profile of each one, with an outside overview of each tank, remarks about the design, ergonomics and ease of use/servicing, FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A SERVING TANKER. He then gets in the tank, and gives a critique of the ergonomics and usability of each tank from each crew position. The last thing he usually does is the “Oh bugger, the tank is on fire!” test, which involves him trying to get out (usually from the driver’s position), against the clock.

    The “It takes 5 Shermans to kill a Tiger” was likely correct, but was because a standard platoon of American tanks WAS 5 Shermans, and the lone Tiger was likely alone because his compatriots had broken down, run out of gas, or run out of ammo, whereas the Sherman platoon had no such issues.

    I highly recommend his videos if you get a chance.

  10. Alistair says:


    Agreed. The Sherman was perfectly fine for allied requirements, and not a death trap by the deaths-per-lost-tank statistic.

    Also, yeah, the silly obsession with the Tiger-exchange ratio. The job of the Sherman wasn’t to kill rare Tigers (they fall apart on their own very nicely, thank you, or against AT guns). The job of the Sherman was providing infantry-support against an infantry/armoured vehicle vehicle mix with an operational manoeuvre capability on the side. It had to do this reliably at a cheap production cost.

    Tank-on-tank obsession disfigures the WWII armour debate.

  11. Alistair says:


    The TRADOC figure is probably high but the answer is also probably > 1.

    There’s a censored data issue here: you can’t just count the bullets in dead Jihadi chests, as you don’t know which one stopped him.

    Actually, even the bodies aren’t enough to answer this question definitively: you also need to see Jihadi’s who limped off with sucking chest wounds. Had a similar analytical problem with warships once:

  12. Kirk says:

    There was also the whole “strategic mobility” calculus: Which was better? A thousand Pershings in the European theater, or ten thousand Shermans?

    Just getting the ammo for the heavier 76mm gun on the later models across the Atlantic was a bit of a major undertaking. The logistics of it all were not as simple as people talking trash today think they were.

    There were things in WWII that could have been done a lot better, but they weren’t the usual suspects the Wehr-a-boos and Allied apologists think they were. Huge issue was in the supply side of things–Nobody thought to back-haul all those five-gallon fuel cans back to the ports where the pipelines ended. Most of the cans were treated as disposable, and because there wasn’t a lot of bulk fuel haul capacity out in the line units, one of the major problems for the Allies was those missing cans–Which wound up being re-purposed for everything but hauling fuel.

    I worked with a logistics officer who’d done a paper analyzing a bunch of WWII stuff, and he’d found a bunch of stuff that would have impacted the war effort, things we know now but did not know then. The fuel cans were just the tip of the iceberg… Very interesting reading.

    The other one that always gets me is the guys who say “Oh, if only we’d have containerized everything, like we do now…”, and who ignore the follow-on logistics implications of all that technology development which would have had to take place, distracting from the war effort. Just building the containers themselves, ignoring all the necessary Materials Handling Equipment… Dear God, the stupid, the stupid… It burns! Cor-Ten steel, which is a key part of container technology because of its resistance to corrosion in a sea environment, wasn’t developed in economical quantities until the post-WWII era, and indeed, came out of technology developed during the war. Containerization would have been a boon, but the surrounding technological and logistical ecology that make it work today simply was not there, and developing it under wartime conditions…? Might well have lost us the war entirely.

  13. Paul from Canada says:

    Kirk and Alistair,

    The 76mm gun thing is interesting, as Nick Moran goes into great detail about that as well. Theater commanders were asked if they wanted it for D-Day, and they said no. Both because of the logistics issues Kirk brings up, but also because they had already fought Tigers in North Africa and Italy, and they thought the 75mm was adequate. In HINDSIGHT the decision could be debated once the tactical and strategic differences between the previous locations and the Western European theater became obvious, but even then, it was not as big an issue as has been made out to be.

    The British Firefly 17 Pounder variant is extolled as the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it really wasn’t. The compromises required to get the gun to fit made the ergonomics of actually using it a nightmare for the gunner.

    The British did so for logistics reasons, NOT because they needed it to “Kill Tigers”. In fact, the 76mm could kill enemy tanks to almost the same range. Given the ACTUAL engagement ranges, and the ACTUAL effective range of ACTUAL fire with the optics involved, the difference was actually negligible.

    The so called “Tiger panic” was also overblown. The actual number of Tigers in theater after D-Day was comparatively tiny. Anything that ambushed you and caused casualties was a Tiger, even it it was actually a STUG. As for the kill ratio, the side on the defensive, that can shoot and scoot from ambush, on terrain they know, is of course going to have a high kill ratio. The guy who shoots first usually wins.

    I earlier spoke about the Tiger platoon ending up with only one tank, and one of the reasons I cited was running out of ammo. If you were part of one of the scratch Kampfgruppen that the Germans were so good at creating out of leftovers, you might find yourself part of one such, but being one of the few remaining Tigers, the service battalion supporting your group normally worked with their own Regiment, equipped mostly with Stugs and Panzer 4s, so only had 75mm ammo to re-supply you with. Even the 88mm gun you were equipped with used different ammo than the earlier 88mm tank/anti-tank gun, and different again from that of the famous ’88. THAT was why the British made Firefly, not because they absolutely needed the power, but rather for reasons of logistics.

    I saw a video made by another youtuber answering the question “what was the best tank?” and his answer was that it depends on who you were. The Sherman was definitely the best tank for the allies, the T-34 definitely the best tank for the Russians.

    The Sherman had to be made in huge quantities and shipped everywhere to be used everywhere. Could the design have been better? Absolutely! The silhouette could have been lower with a re-design, (moving the engine or final drive to get rid of the drive shaft having to go through the hull), but the Grant/Lee was already in service, and “good enough”. At some point you have to decide to START mass production.

    You also have to ship it (by rail and ship and rail again), thousands of miles from it’s factory, (on standard rail cars and standard track, and using existing standard dockyard cranes). Once it gets to Russia (Lend Lease), or the far east, it is never going back to the factory, so it had better be reliable and supportable in theater. The Germans were close enough to home that you could send a tank back to the factory for upgrading/overhaul (c.f. the Elephant upgrade of the Ferdinand), not so for any Sherman, fighting whole continents away from its place of birth.

    Same for the T-34. It was NOT the best tank of the war. As Nick Moran explains, the ergonomics were awful, and while routing servicing was OK, long term servicing and overhaul was also a nightmare, BUT, they generally didn’t last long enough to need it! So for the Russians, it was the best tank.

    Likewise, the German decision to go with the heavy and complicated tanks of the late war period like Tiger and Panther, was actually the least worst option. It has been suggested that they should have just made more Panzer 4s and Stugs, but by the end, it wasn’t just resources they were running out of, it was manpower. If you could build 2-3 Panzer 4/Stugs for the resources of one Panther, but who would man them? You were going to be fighting on the defensive, outnumbered, and needed to maintain a very high kill ratio, so better the biggest, heaviest tank you could get. (The over-complicated design and low reliability was another matter).

  14. Alistair says:


    I agree with the eponymous YouTuber. The “best tank” depends entirely on the nation using it. T-34 and Sherman were both very good answers for Russia and US profiles respectively for the reasons you outline, plus the other DLOD issues. Perfect? Nawh. But a really good choice given the information available to the decision makers at the time. I’d be happy to take that level of decision quality in a future force mix problem.

    As Germany, I’d have put a bit more into the Stugs post-43 at the expense of Panthers/Mk IV, and dropped the Tigers entirely. (I don’t take manpower as that constraining – you still have a lot of infantry divisions! Yet there may be other constraints in training and support.) But it’s a question of fine balance; I don’t think the actual German force mix was miles away from their optimum either.

    This is one of those rare issues where I think all sides did reasonably well!

  15. Alistair says:


    Indeed; many other DLOD constraints beneath the radar in the force mix problem. But the popular debate is always about the d**n gun…

    The fuel can issue was known to me: it was acute in the British Western desert campaigns of ’41 / ’42. Ironically, the German design was much better than the contemporary British one and they were widely substituted; the phrase “Jerry Can” passing into English.

  16. Kirk says:

    I think a lot of this stuff boils down to the same basic issues: Fundamental mis-match between some imaginary “ideal” form of a weapon, and the realities of how the military in question is going to use them. Not to mention, the sort of industry they have backing them up…

    The Italians built some amazing aircraft; the problem they had was that the Italian aviation industry was completely incapable of putting those bespoke wonders into mass production, and even if they had, where were the pilots, fuel, and everything else going to come from…?

    Same-same with the Germans and their tanks; the US had the Sherman and all the rest of its armor manufactured in true mass-production assembly-line format. The Germans never really got past the sort of batch production mode that railway engines are built under. There weren’t assembly lines, per se–Just workshops.

    The whole thing boils down to a failure at the national-strategic level, in terms of keeping your ambitions down to what you can actually accomplish. Given the realities, I’m not sure what Germany should have had as a strategic aim in the war, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest that starting WWII the way they did should not have been it. Hell, war was never the damn answer for Germany, due to the balance of forces posed against them. Smartest thing they could have done would have been to take a stab at doing the post-war Wirtschaftswunder without the war. Should Stalin have decided to come West, anyway, we might have the spectacle of the Nazis having “saved civilization” vs. the reputation their actual conduct earned them…

    How’s that for a historical counter-factual?

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