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How we come to know what we know

Discussion in 'Armor and Armored Fighting Vehicles' started by JBark, Jul 25, 2010.

  1. JBark

    JBark Member

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    As I read the endless line of books on WWII and take part in discussions on forums I do what we all do; compare what I know to what you know. As I read, particularly about my favorite subject-armor, I often find information that I feel is outdated as well as just plain bad. I often will even find "historians" adding some of this bad information to their published works. I have to ask myself why this information was perpetuated so well or for so long that it has stood the test of time. (I should point out that their are many times that I find people who are incredibly well informed sharing great data-TAGardner?)

    I think about where the data we read about comes from and I have come to the conclusion that we are victims of a time/correction continuam. Easily as westerners we had open reporting, more or less, of the war. It was not uncommon for GI's to get the ear of a reporter and gripe about our armor or the like. The reporter wants to make a name for himself so he prints what will get attention...OUR GI's ARE NOT GETTING THE BEST EQUIPMENT! As this is a free and open society the Belton Cooper type books will have no problem making press while writing such a book in the USSR post war is probably not a good idea. Thus western readers, I believe, hear and read many stories that are not entirely accurate and often without comparison. When the wall came down, the prison camps emptied, etc., we were offered reading that let us compare, though much delayed.

    In the subject of armor, which I see discussed on every WWII forum there is always the discussion of best tanks, for lack of a better description. Tossing aside those that simply want to compare tanks on their ability to kill another tank one will always hear similar mantra. Ronson Shermans, unstoppable German cats, the T-34 that won the war. I breezed through much of what was written on such a thread on this forum and it seems that there is always a willingness to hang on to information that is just a little too old and extremely skewed. Minimal critical evaluation seems to be occurring; yes, the Sherman brewed up when penetrated-most ammo will burn when hot fragments go through the shell. The US saw the problem and remedied...did anyone else? That tremendous Panther was an engineering disaster when it took the field and by the end of the war was being stopped by Shermans with 75's on a fairly regular basis. At what point did this tank show it's prowess as the best tank of the war. The T-34 by my read started out with an engine and transmission that were a hazard to the crew, a cramped fighting compartment, a gun no more powerful than the Sherman's 75mm, crude finishing and gunsight, and steel that was sub-par. How anyone could rate such a tank over the Sherman is beyond me.

    I think we were saddled with years of no real comparitive information from the Soviet Union or Germany. The information we have gotten is laced with those from Germany that want to make up for losing the war and those from the USSR that need to save face (for nearly losing the war and having to accept Lend-Lease to survive.) Our information is skewed by what I've mentioned before, those that want to make a name for themselves, stir the s*#tstorm.

    I think it is a shame that so many of the books that give good information are so expensive. I think all too often the obvious is not noticed. It is my personal opinion that the Sherman tank was by far the best thing that happened to the allies on the ground and that any comparison saying otherwise is simply uninformed. Unfortunately I can not afford the many good books I would like to own on armor of WWII so I am open to anyone with good information that can change this opinion.

    JB
     
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  2. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    I find the bad data interesting, especially when it's for "public release". Accident? Laziness? Disinformation? What was the source of that "myth". This is one reason I'm doing The War Illustrated, to source some myths.
     
  3. JBark

    JBark Member

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    OpanaPointer writes "Accident? Laziness? Disinformation? What was the source of that "myth".

    I have to go with a little of all...mostly laziness though (if a historian is not lazy his accident or disinformation will never make it to print.)

    John
     
  4. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    I forgot one, "publish or perish". The constant "massaging" of prior research leads to compounding of errors that has reached almost epic proportions. I found it rather scary that some professors sneer at going to the primary sources. They are in a circle that is self-referencing, esoteric to the limit, and increasingly distant from the actual facts of history.
     
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  5. marc780

    marc780 Member

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    Not sure what you are asking but i'll give my two cents on what you discuss:
    The T-34 was actually better then the Sherman in many ways. The Russians might have lost the war without it. And American lend-lease did in time send many Shermans to the Russians - but they always preferred the T-34.

    The T-34 was much cruder then the Sherman, as you imply, and the automotive portion (engine, transmission, and tracks) of the Sherman was well made and more reliable. Also just about every Sherman tank had a radio for communication, whereas only about 1 t-34 out of every 5 had one. This was a serious flaw in battle but the Russians were short on radio sets - so that was that.

    The Russian armor plate probably had inferior metallurgy to the Sherman. But the sloped front and sides of the T-34 went a long way to make up for that in battle. (Not only did sloped armor present a thicker surface for a shell to penetrate, it also caused some projectiles to literally bounce off.)
    The Sherman used gasoline to fuel the engine, the T-34 used diesel. Diesel fuel is a better fuel for armored vehicles as it is less likely to catch fire and explode from a shell hit then gasoline (for that matter every American tank since the Sherman has been designed to use diesel fuel).

    The Russians upgunned the T-34 later in the war to create the T-34/85 and made thousands of them. The British also upgunned the Sherman (to create the Firefly) and while this was a step in the right direction, relatively few Firefly Shermans were built (out of 50,000 Shermans made total).

    Both tanks had merits, and flaws aplenty. But I think if i were forced to choose one or the other i'd take the T-34 over the Sherman.
     
  6. JBark

    JBark Member

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    marc780-

    Please go into a little more depth. You say the T-34 was better than the Sherman but it seems that all you offer is armor - which you admit was probably inferior - and that it used diesel fuel. Diesel is flammable and my reading indicated many crews bailed out of their burning T-34's. The guns on the T-34 were comparable to the guns of the Sherman and the hyper velocity round of the 76mm, while in short supply, had much better armor penetration ability. I can't see the Russian sighting mechanism as comparable to that of the Sherman. The fighting compartment of the T-34 was too small, the commander was also the gunner, the loader - because of bad ventilation- often passed out from fumes, and the transmission so bad that the driver needed help to shift. It's flotation was superb but other than that I just don't see it beating the Sherman in any category.

    As I say, please go into more depth if possible.

    John
     
  7. Tomcat

    Tomcat The One From Down Under

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    Sloped armour such as that one the T 34 and the panther, was not any thicker than the standard armour of the time, it was merely sloped which meant that it dispersed the kinetic energy of the shell rather than simply create a wall to completely stop it. This slope thus gave the ability of armour to be more effective even when it was in fact the same thickness as standard armour,, this also meant that the need for a large thick armour like the tiger was no longer needed when sloped armour could wield similar results with less weight.

    This loss of weight in the long run meant less horsepower needed which in turn meant less fuel consumption which all lead to less work by the drive trains, which increased reliability. Then add to this a nice 76mm cannon makes the T34 very effective even over the M4.
     
  8. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    The reason certain ideas exist on armor is largely because opinion or out right disinformation becomes fact. Facts are immutable. Opinions and claims based on them can vary. A classic case of this is Martin Cadin's claim in the awful book (by today's standard) The Tigers are Burning on the battle of Kursk. Written in the 1960's by who was then a reasonably respected popular historian (think the Stephen Ambrose of his day) his book was taken as fact.
    So, at one point he makes the statement that the German jadgpanzer Elefant lacked a machinegun and this made it horribly vulnerable to infantry attack giving vivid descriptions of hordes of Russian infantry swarming these vehicles and destroying them with things like molotov cocktails. It was all fantasy. But, it became accepted fact. The Elefant was a horrible failure!
    Never mind that other assault guns like the Elefant in both the German and Russian armies lacked fixed machineguns. Not a mention of the Elefant's subsequent long and rather successful use in Russia all the way to the end of the war.
    Facts matter. They prove or disprove what we know about something and should always be the basis for our knowledge. That is what we should be trying to get at here.
     
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  9. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    It's worth noteing at this point that the Sherman also had sloped armor.
    That's a rather strange and not particularly accurate way of stating it. Sloped armor increased the length of the geometrical path through the armor. Thus effectivly increasing the protection. At high obliquities it also may result in the projectile failing and breaking up or glancing off the armor.
    I thought these issues had been discussed to death in the various "best" threads. HOwever I've certainly seen nothing to indicate that the T-34 was more reliable than the M-4 rather the other way around. Also the Soviet 76mm gun was I believe gennerally inferior to the US 75mm gun. So neither of these helps demonstrate any superiority of the T-34 over the M-4.
     
  10. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Did they? Do you have a source for this? I've read stuf that rather indicates otherwise.
    Some Sherman variants also used diesel. The rational was logistics and it overwhelmed the minimal surviability differences of the two fules.
    Not really. Look for instance at the M-24, M-26, M-41, and M-103.
    And it was roughly on a par with the US 76mm gun.
     
  11. CrazyD

    CrazyD Ace

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    I'd say that a lot of the "comparative" discussions that go on in forums like this, to a large extent, are almost entirely separated from fact. Now, don't bite my head off- most of the posters use as many facts as we can, and at least try and find the best info we can.

    But if one is comparing tanks, for example, a lot of it is opinion, context, etc. The late-war Panther was probably one of the best technical tanks of the war... but does that make it "the best"?
    Likewise, the T34, especially early models, were on the crude side of things- but the Russians manufactured so many of them that it quickly became a matter of numbers. A Panther might have been a better tank, but if it was facing 15 T34s...

    The Tiger I was likely the most feared and notorious tank of WW2... but where does that fall in a qualitative analysis?

    Context, context, context.

    And, a further point... isn't trying to find facts such as those often brought to the table by posters like TA- isn't the search for those facts one of the more enjoyable parts of studying WW2? Reading with a critical eye, searching for new sources, finding that one primary source document, etc.

    By the way, related- there were 1349 Tiger Is produced, not 1355. ;)

    In case Martin reads that line... I had to!

    :cheers:
     
  12. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Well if you are talking early models especially the first 18 months or so there simply isn't much on battlefield that comes close to a T-34. The T-34 entered production and service in 1940, The Sherman entered produciton in 41 and service in 42, and the Tiger entered production and service in 42. So in 40 and 41 one has to look pretty hard to find an equal to the T-34. I guess in mid 41 you do get the PzIV with a 75mm gun starting to show up but ...
     
  13. CrazyD

    CrazyD Ace

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    I would entirely agree with that, including your spot-on inclusion of the PzIV.

    But more to the point, your post hits on the exact idea I was getting at- the context of any sort of comparison. If the comparison is based on workmanship, the early T34s- and likely T34s in general- wouldn't be winning many awards.
    But if the context is "impact on the war"- totally different story, crudeness or not.

    And I'd say that speaks to both the original post by Jbark and TA's post. Certain aspects of these tanks we study get repeated and emphasized so much that they often either become drastic exaggerations or eclipse other, more valuable points.

    Or something like that. ;)
     
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  14. Duckbill

    Duckbill Dishonorably Discharged

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    CrazyD,

    Your comment is right on target. Here’s a salute.

    For example, a while back I questioned Harry Yeide about his source/s for the claim that US tankers often carried extra ammo for the main gun stacked on the floors of their M4 tanks. He was only able to provide a single source, and that was from the memoirs of a former commander of a tank battalion. How that has been exaggerated into something far greater than the recollection of a single man is beyond me, especially since I have yet to interview a veteran tanker who could figure out where on the tank floor there was room to stack ammo in the first place.

    One former WWII tank battalion commander, a retired brigadier general, “stood me up and dressed me down” for about five minutes for asking him “such a stupid question.” :eek: When he allowed me to speak again, I took great pains to tell him I was only trying to confirm something I read in a book. After he calmed down a little he went on to say there was no space on the floor of a combat loaded medium tank to stack anything extra, especially ammo for the main gun. When I asked if I could quote him by name, he said “hell no” I don’t want my name involved with having responded to such a dumb question. We are still friends, but I damn sure won’t ask him about stacking main gun ammo on the tank floor again.

    Duckbill
     
  15. JBark

    JBark Member

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    CrazyD said:
    "

    "I'd say that a lot of the "comparative" discussions that go on in forums like this, to a large extent, are almost entirely separated from fact. Now, don't bite my head off- most of the posters use as many facts as we can, and at least try and find the best info we can."

    To an extent I have to agree with this as we are all going to base our arguement, our opinion on what we've read and like the historians there is the possibility we will ignore what we don't want to believe. We may even not expose ourselves to contradictory evidence, intentionally or not.

    LazyD goes on to say:
    "But if one is comparing tanks, for example, a lot of it is opinion, context, etc. The late-war Panther was probably one of the best technical tanks of the war... but does that make it "the best"?"

    Agreed with the first part, to some extent. Zaloga says tank comparisons are a matter of perspective, which I agree with. That's where I don't agree with the second part about the Panther. What I read about the Panther does not put it in the category LazyD does. Initially we know it was rushed and was essentially an engineering disaster but even as some problems were ironed out it still was a gas guzzling, fragile drive, semi mobile/nearly blind pillbox with a great need for attention (maintenance.) Heavy frontal armor-yes. Great gun-yes. Did it fit in to the WWII context of highly mobile combined arms-no. Did it even come close to the logistic simplicity of a Sherman (an extremely important factor in a protracted conflict like WWII>)-no.

    I thinkk we have to remind ourselves that evaluation of armor requires an initial first step; deciding what we want the tank to do. I can argue that the M24 was the best tank of WWII if I simply compare how well it did its job to how well other tanks did their jobs. We all kniow that all too often "Best Tank" discussions become "my tank can take your tank" discussions. The educated student of armor knows the primary role of a tank in WWII was not to kill other tanks (not talking US doctrine here.) I think a tank has to be multifaceted, it has to be easy for the country fielding it to produce, easy to maintain, it must be reliable and durable, a good gun/armor/engine combination, and good for what its country uses it for. The Sherman, my fav, fits these requirements (what a surprise) with either the 75 or the 76...I'd prefer a blend of both. Remember that the M4(75) was still killing cats when [people were talking about how horrible it was. The belief that the US should be able to produce the super duper tank of WWII, capable of brushing away other tanks like flies, did more to sully the reputation of the Sherman than did the Sherman's own performance.
     
  16. Duckbill

    Duckbill Dishonorably Discharged

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    JBark writes:

    Remember that the M4(75) was still killing cats when [people were talking about how horrible it was.

    Perhaps we should ask the question: Why were American tankers forced to use the undergunned 75mm Sherman against tanks that could kill them long before they got within effective range of their own much less powerful main armament.

    I mention this only because I have just today been reviewing relevant sections of MG Leroy Lutes' special report to Eisenhower and Somervell, and it goes into great detail about the shortages of M4 medium tanks in the ETOUSA, and that they would by necessity accept anything that could be sent including the 75mm gunned versions.

    For the record, I've yet to talk with a veteran tanker who would have chosen a 75mm gun over the 76mm.

    Duckbill
     
  17. JBark

    JBark Member

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    Duckbill- I remember a discussion some time back about extra ammo stored...carried...in the Sherman on The History Channel forum. Someone said no way, it would never happen and the idea was tossed around quite a bit. point is it stands out in my mind and recently I seem to recall reading a tanker say just that. So, at 53 I suffer from CRS (can't remember stuff) just like anyone my age so I have to believe my most recent read by a tanker, By Tank Into Normandy by Stuart Hill, must be the source. I wish I could pinpoint it but it would take me some time to comb through a 244 page book to find it. It stood out because of the discussion on THC.

    I have to ask; why wouldn't tankers grab extra and stow it where the loaer could get to it fast? I've never been in a Sherman but I have to believe there are a few nooks and crannies.

    John
     
  18. Totenkopf

    Totenkopf אוּרִיאֵל

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    I can confidently say that it is human nature to expand upon facts and "collective knowledge" that they had gained over a long period of time. Just like myself, I adore the "Best tank" and "....vs....." discussions and I will continue to ride the bandwagon that discuss them to death. Therefore it should be only natural that people with a heavy interest in a topic will learn proven facts, expand upon them and stretch them; while not even realizing it, this applies from the 1940's to today, don't you wonder where some of the crazy facts come from? From that news reported who had an unhealthy obsession with the Tigers, to the retired general who wrote books as a devout nationalist, it is only right to assume that we will never get it right as it was. But that doesn't mean that we cant have fun. After all, that is why I joined this fare forum; and I imagine others have as well.

    Sorry if that's not what you were looking for ;)
     
  19. JBark

    JBark Member

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    Well, I would have to ask a couple of pertinent questions. First, how many tankers have you talked to compared to how many served in the ETO? Second, did you talk to them during the war or thirty or forty years hence when they got to read comparisons of the guns and /or heard a whole bunch of things other people had said.

    As the topic of this thread mentions sometimes what we learn is questionable for a variety of reasons. If you were a tanker and you had gone through the war with few encounters with enemy armor, used your 75mm adequately, how many people would take notice? I'm not saying that every account should read like Belton Cooper's but it seems to me that the Cooper sound alikes are going to get more attention than the guys that tell a story of going through a war. People want attention, its human nature.

    John
     
  20. Duckbill

    Duckbill Dishonorably Discharged

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    JBark writes:

    I have to ask; why wouldn't tankers grab extra and stow it where the loaer could get to it fast? I've never been in a Sherman but I have to believe there are a few nooks and crannies.

    You are referring to "ready rounds." And yes, they were located inside the turret where the loader could get at them as quickly as possible. Carrying a few ready rounds in the turret was covered by doctrine, but was a far cry from carrying rounds stacked on the floor of the tank. Like I said, I've yet to interview a veteran tanker who could figure out where there was space on the floor to stack extra ammo for the main gun. To a man they have all said it was unnecessary anyway. Why?

    Because tanks were always accompanied by trucks from their service company carrying extra ammo just far enough to the rear to avoid getting shot at. It only took a minute for another platoon to take point while the one that was low on ammo could fall back and replenish. I've talked with quite a few men who drove those trucks, and they all tell me pretty much the same story. They might be under indirect fire, but were usually far enough back to off-load gas and ammo for the tanks that needed it.

    A tank platoon would form a semi-circle facing the direction of the most likely threat. The service company boys would drive to roughly the center tank and off load gas and ammo. Sometimes the stuff was dropped off before any tanks showed up, and the tankers were just told where it was. The tankers would form a line carrying the jerry cans to their tanks and do the same for the ammo. Keep in mind this is happening maybe a 1/4 mile back from the fighting front, and might be hidden by a line of trees or a slight ridge or bend in the road from the enemy. If I remember correctly, the process took only 20-30 minutes depending on how much gas and ammo had to be loaded. Then the platoon of tanks would be moving forward again.

    Of course there were exceptions, but there still remains the small problem that there was no space on the floor for these extra rounds.

    I hope this helps clarify what I was trying to say before, and I will refresh my memory with one of the veterans in a day or so just to be sure.

    Duckbill
     

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