Saturday 28 April 2018


Last year Tank Archives broke into a new medium, coming out in print. This year I've made another leap, this time into audio, taking part in Military History Visualized's podcast on kill claims vs actual losses. Long-time readers might find some of the content familiar, but there's plenty of fresh stuff to make it worth listening to. Keep an eye out on that channel, there will be plenty more of me to come!


  1. This is excellent stuff, Peter. It was good to also hear a bit about your background, I had no idea about that.

    Though to answer your host's question, "wouldn't they way that Germans counted losses have misinformed their leadership?" I think it *did*, particularly Hitler. Just look at the famed conversation between Hitler and Guderian on January ̣̣9th, 1945, where Hitler congratulates Guderian on how strong the Eastern Front is. Guderian replies by telling Hitler the Eastern front was "a house of cards" destined to collapse at the first blow.

    Hitler's arguments, when you actually read them and not simply blow them off as the ravings of a madman, actually fit quite well with much of the 'official' German narrative of German strength and Soviet losses. These were saying that the Germans had, oh, almost 5,000 AFV on the Eastern front and that they've been killing Russians at say, 4:1 or more. If you believed these, wouldn't you think that Guderian's warnings were overblown? If you look at the table in from this page do you think the Germans are in dire straits?

    However, if one knows that instead having nearly 5,000 tanks on the Eastern Front the Germans may have had only something like 1,500 that actually worked, and that German/Soviet armored losses, when measured by apples-to-apples metrics, might actually have been less well under 2:1 starting in 1944 instead of 3, 4, or 5-1, produces a 180-degree reversal of how one sees the January 1945 situation. I believe Hitler was making actually fairly sound military judgments, but judgments based on bad information that greatly understated the damage being wreaked on his own forces and overstated the damage being done to Soviet forces.

    Finally--I think it is not inappropriate all to accuse the Germans of outright falsification (I think you pulled your punches in this interview, at least compared to what has been written here). I have just ran across a table, published by Zaloga, of the losses on the Eastern front by AFV type, and it has a big fat '0' listed for King Tiger losses in August 1944, and for September as well.

    Why is this important? August 11-12 1944 was the battle of Ogledow, as you've detailed here:

    Where I count a full *13* King Tigers that were destroyed and in fact captured by Soviet forces, making them irrecoverable losses (note: Wikipedia does you one more, it says 14). Yet they don't show up in the German records at all! The 505rd Pz.Abt lost 7 in October as well in the Gumbinnen operation, very possibly fighting IS-2s, which is also not fully shown in October's losses, given that King Tigers were also fighting in Hungary, at Debrecen (the 503 Pz.Abt lost some 23 King Tigers, 10 being burned out, 13 being abandoned and blown up by their own crews, plus 2 were so badly damaged they had to be sent back to the factory to be rebuilt).

    But our fastidious German record-keepers only have 8 for all of 1944, 5 King Tigers lost in October and just 3 in December!! But by just taking the records of three Pz.Abts in 1944 you come up with 44 irrecoverable losses, never mind the ones that were damaged and not workable for some period of time.

    This leads to my mind the question of "In January, 1945, of nearly 5,000 German tanks on the Eastern front 'on the books', so to speak, how many in fact no longer existed but were only 'paper Tigers' which had been destroyed and never put down in the books as losses? While there is a large booty of captured material in 1945 (nearly 8000 German AFV losses in the East, I'm sure much of it captured) even adding that number to the German dead pile doesn't add up what the Germans produced and what they said they lost. Krivosheev's figure of 42,700 German tanks lost is beginning to look a lot more reasonable.

    1. Hm, intersting, I've never seen Zaloga's table. I did just look at a report creatively titled German Tank Losses that the British pulled out of General Mueller-Hillebrand, and wow, King Tiger losses according to this are slim. 10 in October, 11 in November, 30 in December, for a total of only 51 in 1944. Seems just a tad unrealistic.

      The GRU reported 2500 German tanks lost in combat in 1945 and 5000 captured after the end of the fighting. Unfortunately this data is not broken up by type of tank.

    2. Peter, I can email it to you if you'd like. It was from his book _Armored _Champion. Unfortunately, as this was the web version, there was a source cited but the endnotes were not included so I couldn't track that bit of info down.

      Zaloga also included some reliability data on German AFV by type as well, turns out without the unheralded StUGIII the Germans would have been world of hurt, it seemed to be the most most reliable vehicle the Germans fielded, with the Panzer IV not too far behind.

      That being all said, I really didn't care for Zaloga's book. I don't know where or who did the 'equivalency rating' stuff he gives, but saying a Comet was worth 0.9 IS-3s or giving the IS-2 a rating of 1.66 and the Panther one of 2.37 doesn't sound credible to me at all, given the likely results of a face-off. Like so many other authors (even Glantz at times, in spite of the information to the contrary in his own books, like in his book on Kursk) Zaloga seems to take face-value loss information without seeming to know that both sides counted losses quite differently, which was of course the point of your interview.

    3. The reliability part sounds plenty plausible, and I've seen it mentioned elsewhere. Panzer III and IV had been worked on since mid-Thirties and in service from the around the beginning of the war; that's a long time to debug just about every relevant part of the mechanics.
      The basic designs being quite sound and of modest weight can't have hurt.

    4. Yeah, the only real reliability concern with the PzIII I read about was the low lifetime of the rubber tires.

    5. "Finally--I think it is not inappropriate all to accuse the Germans of outright falsification"

      After thinking about this more, maybe I was a bit over the top in saying "outright falsification". Maybe I should think of more systematic biases, say, the US Vietnam War experience, where there was a strong reward for obtaining high body counts and insofar as counting Viet Cong dead there was a saying that "if it's Vietnamese, and it's dead, then it's VC".

      I'm thinking that a German tank gets damaged and inoperable in combat, maybe it's a difficult repair, and because it's a difficult repair it sits in a shop for a while until someone decides it's not worth fixing and then it just 'goes away' without any paperwork. Of course, getting caught up in a frantic retreat or evacuation getting the paperwork done right is a secondary concern, to say the least.

      I also say this because I have seen similar experiences, with pretty expensive pieces of hardware, at my job, under far less dire circumstances. You get asked 'what ever happened to this piece of equipment?' being shown a serial number and nobody has a clue.

    6. I've long had a suspicion there was a strong psychological bias involved as well. If you look at the late stages of the Great War (the Kaiserslacht has some glaring parallels to Hitler's doomed last-gasp offensives) and the widely embraced BS conspiracy theories afterwards there's grounds to suspect a degree of intellectual dishonesty and outright denialism ingrained in the "mental culture" of the German military institutions. The generals didn't mightily protest against a rematch two decades later despite an alarming lack of solid war plans either, I might add, and the Nazis' ideological anti-rationalism and penchant for grandiose, fantastical posturing and wild pipe dreams definitely had an influence on the German collective consciousness over the long time they ran the country.

      Now fast-forward a few years and the tide of war has rather obviously turned; anyone who looks at a map can tell as much however fervently they might wish different. Moreover the Führer is firmly ensconed in office and adamantly opposed to even *trying* to negotiate peace; he (and the state propaganda) are increasingly placing their bets on blue-sky Wunderwaffe and miraculous turnarounds "if we just hold out long enough."
      The obvious alternative ending is total defeat, which the official propaganda cheerfully informs you will amount to nothing short of national extinction.

      That's kind of a nightmare scenario. A losing World War with no way out and the main remedy offered essentially amounting to blind faith in miracles.

      I'm no psychologist but that doesn't strike me as a situation that promotes calm and objective thinking and behaviour. On the contrary it sounds like a recipe for retreating away from an increasingly intolerable reality ever further into denial and fantasy simply as a coping mechanism - the accounts I've read from the German home front from the final years have a palpable air of unreality to them, with people actively ignoring the only too clear signs of the approaching end simply to stay sane. (Needing to avoid the attentions of a totalitarian security apparatus increasingly obsessed with curbing "defeatism" didn't particularly help...)
      Hard to imagine the soldiers being any different, all the more so as they also had the usual stresses of combat to cope with and were witnessing the ever-increasingly precarious situation at the front lines firsthand. The senior officers had it even worse as they saw the maps and reports and figures and had a much clearer view at the growingly erratic decision-making at the very top.

      Pretty sure one side effect was have been an abject disregard for accurate reporting of casualties for a whole host of (subjectively entirely good) reasons. Part self-serving, simply to help sustain the denialist fantasy that "we CAN still win this"; part out of a desire to avoid looking bad to your superiors who had an at least equal need for such illusions (likely often unconscious; ingrained dishonesty in a totalitarian society makes people act funny); part knowing full well you could generally get away with total bullshit because nobody could actually check the claims and probably wouldn't have cared to either, so why not (connected to previous; the trivialisation of psychologically and otherwise tendentious deception); and partly because it *didn't really matter* since, as great many soldiers of all ranks must have at least unconsciously recognised, the war was already lost so you might as well "leave a good looking corpse", so to speak, in the form of a suitably impressive legend of your exploits.

      That last one certainly worked as one can easily confirm in online discussions...

    7. In addition to all the above, there is the outright and absurd tragicomedy to it all, involving both Nazi party officials and military men alike of trying to 'get ahead' in the system even though all you're doing is to climb the mast of a sinking ship.

      I'm thinking Earl Ziemke's account of the shennigans in Army Group North, in January 1944, where Zietzler and Küchler had convinced Hitler to shorten AG North's line back to the Panther line, resulting a more easily defended line to due increased troop density. However, at a conference of AG North officers with Hitler, the commander of the 18th Army, Georg Lindemann, thought this was his opportunity to look good in front of Der Fuhrer and tell Hitler how strong his position and how much he wanted to stay in-place and fight things out, saying all the belligerent things Hitler loved to hear (I'm sure both Kuchler and Zietzler were grimacing and biting their tongues thinking "you friggin' took us weeks to convince Hitler of the necessity of this withdrawal"). And Hitler reversed his decision based upon Lindemann's grandstanding.

      The Soviets didn't give AG North any gifts of time, launching their offensive in January 1944, and due largely to German tactical inflexibility, AG North gets pulverized, managing a withdrawal to the Panther line but by the time they get there, their losses are so great than the new line is just as weak as the old one. Kuchler was fired, and a Hitler favorite, Model, was brought in but the Soviet offensive was waning at that point to 'fix things'.

      Then Model gets the news that he's going to be transferred to head AG North Ukraine, and upon hearing that, writes a report saying that since he has 'fixed' the AG North crises, it now can give up its reserves, including panzer divisions, over to his new command (!!!) Meanwhile, AG North needs a new commander after Model's transfer, so no other than the man who helped create the whole disaster, Georg Lindemann, is rewarded as the new head of AG North. a result of a battle that ending up gutting a Wehrmacht AG, for two generals it turned out to be a WIN-WIN, for they advanced their careers!

      And people wonder why Germany lost...

    8. Rommel rather exaggerated the scale of the Arras counterattack back in '40, arguably to make himself look better, which played a part slightly later in the infamous "halt order" as the Germans thought stronger forces threatened their flanks than was actually the case. So that wouldn't have been anything new.

      Then again the whole "Sickle Cut" to the coast was effectively large-scale mutiny anyway as the actual orders he'd been given were something entirely different... I recall reading this stunt got his ass cashiered for a bit as the chain of command understandably did not appreciate such behaviour.
      Not that German commanders going off to do their own thing was something new either; it had been a bit of a headache at several points during the Great War already.

      I recall another bit of blatant escapism on part of their wartime military establishement I've read about (long ago so you'll have to excuse some vagueness here), namely in the hapless Navy. They apparently felt the final years of the war were a splendid time to compose a thorough history of the branch and spared no effort or expense in quality; I understand the result was a fine book indeed.
      IIRC it was also finished shortly before they had to evacuate their headquarters on account of approaching enemy columns (Soviet if memory serves) so, yeah.

      In all fairness the German Navy had always had certain problems justifying its existence (even to themselves) and could do even less about the deteriorating situation than the Army or the air force, so it is small wonder if they were even more prone to gratuitous time-wasting. Most of them really *didn't* have anything better to do anyway.

  2. Great podcast Peter. It was entertaining and informative. Well done!