Monday 3 September 2018

Cheating at Statistics: Claims at Klepenino

A common excuse for German inflation of claims is that the battlefield is left to their enemy, so there is no possible way to count how many enemy tanks were lost. However, even on the defensive, the Germans seem to manage to greatly overestimate the damage dealt to the enemy. According to the the 1972 edition of the Deutsches Soldatenjahrbuch, the 561st Tank Destroyer Battalion destroyed 34 Soviet tanks, "nearly all heavy and super-heavy" during their defense of Klepenino between January 29th and February 8th of 1942. Let's take a look at what was happening in the area and what these "super-heavy tanks" really were.

Here is Klepenino on one of the maps of the 30th Army. This map depicts the situation in the second half of February, after the Red Army had moved up a bit, so it doesn't fully tell us who was in the area at the time. However, there are enough plausible suspects that picking out the unit we need isn't too hard: it was the 371st Rifle Division.

"Until 7:00, the division prepared for the attack and at 7:00, along the 70th TBr, moved to attack towards Klepenino and Timontsevo and entered Klepenino at 7:30"

So far so good. Let's see what kind of super-heavy tanks the 70th Tank Brigade had.

14 T-34 tanks and seven T-60s. That's not exactly 34 super-heavy tanks. The brigade quite thorougly lists its losses during the attack on the village. During these early parts of the war it was quite common to hand out tanks to infantry commanders who would have no idea how to use them properly. 

"By 14:00 on January 30th, 1942, the tanks returned from the battlefield to the grove north of Klepenino having taken losses: 7 out of 10 in the 261st Tank Battalion, 2 out of 4 in the 262nd Tank Battalion."

"January 31st, 1942. Orders given to the tanks on January 30th, 1942, are being carried out. During the day, the tanks fought independently near Klepenino to suppress individual strongholds that prevented infantry from moving up. By the end of the day, two tanks out of four were lost. One burned up, one was knocked out."

After heavy losses, the next day allowed for a break in the fighting to reorganize. Some tanks were also repaired, judging by the increased number of T-60s.

"February 1st, 1942. By order of the 30th Army, the 70th Tank Brigade is reassigned to the 363th Rifle Division. At this point, the brigade had two T-34 tanks and 14 T-60 tanks."

Over the next two days, three more tanks were lost: one from a mine and two from ambushes by enemy tanks:

"The attack began at 12:00 on February 2nd, 1942. Tanks fighting alongside the 7th Rifle Regiment continued to fight enemy strongholds that impeded the infantry's advance. At the end of the day on February 2nd, Junior Lieutenant Besov's tank hit a mine and blew up."

"In the second half of the day on February 3rd, three enemy heavy tanks appeared, which were carefully camouflaged in the valley, awaiting our tanks. Our tanks moved to carry out the orders of the commander (two T-34s). As soon as they entered the forest clearing the German tanks shot them up. One burned up and the other was knocked out."

The only tank related action reported on February 4th is that a T-34 is turned over to the infantry division HQ. Only T-60 tanks attack the next day, also to unimpressive results.

"On February 5th, four T-60 tanks attack were used for combined arms action with infantry, but two of them became bogged down in the snow, two more were knocked out. The crew of Senior Lieutenant Fedorov's tank fought valiantly and died the death of heroes."

The results of these repeated assaults are predictable:

"On February 6th, 1942, by decision of the Commander of the 30th Army, the 70th Tank Brigade is withdrawn from battle to restore and repair its vehicles."

The German records also state that there was no tank attack on February 6th or in the days after, confirming that this was the unit in question. Let's total up the losses taken by the 70th Tank Brigade. 9 tanks on January 30th, two on January 31st, one on February 2nd, two on February 3rd and two more on February 5th. That makes up a total of 16 tanks, two of which are credited to enemy tanks (the Germans mention that there were StuGs popping in and out of the battle), so even the full 16 cannot be credited to the tank destroyer unit. In addition, instead of "almost all" tanks knocked out being super-heavy tanks nearly half of them being T-60s, which were not even classified as light tanks, but small tanks. 


  1. I can't help but wonder what the Hell the Germans thought to be a Soviet "superheavy" tank in early '42... were they counting T-34s as "heavy" and KVs as "superheavy" or something?

    1. I think the heavy would be the KV1 and superheavy the KV2

    2. I was thinking the same thing. The T34 was so far ahead of any German tank that maybe they counted it as a heavy tank.

    3. "schwere und schwerste" or "heavy and heaviest" is just a idiomatic expression and should not be mistaken for a classification.

      "heavy and super-heavy" is a mistranslation.

    4. That still leaves the question how the "heaviest" tanks - presumably meanings KVs - got into the introduction; pretty sure I saw no mention of them even in the original narrative you helpfully linked below.

      And the complete absence of any reference to the little T-60s certifiably actually present...

    5. The T-60 was actually seen as a variant form of the T-34 p. 174:

      "February 4, 1942 - At 2:00 am infantry attacks with armor support take place after hours of strong artillery preparation. One of the "Begleitpanzer vom Typ T-34" is knocked out at 3 o'clock at a distance of about 50m"

    6. Google-sensei renders "Begleitpanzer" as "accompanying tank" which perhaps less literally should be read as "escort tank", though it does sound like they were thinking that was some kind of infantry-tank version of the T-34.
      Which would actually be understandable if we were talking about the T-50 which looks like nothing so much as a pocket T-34 but the T-60 has... just about nothing in common in either size or even the general shape? (Although some of the clashes happening in the middle of a winter night excuses lousy identification to some degree.)

      Definitely some *extremely* sloppy ID of enemy assets at play there in any case which, of course, is a bit of a recurring theme in this series of articles.

    7. Well, actually it has the sloped front hull like a T-34. That is unique enough to set it apart from T-26s, BTs and KVs.

    8. By the same token you could consider a T-26 a "variant" of the KV though... those two at least have vaguely similar turrets, whereas those of the T-60 and T-34 are dramatically and very obviously different.

      In all fairness to the German units involved they probably had better things to worry about at the time than accurate tank taxonomy and design genealogies, such as not dying of the cold or angry Soviets. A postwar publication not so much as cocking an eyebrow is rather less excusable though.

  2. As late as October 1941 they described the tanks by tons. The T-34 was the 30 ton tank, KV-1 was the 40 ton tank and the KV-2 was the 50 ton tank.

  3. The aforementioned German account of the battle can be read here:

    The German account actually note that 13 tanks were destroyed in Timonzewo, Noschkino, Ssolomino und Lepsiono, while only 20-21 during their defense of Klepenino.

    "Ingesamt wurden bei den Kämpfen einschliesslich Klepenino 34 sowjetische Panzer, fast durchweg schwere und schwerste, vernichtet, in Brand geschossen oder durch Beschädigung ausser Gefecht gesetzt."

    "All in all, during the battles, including Klepenino, 34 Soviet tanks, almost all heavy and heaviest, were destroyed, shot on fire or immobilized by damage.

    "Leutnant Peterman schoss vom 30.1. bis 4.2.1942 mit seinem Pakzug 15 schwere Panzer des typ T34 ab..."

    "From 30.1. to 4.2.1942 Lieutenant Peterman destroyed 15 T-34 tanks with its Antitank platoon..."

    "Unter seiner Führung wurden vom 5.2-7.2.1942 weitere 5 Feindpanzer vernichtet..."

    "Under his leadership, another 5 enemy tanks were destroyed from 5.2-7.2.1942..."

    It appears that your translated copy of the account was false Peter.

    1. Huh, so they really were calling T-34s "heavies"... don't seem to be making a distinction for the little T-60s there though. (Tbf the Soviet source also makes mention of "enemy heavy tanks" which would presumably be Pz IVs... Taxonomy and Identification seems to have been a bit thereabouts for both sides at this date.)

      In fact skimming over the linked pages I'm getting the impression the Germans aren't mentioning those little cans *at all*... and there seems to be quite a shortage of KVs which would presumably be the "heaviest" tanks offhandedly mentioned?

    2. Yes, looks like the wording was off. 20-21 is still greater than the total amount of tanks destroyed, and the type of tank is still overestimated.

    3. Yes, misidentification was still a thing. More often than not they had to let the tanks close in until about 40-50 metres, in one case even at 5-10 metres. The T-34 certainly gave the Germans a good fight; in one engagement, a 37mm Pak fired 42 shots only to immobilize a T-34... Or another withstood 16 hits from a 50mm Pak.

      However, in the German account, none of the 3 StuGs were credited with a tank kill, only a Pak and a 76mm field artillery gun that took - between previous knocked out tanks - postion. (p.175)

      The translated copy of the account really appears to be imprecise...

    4. I'm not really seeing how anyone could in good faith confuse a T-60 for a T-34 though...

    5. Kellomies Good faith has nothing to do with it. As the war progressed every element in Germany had good reason to lie. Those in factories lied about the quality and quantity. Those training new units lied about the size and quality of new units going into combat. And of course these new "divisions" often of which were nothing more that 20 tanks lied about the size of the enemy forces met and destroyed. Ironically something similar happened in Saddam Hussein's Iraq where his generals lied to him about the capabilities of his armored forces and quantities of WMDs.

    6. Kellomies, I have a photo posted on here of an MS-1 labelled "T-34". T-34 panic was a thing.

    7. That's an... actually impressive level of questionable identification. Sounds like the things had them rattled *bad.*

      I'm beginning to wonder if there was a Soviet tank that DIDN'T at some point get ID'd as a T-34 in the early years...

    8. Peter, are you going to correct the obvious mistakes introduced by the translator? Its just silly that the 'Gefechtsbericht' which was known for its propagandistic narratives is more accurate about the claims.

    9. Ah, but the plot thickens ;) I decided to look up who was doing the fighting in all of these other places the Germans described. Here's the map:

      The 371st SD takes care of three of them, its neighbour, the 363th SD, has the other two. And you'll never guess who the 363th SD had as their tank escort:

      "363rd SD with the 70th TBr, motorized rifle battalions of the 21st TBr and 35th TBR, submachinegunners of the 46th motorcycle regiment, the 1st company of the 542nd RGK field artillery unit, 646th squadron from the 646th RGK field artillery unit, and 43rd Independent Guards Mortar Squadron are to strike in the direction of the grove 500 m east of Solomino, Kokoshkino, Ryazantsevo, and to punch a hole through the line through Solomino, Yesemovo, Ryasantsevo to the right, Klepenino, Kokoshkino, Zhukovo to the left. In cooperation with the 178th SD and 371st SD destroy the enemy opposing you, and by February 2nd unite with the elements of the 29th Army on the line Malakhovo-Ryasantsevo. Cover against Solomino with one rifle battalion and as the group moves forward, clear the strip between the border with the 22nd Army and the movement area with submachinegunners of the 46th Motorcycle Regiment."

      Motorized rifle battalions have no tanks, so the only tanks operating in the area are the 70th TBr, whose casualties I listed above in their entirety. There weren't even orders to send tanks to Solomino in the first place, so it's a mystery as to whose tanks the Germans claimed to have destroyed there.

      After the 70th TBr is withdrawn from combat, one battalion from the 35th TBr is sent to clear out Solomino and Lebzino, where 6 T-34s were knocked out by a counterattack of SPGs (not Paks), two of which continued fighting and deflected the counterattack.

      The most interesting thing is that the German anti-tank gunners don't credit any StuGs with kills, while the Soviet documents do. I wonder who those StuGs belonged to, maybe that unit will shed some light on the situation.

    10. Intresting, thanks.

      This is what Hptm. Balzer of the Pz.Jg.Abt. 561 claims:
      "A sworn tight-knit anti-tank community of two deployed SS regiments and infanterymens from various battallions destroyed at Timontsevo, Nozhkino, Solomino and Lebzino 13 heavy Soviet tanks, disabled mgs nets and mortar positions with their Pak. (p.169)

      According to Otto Weidinger, Division Das Reich: 1941-1943. The two SS Rgminets were from the 9./DF and 10./DF securing Klepenino, and Sturmgesch.Abt. 189 engaged enemy positions on February 6 and 11. However, Division Reich take command execution on February 12 after several unsuccessful breakthrough attemps.

      p. 366, February 1:
      "Folgende Abwehrlinie wird vorgeschlagen: Petelino - Timonzewo - Koksch-Bach - Noshkino - Wolgaufer - Lebsino."

      "The following defensive line is proposed...."

      Otto Weidinger provides by far the detailest account of the enagagement. He also don't attribute any tank kills to the StuGs, except the harassing attacks against enemy strongpoints, artillery guns, and other "Weichziele" at Klepenino. He credits the anti-tank batallion with 19 tanks and with one being blown up by T-mines.

      The only tanks kills recorded to the Sturmgesch.Abt. 189 were from 12 February onwards.

      However, Weidiger also states that the 16./PD had SPGs and 8,8cm Flakbus (Sd.Kfz. 8) earmarked. There's also no breakdown of these 13 claimed tanks provided. The only thing certain, that the Germans did not claim 34 tanks at Klepenino, but about 20.

      Could you look into the other locations mentioned? Particularly Timontsevo and Nozhkino.

      BTW Robert Forczyk states that there was in fact a KV-I tank at Klepenino:

    11. Maybe he was going off the German records, and thought a "heavy tank" was a KV-1? The only tank units here are the 70th TBr (T-60s, T-34s) and after February 7th the 35th TBr (T-34s).

    12. It is entirely possible, given the ubiquity of misidentification. However, I'm not sure where Pz.Jg.Abt. 262 was positioned. Hptm. Balzer, Pz.Jg.Abt. 561 certainly have seen the greater action on his sector in Klepenino.

    13. Sorry, I mean Pz.Jg.Abt. 256 (per Forczyk)