Sheldrake wrote:A thought provoking post. You are right. German industry's response to the T34 was the Panther. Value engineering wasn't a natural concept for German industry. True - under wartime pressure designs were simplified, but there were pressure to complicate designs. Hitler liked clever technology and was a sucker for gimmicks and the Nazi regime resulted in very expensive projects.
Whether a particular feature is "over engineered" depends on how important the feature is to the purpose of the equipment. The ability to maintain situational awareness and hit a target first is critical. (IRRC one of the British scientific studies into tank perfomance in North Africa picked out German sights as the reason for German superiority in tank v tank combat. Having better sights than the enemy is critical. German tanks were also fitted for radio and they avoided combining the role of tank commander with gunner and or loader that hampered French and Soviet designs.
Complicated steering and suspension may offer only a marginal benefit to an AFV. If they result in reduced reliability they subtract value. An un-battleworthy tank has limited value - (though the spectre of Tiger tanks in the minds of Allied tank crews had a value even when the Tigers themselves were on the side of the road with the back decks up)
The Pz I, II, III and IV were reliable tanks for 1939-40. They were better
Post-WWII, Soviet Generals put on paper the strategic difference between "war" and "conflict". (Which was known in the West, even better in European countries of Socialist tradition like Italy or France, but not formalised.)
It went as following: two armies firing at each other things which go boom, from rifle to nuclear warhead, is not war, but conflict. War involves everything and everyone in a society, from pre-school education to old geezers, from the smallest bolts and nuts to greatest construction projects. And it does change you, it transforms anything you knew or understood before. Those who will emerge from a war, even if they win, are so different from what they were before, they may be a different species.
In military and engineering matters: the grand strategy, simple in words, permeates every field of a country's life, involves everyone, as they know it or not. Once set in place, is set in stone, you can't change it in just months or years. Industrial standards, engineering, worker training, education, propaganda, electric network, mining, laws regarding social life, transportation systems, all are somehow connected to it in subtle or obvious ways.
German grand strategy, as designed in the 1920s by Generals who were retired or dead in 1940, judged, as George Friedman says today, by the constraint
of having enemies much superior in numbers and with much better access to global markets and to oceanic commerce and by the advantage
of having one of the finest industrial basis in the world. Maybe the finest from 1900 to 1918, in the top three until 1942.
together, they decided to do more with less:
- advanced mobile tactics to quickly disable forces vastly superior;
- better war machinery to serve the advanced mobile tactics.
They understood the complications in the German military technology, and judged they had to bite the bullet if this brought advantage in war.
Krupp Protze had the swinging half-axle suspension, built in the complex manner of a 1930-1970 sportscar, with tubular hand-welded arms, for the purpose behind it was to run at full speed on rough ground, with one tonne of payload on the platform. They might have made it simpler, but limit the off-road speed to about 30 km/h of wheeled tractors. Or limit the payload, which was already small to begin with.
Schachtellaufwerk type halftracks had each track pad running on roller bearings and lubricated pins, hundreds of small bearing sets assembled by hand for each machine, for they had been designed to hold high speeds over rough ground, with full load. Raupenschlepper Ost, Maultier or Schwerer Wehrmachtschlepper had much simpler running gear, but they were limited to less than 30 km/h on road. Maybe half that on rough ground.
Luftwaffe warplanes had complex direct-injection systems and power boosters 30 years ahead of the competition (literally: nitrous oxide and water-methanol became known by the general public in the late 1960s!) since they were designed for superior manoeuvrability at medium altitudes. They performed poorly at 10000-11000 meters, since nobody expected to fly against a B-29, which was not even on the drawing boards back then.
Everything was fine for military geeks and armchair generals - until the invasion of the Soviet Union blew to pieces the strategy of short, decisive campaigns. Overnight, there were needed 10 times as many machines to cover a giant expanse of land... and the German infrastructure geared for 20 years to make more with less realized it couldn't make them. You can't change in months what has been running for 20 years straight. As Werner von Braun said, when confronted to impossible demands in short time: "You can't impregnate 9 women and expect them to make a baby in one month!"
The inferiority of the Soviet technology had been acknowledged by Soviet Generals in the disastrous campaigns of 1941-1942. But they were rational enough to understand the constraints
- what they could save from their industry war rebuilt piecemeal on distant lands, the trained manpower of 1940 was rotting alive in German camps. Zhukov's strategy was based on understanding the weakness of the German industry and logistics: as long as the Germans could not be opposed in direct combat, the only solution for the Soviets was to outlive them, at least 1 or 2 years. Despite all losses, suffering, hunger, they had to resist on the spot, no matter what. The hope for a decisive battle drove the Germans forward, and exactly this had to be denied to them, at all costs.