Sunday, January 13, 2013
The best tank cannot be defined one vs the other. Tanks are one part of a military system and the best for the UK may not be the best for the USSR or USA or Germany. The US Army tank doctrine of WWII was that tanks support the infantry by providing fire support and act as cavalry performing the mission of deep penetration and exploitation. Tanks were not intended to fight other tanks, tank destroyers had large armor piercing guns to stop enemy tanks.
Ground forces were supported by Air Forces, and a huge maintenance train that would keep tanks running and bring damaged tanks back into service quickly. The industrial capacity of the US was intended to produce vast numbers of tanks to outnumber the enemy, that's why you ended up with cast and welded version and
even diesel and the M4A4 with a half dozen Chrysler engines on a single shaft; to maximize production numbers.
The shipping capacity of the US merchant marine needed to bring the tanks from the US to the battle area. One major concern was that tanks over 30 tons were too heavy to ship and off load easily in both beach assault and at many harbors. The Sherman was also a gradual evolution that started with the M2 light tanks first made in 1935 and going on to the M2 medium, M3 medium series and finally the Shermans.
That meant that by 1942 the US had over 6 years to perfect their medium tank design. Compare that to the Panther that was designed and built in less than two years from inception to combat debut. US tanks were designed for highly trained crews with ease of maintenance and a reliable engine and suspension. The suspension changed as it got heavier in response to more need for larger guns, more ammo storage and more armor. The Sherman was similar in many ways to the Panzer IV, long development time, many variations produced, kept in production throughout the war, and able to be upgraded many times. Both served with many allied nations and both served long after the war with different countries.
Everything in tanks is a trade off between two choices or more. Interleaved suspensions, like the Panther, provide a very smooth ride for better sighting and better shooting on the move and greater crew comfort.
The trade off is they are more difficult to repair if an inside road wheel gets damaged by a mine or a hit. On the other hand, they also provide a certain amount of armor protection from side hits to the lower hull,
and allow a much wider track to be used for lower ground pressure for better mobility. On soft terrain it's not the weight that matters, it's the ground pressure. A wide track on a heavy vehicle can provide a
low ground pressure compared to a light tank with a narrow tracks. That's why Shermans had to have duck bills put on their tracks and Tiger I and Panther did not need them.
The T-34 was designed for mass production and the Soviets concentrated almost completely on making tanks and artillery. They got most of their trucks and halftracks from the US and UK. Even that was not
enough, that's why you see so many Soviet troops riding on tanks, they don't have trucks to ride in or halftracks.
T-34 did not have a turret basket, a radio or a fire wall between the crew and engine compartment. It was noisy, smelly, crudely made and lacked almost any crew comfort items. They were intended to be nearly
disposable tanks with disposable crews. Quantity has it's own quality. Take a company of 10 T-34 and destroy one German tank and all three T-34s are destroyed and that's good enough. The Soviets made 60,000 T-34 and the Germans made 6,000 Panthers. At 10 to 1 odds the Germans lose.
In the US Army we often hear about the German says "you always have 11 tanks. We destroy ten American tanks, but you always have an 11th tank to get us."
The reality was more like the Germans hit two American tanks, the Americans go to ground and call in 48 tubes of artillery and four P-47's in ground attack mode and track the German tank.
They can't recover it because the American tanks move up quickly and capture the knocked out German vehicle. The Americans do that once in the morning and once in the afternoon for a week and
their whole tank company is wiped out. But the Germans have lost a company too, but the Americans have already replaced the company and the Germans can't. The US Army had about about 18,000 Sherman tanks and the Germans had about 9,000 Panzer IV. At two to one odds the Germans lose.