British Troops Inferior?

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by adamcotton, Nov 7, 2005.

  1. angie999

    angie999 Very Senior Member

    There is a lot of misunderstanding about the German army and its equipment in WWII.

    In 1940, the cutting edge of the German army was its six large Panzer divisions, each with two Panzer regiments. The number was increased by introducing light Panzer divisions for the campaign in France, each with one Panzer regiment, Rommel's 7th Panzer being the first of the new type.

    It is not as tank divisions that we should view the Panzers, but as all arms motorised combat teams, which co-operated closely with the Luftwaffe tactical airforce. The western allies never achieved the same degree of all arms co-operation during the war.

    Behind the Panzer spearheads came the mass of the German army. Slow, with horse transport and marching infantry. A feature of 1940 and 1941 was the tendency of the spearheads to get ahead of the bulk of the army, which gave a certain stop-start motion to the German attacks, as the mass caught up.

    When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, they were only able to significantly increase e the number of Panzer divisions by converting them all to the "light Panzer" structure, due to shortage of tanks.

    As late as 1944/45, the situation had not changed. The bulk of the German army was still tied to the speed of marching infantry and horse transport. One feature of the Falaise pocket was the number of dead and wounded horses.

    In 1940, the main German tanks were the Panzer III (with a long barrel high velocity gun) and the Panzer IV (with a short barrel low velocity gun). In 1944, although the models had improved greatly, the Panzer IV (now with a long 75mm gun and side skirt armour) was still the mainstay of the German army and at Elst during Market Garden, the XXX Corps spearhead was held up by a small force of Panzer IIIs.

    The most famous German tanks of WWII, the Panzer V (Panther) and VI (Tiger) were introduced to deal with the situation in the Soviet Union, where tanks like the T34 had been a shock to the Germans. These later model German tanks and the King tiger, in action in the Bulge, were not produced in sufficient quantities to be decisive and were noted for mechanical unreliability. What they did have was thicker armour and better guns. However, they were not superior to the American M26 Pershing which saw limited service in 1945, or the early British Centurion, which came into service just too late to see any action. The Soviet IS3 heavy tank, which also saw no action in Europe (but might have done in Manchuria against the Japanese) was also superior to the best of the Germans.

    Some German infantry weapons, like the MG34 and MG42, were excellent, but their standard rifle, the KAR98k, was in no way superior to the British, American or Soviet equivalent. The British and American artillery was superior in quality and quantity to the Germans.
  2. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    They still used Horse for transport in Normandy and throughtout that theatre of war.

    The Falaise pocket was chok-a-block with their Horse transports, Most dead with their feet in the air.
  3. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    The British Artillery was noted for its excellence. I think it was Horrocks who said that although he was an infantryman, in his view the arm of service that contributed most to victory was the Royal Artillery.

    The idea that the Wehermacht was a mighty juggernaut that was completely motorised is a myth. It was superbly organised at various levels and had good interservice co-operation especially in the years of Blitzkrieg (1939-41). But they could never shake off the Horse as being its chief mode of transport. Indeed the battles for France and Poland would probably not had happened without the use of the Equipment obtained following the collapse of Czechoslovakia. Its tanks and the factories of the Skoda works were invaluable contributors to swelling the ranks of the Panzerwaffe. Indeed the more you look at the make up of the Wehrmacht the more you wonder how they achieved all they did.
  4. Stephen

    Stephen Member

    Thank you for the greetings.

    The British soldier I am sure was no worse than any other countries soldier and probably better than many. The, in my opinion, ofton poor performance of the British army which admittedly got better as the war went on was due to several reasons.

    The rapid expansion of the army after the introduction of conscription in April 1939 and especially of the officer corps was bound to cause major problems with training. To make matters worse training seems at first to have been based on WW1 with officer selection strongly influenced by class background.

    The effort put into Bomber Command which has been estimated at nearly a third of the British war effort. Losses in Bomber Command aircrew in WW2 came to about 47,000 men. In WW1 the British army lost about 39,000 officers, the men going into Bomber Command were ofton of the type who would normally have gone into the army as officers. The large number of special units such as Commandos drew many of the best men out of the regular army formations.

    Mediocre leadership at the top, can anybody really see British Generals leading German Panzer formations and achieving the sort of results they achieved in France in 1940, the Balkans 1941 and Russia 1941.

    The British infantry never had a semi auto or full auto rifle, by 1943 the Germans were producing the Gev-43 and by 1944 the Sturmgewher 44, the Sten could be junk, the Vickers machine gun dated from the Victorian era (it was reliable though), the Bren was a Czech design and would anybody use a Piat if they could use German anti tank weapons. Some British tanks were plagued by reliability problems that makes you wonder if the factories had been infiltrated by German agents. It was not all doom and gloom British artillery was very good as mentioned previously. In spite of its problems the army could by 1944 give a good account of itself against the best German formations.

    Much of the above is based on an article by John Terraine in WW2 Investigator
  5. spidge


    Hi Stephen,

    I gleaned from your inference that the Bren is included in the "could be better" category. If so, I think there would be a lot of WW2 British & Commonwealth forces that would disagree.

    A gas operated weapon, it used the same ammunition as the standard British rifle, the Lee Enfield MK 4, at a rate between 480 and 540 rpm, depending on the model. Each gun came with a spare barrel that could be quickly changed when the barrel became hot during sustained firing, although later guns featured a chrome-lined barrel which reduced need for the spare. Also, it only accepted magazines, and so usually demanded more frequent reloading than belt-fed machine guns. It was however several pounds lighter then belt-fed models, and could be used more easily on the move and from standing positions. The magazines also prevented the rounds from getting dirty, something that was hard to do when using 50-round belts.

    It was popular with British troops who respected the Bren for its high reliability and combat effectiveness and few would have swapped it for anything else. Many considered it the best light machine gun ever made. Re-worked to take the NATO standard 7.62 mm round, it was redesignated as the L4 series of light machine guns and continued in British Army service into the 1980s.

    My father for instance was a Bren gunner in North Africa and confirmed the above statement. He also confirmed that if anything the Bren was "too" accurate. Having said that - his words, "what you really wanted to hit you hit and it stayed hit. He would call it the "Gunners Gun"

    "From Wikipedia"
    Some considered the Bren too accurate because its cone of fire was extremely concentrated. When used for suppressive fire this was not as useful, however for accurate shooting it was much better; rather than spraying as many bullets as possible for a hit, it relied on the accuracy of the gun and a experienced soldier.

    IMO it's longevity speaks for itself.


    RSAF Enfield, UK: 400 per month.
    Inglis, Canada: Additional production started in 1943.
    Lithgow, Australia


    Commonwealth forces (Some still in use with Reserve Forces in New Zealand)
    Irish Defence Forces. (Still in service with Reserve)
    Chinese Army of Chiang Kai Sek
    The Bren gun can be seen in action in the British gangster movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
  6. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    I can concur with Spidge's previous post. The Bren is still in use with the Irish Defense Forces REserve and is STILL extremely popular today with the soldiers using them.
  7. adamcotton

    adamcotton Senior Member

    I don't think any of us seriously doubts that, man for man, the British soldier was (and is) the equal of any in the world.

    Nonetheless, it is sobering to reflect that the combined strength of the BEF and the French Army (the latter the largest in Europe at the time) was still unable to repel the German advance in 1940. Poor leadership certainly played its part in the allies' defeat, but given that we have already agreed that the German army was not nearly as mechanised as it became later in the war, I believe the crucial thing that tipped the balance was the use of the Ju87 Stuka units. They had the same effect on the the land battle that, four years later, the Typhhons, Tempests, Mustangs and Thunderbolts of the RAF and USAAF would have in the push toward Germany, and were therefore an early demonstration of the power of what would later become known as "Tac-Air".
  8. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    What I find highly amusing is the thought of Mr Simpson going in to a Pub full of Guardsmen. Black Watch KOSB. any British regiment and tell them that they were inferior to the Enemy. These proud British Regiments! Come to that, any infantry mob! I reckon he would have his head torn off his shoulders in a pretty short time....I have been into action with the Guards Armoured on several occasions...They, my friends, looked on the Hun as easy..

    I have never heard such utter rubbish......With inferior arms (The Sten was so bad that we only loaded at the last moment) we beat the living daylights out of the Germans, and reduced them to a slobbering mess.,If you ran across a road under fire with a Sten, the jolting could easily start the thing firing on its own....Seriously! We were so much better fighting men, that we never even bothered to take prisoners back. put their hands on their heads and point where to go. In most cases it was beneath our dignity to escort Geman prisoners.

    Our ordinary Infantry took on the Elite SS and beat seven different colours out of them. Inferior? In your dreams mate! In your dreams!

    If anyone has any doubt about what we took on around Caen? go and look up the names of the German Panzers. The Elite SS? not after we finished with them.....
    High Wood likes this.
  9. adamcotton

    adamcotton Senior Member

    Well, said Sapper - first hand history is the only really reliable kind. My father fought in the Korean war and he has always echoed your sentiments about the quality of British fighting troops.
  10. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Hi Adam
    being we took part in every battle from Sword to Bremen. I am often quite amazed at some of the Stories that are posted...For often they are pure fiction. Often the product of a fevoured imagination by some author. then used as a "Reliable Source" by others.
  11. adamcotton

    adamcotton Senior Member

    I couldn't agree more. It's sad, but true....
  12. angie999

    angie999 Very Senior Member

    (sapper @ Nov 16 2005, 11:18 AM) [post=41617]I am often quite amazed at some of the Stories that are posted...For often they are pure fiction. [/b]

    If you want to keep making this claim, I think you have an obligation to say which "stories" you mean, why, etc.

    Very few historians write "pure" fiction, but they sometimes get some facts wrong, as do we all.
  13. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    (sapper @ Nov 16 2005, 11:18 AM) [post=41617] I am often quite amazed at some of the Stories that are posted...For often they are pure fiction. Often the product of a fevoured imagination by some author. then used as a "Reliable Source" by others.
    I would also like to know which Historians you are referring to, Sapper. You need to be more specific.
  14. Stephen

    Stephen Member

    I was not very clear in my previous post, I meant that the Bren which everyone recognises as a good design was a Czech design with some small British modifications.

    Another reason for the good performance of the German army could be that when compared with US and UK armies they had a higher proportion of NCOs to officers than the allied armies. The NCOs were trained to take on more responsibility than allied NCOs and more initiative was expected from German NCOs and officers. I remember reading a German intelligence report many years ago (source forgotten) that said British troops without officers were confused as to what to do.
  15. angie999

    angie999 Very Senior Member

    (Stephen @ Nov 17 2005, 06:04 PM) [post=41693]The NCOs were trained to take on more responsibility than allied NCOs and more initiative was expected from German NCOs and officers. [/b]

    I agree that the quality of their junior leaders was outstanding and their capacity for initiative is totally contrary to their movie image.
  16. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Quiz supervisor. whatever! Come off your high horse! if you had read some of the rubbish that is written, and presented as fact, then you would not have to ask that question....

    That fact that you do ask it? amazes me! the books that I talk about are too numeous to mention. very few get their facts right. I have read accounts of D day where the Canadians landed on Sword beach, and the Eighth Brigade did not exist at all. I see films where the USA captured Burma. The USA captured the Enigma machine.....You name it....

    Let me ask you this...Are you not aware of the books that are produced, using others sources,each time getting a bit further from the truth?
    sapper o_O :rolleyes: :huh: images/smilies/default/biggrin.gif
  17. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    Sapper, you still havent produced any sources to back up your point....................... images/smilies/default/biggrin.gif
  18. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    On the contrary I have just posted two examples.... Surely you and others are aware of the problem? If you read any two books they will not agree.
    The main culprits is the film industry "Hollywood Style"

    In conversation with my Veteran Friends from the Normandy Veteran Association, the Market Garden Association, And from my own active service experience. We constantly come across reports, films, and in the media that we know is rubbish...But if that is what those that read, and enjoy? So be it...

    Me? I prefer my own actual personal experiences, and those of my Vet friends from all branches of HM services.

    One of the major reasons why it is so difficult to get Veterans to open up, and tell some of the most interesting tales is just that.... Those that have never seen action, much prefer the "Book" version. Where in truth, the Veterans action experiences are for more interesting than any that you can read.

    For example; the officer that was responsible for opening a path into the "Hillman" site came from my company (My Hero) Stories like his are things of legend,
  19. ham and jam 1

    ham and jam 1 Member

    Try SLA Marshall, Ambrose and Cornelius Ryan, although Ryan does not surprise me in his view of British soldiers because he is Irish, his Mrs leaves alot to be desired.
  20. angie999

    angie999 Very Senior Member

    (sapper @ Nov 17 2005, 06:52 PM) [post=41703]Quiz supervisor. whatever! Come off your high horse! if you had read some of the rubbish that is written, and presented as fact, then you would not have to ask that question....

    First, i would ask you to treat me with the same personal respect in which I treat you.

    Second, it is not unreasonable to ask you to back up such sweeping generalisations with a few facts. The alternative is to throw out all out books and just believe you.

    I see, incidentally, that you gave an interview to the author of one fairly recent book on Normandy, which the author then used, so you presumably do not hold all historians in contempt.

    (sapper @ Nov 18 2005, 12:50 PM) [post=41748]On the contrary I have just posted two examples[/b]

    No, you made yet another series of generalisations. Please quote author, title, date of publication, so that we can decide whether to read the material for ourselves.

    (ham and jam @ Nov 18 2005, 03:24 PM) [post=41754]Try SLA Marshall, Ambrose and Cornelius Ryan, although Ryan does not surprise me in his view of British soldiers because he is Irish, his Mrs leaves alot to be desired.

    As it happens, I tend to agree with you about these writers, which is why it helps to be clear about who we are discussing.

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