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How successful was the German A7V?


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11 hours ago, Mikel2 said:

 

I believe the overhang was part of the trench crossing strategy, more than an internal space requirement.

Apparently not, actually.  The French thought of the St Chamond as more of a mobile artillery piece and really wanted the favored 75 in there and didn't have the time to figure out a different mounting.  So it is wedged in front of the engine which forced the length.  Apparently in early trials they tried to extend the suspension and it not only broke it made it almost impossible to turn the bloody thing.  Thus they ended up with a short suspension centered under the engine and a big extension at the front for the full sized field piece.  The thing is it seems the French really thought of their tanks as mobile artillery (makes sense, tank vs tank was not common enough or expected enough to factor into design) and the CA Schneider and later FT-17 were ideally the choice to break trench lines and wire (there are some reports that when they saw the heavier French and British tanks hung up on wire and in craters they made the decision to do the bee swarm idea so at least some tanks wouldn't get hung up and breach the defenses).  I found it helpful to think of the St Chamond as much more of a SPG then a tank by definition.   

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11 hours ago, Ssnake said:

From 1916 Britain largely conducted an offensive operation, just without success.

Let's put it this way, the strategic disposition of the Entente was defensive, but after the initial assault of the German Army had culminated, the way to conduct the strategic defense was with assault operations. That they didn't go anywhere for two years is a different matter, of course. I think it's important to emphasize this distinction for the sake of clarity of the discussion.

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12 hours ago, Ssnake said:

Let's put it this way, the strategic disposition of the Entente was defensive, but after the initial assault of the German Army had culminated, the way to conduct the strategic defense was with assault operations. That they didn't go anywhere for two years is a different matter, of course. I think it's important to emphasize this distinction for the sake of clarity of the discussion.

Can the Entente really be described as defensive? When France and Russia joined their alliance in 1894 they both did so because they feared Germany, alone both might be defeated by the Germans but together they were strong enough to face the threat with confidence. But for this to work both countries would have to go on the offensive immediately when war broke out to avoid giving the Germans a chance to focus their forces on one of the two and defeat them in succession . Both France and Russia acknowledged this and promised to launch offensives, into Germany, as soon as possible after mobilisation.  

I know that it was the Germans that delivered the first declaration of war but a big reason for that was that they had indications the Russians had already started their mobilisation. I would argue that it was Germany that had a defensive strategy for the war and would use assault operations ( the Schlieffen plan) to weaken their enemies by shifting the schwerpunkt east and west repeatedly. AFAIK the Germans were rather worried about the situation they were in and the only reason why they talked about a preventive war with France, Russia or both was because they believed things would only get worse.

The only thing that changed with the German advance into Belgium and then France was that the French would have to start their march on Berlin by liberating French territory but the offensives still lined up well with the original plan to keep maximum pressure on the Germans on both fronts.

All IMHO of course.

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I understand Germans were also worried about long-term threat of Russia. That if they were going to have a war with them, it was better to have it sooner rather than later, as their economic development and military buildup would eventually make their army unbeatable for Germans.

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Well it was an offensive western mindset until about late 1914 when they realised they shot their bolt. So they concentrated on destroying Russia next. And when they got that out the way, the idea seemed to be to go on the offensive and have the big victory parade through Paris. So yes, for much of the war they were on the defensive in the West. But clearly they had aims to win, and they were not going to do that sat on their bum. The idea to 'bleed the french army white' at Verdun, and the 1918 offensive clearly showed they were trying to wrest the initiate away from us.

I dont really get the mindset that, having lacked manpower that meant their magnificent offensive plan wouldnt work, they largely rely on manpower again in 1918. The whole reason we invented landships was to have an alternative to wasting lives in frontal attacks. So I really cannot get my head around the German General staff whose whole idea to win was to repeat 1914 again and hope for something different. I dont get it.

 As far as strategic disposition, the Soviet Army in East Germany was a defensive force. I believe that implicitly. The problem is that having identified it was going to come under attack, the plan was to go on the offensive. So you get to the point, is it a political fig leaf to say defensive, or is invading someones country inherently a defensive operation because you arent being attacked? Ill leave philosophers and psychiatrists to work that one out. :)

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Just now, Yama said:

I understand Germans were also worried about long-term threat of Russia. That if they were going to have a war with them, it was better to have it sooner rather than later, as their economic development and military buildup would eventually make their army unbeatable for Germans.

Germany didnt really want a war with Russia in 1914. They certainly did NOT want a war with the Western Allies. I think the Kaisers mindset was an guarantee for the Austro Hungarians against Russia would mean Russia would not enter AH's war with Serbia, and thereby keep the western allies out as well. Which would make AH stronger, and thereby make the triple alliance stronger.

Of course this all worked brilliantly, right up to the point when it turned out the Tsar didnt recognise a big European war was not in his interests, and jumped into it with alacrity. Something to do with it being just the thing the country needed to shake off the spectre of Socialism.

So the theory was great,the reality was disappointing to say the least.

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As I see it the Germans actually kept faithfully to the Schlieffen plan, with one exception, throughout the war. In 1914 they focus on the west with a big push into northern France in order to create a second Sedan (and the original plan never included Paris as a goal, von Schlieffen wanted the German armies on the right flank to turn south east of Paris, possibly even east of Verdun, I blame von Moltke for not reigning in his subordinate commanders) and thus cripple the French army but not necessarily defeating France. They fail in this but still in 1915 they turn east in accordance with the plan to shift focus back and forth. In 1916 focus is once more back in the west with the offensive at Verdun (second biggest German mistake of the war) then in 1917 it's back east again and this time they finally are able to create some sort of successful end to a campaign when the Russians sue for peace. Now with their back secured they return to the western front in 1918 to deal with the French but have to face not only French but an ever increasing number of Brits and Americans which turn out to be to much for the Germans. Obviously by this stage a couple of hundred tanks would have been helpful. But they really stuck to the plan throughout no matter who was at the helm, von Moltke, von Falkenheyn or von Hindenburg.

All IMHO of course.

 

Edited by wendist
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On 3/8/2021 at 8:52 AM, Stuart Galbraith said:

In 1915? Absolutely. In 1917? Not really. They could see with their own eyes what worked and what didnt from the tanks left behind in the Somme Offensive. They seem to have completely ignored the tanks they were captured (and were using for that matter) and went off and did their own thing. Its like 1904 and someone designing an aircraft and ending up building a Zeppelin. Wright Brothers,who are they?

I dont think the Germans captured any workable tanks in 1916 or the first half of 1917?

The first ones the Germans used were from the Cambrai offensive in November 1917 and were Mk. IVs, which were a lot more promising than earlier marks. In all, they reported having  150 captured tanks in April 1918 that could be remanufactured and put to use with the German Army. In August 1918, the number had risen slightly to 170.

Which, incidentally, made the British Army Germanys biggest supplier of tanks :) 

The record of the British tanks up to that point was not all that impressive and the Germans were already working out ways to deal with them. Measurements which made the tank a much less frightening opponent.

And again - the Germans had committed themselves quite early to the A7V design and made a dogs breakfast of their attempt to build a tank with all-round tracks themselves.

They did consider copying the British tanks, but not until they got their hands on the Mk IV. In the spring of 1918, Plans were drawn up for building 240 German Mk IVs in 1919, but the idea was dropped again in July 1918 because it would interfere with the production of military trucks. Instead, the opted for focusing on the Lk II in 1919.

It underlines the German predicament - they had a lot of fighting to do and tanks, while recognized as usefull, were not as important as other war materials. FWIW, I think they were right. Given what they saw of British and French tanks in 1916 and 1917, it was evident that tanks were usefull, but also that they by no means a decisive, war-winning weapon. You could do without, in particular if you did not have the ressources to build them.

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Is it possible to say anything about how the Germans used these captured tanks? Were they thrown into battle one by one as they became available or did the Germans create proper tank units and if so then how were these units used. Was there any difference between the German manual and the British/French one at this early stage? If there were any manuals at all that is, maybe it was all trial and error based.

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I understand Germans never captured Mk I or II in workable state (Mk III did not see combat). They weren't that common and usually British were advancing and ended up masters of the terrain in the end, and even though Germans occassionally got to study one as result of counterattacks etc, recovering huge immobile lumps of metal was not exactly simple thing in circumstances of WW1. In addition, some examples were badly jumbled up by explosions and Germans were also confused by wildly disparate eyewitness accounts and were long unsure if there were just one tank type or several.

I read an anecdote that Mark II's were originally meant for training and did not use real steel armour. Rather unwisely, they were sent to Battle of Arras anyway. However (supposedly) this turned out to be blessing in disguise as Germans got to study one long enough to perform some testing and found out that K bullets would penetrate it no problem. This led Germans to underestimate protection level of British tanks.

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On 3/13/2021 at 1:11 AM, Yama said:

I read an anecdote that Mark II's were originally meant for training and did not use real steel armour. Rather unwisely, they were sent to Battle of Arras anyway. However (supposedly) this turned out to be blessing in disguise as Germans got to study one long enough to perform some testing and found out that K bullets would penetrate it no problem. This led Germans to underestimate protection level of British tanks.

According to Fletcher in "Landships" and "Tanks and Trenches", the Mk II and III were made to keep the factories running until the Mk IV would enter the production line and they were intended only for training. Hence, only the sponsons were armoured, the hull plates were not. Mk II came prepared for add-on armour, while the Mk III just had thicker plates (12mm vs 10mm).

In "Band of Brigands" by Christy Cambell, it is said that only the Mk III was un-armoured.

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I wonder how much trench-crossing capability you would actually need in the latter part of WWI (1916 to 1918)?

The FT-17 could cross 1,8 meters, the St. Chamond 2 meters, the Schneider 1,8 meters, the A7V 2,2 meters, the LKII 2 meters, the Whippet 2,2 meters. So it would appear that most designs opted for a trench-crossing ability of about 2 meters. And that was probably sufficient to cross trenches. After all, a trench whould have to be rather narrow in order to fullfill its function on the battlefield, i.e. protecting the troops.

A moonscape of shell holes would a different matter, in particular one which the weather and groundwater had turned into a quagmire. But even the mighty rhomboids with their 3 meter trench-crossing capability tended to bog down under those circumstances, the Tank Corp soon preferring ground that had not been churned up by months and years of warfare.

Anti-tank ditches would a different matter, but as it was their main purpose to stop tanks, you could make them as wide as needed, i.e. wide enough to stop even the rhomboids.

No doubt the rhomboids would be fantastic dirt-crawlers, but it seems to me that the advantage would likely have been marginal on the battlefield. A bit like the Churchill in WWII, being generally recognized as a great climber and crawler, features that just did not matter all that much most of the time. Other tanks might struggle a bit, but they would eventually get the job done anyway. 

Edited by cbo
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I think a large advantage of the Rhomboids were how much lower the center of gravity was important, along with the greater width.  Add in that the Holt style tracks/suspension were easily damaged with lateral stress so as the higher center of gravity made the tank slew sideways you'd break things and stop moving.  One of the things that the St Chamond and apparently the A7V was much more comfortable rides on roads.  The French had very low opinions of how the British tanks through the Mk.IV at least rode.  

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