Revised view of German military strength and strategies

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,160
Sydney
The decision the halt the panzers has been discussed at length for decades , with good arguments for and against

most of the general staff wanted a pause while the field commanders grumbled but complied
since they did as they pleased before , disregarding formal orders to slow down for the rest of the army to catch up
one could think they were aware of the necessity of a pause to regroup , refill and repair
 

Lord Oda Nobunaga

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
5,633
Ontario, Canada
There is pretty much nothing to argue about the halt order at this point.
Even if the Germans had trapped the BEF, the British wouldn't have given up. They had already discussed that possibility.
Rundstedt who was in command of the Army Group ordered the halt. OKH wanted him to keep going, the Division and Corps commanders wanted to keep going as well. Ultimately the call was justified because these units needed to reorganize. The air and infantry assault kept going, not that panzers would have helped much in that terrain. Also the need to establish a perimeter from behind in case the French tried to counter attack was an important factor.
 
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betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,424
Didn't Hitler issue no retreat orders that resulted in large numbers of men being killed or captured?

I don't know that much about the military issues, but in general didn't the German Army fight well in comparison to the Allies?

It seems like Germany lost both world wars mostly at the political level. Being at war with the British Empire, USSR, and the US at the same time was a disaster. If Hitler wanted to kill off the people of the USSR slower than the Jews and Gypsies, he could have not let them know that until the war was over. Perhaps he could have made peace with the German Army close to Moscow. It was hard to make peace though as no one trusted Hitler after what happened with the Munich Accords and Nonaggression Pact. These issues were Hitler's responsibility, not the generals.
 
Mar 2016
70
Germany
There is pretty much nothing to argue about the halt order at this point.
Even if the Germans had trapped the BEF, the British wouldn't have given up. They had already discussed that possibility.
Rundstedt who was in command of the Army Group ordered the halt. OKH wanted him to keep going, the Division and Corps commanders wanted to keep going as well. Ultimately the call was justified because these units needed to reorganize. The air and infantry assault kept going, not that panzers would have helped much in that terrain. Also the need to establish a perimeter from behind in case the French tried to counter attack was an important factor.
That's a quite shortened version of what happened and partly simply not true, for example about the need for reorganization or the uselessness of tanks.

The actual events were as follows, also shortened:
1. tank group v. Kleist reported on 23 May that the units were not strong enough (after losses of 50% of the tanks) to press on
2. The report was wrong/greatly exaggarated but v. Rundstedt as commander of army group A used it to justify a stop order on May 23 for tank group v. Kleist of 24 hours
3. High command of the army ordered on 23 May, without contact to Hitler, that the 4. army, part of army group A, was transferred to army group B, because it was the task of army group B to destroy the main allied force with attacks from from north, east and south
4. Hitler was informed about the reorganisation of the army groups on 24 May; he was furious about it and gave order to give 4. army back to army group A. He also gave order that army group A could decide about the attack alone, instead of the high command which is quite remarkable
5. v. Rundstedt ordered a stop at 24 May (12:45), which lasted over three days

It is ok to say that the reasons and justifications for the stop order(s) are debatable. It's nonsense to say there is pretty much nothing to argue about.


Didn't Hitler issue no retreat orders that resulted in large numbers of men being killed or captured?

I don't know that much about the military issues, but in general didn't the German Army fight well in comparison to the Allies?

It seems like Germany lost both world wars mostly at the political level. Being at war with the British Empire, USSR, and the US at the same time was a disaster. If Hitler wanted to kill off the people of the USSR slower than the Jews and Gypsies, he could have not let them know that until the war was over. Perhaps he could have made peace with the German Army close to Moscow. It was hard to make peace though as no one trusted Hitler after what happened with the Munich Accords and Nonaggression Pact. These issues were Hitler's responsibility, not the generals.
Hitler's orders of "no retreat" often resulted in loss of men and material and denied the necessary flexibility to defend against big overpower. Wether this had a decisive effect on the war as a whole or the war in the east is doubtful.

The German army usually inflicted a lot more damage to it's enemies than the other way round. However the numbers in men and material were so different between the allies and the "Achse" that it hardly counted for the end results. In 1943 for example the three main allied powers (USA, British Empire, Soviet Union) produced 9.5 times the tanks and 5.3 times the planes of Germany (8.5 times the tanks and 3.3 times the planes of Germany and Japan). Despite several high ranking Nazis babbling a lot about "total war" the German Empire was not very effective in forming an economy totally focused on war. One reason for this was the gross incompetence of the kind of government formed by the Nazi ideology and practise.
 
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aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,787
USA
In this video TIK doesn't do a good job distinguishing between replacements and reinforcements. Reinforcements are whole units that augment a battle after the battle has begun. Replacements are individual soldiers fed into a unit to take the place of men who have become casualties. The Germans did not like replacements. They were big believers in unit cohesion - a unit functioned best if the men had been together for a long time. Replacements were bad for cohesion since they were strangers thrown in among a close-knit team. In the German view it was better to let a unit shrink from battle losses and remain cohesive than to disrupt its cohesion by throwing in a bunch of new men. Cohesion can only be established by keeping the men together for a few months without any transfers in and out of the unit.
A few corrections:

German replacements traveled to the Eastern Front from the Ersatzheer/Replacement Army usually as intact companies or battalions, that had been fed recently graduated junior officers and NCOs, as well as recovered sick/wounded individuals who had previously been assigned to the front but whom had been evacuated. Upon making their travels East they were not immediately sent to units on the front lines, but spent a few weeks or even months acclimatizing themselves to the theater being assigned anti-partisan duties in security divisions, etc., and given more training on the most up-to-date theater specific tactics before finally being assigned to a depleted units needing them, on a first come, first serve basis.

In terms of existing units getting those replacements there were two common ways.

Before even getting into combat a unit would already be understrength from sickness, accidents, injuries, and even desertions. Then they'd get thrown into combat and would start accumulating heavy and steady casualties. Those units would have been built out of recruits all originally coming from recruiting districts inside Reich territory, the Wehrkreis. But as they took more and more losses, they did not keep to their original unit structure, they would dissolve some units while taking survivors and reinforcing others. For instance, a very depleted company might be dissolved and the survivors put into other companies in the battalion to strengthen them. Or very depleted company might be dissolved and have its manpower sent to others, or even the process happening at higher levels. But by the end, they tried to have as many full manned units as possible. And the missing ones, the companies or even battalions, they would be the ones that would be filled by the replacement companies or battalions. As for cohesion, while the survivors of that unit are all from the same Wehrkreis they were all in different gruppe, zug, kompanie, so are still strangers to one another when they were placed together into ad hoc units.

Since most casualties in any sort of division would occur to combat troops, infantry, panzer, engineer, reconnaissance, it created a situation where a German division would often be left on the line until it was turned into a "torso" division. That is one in which the fighting arms are gone, but the torso, artillery and service/support units are still intact. Those units were left on the line to be largely destroyed because there were no replacement units (because of the German replacement policy), and reconstituting a torso division would take a minimum of weeks but more often multiple months, usually necessitating a trip to a quiet front. France was very popular in '42-43, and these units would be completely rebuilt from ground up with replacements companies and battalions, then put through unit training, and then tossed back into the meat grinder.

Overall, the German replacement system was never fully reformed for all out total war in a meat grinder conflict, always ensured that units in front never had sufficient manpower. While increased training and cohesion sound great, they do little to help battered divisions fighting who need replacements instantly, not in weeks or months. The German system could have been streamlined far more, and while that would have led to some negatives, it would also have led to many positives, namely that a German division was actually a division, and not a slightly reinforced battalion. For instance, during the Battle of Normandy in 1944, numerous German generals were begging OKH to authorize a larger replacement pool to pull individuals into battered units, similar to the US Army's much maligned "repple depple" system used in the ETO; however, the reform was not made. What happened was that divisions were kept on the line until they were nearly destroyed, with a few replacement units being sent to only reinforce the ones on the verge of total collapse, until finally the Operation Cobra breakout occurred, and routed the remnants. Cohesion and slightly more training didn't help when a battered divisions was forced to remain on the line, having nobody to replace it while having no replacemnts to augment it, losing more and more manpower daily, often having its division frontage either remain the same for a smaller and smaller unit, or in many cases increasing because of the losses of other battered sister divisions on its flanks.

I suspect the replacements went to Army Groups Center and North because that was a quiet sector of the front where units could be rebuilt and a new cohesion established with only minimal interference from the enemy. Stalingrad did not get the replacements because that would have disrupted unit cohesion in the middle of a battle. Any troops that were committed to Stalingrad in mid battle were reinforcements - whole cohesive units, not individual soldiers.
By the winter/spring of '42, the failures of the Barbarossa campaign and Operation Typhoon left all three army groups on the Ostfront in HORRIBLE shape. All combat units were heavily depleted, missing significant percentile of troops, equipment, vehicles. To prepare for Case Blau the decision was made to focus on Army Group South to be heavily reinforced and brought to even an inkling of respectable readiness, while Army Groups North and Center were largely ignored. However, they couldn't be ignored forever, so after Blau launched the OKW/OKH took the time to push replacements of manpower and equipment to the other army groups who had previously been playing Peter, being robbed to pay Paul (Army Group South). At some point in '42 the other army groups were going to need to at least get some replacements, and that is what appears to have happened in summer/fall of '42, those supplies and manpower that had previously been planned to be moved to AGN and AGM were finally sent.
 
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aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,787
USA
Didn't Hitler issue no retreat orders that resulted in large numbers of men being killed or captured?

I don't know that much about the military issues, but in general didn't the German Army fight well in comparison to the Allies?

It seems like Germany lost both world wars mostly at the political level. Being at war with the British Empire, USSR, and the US at the same time was a disaster. If Hitler wanted to kill off the people of the USSR slower than the Jews and Gypsies, he could have not let them know that until the war was over. Perhaps he could have made peace with the German Army close to Moscow. It was hard to make peace though as no one trusted Hitler after what happened with the Munich Accords and Nonaggression Pact. These issues were Hitler's responsibility, not the generals.
At times, yes. In winter 1941 he issued a Hold Fast order that some say saved the Ostheer from a possible horrifying rout, trying to retreat in the face of enemy attacks in the dead of winter.

And then in 1944-45 Hitler became obsessed with fortress positions/Festung. These were key cities or communication hubs that Hitler wanted to have defended to the death to delay the enemy, who needed the roads through those areas, or ports, etc, who would have to invest it for weeks or months in order to finally take it. The idea was that if a major Soviet operation was occurring, and if the Germans held a key city for a few months, then whatever other progress the Red Army made would be lessened since they still had to deal with the festung in their rear, and still couldn't move their own supplies up properly (remember, supplies are delivered on trucks and trains, and thus are stuck on roads and rail).

The problem, especially in the Eastern Front, was nobody had their heart set on fighting to the death, especially the commanders who after being ordered to create a festung would instantly start asking for permission to retreat, saying their position was unattainable, and that if they remained they'd be lost quickly. Personally, I think it had a lot to do with the fact that the Red Army, when taking prisoners, definitely treated them differently based on the level of resistance they'd offered before surrendering. Hold out long, and their lives were going to be in jeopardy, especially if they managed to be allowed to retreat before being encircled.

On the western front in France, the festungs actually worked better. Hitler declared a bunch of the coastal ports as fortresses, and many held out for months, and a few for the duration of the war. This worsened the Western Allies' logistical situation, as they needed those ports. Additionally, even when they lost the cities, they still often destroyed the port to the point it took months to open them up for travel, and then they were marched into very civilized prisoner of war camps, and not massacred for holding out.
 
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aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,787
USA
Hitler never understood military planning, but he understood politics. Sociopaths can have a keen understanding of human psychology and Hitler often knew to use military operations to create the desired political effect.
"War is merely the continuation of politics by other means." - Dead prussian dude
 
Apr 2014
145
New York, U.S.
Hitler’s obsession with Aryan superiority might be classified as a type of madness.
Whereas you can justify a German invasion of Russia for economic gains (supplies of food and natural resources), Hitler’s obsession with enslaving the untermench (inferior people) seems to have been a big motivation for the invasion.
Also, Hitler’s decision to declare war on the US on December 11, 1941 seems to be a bit irrational. By doing so he now engaged three major powers (British Empire, Soviet Union and the US) in a war against the Third Reich.
 
Mar 2019
1,952
Kansas
Despite several high ranking Nazis babbling a lot about "total war" the German Empire was not very effective in forming an economy totally focused on war. One reason for this was the gross incompetence of the kind of government formed by the Nazi ideology and practise.
I think German mentality also got in the way. They just loved to tinker, modify almost to excess. Meaning production time was lost every time someone decided a hatch needed to hinged a different way or coax machine gun was not quite in the right place.

Americans on the other hand just loved a good battlefield modification. Out rolls a stock standard Sherman, and someone would begin welding bits and pieces to it to assist with whatever issue was at hand.
 
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